Tagged: Chuck Dixon

Joe Corallo: Mine @ NYCC & #ComicsGate

This past week or so has been about getting ready for NYCC. ComicMix has a panel for our successfully funded comics collection, Mine!, which benefits Planned Parenthood. I’ll be there with fellow ComicMix team members Molly Jackson, Mike Gold and Mindy Newell as well as Mine! contributors Tee Franklin, Gabby Rivera and moderator Sheilah Villari. We’ll be at room 1A02 from 1:30 pm to 2:30 pm on Saturday, October 8 at the Javits Center on Manhattan’s mid-town west side. If you’re at NYCC, please come on by – we’ll have a sneak peek at some new art from the book!

This past week or so, there has also been more than a little turmoil in the comics community.

Since I wrote my piece about the Aubrey Sitterson incident a couple of weeks ago, events surrounding #ComicsGate have escalated. From blocking and doxxing to accusations and deplatforming, things are really intensifying in the lead-up to NYCC as followers and subscribers keep going up after these conservative comics critics involved. Because of everything that’s been going on I feel that it’s important to discuss this further.

As I stated last time, part of what’s been going on has been that comics critics on YouTube and social media who lean conservative (or libertarian, in this instance) are calling out specific creators for their content; being Social Justice Warriors (SJWs); and are, in some cases using direct and targeting language that attacks a creator for their minority status. Often in cases like this, and #ComicsGate is no exception, some followers end up taking things to the next level and using even more divisive and hurtful language and carrying out acts of targeted harassment and doxxing.

A video one comics critic released last week specifically targeted one comics journalist. The video ended up being flagged, then deleted by the uploader. Not long after, more videos were flagged on this comics critic’s YouTube account, leading to the account in question being suspended. Tensions have risen as accusations of attempted deplatforming of comics critics by comics journalists are being raised. As in #GamerGate, we are seeing similar arguments of “It’s about ethics in journalism,” whether or not that’s the actual issue.

Whenever issues like these come up or any other divisive politically driven issues arise you often hear the same things. You hear people talk about how the other side is horrible, how we shouldn’t even attempt to understand them and how we need to focus on beating them back and diminishing them. But in my case, I usually like to at least understand how things have come to be how they are.

Many of these conservative-leaning comics critics do more than provoke harassment of comics professionals to whom they are opposed: They’ve built a community. Like-minded comics fans who have similar issues with the direction that mainstream comics are going in get together for online hangouts, talk about the comics and creators they like, and more. Some of what they talk about I can even get behind, like how Black Bolt is one of my favorite books that Marvel is putting out right now. It’s easy to paint everyone involved as a troll, and that’s not to say there aren’t any trolls involved, but there are a lot of others who are fans of comics that want to see changes made and get riled up and moved to action when they can rally against perceived hypocrisy and calls to violence from the left.

Look, I’m an unapologetic liberal and political activist — I’m working on a Planned Parenthood benefit anthology, after all. That said, comics is not an exclusively liberal or conservative space and we have to exist without this level of conflict. There are plenty of conservative voices in comics who have put out quality work over the years including Chuck Dixon, Mike Baron, and Frank Miller. I (and others) am not advocating for an eradication of conservative thought from the comics medium.

With that in mind, there are things that cannot be tolerated. Transphobic language and personal attacks targeted at comics professionals and journalists cannot be tolerated. Using a creator’s’ background and minority status to attack them and their work cannot be tolerated. Allowing followers to go unchecked in their further attacks on comics professionals cannot be tolerated. Creators are getting death threats. We need comics professionals to feel safe.

Conservative voices in comics aren’t ever going to go away. If these comics critics, or anyone for that matter, want to be taken seriously by the comics industry that they’re criticizing then they need to drop the bigoted language and personal targeted attacks, and lead by example and call out the increasingly abusive behaviors of some their followers.

 

Marc Alan Fishman: Can I Love the Art But Not the Artist?

I’ve been perplexed. As I’m sure so many of you have been paying at least a modicum of attention to the comings and goings of our President, no doubt you’ve seen a rise of discourse throughout your social feeds and TV screens concerning the separation of art and the artist.

OK, it’s really an argument about whether using the national anthem as the background for non-violent protest is offensive. Okay. Follow me here, kiddos.

Among the master debaters I’ve followed, one argument floated to the top of my gaze. It was the notion that professional athletes are in fact paid to entertain and therefore should be reprimanded and subjugated to dismissal from their jobs if their actions fail to entertain the fanbase of said sports team from which they hail. In short, I think that argument is hilariously off-base. Professional athletes are in fact paid to play a game. Yes, they are company men who must project the professional je ne sais quoi of their team out in the real world. But they are American and are actually free to act as they see fit. Taking a knee during a song is not a fire-able offense. Period.

If you disagree, I know no amount of my chortling will change your mind. I welcome you to leave my column. Door is over there to the left, marked “Ignorance is bliss.” You find that offensive? Too bad. This is America and I can label my door anyway I want. Especially when the door isn’t real.

This whole kerfuffle led me down a path though – taking to heart the idea that certain artists (musicians, writers, fine artists, etc.) whose work I am fond of may hold different political, religious, or personal opinions than my own. And upon learning these things… could I in fact still enjoy their art separate from themselves?

Let’s start with comic books. Bill Willingham, Frank Miller, Ethan Van Sciver, and Chuck Dixon have each let slip their leanings towards a more conservative mindset. I’d even go as far as to say that I once followed one those men on Facebook before learning of said leaning. A few ranty posts later, I delightfully unfollowed them and skipped on down the road. I’ve read (and loved) a ton of Fables. Green Lantern: Rebirth remains one of my favorite series of all time. The Dark Knight Rises and Sin City are masterpieces worthy of college class theses.  And Chuck Dixon penned nearly a baker’s dozen of books I absorbed in my adolescence. Knowing what I know about who each of these men may have voted for hasn’t stopped me from loving any of their work since.

That being said, I felt no need to read Holy Terror.

While I personally never liked Kid Rock or Ted Nugent, I’d be lying if I said I’ve never bobbed my head to Bawitdaba or Cat Scratch Fever.

Remove the political leanings of any of the known conservative actors – Arnold Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood, Vince Vaughn, Chuck Norris, Angie Harmon, or even that Jew-loving Mel Gibson to name but a few – and I could easily rattle off any number of their works that I’ve willingly forked over cash to enjoy. All the while knowing about their personal viewpoints being dissonant from my own.

It we cannot separate the art from the artist, we push ourselves down a slippery slope. While I wish the matter was black and white (pun intended, I suppose), shades of grey still permeate my periphery. The other day I happened upon a marathon of The Cosby Show and was tempted to revel in what I largely consider one of the best sitcoms of all time. But Bill Cosby himself feels tainted to me. And while I know deep down Hulk Hogan is likely amicable to everyone in his personal life, or those men he danced with in the squared circle. But I’d be lying if I said that when I hear I am a real American play during some nostalgic top ten on WhatCulture: that I don’t immediately recall Terry Bollea’s racist gaffe. And it causes me to just go ahead and skip to the next video. So is life.

Where to fall now, though? For me, the litmus test lies in the totality of the person, and the quality of the art. There’s an algorithm to determine where my personal line of demarcation exists, but I’d like to think that if a person is civil in their ability to voice their opinion, if they consider the time and place when to share it and their ability to listen to the opposition with an open mind, then let them do and be free.

Let their art stand on its own, should it be art that is separate from their personal opinions. Because without that open mind, I know I’m only shuttering myself to worlds not yet explored. And that would be wholly un-American of me.

Ed Catto: On Target with Green Arrow and Richard Gray

Moving Target: The History and Evolution of Green Arrow by Richard Gray. Sequart, $17.99 paperback; $6.99 Kindle edition

Way back when, Green Arrow was sort of the “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” of the superhero set. For a long time, fans could enjoy a new Green Arrow adventure just about every month, but he didn’t enjoy the headliner popularity of his hero pals like Batman or even Wonder Woman.

That’s all almost forgotten now. Today, so many fans enjoy this modern-day Robin Hood in comics, on TV and with licensed merchandise.

For some, Green Arrow became “a thing” when he debuted on TV, first as one of Superboy’s pals in Smallville and then in his own series. (He was briefly on Saturday morning cartoons before that too.)

Comics fan, and local dad, Greg Parker started with the TV series and now reads the comics. “In today’s world of income imbalance and overall division, Oliver Queen represents someone willing to do the right thing, whatever that may be,” said Parker.  “Green Arrow has no superpowers. He simply wants to help defend his city from criminals and corruption. This is why we read about superheroes, someone doing the right thing regardless of the consequences to his fortune or popularity.”

For some fans, certain points of Green Arrow’s long comics career was their jumping on point. Many readers started to embrace this character during the groundbreaking Green Lantern/Green Arrow series by Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams. Or it might have been when he finally headlined his own comic in a four-part mini-series by Mike W. Barr and Trevor Von Eeden. Other fans sat up and took notice during the 90s with The Longbow Hunters comic prestige series and the subsequent ongoing comic series by Mike Grell, Mike Gold, Ed Hannigan, Dick Giordano, Dan Jurgens and so many other talented folks. I should note that this iteration was shepherded by ComicMix’s own Mike Gold.

For me, Green Arrow was a “barbershop hero.” As a young boy, I distinguished the tattered comics I’d read in the barber shop from the new comics my dad would buy for me. For whatever reason, the local barber had a lot of old DC Comics with Green Arrow backup adventures. I never gave Green Arrow a lot of thought outside of getting my hair cut.

But one day I finally gained respect for Green Arrow. There was an adventure when a small child was confronted by a wild moose and Green Arrow saved the day with his “Antler Arrow.” I realized it takes a special kind of superhero to anticipate moose-related dangers, I realized.

I always liked the character after that. In my mind, it was years later, during the 90s Urban Hunter phase shepherded by Gold, Grell, Hannigan and others, when Green Arrow really grew up.

And It was during this Urban Hunter era that Green Arrow became a favorite of Australian writer Richard Gray. Those 90s comics were his starting point. Now he’s made himself something of a Green Arrow expert – searching out all the old stories and keeping up with the new comics, TV appearances and merchandise.

Gray wrote Moving Target: The History and Evolution of Green Arrow, which just debuted and is published by Sequart.

He revealed that as part of his podcast, he had wanted to create one article on Green Arrow. But then he found there was too much to fit into one post. One blog became seven blogs, and that eventually became a book.

Gray’s pal, Ryan K. Lindsay, had written a Daredevil book, referred him to Sequart and Moving Target happened.

As I started my interview with Gray, I first wanted to understand if his Australian POV was similar to that of standard US comic fan. I was familiar with Australian titles like Tip Top (reprinting DC titles in the 60s and 70s), but more recently I had heard about how wonderful the Australian Comic Shops are. And that always seemed to be during the Eisner Awards Spirit of Retailer discussions. Gray explained to me that Australians now get their comics about the same time as stateside fans do. So it’s easy to keep up with Geek Culture and characters like Green Arrow. The direct market made it happen, although he remembers when he started reading comics and every corner had a “card store” that sold comics.

It was really right about the time when Oliver Queen died, and Conner Hawke took over, that Gray became a big Green Arrow fan. His passion for the character was ratcheted up when Kevin Smith started writing the adventures of a “returned from the dead” Oliver Queen.

“I did miss Conner Hawke – he was underused,” recalls Gray. “The story I wanted to see was with the two Green Arrows. I wanted to see what the interaction would look like. I wanted to see two Green Arrows on a page.”

He’s less enamored with the recent changes to character in the New 52 and Rebirth, although he noted that the GA we know has seemed to return with the legacy elements.

But as the guy who wrote the book on Green Arrow, Gray asserts that for this character, all roads lead back to O’Neil and Adams era.

“It was during that period where they established he was a liberal and wasn’t afraid of standing up to the gods of the Justice League,” said Gray. “In the very first issue of that run – he’s holding up them up to task. But also proving, in the process, that he can be wrong too. Green Arrow’s single-mindedness can be a weakness for him.”Gray talks about how enjoyed seeing the character struggle as a regular guy. And he mentioned how a favorite Green Arrow story was from that Mike Barr and Trevor von Eeden series. I learned, in my recent research on the cult hit comic Thriller, a bit about this Green Arrow mini-series. Artist Von Eeden was assigned to his mini-series in order to slow him down and keep him from starting work on Thriller.  In retrospect, the Green Arrow series certainly holds up and Von Eeden’s art is spectacular.

There’s so much to Gray’s Moving Target, including:

  • Speedy – Green Arrow’s sidekick was always a favorite of mine. Gray does not disappoint and provides a meaty section focusing on Speedy.
  • Kirby – Likewise, Gray has a long chapter on Jack Kirby’s contribution to the series. Although Kirby’s run on Green Arrow was painfully brief, and how it important it has been in defining the character.
  • Interviews – There’s plenty of in-depth interviews too. Gray chats with long-time creators like Neal Adams, Mike Grell, and Chuck Dixon as well as some of the modern era writers like Jeff Lemire and Brad Meltzer.
  • Foreward – And while not really an interview, Phil Hester kicks it all off with a humble and insightful forward.

Moving Target covers a lot of ground with care and detailed analysis. There’s something here for every Green Arrow fan.

Ed Catto’s Comic-Con Conversation with Graham Nolan

I can’t agree with fans that hate big crowds at big comic conventions. I tend to like big crowds. And I am always astonished by the way the San Diego Comic-Con takes over that town. I’m also in awe that the New York Comic Con is the biggest convention held in New York City’s Javits Center. The massive attendees at every big comic-con are both testaments to Geek Culture, and virtual victory laps for all fans everywhere.

To be honest, I also enjoy smaller comic conventions. There’s something special about being able to just wander up to a favorite creator and engage in a conversation with him or her. And at smaller shows, it’s empowering to be able to casually flip through a long box of comics to search for treasures, without elbowing your way through a crushing wall of other fans searching for their own treasures.

I’ll never forget a great experience I had at a smaller show years ago. A local comic con decided to expand with a second show. They decided to hold this spinoff convention in in the open area of a mall. Attendance was abysmal, but that worked out in my favor. Jim Shooter, the headlining professional, very patiently answered all my young fanboy questions for hours and hours. There was no one else waiting to speak to him, after all. I don’t think I talked for 24 hours straight, but I’m sure it seemed that way to Jim. And you know what? That was a kindness I’ve never forgotten.

So it’s no surprise that I’m very excited for Syracuse’s Salt City Comic-Con in June. I’ve recently moved from metro New York to the Finger Lakes, and we’re finding so many cool things going on up here. This convention looks to be a very substantial comic-con with a small show feel.
One of my favorite artists, Graham Nolan, will be a guest at this year’s show. Part of why I like his art so much is that he’s been involved with so many of my favorite stories. I fondly recall the introduction of Bane, the first villain to soundly defeat Batman. And the adventure of two immigrants from Thanagar assimilating to American culture in the Hawkworld series was fascinating and fresh.

But the other part of why I enjoy his work is that Nolan’s always been able to deliver solid artwork with a flair for the dramatic. It’s grounded, but it’s fantastic. Every Graham Nolan page is an example of fine draftsmanship, but also always infused with a thrilling level of action and adventure.

So, unable to wait until the convention in June, I wanted to have a one of those
substantial convention conversations with this fine artist. I reached out to Graham Nolan for this pre-con conversation:

Ed Catto: You were an early graduate of the Joe Kubert School. What are your fondest memories of that experience?

Graham Nolan: Actually, I never graduated from Kubert’s. I ran out of money for the third year. The two years I did attend were a great experience though. I learned a lot and was surrounded by people that shared the same passions as I did.

EC: We tend to revere Joe Kubert around here – what was it like learning from him?

GN: Joe was a force of nature. He had a presence that few have. When he spoke, you listened. He made everything he did seem so damn easy.

EC: You worked on Power Of The Atom, an Atom reboot, with CNY-er Roger Stern. Those were exciting times and it seemed to shine through in that series. What stands out in your memory about that series?

GN: It was a fun series that I wish I had been on from issue #1

EC: Our regular readers know how enamored I am with your Hawkworld series. Can you tell us a little about that series, what you were looking to achieve with it, and what your thoughts on it today are?

GN: That was a tough act to follow. I was passed the reigns from the popular mini-series by Tim Truman and Alcatena. I wanted to capture the feel of that series but add my own sense of storytelling dynamism to it.

EC: Follow-up question – Any thoughts on following in the footsteps of Joe Kubert on Hawkman?

GN: Not really. Hawkworld was so far afield from Joe’s work I felt like I was following Truman and not Kubert.

EC: You spent so much time working The Phantomwith fantastic results. Was that a labor of love for you?

GN: I always loved The Phantom. When Don Newton did the art for the Charlton books, I really flipped over the character. The Phantom was my Mom’s favorite character growing up. I regret that she passed before getting to see me take over the character.

EC: Comic strips like Rex Morgan, M.D. don’t seem to get the same fan appreciation at comic conventions. Do you find that frustrating?

GN: Comic strips don’t seem to get fan appreciation anywhere! The newspaper is a dying delivery device for comic-strips. They are so small these days that there are some strips I can’t even read!

EC: Monster Island was your own property. How different is it work on something like that as opposed to big company characters?

GN: Everything has to be created from scratch vs. it being established by others. But the creative freedom is wonderful.

EC: Let’s look ahead – can you tell us what you’re working on now?

GN: I’m currently doing my weekly humor strip, Sunshine State for GoComics.com and Chuck Dixon and I are back at DC working on a 12 issue Bane project called Bane: Conquest.

EC: Sounds like fun stuff, Graham, really looking forward to it all.

For more information on Graham Nolan, check out his site here, and for more information on Syracuse’s Salt City Comic-Con, check out their site here.

Martha Thomases: Hot Town, Winter In The City

I missed Cher.

This was Thursday night last week, at a rally in Manhattan’s Columbus Circle outside of a Trump hotel. I went, as I often do, to put my body on the line for something in which I believe. In this case, I wanted to stand with my fellow New Yorkers to express my horror about the Inauguration taking place the next day.

I stood there for about an hour. A woman sang, beautifully. Rosie Perez welcomed us. Alec Baldwin did his Trump impression. Steve Buscemi talked. New York City mayor Bill deBlasio spoke, followed by the mayor of Minneapolis. Michael Moore was very funny, but at this point, my back started to hurt, and I decided that I had been seen enough to make my statement.

Andy Warhol famously said that, in the future, everyone would be famous for 15 minutes. He did not explain why we should care.

I bring this up because so many people get upset or excited about celebrities expressing their political opinions. Some pundits speculate that one of the reasons Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election was that people were sick of her celebrity endorsers (including Katie Perry, Beyonce, Meryl Streep and Bruce Springsteen) campaigning for her.

We saw another flare-up of celebrity opinions, and the resulting backlash, this past week, at the Inauguration and the Women’s March. None of the so-called “A List” stars would perform for the Inauguration, which reportedly angered Trump and his followers. At the same time, a lot of celebrities spoke at the Women’s March, or simply marched with their friends, and without an entourage. Melissa Benoit (Supergirl), Peter Capaldi (the Doctor), Whoopi Goldberg (Star Trek, among many others), Ian McKellan (Magneto, with a Patrick Stewart sign), Gillian Anderson (X-Files) were among those at marches around the world, and I’m sure I’m leaving out bunches. There was even a march at the Sundance Film Festival, where Nick Offerman was a treasure.

There were plenty of celebrities who didn’t march, either because the issues didn’t matter to them, or they had other responsibilities that day, or because they were actively hostile to the cause. One of them, posting on Twitter, was Piers Morgan, who thought he was being clever when he said he was organizing a Men’s March.

As a result of people actually reading what Morgan wrote and taking him at his word, there were reactions. One was that Ewan McGregor canceled an interview on Morgan’s show to promote his new movie. In a snit, Morgan shot back, “Sorry that Ewan McGregor’s not here. He couldn’t bear the thought of being on the sofa with me because he doesn’t agree with me about the women’s march. I have to agree with what an actor thinks about a particular issue because they’re actors. And as we know actors’ views are more important than anybody else’s.”

To me, McGregor decided he didn’t want to waste his time talking to someone whose views he found to be disgusting. That’s his right. I don’t think McGregor was saying his views are “more important than anybody else’s.” I think he decided that life was too short.

(However, if I was the publicist for T2 Trainspotting 2, I might have been less sanguine.)

Celebrities are frequently American citizens, and, as such, have the same right to free speech as the rest of us. And, like the rest of us, when they use this right, they sometimes reveal themselves to be educated and insightful, and other times they reveal themselves to be superficial and ignorant. Their opinions are no more or less important than anyone else’s.

Over the years, I’ve been at events (usually fundraisers for charities or politicians) where various celebrities have been in attendance. Sometimes they shut themselves off in a VIP area. Sometimes they mingle with the crowd. Sometimes they let you take selfies with them, and sometimes they even talk to you. In that, they are similar to the other people in attendance, except with bodyguards.

Our own little world of comics is part of this now, since, apparently, our new president is a Christopher Nolan fan. As many pointed out, Trump lifted some of his inaugural address from The Dark Knight Rises, which is even more amazing when one considers that the character he swiped from was Bane, the villain. Bane creators Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan were interviewed by several media outlets, and, in the process, described themselves as Trump supporters.

Good for them. I disagree, of course, but I was delighted that they presented their opinions in a sane, non-hysterical manner.

More typically comic-book people are the most fun to have this discussion, inspired by this event, about whether it’s okay to punch Nazis in the face. Warren Ellis weighed in, as did some other comics pros.

I must say, that, as a pacifist, I find the only thing more attractive than punching Nazis in the face would be punching Nazi vampires in the face. And I think that, for me, both are about as likely to happen.

Martha Thomases: Fire and Anger

AIrboyIt’s high political season again, which is catnip to people like me and my fellow ComicMixers. Our meetings would take only half as long as they do if we could skip the ranting and just get down to business.

This year is unusual in the level of anger we see in the electorate. Of course we have seen anger before. I, myself, would occasionally chant “Hey! Hey! LBJ!/ How many kids did you kill today!” In recent memory, the current version of the Tea Party began in rage and paranoia, with lots of murmurs about “secret” Muslims.

This cycle, however, it seems to me to be more. Lots more. Maybe I look at the wrong media, but there is so much fire on all sides.

I think this anger is related somewhat to the continued calls for diversity in all aspects of our modern life. If you read the link above (and I found it to be quite provocative), you’ll see that a great many middle-class and lower middle-class white voters, especially men, feel as if they aren’t being heard.

To anyone who isn’t a white man, this seems, on its face, to be ludicrous. When one is anything but, every story told seems to be from the perspective of white men. They star in most mass media and even when they aren’t the stars, they are most often the writers and producers and directors. They are the acquiring editors, publishers and authors.

But …

Most of us grew up in a world in which white men were the voices of authority, the guides of the narrative. We accepted that as normal. When it changed, some of us celebrated the increased choices, but some of us felt as if something was taken away. We felt lessened, and we want to “take our country back” or make it great “again.”

I’ve been hearing a version of this argument for at least 40 years. Men who played by the rules of their time, who graduated high school and got good (union) factory jobs could expect to build a home and family, with enough for an occasional vacation and a new car. Their wives would take car of the house and kids, and defer major decisions to the Lord of the Castle.

It seems to me this changed radically in the 1970s, and certainly by the 1980s, anyone graduating from high school with such assumptions wasn’t paying attention. However, the increasing income inequality means that the rules have changed (a college degree doesn’t guarantee anything but student debt), and there are more and more people who feel left behind.

Pop culture can’t fix this by itself, and certainly comics, one small part of pop culture, can’t. However, they can help alienated white men feel like they can understand, and even benefit from experiences different from their own.

As a Jewish woman, I’ve loved books written by devout Christians. As a feminist, I’ve enjoyed books by patriarchal men.

The book I’ve read most recently that gave me insight into the experiences of white middle-class (and lower middle-class) men was Trashed. There is no way I would be able to live a life described in those pages (for one thing, I lack the upper body strength), but reading the book made me feel that I knew what it was like.

In other words, my political perspective doesn’t necessarily inform my entertainment choices, and my entertainment choices don’t necessarily affect my political perspective. Sometimes they do, but often they don’t. I’m a big fan of Chuck Dixon‘s, for example, and we don’t agree on much except we love comics.

It’s okay. We can disagree and still tell each other stories.

Mike Gold: Airboy Takes Flight – Again

Airboy Cover

This may be hard to believe, but every once in a while the good folks at ComicMix L.L.C. act as though we really are a corporation. Yeah, it’s hard for me to believe that, too.

Last Sunday, our “senior” staff (a phrase that has nothing to do with age, until August 4th) met at Martha Thomases’ plush Greenwich Village condo. Adriane Nash and I were there right on time, but Glenn Hauman was caught in traffic in the Lincoln Tunnel, an all-too-common experience for those trying to escape the land of Christie. Not a problem; Martha’s kittycat Selina (yep; Selina – fangirls, go know) was making a rare public appearance. The conversation turned to this week’s comic books. I started out bitching about Bizarro #1 and Martha defended it nicely. No, I did not complain about internal consistency. I stopped doing that around Adventure Comics #285. Then Martha asked:

“What did you think of Airboy #1?”

“I haven’t read it yet, but it’s at the top of my pile” I lied. Everybody knows I read my comics on my iPad. “I love the character, but I’m annoyed Chuck Dixon didn’t write it.”

Martha was about to say something like “Yes, but James Robinson did” but it is even better known that my opinion of James’ work is so high that if he were writing the back panels of milk cartons I’d sell my cow. So, instead, Martha said “Chuck Dixon could not have written this book.” Then she smiled that smile that would make the Cheshire Cat jealous.

Chuck Dixon has been writing Airboy off-and-on for 30 years for at least three different publishers. IDW has been Omnibusing it lately. Obviously, I like it. Indeed, I like the original Golden Age character. It was Dick Giordano’s favorite as a kid and we used to talk about it on the commuter train after leaving DC for the day, much to the chagrin of our fellow travelers who really didn’t care to eavesdrop on a couple of extreme fanboys.

I told Martha I was really looking forward to it, and she repeated “Chuck Dixon could not have written this book,” this time with a sort of Lauren Bacall delivery.

“Fine,” I replied. “You don’t have to ask me twice to read a James Robinson comic book.” Or a James Robinson milk carton. “I’ll give you a call when I’m done, probably around one in the morning.” Martha goes to sleep when the sun goes down, and she knew I was kidding. She knew I’d email her at one in the morning.

And I did. I sent her a screen dump of just one panel of the issue. I sent her this one.

Airboy panel

The naked guy is James Robinson. The clothed guy is Airboy artist Greg Hinkle. That was my review.

Martha was absolutely right. Chuck could not have written it.

I mean, he still could write Airboy and James even explains why in that very issue. But this one is something else. It reminds me of the script and layouts to the unpublished Sonic Disruptors #11, but only about three people would know that and one of them is dead.

Go buy the book. You’ll see.

 

Mike Gold: Forward, Into The Past!

Regular readers of this space know my first true love is the city of Chicago, and that I’ll use any excuse to cop a visit to my fatherland. That’s where I was this past week, and I did not need an excuse. The 15th annual Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention was in town, and, therefore, so was I.

It’s a great chance to meet up with old friends and make a couple new ones, all the while gawking at ancient publications printed on ever-deteriorating paper, more permanent facsimile reprints of same, and brand new efforts that replicate the mood, techniques and often the characters of those thrilling days of yesteryear. As my pal Jim Wisniewski says, the comradery echoes the days when comic book conventions were social occasions accessible to all… and were actually about comic books.

pulp-cover-5For the few of you who may be unaware – and who have yet to obtain the first volume of Jim Steranko’s History of Comics – comic books characters and comic book publishers got their start in those sense-of-wonder inspiring lurid tales of adventure. The Shadow, Doc Savage, John Carter of Mars, Nick Carter and The Spider, among many others, begat super-hero comics. Archie, DC Comics, and Marvel Comics, among many others that did not survive Fredric Wertham et al, got their start by publishing pulp magazines. It’s our roots.

And it’s slipping away. Paper was not meant to last forever, and pulpwood paper wasn’t meant to survive more than a month. That’s why I am so supportive of all the reprint projects. Yes, one man – another old pal, Anthony Tollin – has the lion’s share of the most popular characters but he is hardly alone in these endeavors. He’s already reprinted half of all The Shadow stories.

I am equally amazed and pleased to see so many small-press publishers (defining “small-press” as, say, not as large as Abrams and Simon and Shuster and their pals) doing “new pulp.” This is exactly what it sounds like: new stories written in the style of the classic pulps. Many of the new pulp authors are comic book veterans: Chuck Dixon, Martin Powell, CJ Henderson, Ron Fortier, John Ostrander, Paul Kupperberg, Will Murray, David Michelinie, Rob Davis… the list is as long as the long arm of the law. And it appears that I’ll be joining that stalwart group.

JimWiz laments the days when conventions were social occasions, and he’s most certainly not alone. Way back in those days, comics fans enjoyed more than comics, television and new movies. We enjoyed the pulps, sure, and we enjoyed newspaper comic strips, science fiction, mysteries, dramatic radio, illustration art… all kinds of stuff. We had a well-rounded education in America’s popular culture.

I’m not saying today’s comics fans avoid these important and closely related media, but you can’t ascertain their interest from going to shows such as this weekend’s C2E2 or the New York Comicon or the San Diego Comic-Con. Indeed, if you walk around these megashows and their ilk, you’d have a hard time ascertaining the level of interest in comic books. These shows have very little to do with comic books per se, and some of these convention organizers (note I said “some” and not “all”) clearly could not care less.

So when I go to shows such as the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention – and there are many others; check out Pulp Coming Attractions for all the news in the pulp world, including these shows.

This stuff has little to do with nostalgia. It’s all about our cultural heritage.

And the folks doing the new stuff, the reprints, and the conventions are true cultural warriors.

 

 

Mindy Newell Is Jus’ Ramblin’ On

DidioJust a bunch of random thoughts this week, gang…

As I mentioned two weeks ago, Martha Thomases and I go waaaay back to the days when she was DC’s go-to woman for marketing and promotions and I was a naive, newbie freelance writer for the company who always stuck my head in her doorway (“hey, Martha”) whenever I was in the office. We have always been kindred spirits in political thought and our taste in literature, television, and moves have always coincided more than they have diverged, and now Martha’s latest column extends that coincidence to some critics.

Martha, you have more patience than I do; I couldn’t even finish the piece because I got so annoyed. So, yeah, I’m not an A.O. Scott fan, either, although I do think he writes beautifully. In my not-so-humble opinion, Mr. Scott is a bit of a snob and a critic in the Rex Reed mold – meaning that he seems to actually enjoy tearing down anything that smells of popular culture because in Mr. Scott’s world “popular” is a euphemism for a four-letter word.

Martha’s column made me wonder if Mr. Scott would have decried Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and his Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) or Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1883) and Kidnapped and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (both in 1886) or James Fenimore Cooper’s The Leatherstocking Tales (of which The Last of the Mohicans (1826) is the second book in the series) or Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and its sequel, Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found (1871) as “the death of adult American culture” if he had been employed as a critic in the eras in which these classics of American literature were published.

Writer Chuck Dixon posted the photo posted above on his Facebook page, courtesy of Iconic Superman’s own FB page. I thought it tied in nicely with Marc Alan Fishman’s column this week about the trials and tribulations of a mother and her Batman-obsessed four year-old. I do agree with Marc that it is not generally the fault of the media but the fault of the parents when children are exposed to things that are “rated M for mature.” Parents should – make that must – be aware of the contents of a book, a television show, or a movie and they must be responsible for the interactions of that child with said media. However, I also feel sad that our comics icons (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman) are, for the most part, reflecting the grayness of the adult world, the ugliness that is present in the world.

Yes, I know about the comics and cartoons (excuse me, animation shows) geared towards children, but overall, our four-colored heroes are reflections of us, the adults, and are not the standard bearers of positive ideals they should be – and, yeah, I sound like an old fogey, and not the same person who wrote a column about how she wasn’t bothered by that ass-in-the-air Spider-Woman cover. So am I a hypocrite? After all, as an adult, yes, I love writing and reading stories hewing towards the darker side of heroism and life; hell, one of the best stories I ever wrote was about a young girl who runs away with the “bad boy,” has a baby, and ultimately leaves both the kid and the father because she just can’t stand it any more (“Found and Lost,” New Talent Showcase #13, January 1985).

But as a mother, I once told Alixandra that I didn’t care what she watched or read or listened to, except I didn’t want to hear gangsta rap in the house because I didn’t want to hear songs about how the singer was going to cut up and/or kill his bitch (I also told her that I knew she would listen to it outside the house or at her friends’ houses, but in “this house you are not going to play it.”) And as a grandmother, I once tied an apron around my neck, and ran around “singing” the theme to Superman: The Movie in front of the baby (who just stared at me like I was an idiot – he was probably thinking: “this is a grandmother?”

Outlander (on STARZ) has drawn me into its spell. Much less a “bodice ripper” (see my column from a couple weeks ago) than a really, really excellent time-travel story, I told you before that I originally tuned in because Ronald D. Moore was producing it. I have not been disappointed. The dialogue continues to seem realistic and natural, the history of the period has been well researched, and English actress Caitriona Balfre does a wonderful job portraying the time-displaced heroine, Claire Randall, who, while becoming entwined in the life of the MacKenzie Clan and the Jacobite movement, which aimed to place Bonnie Prince Charles on the throne of England, still aches for her husband and life in 1945.

This past Saturday’s episode, which focused on the wedding night between Claire and Jamie, was not only incredibly sensual and sexy – I mean H-O-T, people! – it also was one of the most mature depictions of two people, basically strangers, thrown into an intimate partnership I have ever seen on the screen, big or little. This coming Saturday is the “mid-season finale” – like many shows on television these days, especially on cable, STARZ has chosen to follow the British style of short seasons – the “leave them wanting more” approach. I get it. And I know that STARZ has already renewed the show for a second season. But just how long am I going to have to wait? (If anybody knows, please leave a comment below.)

Like the rest of us, I sometimes wish there were real superheroes (men and women) so us ordinary people wouldn’t have to worry about things like global climate change and terrorists and war. As if fucking ISIL isn’t scary enough, yesterday I read an article in the New York Times about a Syrian terrorist group, led by a member of Bin Laden’s inner circle who was in on the planning of 9/11, whom the nation’s intelligence agencies deem more of a direct and more imminent threat to the U.S. than ISIL. (By the way, don’t ever use the phrase “protecting the Homeland” around me. There was a political leader in mid-20th century Germany who looked like Charlie Chaplin’s “little tramp” who liked to use that phrase.) And of course with President Obama’s plan to “train and arm rebel groups in Syria” having passed Congress, I’m betting that some our arms and training falls into the hands of these guys.

I have been a big supporter of President Barak Obama, but I gotta tell ya, I don’t know what the fuck President Obama is thinking, getting in bed with groups and nations who either don’t particularly like us or outright hate us. I keep thinking about Franklin Roosevelt and how he knew that we needed to get into the war in Europe to stop the Nazis, but with an isolationist Congress and America the best he could do was the Lend-Lease Act, by which he could supply Britain, the Free French, the Republic of China, and eventually the Soviet Union with arms and other war supplies. Perhaps Obama is trying a 21st century version of Lend-Lease, but the lines aren’t so clear-cut, and the “Allies” aren’t really allies at all.

Yeah, we could use a rollicking cry of Avengers Assemble! right about now.

 

Mindy Newell: Truth, Justice, And The American Way

Catwoman“How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!” – Maya Angelou

I read John Ostrander’s column yesterday with interest. (I always read John’s columns and love them.) Then I went to the Wall Street Journal’s website and read Chuck Dixon and Paul Rivoche’s essay.

Well, John, to a certain extent I have to agree with Chuck and Paul. It’s one thing for us, as adults, to read comics with an adult slant – meaning moral ambiguity in both our heroes and our villains. But I do think that for younger readers, the children and pre-teens (and, I suppose, depending on their maturity, some teenagers), it’s important that the heroes do act ethically and morally. They (Superman, the X-Men, Captain Marvel, Batman, Green Arrow, Wonder Woman, Daredevil, et.al.) are, not to put too fine a point on it, cultural icons…and besides, all kids need heroes to look up to – with a sense of wonder, with awe, with a desire to “be just like him/her when I grow up.”

And when their heroes fall, children are upset; they don’t understand adult haziness, they live in a black-and-white world.  I remember when Lawrence Taylor (of the New York Giants and considered the greatest linebacker in NFL history) was arrested for cocaine use. “L.T.” was one of Alixandra’s heroes, and when she heard the news – we were in the car listening to the radio – she said to me, “How could he do that, Mommy?” And in her voice there was confusion and hurt and the sound of her hero crumbling into dust.

And I was angry. At that moment I hated Lawrence Taylor. In one second he had destroyed a part of my daughter’s innocence. And I thought of all the other kids out there who had looked up to him and now, just like Alix, were asking their parents how and why and I bet those parents felt just like I did.

Now I am not one to hide the facts of life from children. I always tried to be as honest as I could be with my daughter when she asked any and all questions. And certainly, Alixandra, as a child of divorced parents, already knew that the world was not a bed of roses.

But I also believe that in a world that grows uglier by the minute – I just saw a statistic on MSNBC’s Up with Steve Koracki that there have been 74 school shootings since Newtown in 2012 – it’s more important than ever that kids have heroes.

It doesn’t matter if their heroes are fictional creations. Harry Potter, Buffy Summers, Katniss Everdeen, Percy Jackson, Matilda Wormwood, Lyra Belacqua and characters from the pages of books have captured the imagination of – and have served as inspirations to – children around the world. And it not as if their originators had fashioned perfect idols – all carry some resentment of being thrust into the hero’s role, but all also rise above their individual desires and accept the responsibility that fate has thrust upon them. Harry Potter realizes it is up to him alone to conquer Voldemort. Katniss Everdeen faces up to her leadership of the rebellion against Panem. And Buffy Summers comes to understand that “death is my gift” in her fight to save her sister and the world from the god known as Glory.

The writer has the responsibility to know his or her audience, to know for whom s/he is writing. As the cast of Buffy got older, and as the fans of the show aged along with them, Joss Whedon allowed the stories to become more complicated, to reflect the journey into adulthood that the characters, and the fans, were experiencing. Whedon also did this when he spun off Angel from Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Aiming for a more mature (read: adult) audience, the show nuanced both the main character and its perspective; there was less black-and-white, and a lot more grayness, especially as the show progressed through its five seasons. On Buffy having a soul equaled good, not having a soul equaled bad – but on Angel, having a soul didn’t necessarily make the vampire “good” – in fact, as the show progressed, Angel’s goodness became more and more a matter of degrees, became more “adultly” ambiguous. The support cast, Cordelia and Gunn and Wesley (especially Wesley!!) and the others also shifted from simple classifications to complex characterizations.

As a writer I have always been aware for whom I’m writing. I like to write for what the publishing industry calls “YA,” or the young adult market – teenagers and those in their early twenties. Certainly I have written my share of “dark” stories – in fact, that’s where my story inclinations tend to take me – but I’ve always tried to put something in there that indicates hope, even if it’s only a sliver of light, i.e., the characters have progressed to a better place. In what I think is my blackest tale (Lois Lane: When It Rains, God is Crying), a story of child abuse, abduction, and murder, and one in which there is no “happy ending,” Lois learned to let down the walls she had built around herself, learned to let her friends and family in.  And in Catwoman: My Sister’s Keeper, Selena’s “sister,” the child prostitute Holly, is taken off the streets and into in locos parentis custody by Selena’s real sister.

But I’ve also written stories for younger people in which heroes have no feet of clay.  One such story was “With Love, From Superman, a back-up in Action Comics Vol. 1, No. 566 (April, 1985).  In the story, preteen Molly Richards wants Superman’s autograph and dreams that she is Supergirl and Lois Lane – until the real Superman shows up to give her a surprise.

Of course I get that the world has changed drastically even in the short time since Alix was a child. Today’s kids are inundated with 24-hour news and factoids on the television and on the web; even when their parents do their best to shield them, their children will still hear about something at school or at their friends’ houses – it just seeps into the zeitgeist. I get that the parents have to talk to their children about things that are ugly and scary and way too “grown-up” for them…

I just believe that it’s incredibly important to keep “once upon a time,” along with “truth, justice, and the American way,” in the mix, for as long as possible.

There’s plenty of time for the corruption of their values.