I’ll admit, I am deathly afraid I haven’t pissed enough people off this past year and I’m rapidly running out of time. But, damn, people keep on pissing me off and, like every jamoke who has a keyboard and an Internet connection, vengeance is mine.
As Geek Culture enthusiasts, there are lots and lots of incredibly important issues for us to discuss. Fan-women get dumped on viciously for committing the crime of voicing their opinions. Women gamers often are treated like they are Typhoid Mary. Women cosplayers often are regarded as fair game for convention-attending degenerates. And there’s that bit about only having to pay women 77 cents on the dollar, and that’s something that affects absolutely every aspect of a woman’s daily life. As human beings, intelligent women continue to be marginalized as ditzy babes. Our incoming president acts as though women who are not “10s” on the Blake Edwards scale are beneath notice.
So what has grabbed our attention this past month?
Martians… Do you look like this?
After less than 60 days on the job, Wonder Woman got fired as the United Nations’ honorary ambassador for the empowerment of women and girls. This was done in response to a petition signed by 44,000 people (as of the time WW was made redundant) who believe that Wonder Woman is, according to CNN, “’not culturally encompassing or sensitive’ and was an inappropriate choice at a time ‘when the headline news in United States and the world is the objectification of women and girls.’”
I cannot help but think that, as the UN’s honorary ambassador for the empowerment of women and girls, Wonder Woman would have done an enormous amount of good. For 75 years she has been the objectification of female self-reliance, self-determination, ability and compassion. Wonder Woman is known the world over, and next year she will become even better known. The Trailers for this upcoming Wonder Woman movie already are in theaters and online.
Amusingly, the star of this forthcoming Wonder Woman movie, Gal Gadot, told Time Magazine “There are so many horrible things that are going on in the world, and this is what you’re protesting? … When people argue that Wonder Woman should ‘cover up,’ I don’t quite get it. They say, ‘If she’s smart and strong, she can’t also be sexy.’ That’s not fair. Why can’t she be all of the above?”
Ms. Gadot most certainly knows what she’s talking about. She has been both a member (and combat trainer) in the Israel Defense Forces and, prior to that, Miss Israel. Like all women in her position, she suffered greatly from online sexual and anti-Semitic harassment. She can talk the talk because she most certainly has walked the walk.
The objectification of humans has been going on forever. Tom Mix got his start in movies in 1909 and, then as now, few men look like him. He was just about as big a star as we’ve ever had. Theda Bara got her start in movies five years later and, then as now, few women look like her. Did people want to? Certainly. We objectify ourselves. That’s where it starts.
To repurpose a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, better we should judge ourselves and each other by the content of our character and not by the wrappings that contain it.
Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. Do you think anybody would dare offer Wonder Woman 77 cents for each dollar they would pay Superman?
Not twice. Most certainly, not twice.
The first three illustrations are from the work of Brian Bolland, simply because I feel like looking at some of Brian’s artwork, a not-uncommon feeling. The “We Are All Wonder Women” piece was drawn by Catherine and Sarah Satrun.
One day in the early 80s, I was with my girlfriend in a shopping mall. Somehow I had been relegated to the role of sidekick while she shopped. I liked to do a lot of things with her, but shopping wasn’t high on that list. I was bored so I decided to buy a comic book to read while she shopped.
Back then I was enjoying a lot of comics and purchasing them every week at Kim’s Collectible Comics and Records. But one store in that mall had a spinner rack filled with comics, and I knew I could snag an issue that I had missed.
I evaluated the comics available on that rack and hoped that one would be my salvation from the dreariness of shopping. I reached out for Swamp Thing #21, and was surprised to find an unfamiliar writer wrote it. I decided to give it a try nonetheless.
Those initial low expectations quickly gave way to… my brain exploding! That issue masterfully took a fresh approach to a tired concept, and wrapped it in thoughtful, clever and creepy prose. It was a big deal. I was so excited, and at the same time so frustrated, as I couldn’t really discuss it with that girlfriend. She had no interest in comics.
I didn’t know it then, but comics were about to change.
Alan Moore, that writer, was just one of the creators who ushered in a new era of comics. Sequart’s newest book, The British Invasion – Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison and the Invention of the Modern Comic Book Writer discussed the important contributions of these writers. I was able to catch up with author Greg Carpenter and he shared some insights.
Ed Catto: Can you tell us a little bit about your new book, British Invasion, and what you set out to do with this book?
Greg Carpenter: I’d be happy to Ed, and thanks for having me here. The British Invasion is an in-depth analysis of the intertwined careers of Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Grant Morrison – three influential British comics writers who first began writing American comics in the 1980s. The book traces their work from the ‘80s through today (or as close to “today” as you can get in the book-publishing world), and it focuses in particular on how these three writers redefined our understanding of what it means to be a comic book writer.
At least, that’s the dry, academic-y answer. As for what I wanted to accomplish, on the simplest level I think it was to try to answer the question that students always ask me: “Why have comics become so popular lately?” Obviously that’s a loaded question with lots of presuppositions, but the gist of it – that comics culture has moved from the outskirts of society to the mainstream – seems fair. And for me, the answer to that question leads directly back to the work of people like Moore, Gaiman, and Morrison.
I remember back in 2004 when I was sitting in a theater watching The Incredibles. Here – in a Pixar movie that didn’t really have to be all that smart or insightful in order to be successful – was a full examination of the wonder and the absurdity of the superhero genre, viewed through a real-world prism with real world consequences. Even though there had already been several superhero movies by that time – some of them quite good – what struck me was that Brad Bird seemed like the first filmmaker who had really “gotten” writers like Moore, Gaiman, Morrison. The thrill for the viewer came, not from the style of the costumes, the nature of the superpowers, or the threat posed by the villain, but rather from the momentary suspension of disbelief that comes when you realize – this is what superheroes would really be like.
That thrill, that feeling, that … sensation is far more rare than you might think, and I knew then that at some point in the future I wanted to try to show everyone why that feeling is so powerful.
EC: What’s your personal fan experience, and did you enjoy these writers when they burst onto the scene?
GC: I came of age at the perfect time. As a kid, my comics reading was pretty random – a smattering of superhero books and a lot of commercial tie-ins like Marvel’s Star Wars and GI Joe. By the mid-‘80s I was pretty heavy into DC’s Star Trek, but I kept seeing all these in-house ads about a book called Swamp Thing that was winning all sorts of awards. This was pre-Internet and I lived in the rural American South, so a person wasn’t going to find much comics journalism in the local Wal-Mart. My education came from those in-house ads. And if a house ad said I oughtta pay attention to a particular title, well, that carried a lot of weight with me.
So I wound up buying Swamp Thing #56 – the blue issue. I didn’t really understand it, but I could tell it was different from all the other stuff I was reading. And once I started stepping out of my comfort zone, I found myself swept away with the energy of the times – The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, Maus, The Shadow, Byrne’s Superman, The Killing Joke, The Question, Black Orchid, Animal Man, Arkham Asylum, V for Vendetta … Sandman. It was an amazing period. And Moore, Gaiman, and Morrison were the ones shaping my worldview, my own personal mentors – priests, professors, and practical philosophers. They could do no wrong.
So when they drifted away from mainstream DC, I drifted away from comics. It’s hard to remember now, but in those days, in the part of the country where I lived, there wasn’t much access to books like From Hell, Sebastian O, or Signal to Noise. It was like loving music but only being able to listen to Top 40 Radio. So for me, it felt like my three favorite writers had largely left comics – even though they hadn’t. And I really didn’t care much for what had taken their place at DC, Image, and Marvel in the early ‘90s. So I stopped reading.
And then, as fate would have it, I was standing in a Wal-Mart and saw a comic book display. I paused for old times sake and was struck by a new title – JLA #1 – written by Grant Morrison. From then on it was like the Michael Corleone line – “just when I thought I was out, (Grant Morrison) pulled me back in.” And I’ve been reading ever since.
EC: You do such a great job of putting it all into context and telling a “big picture story.” As I’m reading your book, I’m thinking “Yeah, I vividly remember those stories from Supreme or Promethea.” I’m impressed by the way you are able to analyze those stories in the context of each writers’ career and within a particular historical timeframe. How much of a struggle was it to tell the tale that way and how did you go about it?
GC: You’re very kind to say so. I wish I could say that everything just fell together perfectly, but alas. I think the low point for me came when I was staring at dozens of little scraps of paper scattered across the floor, trying to figure out how in the world to make the overall structure for the book come together. I knew I wanted to do rotating chapters, but there were lots of organizational problems. While these three writers have always been active, their creative peaks often come at different times. So I was left with a floor full of jigsaw pieces that all came from different puzzles and all I had was an X-ACTO knife and some touch-up paint to try to make it all go together.
As for the rest, I learned to make a friend of the Grand Comic Book Database, tracing chronologies and sketching out long timelines. If I can’t see something visually, it’s never quite real.
EC: By focusing on these three British writers, are you leaving out other important creators that are important to the big picture?
GC: More than I could even begin to list. The beginning of the so-called British Invasion wasn’t even a writer movement – it was about artists. People like John Bolton, Brian Bolland, and Dave Gibbons had begun working for DC and Marvel and were doing great work before Alan Moore made a splash with Swamp Thing. And, of course, there were so many great writers in those early days – people like Alan Grant, John Wagner, Jamie Delano, Peter Milligan … and that doesn’t even begin to include the writers who came after these three – Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, James Robinson, Mark Millar … you could go on and on.
And that’s just the British creators. The book focuses in particular on the impact of the Invasion on the notion of the modern comic book writer. If you want to really look at the development of the writer’s role, there are also plenty of non-British writers who helped pave the way for what these three were able to do. I’m thinking of Denny O’Neil, Chris Claremont, Steve Gerber, as well as writer-artists like Frank Miller and Howard Chaykin.
But ultimately in any book you have to focus. What is the problem you’re trying to solve? What’s the question you’re trying to answer? In my case, I knew I wasn’t writing an encyclopedia. I was looking specifically at the role of the writer, and these three writers’ work seemed so interwoven that it was impossible for me to talk about one without the other. But I still lose sleep over all the creators who frankly deserve their own book.
EC: I love the chapter titles. Can you tell me a little bit about how you chose them?
GC: I love that the titles worked for you. That was one of my earliest ideas for the book. Each chapter gets its title from the name of a song by either the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, or the Who. Some of those choices are hopefully pretty obvious – a Sandman-heavy chapter is “Golden Slumbers,” the chapter with Grant Morrison’s vision at Kathmandu is “I Can See for Miles,” and a chapter on Spawn is “Sympathy for the Devil.”
But beyond setting the mood or reinforcing the theme, the choices don’t follow any set pattern. I don’t think Moore, Gaiman, and Morrison correlate directly with the three bands – one of them isn’t the equivalent of the Beatles or the Stones, for instance – so I just drew liberally from all three to find the most appropriate title for each chapter.
EC: It’s a big book, but I’m sure you had to make decisions and choices about what to include. What do you regret leaving on the cutting room floor?
GC: When I started, I naively thought I’d be able to cover all the published work of each writer. It didn’t take long to figure out that was impossible. So there are lots of things I never got to write about. But of those things that I did draft and then take out, the most disappointing was probably a section I wrote on Alan Moore’s Neonomicon.
Any of your readers who’ve read that book know already that it’s a tough book to deal with – powerful, complex, and disturbing for a number of reasons. But when I was drafting the manuscript, I dove into it and wrote what I thought was a really nuanced, insightful analysis.
Well, have you ever had one of those moments of brilliance at 2 AM where you’ve just stumbled upon the plot to a novel that’s probably going to earn you the Nobel Prize for literature? You feverishly scribble the idea down so you don’t lose it, but then, the next day, when you pick it up to read it there’s nothing there besides the most banal idea imaginable. That’s basically the story of my Neonomicon analysis. When I found myself editing the manuscript a few months later and got to that chapter, I just scratched my head. What I thought was enlightening was utterly vapid. It was so nuanced that there wasn’t anything there. I thought about revising it, but the book was already overlong so I just dropped it. Maybe I’ll go back to it someday – just not at 2 in the morning.
EC: We shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but your cover is clever and to the point. How did the design come about?
GC: The cover is great, isn’t it? Kevin Colden, who has done some great work on The Crow among other projects, did the cover. In keeping with the theme of the British Invasion, it’s an homage to the album cover, Meet the Beatles.
But it didn’t start that way. Originally, I actually tried to sketch out an idea myself. It was an image of Mount Rushmore with Moore, Gaiman, and Morrison carved into the rocks. Trust me, it was even worse than it sounds. My wife took one look at it and said, “Seriously?”
So I went back to the proverbial drawing board and tried to draw an empty bandstand modeled after the Beatles, with a drum set, microphones, and three guitars. I sent this one to Mike Phillips at Sequart and he said something along the lines of, “Um … yeah. So, anyway … what would you think about something inspired by an album cover?” And with that, for the betterment of all humanity, I retired my drawing pencil.
Mike and I talked about several album covers, but we kept coming back to Meet the Beatles. For legal reasons, you can’t use a real person’s face on a cover, which is understandable, but (and I think this was Mike’s idea) we thought it might still work if we put them in Union Jack masks. And Kevin took it all from there.
EC: If you could go back in time and give any “Dutch Uncle” advice to Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman or Grant Morrison, what would it be?
GC: Oh, I don’t think they need my advice. They’ve each done pretty well on their own, don’t you think? So I dunno … I guess if I had to, I might tell them – especially Moore and Gaiman – to skip some of the work they did for Image Comics in the ‘90s.
But honestly, I don’t believe in second guessing the past like that. Let’s say, for example, you were able to help Alan Moore get a better Watchmen contract with DC, saving him from some of the nastier aspects of the profession. That would seem like a good thing. But would a happier, more content Alan Moore have gone on to write From Hell? I tend to doubt it. I don’t know about you, but given a choice between enjoying three years of Alan Moore writing something like Green Lantern – as enticing as that might be – or getting Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell, I’m gonna take the Jack the Ripper story every time.
EC: There’s such a rich landscape of creative comics being produced today. What are you enjoying and what do you feel will be viewed as important in the years to come?
GC: It feels almost like a cliché to mention it, but I really love the March Trilogy. What’s special about it, I think, is that once you get beyond how amazing John Lewis is and how well he and Andrew Aydin have compiled his story, Nate Powell’s art is extraordinary. All too often, comics that are classified as “educational” tend to be stiff and lifeless – like your great-grandmother’s idea of what a “good” comic book might be. But Powell is the real deal. Great cartooning, imaginative layouts. The national media might make it sound like broccoli sometimes, but it’s really great comics storytelling. And because of its subject matter, it’s going to be part of the high school curriculum for a long, long time.
Among mainstream comics, I was a big fan of Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye. I always joked that it felt like I was watching some mythical Quentin Tarantino movie shot in the ‘70s and starring Steve McQueen circa 1963. I also think Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman is deceptively good. It’s one of those comic book runs that is easy to take for granted, but ten years from now we’ll still be thinking about it. And Eric Powell’s The Goon always makes me smile.
But the other area that makes comics exciting today is the changing demographics – particularly the infusion of more women creators and readers. Any time you can shake up the industry and change the aesthetics, good things can happen. I once got to interview the artist Janet Lee, best known for Return of the Dapper Men. She showed me some of her work in progress and, to be honest, I was dumbfounded. Instead of something conventional like rough pencil layouts, inks, or even watercolors, she was using a technique akin to decoupage, drawing and coloring images and then cutting them out and painstakingly layering them on a larger page. I can’t even imagine what it must take to do that, but once it’s published, her stuff looks unlike anything else out there. That’s what you get when you have greater diversity in the field – fresh voices, fresh perspectives, and new aesthetics.
In a lot of ways, that was the lesson of the British Invasion too, I think.
EC: What’s next?
GC: Well, my wife and I are both writers – her debut novel, Bohemian Gospel, was published last year by Pegasus Press (heavy-handed plug) – so we tend to alternate between projects around our house. That means that lately I’ve been doing a lot of copy editing and proofreading on her sequel, The Devil’s Bible.
That’s not to say I don’t have a couple of book ideas of my own brewing. I do. But I also remember what Hemingway said – the book you talk about is the one you never write.
This weekend, a whole bunch of us ComicMixers will be making our annual trip to the Baltimore Comic-Con. For the record, that’s Martha Thomases, Adriane Nash, Evelyn Krite, G.D. Falksen, and myself. Glenn Hauman and Robert Greenberger will be in New York at a big ol’ Star Trek convention, Emily S. Whitten will be at Dragon Con, and John Ostrander will be at several Michigan theaters watching Suicide Squad again. Glenn, Robert and Emily also are regulars at BCC, but this year the show shares Labor Day weekend with these other two east coast shows.
Yes, life is truly one long and never ending comic book convention. I’ve been going to the “big” ones (big as relevant to its time) since 1968. That’s 48 years, which is longer than most of today’s convention-goers have been alive. That’s about five years longer than KISS has been together, and, like former comics fanzine contributor Gene Simmons, I have long grown incapable of distinguishing between shows.
I’ve done fewer shows this year than I have in decades. That is, in part, a coincidence, but it’s also symptomatic of burn-out. I’m thinking that if I’m still alive in two years, I’ll make it a full half-century by sitting in front of some massive convention center and burn a copy of Superman #1 (the 1938 version) in protest.
And what would I be protesting? Well, to me that rarely matters but in this case I would be publically mourning the lack of comic books at these massive comic book shows. I’m a comic book fan, damnit, and the rest of you should just get off my lawn.
That’s why I go to the Baltimore Comic-Con, and in this I think I speak for my less jaded cohorts. Despite its size and its longevity, the Baltimore show remains focused on comic books. Sure, there are media guests and sure, there’s a lot of cosplay and gaming and such, but the love for comic books and the desire to meet up with others with similar affections permeates every aisle of the show. Kudos to Mark Nathan and his experienced and gifted staff.
As usual, ComicMix will be assaulting the Insight Studios booth – that’s booth #118 – once again proving that Mark Wheatley is the nicest, kindest, and most emotionally tolerant person in the time-space continuum.
Comics as a genre have never done better, but this is entirely because of the flock of movies and television adaptations. The average sales of the traditional comic book sucks and sucks badly, even though such low sales have been balanced somewhat by trade paperbacks, hardcover books, and electronic editions. These days, much of the fun comes from the endless parade of toys and merchandising tie-ins that dominate book stores and convention aisles. If you’re a Harley Quinn completest, your head is going to explode long before you run out of space to store all that stuff.
I still meet lots of people who have never been to a comic book convention and who are anxious to go to one of the bigger shows just to see what the hubbub is about. I envy these folks; that initial sense of wonder is a wonderful feeling.
It can also be overwhelming. We had actor/comedian Margaret Cho set up for an interview at the San Diego Comic Con several years ago. She showed up early (there goes another Hollywood stereotype) and, after scoping out the room, Margaret started to take on the appearance of an agoraphobic. I walked Margaret around the vicinity of our table and made small talk while pointing out the wacky stuff we encountered. That worked: funny appreciates the funny, and there’s lots of that at your average comics show.
I completely understood this feeling. Chester Gould was guest of honor at one of our Chicago Comicons and the turn-out at his booth was intense. Chet declined to returned to the show on Saturday and Sunday. And before he drew a single line for any American publisher, Brian Bolland was convinced nobody would have heard about him. I told him Judge Dredd was bigger here than he thought, and Titan Books had just come out with their first reprint trade – entirely of Brian’s work. As it was with Chet Gould, the turn-out at his booth was intense and Brian opted to stay in his hotel room until he could adjust to the love and enthusiasm of the western hemisphere.
But the best part is watching the faces of the small children who are brought there by their fan parents, usually dressed up as the cutest superhero in the universe. They hadn’t had so much visual stimulation in their lives; clearly, they were having great fun. But I strongly suspect that, like Margaret Cho and Brian Bolland, they get overwhelmed and retreat to their portable hidey-hole: napping in the stroller.
Rarely have I heard a small child continuously bawling at a comic book show.
48 years is a long time to do anything, but of course the opportunity to meet up with my friends and to talk with the fans and sign some books and tell some stories is irresistible. I am reminded that first-generation comics pros such as Jerry Robinson and Irwin Hasen regularly attended comics shows until they stopped walking the Earth.
Warners has announced that they are making an animated feature of Batman: The Killing Joke, the 1988 one-shot by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. Central to the storyline is The Joker shooting Barbara Gordon at point blank range with a large caliber handgun, then savaging her (she is later seen with welts and bruises all over her face), ripping off her clothes, possibly raping her, and photographing her. Some consider it a classic. Others are asking how they can make an animated feature that’s true to the story and more are asking why they are doing it.
The “why,” I think, is pretty obvious – the book made money, evidently continues to do well on the backlist, and the powers that be are presuming it will sell well as an animated feature. They are probably not wrong.
I’ve read many comments on the idea online including female members of the comics community and all the comments I’ve read are disgusted with the idea of the comic as well as the announced animated feature.
At the time that Batman: The Killing Joke was released, I was co-writing Suicide Squad with my late wife, Kimberly Yale. Don’t get me wrong; I was and I remain a big fan of both Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. Individually and together they have done stunning work. Moore is one of the giants of the comic book industry. He is, IMO, a better writer than I am and I don’t say that about many other writers (I have a very healthy ego and opinion of my own work, thank you very much). That doesn’t mean he can’t go wrong and I think that Batman: The Killing Joke went wrong.
In the controversial scene, there is the ring of a doorbell at the apartment of Commissioner Gordon. Barbara, all smiles and virtually going “tee hee,” goes to answer it. I should mention there is no chain on the door, no peephole to check who is in the corridor. There is evidently no policeman on guard duty in the hall. This is Gotham City, home of costumed psychopaths, and needs a vigilante dressed up as a bat to control the criminal population. James Gordon is the Commissioner of the Police and there are no safety measures where he lives?
Barbara opens the door. Barbara has been Batgirl and faced some of the costumed psychos inhabiting Gotham. She’s a grown woman who, in her own continuity, had been a congresswoman for at least one term. And yet she just flings the door wide open like a silly ninny.
There stands The Joker and he has a large caliber handgun. He shoots Barbara somewhere below the middle. From the angle, Kim and I thought it was the spine although others think he actually shot her in the uterus. He then rips off her clothes, beats her, takes pictures of her (while her father, off panel, is held motionless by The Joker’s henchmen), and possibly rapes her. Kim and I felt that was strongly implied but, to be fair, it was not directly shown.
I know women who have been assaulted. I know women who have been raped. That’s heinous enough but can you imagine what it would be like to have been shot, to have your spine broken, and then to be sexually assaulted? The pain, the horror – I can’t dwell on it too long.
Kim and I discussed it. To have been shot at the close range, to have your spine shot out, should have killed Barbara. If not, Kim thought severe sepsis would have set in and Barbara would not have survived. However, in the story, she does. That’s a given.
I should point out that the cover has a close-up of the Joker aiming a camera at the reader and saying, “Smile.” In that context, the only possible interpretation I can conceive is that the reader, the viewer, is Barbara as she lay on the floor, after she had been shot, presumably after she had been violated.
How does that feel?
The Bat office was done with Batgirl at that point. Barbara no longer fit into their plans. Kim and I asked if we could have her and we were told that. So we re-created her as Oracle. To us, it was important that the act have consequence. We didn’t want Barbara to magically recover. Given the violence she had endured, we felt she would be paralyzed from the waist down and in a wheelchair. However, we felt she could still be a hero.
It was a given in Barbara’s continuity that she was also a computer wiz. I mean first class. So we gave her banks of computers and made her the info wizard of the DC Universe. It started in Suicide Squad with her advising Amanda Waller, although we didn’t reveal Oracle’s true identity at the beginning. We left clues and, eventually, we showed it was Barbara.
Kim and I felt that, if we did the job well, Oracle could become an important part of the DCU. It solved writing problems for other writers; how did their protagonist learn a necessary plot point? They went to Oracle. She went on to become a valued member of the Justice League and led the Birds of Prey in their own book.
The last story that Kim and I worked on together before she died was Oracle Year One, drawn by the wonderful Brian Stelfreeze. We showed that year as Barbara made the transition from broken hero to dynamic Oracle. She became a strong and much loved icon for the disabled community. In making her a hero again, Oracle allowed others to heal with her. The reader healed with her.
Eventually, DC returned Babs to Batgirl status. Her spine was healed. Gail Simone was offered the job and she took it; she knew they were going to restore Barbara whether she wrote the series or not. She could, and did, make the events of the Killing Joke and Oracle a part of Barbara’s backstory; it wasn’t just forgotten.
It has been suggested that someone else could become Oracle but, to my mind, that wouldn’t work. You can’t just put anyone else into that role. It was the fact that she had been Batgirl, that she was Jim Gordon’s daughter, that she had her own long history, that she suffered the events of The Killing Joke – however heinous – all contributed to who she was. I don’t think anyone else but Barbara could be Oracle for the character to have any meaning.
I don’t know how all that gets fitted into an animated feature. I’m also not sure what parental response will be. It’s Batman, it’s Joker, it’s a cartoon. Great for the kiddies, right? Except this sure won’t be Frozen. If they change what happens to Barbara, I’m not sure it will be The Killing Joke either. If it’s not, why bother?
I must have been aware of Camelot 3000 back when it was appearing in 12 parts, from 1982 to 1985, me being a honkin’ big comics pro and all, and there were a lot of comics strewing my life. And, by then, I’d known the series writer, Mike W. Barr, for years. But I don’t know how many of the installments I read, if any. As mentioned above, there were a lot of comics around me and though I was a pretty dedicated reader of things in general, I might have skipped over any comic book in which I had no professional interest. If I did miss Camelot 3000, my bad.
A few hours ago, Mari and I were watching a video course offered by The Teaching Company – let us simultaneously bow our heads and cheer – taught by a charismatic professor named Dorsey Armstrong. It dealt with a subject we don’t know much about, so sure, we were happy to learn something. We’re glad we did. If you think I’m recommending the course, you’re right, and so you should know its title. Happy to oblige: . Dr. Armstrong had reached the section of her presentation that deals with the twentieth century Arthur and spoke of Marian Zimmer Bradley’s Arthurian novels – you might know The Mists of Avalon – and then she began to talk about Mike Barr’s comics. I perked up.
Before we get to the paeans, an observation:
The inclusion of a comic book series in a course devoted to “capital L” Literature is yet further evidence that comics, as both a narrative form and a commercial enterprise, have reached full parity with all other media. (That doesn’t mean that comics, or any other print medium, assembles the mountains of money that the movies adapted from them do. But without comics, those adaptations wouldn’t happen. Duh.)
Comics are an accepted part of college curricula. Live with it, scoffers.
So what is Dr. Armstrong’s opinion of Mike Barr’s comic books? In a word: praiseworthy. She briefly discusses the plot and Mike’s take on the characters and makes the whole shebang sound both interesting – a good read – and a worthy addition to a renowned series of tales, some of which have survived for centuries.
I assume that DC Comics’ excellent library survived the company’s recent monster trek west and that it includes Camelot 3000. And I assume that somebody is in charge of reprints, though I have no idea who that might be. But whoever has that job might want to have a look at Mike Barr’s old maxi-series and consider offering it to a generation of fans who may be totally ignorant of it.
Another week, another kerfuffle. This one, involving a variant Batgirl cover for the “Joker Month” promotion at DC comics, is actually a little bit more interesting than most.
(Please note: I actually find most of these events interesting, which is why I write about them so frequently.)
In this case, the usual knee-jerk assumptions don’t apply. Artists were assigned to create a cover that featured the title character (in this case, Batgirl) and the Joker. The assignment was made, not by each series’ editor, but the marketing department. Rafael Albuquerque, the artist, decided to create an image that paid homage to one of his favorite Joker stories, The Killing Joke, by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland.
I really like that story. There are people who have issues with it, and I understand their concerns, but, to me, it is a phenomenal meditation on the nature of madness, and those who have to live with it. I wasn’t happy about how the rest of the DC editorial office reacted to the show, deciding that Barbara Gordon was the only superhero ever to suffer an injury (or death) that wasn’t curable.
(Side note: I did like the way Kim Yale and John Ostrander took what I considered to be an unfortunate editorial decision and made Barbara stronger than ever, as Oracle. I still resented that Batman’s back could be fixed, but not Barbara’s.)
Anyway, all this changed with The New 52. Barbara Gordon can walk again. Barbara Gordon can do the kind of amazing acrobatics that require usable spines and lots of training and talent. More recently, the editorial office and creative team decided to recast the character as younger, hipper, and more girl-friendly.
The creative team was not happy with the Joker cover. A lot of fans of the new series, perhaps too young to have read The Killing Joke, were not happy with the Joker cover. Rafael Albuquerque, when made aware of the reasons for the controversy, was not happy with the cover.
There was also a lot of saber-rattling about censorship, which shows how little the public understands the word. The creative intent of the people creating the comic book was not supported by the variant cover, and they didn’t want it used. The only people who thought the cover was a good idea were those in marketing.
I do a lot of marketing work. I’m not opposed to marketing. That said, no one defending free speech has ever asserted that the needs of the marketing people should determine artistic expression. If anything, those of us who appreciate artistic freedom (even of work we don’t like) tend to prefer marketing people to butt out of editorial decision.
During the run-up to withdrawal, there were a lot of tweets and Facebook postings and other internet conversations about the issue. And, as so often happens on the Internet, some people got verbally abusive and threatening and there was name-calling and unpleasantness. DC alluded to this in their press release.
If you read the comments about this on the Comic Book Resources article (and I only read the first page or so, because I have a life, but not so much of one that I could stop thinking about the comments that I read), you’ll notice something unusual. After lots and lots of discussion about censorship and artistic integrity, the commenters are horrified that someone would threaten the artist. How could a difference of opinion about a piece of artwork justify such behavior? Isn’t the terrorism of an Internet threat more violent than the image in question?
Except no one was threatening Rafael Albuquerque. The threats were directed to those people (most often women) who didn’t like the cover. How could a difference of opinion about a piece of artwork justify such behavior?
It would be lovely if those who like the variant cover, who thought that it was horrible of the “social justice warriors” to threaten an artist, would 1) apologize to those they wrongly accused of making threats and 2) perhaps direct their outrage to those who actually do make threats, even if they agree with them otherwise.
“Must a name mean something?” Alice asked doubtfully.
“Of course it must,” Humpty Dumpty said with a short laugh; “my name means the shape I am – and a good handsome shape it is, too. With a name like yours, you might be any shape, almost.”
Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll
There was a time in my life when it was my silent, constant partner. I didn’t know then what it was; this thing had no name, and no one had yet advised me to challenge it, to call it out from the shadows into the sunlight. It hid in the cold dark crevices of my psyche, curled around my thoughts and dreams like a boa constrictor, never letting go, an anonymous thing. I knew there was something wrong, but without a name to call it, I could not voice it. Without a name to call it, I could not control it. Without a name to call it, I could not reclaim my self.
Yesterday I went to a comic book store for the first time in a very, very long time.
What the hell does that have to do with my struggles with it? A good question. A legitimate question.
The first time I discovered a store dedicated to comics was way back in the early 80s, during the time when this anonymous thing lived with me day after day, week after week, month after month. I don’t remember purposely sniffing it out – IIRC I just happened to be stopped at a red light on Broadway in downtown Bayonne, New Jersey. The storefront caught my eye; the windows were full of comics and some other stuff, but then the light turned green and I continued along my way.
But for the few moments while I was waiting for the red to turn to green, the thing had let go of me, or, at least, had lessened its grip. It wasn’t an “uh-huh” moment…
But very soon afterwards I was in the store and I wasn’t feeling weird, or odd, or frightened or any of that remote, sad, heaviness of the thing-with-no name which I carried with me – well, not so much, anyhow…
Yeah, not to put it through too fine a sieve – and, yes, it’s 28 years later – I think what I was feeling was comfort.
I looked at all the covers of the comics and the colors and the artwork and all the heroes – Superman, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Green Lantern, The Legion Of Super-Heroes, and all the rest – and I felt better. Okay, not kick-up-your-heels-and-do-a-dance better, but yeah, definitely better. Probably, as my therapist would say, it had to do with being suddenly face-to-face with the little-girl-who-was-me; she who was excited, who was curious, who read comics by flashlight after Taps underneath the covers of my bunk at camp.
I remembered her.
I was her.
I don’t remember what else I bought that day, but I do remember buying Camelot 3000, the groundbreaking maxi-series by Mike W. Barr and Brian Bolland, which imagines the prophesized return of King Arthur and his Round Table when the Earth is threatened by an alien invasion in the year 3000 A.D. I have always loved the story of the once and future king; it is the classic hero’s journey, told over and over again in many myths and in many cultures, the tale of the individual who is challenged to walk through the gauntlet, to vanquish the enemy, to achieve peace and knowledge even if cost is dear.
I read that first issue of Camelot 3000, and while I was reading it I escaped the hell of my life. And I kept going back to the comic book store and I kept reading C3000, and I bought and read other comics. I even wrote a “Letter to the Editor” that appeared in an issue of Green Lantern.
It was finally, and properly, diagnosed and named in 1990 as clinical depression.
And yes, naming the monster gave me power.
But I still hate it. Because it never really goes away, y’know? Even with medication and therapy, it’s always there, teasing me. “I’m still here. I had you once. I can have you again.” And sometimes it does, for a little while. The past month, for instance. But I have named it, and so its power is not what it was. And then, too, sometimes I think…
If the monster had not taken hold of me, if I had not had to struggle and walk through the gauntlet, I would have never walked into that comic book store in 1982 and started reading comics again. I would have never sat down on a rainy Sunday and written Jenesis, the story that led me to Karen Berger and New Talent Showcase and all the wonderful things that followed it. I would have never written Lois Lane: When It Rains, God Is Crying, and never would have been able to understand the pain of Chalk Drawings (Wonder Woman #46), which I co-wrote with George Pérez. I would have never gone to conventions and met so many wonderful people – this means you, Mike, John, Kim, and Mary. And you, Martha. And you, Bob Greenberger. And Karen and Len and Marv and Mike Grell and Tom Brevoort and Trina Robbins and Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner and Marie Javins. And so many others, some of who are no longer with us – Dick Giordano and Gray Morrow and Don Heck and Mark Gruenwald…
I hate you, depression.
I hate you with a passion that frightens me. You have fucked up my life in too many goddamn ways.
I would not be here now without you.
I said once before, in a previous column, that nothing is wasted.
This is Wednesday, so perhaps you have finished reading all those free comic books you copped last Saturday – in time for today’s new releases, of course. I hope you tried some new stuff; that, after all, is the purpose of the exercise.
I hope you got your free comics at all. Fans are limited by their proximity to a comic book store; despite the (slow) growth in outlets, finding a store remains a trauma exacerbated in less urban environs. Of course, if you are within distance of a comics shop, your friendly neighborhood retailer has to participate in Diamond Comic Distributors’ Free Comic Book Day program – and that’s a fairly expensive proposition.
No criticism is intended here: it’s a good program, and all Diamond is asking is that retailers pay their share of the expenses. Nonetheless, some retailers find the cost is prohibitive. Running a comic book store is a scary proposition: every month, the owner stares at the order form and literally bets the rent on his non-returnable choices. If you’ve made some bad calls, you might not have the coin for this promotion. And if you’re doing okay, you might know from previous experience that there is an insufficient return on investment. That’s called “business.”
One of the benefits of the convention circuit is that I get to see friends from all over the country. In the two weeks prior to Free Comic Book Day, I was at AwesomeCon in Washington DC and C2E2 in Chicago. Several retailer friends told me in Washington that they weren’t participating in FCBD, usually for the reasons I noted above. Hmmmm, I said.
The following week I was in Chicago and I asked several other retailer friends if they were playing in. Their general response was “What? Of course I am! Do you think I’m nuts?”
Well, I just might, but not over FCBD. It’s each retailer’s decision, and he or she makes that decision based upon the balance sheet and prior experience. If, ultimately, it expands their sales it’s a good idea and if it does not expand their sales, it’s a bad idea. It’s just that simple.
I like FCBD because it gives me, as a reader, the opportunity to sample stuff that I have overlooked. There are roughly 500 new comic books published each month, not counting direct-to-digital, and even if I have the Sultan of Brunei’s bank account I don’t have time to read even a small fraction of the total output. Plus, I’m an old newspaper strip fan and, as Mark Wheatley says, this is the golden age of newspaper reprints. Let’s face it, I’ve got a life. And that life has a television set.
The coolest part for me is coming across something unexpected. For example, the 2014 FCBD edition of 2000 AD contained a Judge Dredd story by my pal Chris Burnham, who neglected to tell me he did this job when I saw him the previous week. I forgive him, and respect the fact that he’s capably following in the footsteps of Carlos Ezquerra, Brian Bolland, Mick McMahon, Ian Gibson and other top-rank Dredd artists. As I moved into the guts of the book I was pleased to see Jan Duursema’s art on the Durham Red story. Pretty damn cool.
I guess for me, the whole Free Comic Book Day thing addresses that inner-fanboy that all too often is pushed aside by “professional considerations.” So, as a consumer, FCBD is a very good thing.
Besides. I like Rocket Raccoon. Hey, we’ve all got something to promote!
“I have called on the Goddess and found her within myself”
Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Mists of Avalon
Feeling very Hemingway-esque because I am sitting here in front of the computer sipping a glass of merlot and smoking a cigarette while I write – although the truth, according to the website Food Republic, is that while the Master was “notoriously fond of drinking…he refrained from indulging while writing [and] when asked in an interview if rumors of him taking a pitcher of martinis to work every morning were true, he answered, “Jeezus Christ! Have you ever heard of anyone who drank while he worked? You’re thinking of Faulkner. He does sometimes – and I can tell right in the middle of a page when he’s had his first one. Besides, who in hell would mix more than one martini at a time?”
Not to mention that Hemingway’s favorite instrument for writing was the (lowly?) pencil. “Writing it first in pencil gives you one-third more chance to improve it… It also keeps it fluid longer so that you can better it easier” he wrote in his book On Writing. Although he would then transcribe it to his typewriter – over his writing career he used the Corona No. 3 & No.4, an Underwood Noiseless Portable, various Royal portables – aha! My first typewriter was a Royal portable – and a Halda portable (which, according to www.myTypewriter.com, was recently sold in an online auction, although the article doesn’t state the final bid).
Well, be that as it may – and also because I never could get into Faulkner, maybe because he is just waaaay too morosely Southern for this New York Jewish chick – Ernest still lurks beside me while I work today on my Mac desktop. And the merlot is very fine, fruity and yet exquisitely dry, from a Chilean vineyard I never heard of, but I loved the name on the bottle…
Anyway, since Sunday is Mother’s Day, I wanted to write about mothers, but in a different way …
I’m currently rereading, for the thousandth time, The Mists of Avalon by the late, and very great, Marion Zimmer Bradley. Simply put, it is Le’Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory, perhaps better known to you as The Once and Future King by T.H. White or The Idylls of the King by Tennyson, or the movie Excalibur, produced, directed, and co-written by John Boorman, or Camelot 3000 by Mike W. Barr and Brian Bolland, published by DC Comics over three years (1982 – 1985), which makes it DC’s first maxi-series. It is the great medieval romance of King Arthur, Queen Gwenhywfar, Morgaine of the Fairies, Lancelet, and the court of Camelot and the Round Table.
Except that Bradley tells it from the point of the women.
But more than that, Bradley uses the tale to spin a story of the ancient, and original, Celtic women-as-life-bearers, Mother Goddess-centric religion of the British Isles and its battle, with a patriarchal Christianity in which women were looked on, through Eve, as the source of original sin.
It is a story of women struggling to maintain their dignity, their wisdom, their power, and their equality in a world in which masculinity is uprooting their place in it.
At the end of Mists, Morgaine, sister to King Arthur, High Priestess of the Goddess, and the Lady of the Lake, goes through the mists that hide and separate the world of the Mother (the enchanted isle of Avalon) to visit the tomb of her mentor and aunt, Viviane, the greatest of the Ladies of the Lake, which now rests on what it is called the Isle of Priests or the Isle of Glass (Glastonbury) in “man’s world.” (Avalon and Glastonbury are also symbols of the duality of nature and humankind that Bradley discusses throughout the novel, as both are the same island, separated only by the mystical planes of existence). At first distraught and bitter that Viviane’s final resting place is in the world of the patriarchal Christians that call the Mother Goddess “demon,” Morgaine comes to a statue of Mary, the mother of Jesus…
And there she realizes that the Mother she worships has not left the world of men, but only taken on a new form; forever and ever, she realizes, the Mother Goddess will live in the hearts of humankind.
I searched Google to see if anyone had adapted The Mists of Avalon into comics form, and found none, though there were many, besides Camelot 3000, that adapted the Arthurian legends in one way or another. I think it would make an amazing adaptation; two artists that come immediately to mind for it are Jill Thompson and Charles Vess. And yes, of course I would love to write it, because it is a story, I think, which is particularly relevant today in our comics world.
Martha Thomases and I have written here about the negativity, bigotry, and the outward hatred being displayed towards women in comics and its related fields (such as gaming and cosplay) and it would take little more than a quick Google search to find other articles and blogs written by Heidi MacDonald, Corinna Lawson, Janelle Asselin, Alice Mercier, and, unfortunately, too many more. But as I reread Mists, I think some of the power of the Goddess comes down into my soul, and I feel uplifted; not angry or bitter or even snide about the abuses or the abusers, but actually sorry for them; that they are so consumed with fear and jealousy, and, oh, just so much negative emotions that they are unable to allow their feminine side to come out into the light.
Because, oh yes, these men do have the Goddess within them, just as we women have the God within us. As is said so many times by so many of the players in Mists, in different words and in different ways, but all still meaning the one truth: “All the Gods are one God, and all the Goddesses are one Goddess, and the one God and the One Goddess together are the Initiator, and the Initiator dwells within us all.”
“Don’t you wish you had a job like mine? All you have to do is think up a certain number of words! Plus, you can repeat words! And they don’t even have to be true!” – Dave Barry
Some thoughts this week reflecting upon my fellow ComicMix columnists’ opinions…
Last week Martha Thomases felt compelled to once again write about the bullshit practice of attacking women who “o-pine” (as Bill O’Reilly says) and dare to speak “truthiness,” as Stephen Colbert puts it, in her column, Criticizing Criticism. Toward the end of the piece Martha wrote about a panel at Washington, D.C.’s Awesome Con (held just this past weekend) that she was planning on attending. The name of the panel was “Part-Time Writer, Full Time World.” All the panelists were women, and apparently they were going to “O-pine” and “speak truthiness” about balancing the demands of a full time job, of being a parent, of having a part-time job – with these women, the “part-time” job is writing – with having time for your personal life, all while keeping a sane thought in your head. She made an excellent point when she pointed out that there were no men on the panel.
To (mostly) quote myself in the “comments” section of Martha’s column:
“As far as the full-time job/parenting/writing/hobby balance thing, it’s not a question of whether or not men don’t do any parenting. I think a lot of men are extremely involved in their kids’ lives these days.
“But what I think what Martha is pointing out is the assumption by the con runners, or at least those who set up this particular panel, that it’s only women who are dealing with this conundrum. Or, to give them the benefit of the doubt, maybe they just wanted to do a “Women in Comics” panel and thought this would be an interesting twist on the subject. Either way, it does seem somewhat sexist–against both sexes for a change!
“The answer, btw – and I feel that I am qualified to answer this conundrum because I was a single parent, and also because I’m now watching Alix and Jeff juggle parenthood, work, and school – is, paraphrasing a certain global sports apparel company:
“‘You just do it’…
“While seeking plenty of help from family, friends, babysitters – and sometimes, if you’re really lucky, an understanding boss or editor.
“And then, when the kids are all grown up and have families of their own, you have the luxury of being a grandmother, and you can just love and spoil the kid and then hand him back when you’re tired or he get’s cranky or it’s just time for you to have some
“And be proud of yourself, because you just ‘did’ it.”
Denny’s and Marc’s columns made me think once again of how Marvel is doing everything right, and how DC is doing everything wrong. As I indicated in last week’s column, Marvel’s creation of a “telefilmverse” has been just brilliant in its adaptation of its comic universe’s history, in its invigoration of old concepts and old heroes, and in the excitement and joy its inventiveness is creating in both old and new fans.
I grew up a total DC geek in its Silver Age. I loved The Legion Of Super-Heroes, Superboy, Green Lantern, Supergirl, and the “Imaginary Stories” of Julie Schwartz’s Superman. In the 80s and early 90s I was hooked on all things Vertigo (Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Grant Morrison’s Animal Man, to name just a few), Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s New Teen Titans, George’s Wonder Woman (even before I co-wrote it), Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen’s Legion Of Super-Heroes (before I was involved), Dan Mishkin, Gary Cohn, and Ernie Colon’s Amethyst, Princess Of Gemworld (ditto), Mike W. Barr and Brian Bolland’s Camelot 3000 (ditto) and many more. Back then DC was a groundbreaker, an innovator, “Bold” and “Brave.”
Today when I think of DC I think of words like moribund, and mired, and morose.
Today, like Marc Alan Fishman, I say, “Make Mine Marvel!”
John Ostrander: Happy, happy, happiest of birthdays! I left you a comment, but I don’t know where it went, because it’s not there now. Just know that I wish you everything you talk about in the column – to live even longer than your paternal grandfather and his continue to bang out comic series and a new novel on a regular basis. I can’t wait to read the new GrimJack series, and that brilliant novel that resides on the New York Times Bestseller list for longer than Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games ever did. I want to see Peter David green with envy (just teasing, Peter!) with your success. Hell, I want to see me turn green with envy and choleric with bitterness about your success! And I want you to remember, bro, in the words of that old poet-hipster, James Taylor…