Tagged: Dennis O’Neil

Martha Thomases: My Green Lantern Problem

If I’m reading their website correctly, DC Entertainment currently publishes three different Green Lantern titles, not counting the animated series tie-in. There is also a Red Lantern comic. The last several company-wide crossovers involved the Green Lantern Corps as major players.

It’s too much.

Don’t get me wrong. I like Green Lantern. I vividly remember when I bought my first copy. I was about eight years old (which would make it 1961, for those of you keeping score), and felt very grown up. I thought Green Lantern, being a science-based character, was much more intellectual than Superman or Batman at the time, with their dog pals and mischievous imps. Hal Jordan wasn’t a millionaire playboy nor an alien. He was a test pilot. He had a job.

A decade later, when Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams took over the title, I was mesmerized. They were using a character (one whom, by this time, I realized didn’t have much to do with science) in a comic book to express a point of view on the world in which I lived. How amazing was that?

By the time my son was reading comics, there were several Green Lanterns. He loved them. He especially liked Green Lantern: Mosaic, which featured John Stewart trying to assist a world that had a variety of intelligent life forms, immigrants from dozens of worlds. It seemed like a metaphor for life in New York, but I don’t know if that’s why he liked it so much.

I guess I’m trying to say that Green Lantern is a concept that different people, at different stages of their lives, can enjoy. A man (or woman) with a strong will, and a ring that can manifest that will, is a wonderful vehicle for imagination. With the introduction of the idea of the Green Lantern Corps, 3600 strong, each patrolling a different sector of the universe, the reader can see how different personalities affect the way the ring works. Some shoot green rays, some make green weapons, some create helpers. The stories are limited only by the imaginations of the creative teams.

Still, the heart of the stories was Hal Jordan. The supporting cast included fellow Lanterns Guy Gardner, Kyle Rayner, and the previously mentioned John Stewart. Sometimes one of them would replace Hal as the main Lantern for sector 2814 (that is, Earth).

Since the introduction of The New 52 last fall, the cast has expanded quite a bit. There are Lanterns of other colors of the rainbow, representing other emotions. Each color has 3600 champions (except orange, which is avarice, and its ring holder took all the other rings because, you know, avarice). The stories involving these characters, and the Guardians of the Universe who created the Corp, span all three books.

Believe me, I understand that this may be the direction that the creative teams want. They may enjoy having the cosmos as a canvas, and they may think that having different species as characters is a wonderful opportunity to comment on the human condition. If this is the case, I don’t think they’re succeeding.

I can’t keep up with everybody. Even worse, I don’t care.

I want some stories to take place on Earth. I want to see Carol Ferris, and not in her Star Sapphire costume. I want to watch John Stewart as an architect. I want to see how artist Kyle Rayner meets his magazine deadlines. I want to see Guy Gardner with Ice. Even better, I’d like to see story ideas that haven’t happened yet, but that engage me with situations with which I can relate.

I want to see humans. More to the point, I want to see human stories.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman, Gone Fishing

SUNDAY: John Ostrander, Friend to the Chickens


John Ostrander: Seduction of the Gun

In the wake of the terrible shootings in Aurora CO during the midnight showing of The Dark Night Rises, I was contacted by television station WRTV in Richmond VA to comment about my Batman anti-gun violence book, Batman: Seduction of the Gun, that was first published in 1993. Those interested in the interview can find it here.

The stand-alone Batman story was done in response to the killing of John Reisenbach, the son of a Warner’s executive. DC wanted to respond at the time and it was felt that Batman was the logical choice for the story as his own parents were victims of gun violence and had a well-known aversion of handguns.

Denny O’Neil was the Batman editor back then and offered me the writing job, knowing I had once worked with an anti-gun organization. Denny emphasized that we couldn’t just preach; first and foremost we had to tell a good story. We could make our points but they had to be part of the story. I had no problem with that; it’s one of the lessons I learned from studying Shakespeare – theme should be hardwired into the plot.

I took what I knew and then researched more. One of the things that I learned was about “straw men sales.” If you lived in a state or municipality that had strict laws about the sales of firearms, you could get around it by having someone in another state buy the gun(s) for you, even in bulk. Gangs in New York City were doing that down in Virginia. I used that as a small section of the overall story, but it resonated. Virginia’s then-governor L. Douglas Wilder used the comic to help get his modest but controversial gun control law passed – buyers could purchase one gun a month. You could have belonged to a “Gun of the Month Club” and still been perfectly legal.

I was and am proud of the book. I’ve been asked recently if I thought that DC might or should reprint it in light of the events in Colorado. I’ve thought hard on it and I’ve come to my own conclusions.

I want to say, first of all, that I have no idea whether DC has any plans to re-issue Seduction of the Gun. They haven’t said and I haven’t asked or suggested it. I don’t think they will re-issue it, however, and perhaps they shouldn’t. There are reasons why not.

First of all, it would be months before it would get out there. It would have to be solicited in the Diamond Catalog and that’s planned way ahead. I don’t know as it would appear before next year and one could question the relevance.

Second, even if the book was re-published tomorrow, this is an election year and everything gets politicized. Putting Seduction of the Gun out there now would be characterized as a political statement and I don’t think it’s one either DC or Warners wants to make. The Dark Knight Rises is already connected with those terrible murders and I can’t see Warners wanting to keep reminding people of that. They want to sell tickets. It’s hard enough these days to get people to come to the movie theater instead of just waiting to see it at home. This wouldn’t help.

Third, what audience would the book reach? There’s no stomach, no political will these days, for a further conversation about gun control or banning guns. None. Sales of guns in Colorado spiked following the tragedy. Furthermore, in the comics community, any time you do a story about an issue these days a certain very vocal percentage of the comics’ blog-o-sphere dismisses it automatically as an “Afternoon Special.”

Finally, and I don’t want to seem too bleak here, but what good would it really do? Yes, Governor Wilder used it at the time to pass his gun control legislation but that law was repealed not long ago. You can once again buy as many guns as you want in Virginia. I heard one leader in the VA government claim the law wasn’t really needed now – that they had background checks and such to prevent bad things from happening. Tell that to the victims of James Holmes. He was able to legally get all the guns he wanted.

Let me be clear: I’m not in favor of banning guns and never have been. At heart, the country is not prepared to go for that and I think you would create the same sort of situation that the government did when it banned alcohol, that it does now in banning marijuana – people wouldn’t/don’t obey resulting in a large sub-rosa underground market that would make plenty of money for Organized Crime. There are also plenty of people with a legitimate reason for guns and rifles – hunters, for one example, and on farms and ranches there’s a need for pest control. That’s always been true.

On the other hand, what need does any private citizen have for an AK-47 or similar attack rifle? Explain it to me, please, someone. It might be argued that people have a perfect right to own them and its guaranteed by the Constitution. I’ve read somewhere that your Constitutional right to self-expression ends where your fist hits my face.

I’d say the same thing applies to a bullet.

When I wrote the story, I thought it was important for the reader to have characters who were sympathetic who became victims of gun violence. I wanted the reader to feel for them, to identify with them, so they would feel some sense of loss at their deaths. You can’t argue with a closed mind but you might be able to reach people by engaging their hearts. In the Aurora shootings, there are stories of people dying to protect ones they loved, shielding them with their own bodies. There was the single father who was out with his kids for the day. There were the very young children who were shot or killed. If these true stories don’t engage the heart, I don’t know what my fictional story will do.

I would love if Seduction of the Gun became anachronistic; my fear is that it will remain relevant. The cycle will resume – more gun shootings, more hand wringing, more passionate defense of perceived Constitutional rights, and nothing more will happen. That’s the life we live.

Monday: Mindy Newell


Mike Gold: Creators’ Rights… And A Big Wrong

My original First Comics partner Rick Obadiah, who is not prone to outrage (I took care of that part), sent me an email a couple days ago expressing his pissed-offness at a piece in last Sunday’s New York Times.

For those who don’t have time to click-through, the Times essentially gives credit for the whole creators’ rights movement to Image Comics, now enjoying their 20th anniversary. I have no axe to grind with Image and I don’t think Rick does either; this is another case of typically sloppy reporting from the fantastically over-important New York Times.

In his email, Rick correctly points out that the stuff attributed to Image Comics started with First and with the other so-called independent publishers of the time: Eclipse, Comico, Now, Malibu, and others too numerous to name. I won’t quibble with the definition of “independent” – back in those days the term really meant “not Marvel/DC.” The Comics Buyers Guide even listed Disney Comics as “independent,” and that was the day I stopped using the term.

As I pointed out nearly 30 years ago in the pages of sundry First Comics, the creators’ rights movement on a publishing level started with Denis Kitchen and his fellow “underground comix” providers. The actual creators’ rights movement pretty much started on Day Two of the comic book industry when folks like Will Eisner, Bob Kane, William Moulton Marston and Joe Simon and Jack Kirby negotiated their own deals with the existing publishers and retained certain rights and/or received cover billing and/or creator credit and/or royalties.

But we – First, Eclipse, Comico, Now, Malibu, and the rest – took all that several steps further. Creators received certain ownership rights, cover billing, creator credit and royalties. Perhaps that was tame by today’s standards, but in 1983 this was akin to torching the Great Teat. We paid a price for this: all of those companies are now extinct, although some lasted nearly two decades – a good run in publishing. But we had nothing to take to the bank in terms of actual ownership when times got rough, when distributors went out of business and when investment-mania boiled over.

Once we started offering fair deals, DC and Marvel pretty rapidly started offering some of these rights under certain circumstances. That didn’t make them competitive on the creators’ rights front, but they provided acceptable safe haven to creators when times got rough on the independents front. And that includes me, and I am not ungrateful.

Did Image take this one step further when they went into business a decade later? They goddamn well should have and, yes, of course they did: the company was started by a half-dozen of the top writers and artists in the field. But Image isn’t a publisher in the traditional sense – to its credit, it’s more of a vanity press without the negative connotations of that term.

Image – and Dark Horse and more recently IDW and Dynamite – were built on the shoulders of the founders of First, Eclipse, Comico, Now, Malibu and the rest, and on our investors and our creative talent who took big risks breaking from the clutches of DC and Marvel without any guarantee those doors would reopen for them should the desire arise.

Again, I do not blame Image in the least. I blame the lazy, self-important “journalists” at the New York Times for having a historical point of view that fails to go beyond recently emailed press releases.

Here’s a secret. It is well known that the New York Times has never run comic strips. But this was not because comics were too lowbrow and well beneath their dignity. That was just their typical arrogant posturing. The New York Times didn’t run comic strips back when Pulitzer and Hearst started the medium because they couldn’t afford the fancy color presses. The paper of record, indeed.

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil and the God Particle

Martha Thomases and Seth and Ted and Flash

Pop culture can be a funny thing. I don’t mean “Ha ha” funny, although that is also sometimes true. I mean funny as in a head-shaking “Ain’t that a bitch,” kind of way.

For example, yesterday I went to see Ted. I didn’t want to, but it was the Number One box office hit this weekend and my son, the genius, is doing a blog on the subject, and he was in town for the Del Close Marathon. It’s not a very good movie, in my opinion, but I’m not a huge fan of Seth McFarlane. He’s okay, and I will always support him because his work points out the blistering hypocrisy of our shared alma mater . And I like fart jokes more than the average little old Jewish lady.

Still, I found myself tearing up. Did the film have unexpected emotional depth? No. What it had was a million references to Flash Gordon. Flash Gordon is a terrible movie I saw in 1980 when it was released, with co-columnist Denny O’Neil. It was so deliberately and hilariously bad that I dragged my husband to see it immediately. We own it in at least two different formats. I got him a signed photo of Melody Anderson for an anniversary present. Over the years, we found more opportunities to exclaim “Not the bore worms!” than you would think could credibly arise.

We find each other through shared interests. I met my husband because we both admired Paul Krassner. We laughed at a lot of the same things. He wasn’t into comics, but we found common ground in our appreciation of R. Crumb and Gilbert Shelton’s Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. Our tastes weren’t the same, but I was not surprised when he liked Scott McCloud’s Zot! at least as much as I did.

What really bonded us, however, was seeing Pinocchio together at the Annecy Animation Festival. It was 1979, our first trip to Europe together. Annecy is a lovely little town in the French Alps. We were staying in a room in a charming small hotel that, when we went to take a nap with the window open, filled with cats.

Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnson were guests of the festival, and we got to hang out with them. I hadn’t seen Pinocchio since I was a child, and couldn’t remember the way it ended at all (too frightening). Watching it with John, seeing what a perfect film it was, made me love him even more.

Love is about a lot of things, but if you can’t share pleasure, there’s not much point to it.

Thank you, Seth McFarlane, for reminding me of those fun times. And also, the Ryan Reynolds cameo. That was great.

Saturday: Marc Alan Fishman Flames On!

Mike Gold: Where’s Our Next Buck Coming From?

There was a time when if you were reading comics as an adult, it was generally assumed you were too stupid to understand real literature. Many of us wouldn’t read comics in public venues for this very reason.

Not me; I couldn’t care less. When it first came out, I even read Hustler Magazine on Chicago’s vaunted “L” trains. But many of my friends felt that way, and that’s why Phil Seuling’s early New York Comicons were so liberating. In the late 1960s there would be less than one thousand of us talking to one another in an elegant Manhattan hotel ballroom, and each and every one of us were awestruck by the fact that there were so many of us.

As we became the first generation since Fredric Wertham torched the medium to get into the business, we used this feeling of isolation from society to promote the level of storytelling. Comics became more character-driven and less Pow! Biff! Bam!. Before long adult fans would be able to point to a more mature level of story and art. We believed our medium was becoming sophisticated.

In retrospect, I take issue with that. We’re telling stories about people with ludicrous abilities who dress up in fantastic, gaudy costumes to either commit or fight crime and/or evil (to borrow from Dick Orkin’s Chickenman). There’s a limit to that “sophisticated” brand that we were too proud to notice.

Popular culture works like a snowball atop a mountain: by the time you hit ground level, that snowball has grown to a boulder the size of Colorado. Grim and gritty – a term I came up with to help sell GrimJack ­­– became dark and disgusting. Heroes became as ugly on the inside as the villains were on the outside. We evolved to excess.

Before long the American comic book medium, still overwhelmed by heroic fantasy, had driven out all the stories that work for the younger audience while limiting the older audience to a steady diet of redundancy. It is possible to create a story that works for 12 year-olds (and their precocious younger siblings) as well as for 24 year-olds, 36 year-olds, and even 61 year-olds. Off the top of bald pate, I can think of a few writers who did just that, and did so brilliantly: Steve Englehart, Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, Steve Gerber, Louise Simonson, Archie Goodwin, and our own Denny O’Neil… to, indeed, name but a very few.

All too-many comic book store owners became the villains of their own childhood: “Hey, kid, this ain’t a library!” Driven by admonitions from certain of the larger comics distributors in the 1980s, kids were perceived as not having enough money to be worthwhile customers. They took too much time making their purchases. They didn’t know what they wanted. They couldn’t engage in a conversation about who stole what from whom when it came to The X-Men and The Doom Patrol.

Kids were shooed out of comic book shops, and publishers – again, at the insistence of certain comics distributors – pulled away from producing comics that were marketed towards the younger audience. Instead we started cranking out a steady diet of R-rated superhero comics, many of which were quite good and worthy of publication. But they became the snowball that ate the comic book shops.

I always thought this was a mistake, and I thought so for one simple reason: if you chase away today’s 12 year-olds, who’s going to be your customer or reader in five or ten years?

Today, we have a small fraction of the number of brick-and-mortar comic book shops we had just one generation ago. Go figure.

But, today, it appears we’re beginning to see some drift towards retro-expansion. More on this next week.

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil



A stranger with a glittering hook for a left hand. He came to the untamed wilderness of Africa to escape from a dark, troubled past to make his fortune. Yet his new life comes at an unexpected price. Wherever he goes adventure, danger, and death seems to follow… From Pulp Obscura comes five brand new adventures of one of the most unique heroes of Classic Pulp!

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In the Heart of the Dark Continent, the Man Known as Armless O’Neil Hunts for Legendary Treasures, but Discovers a World of Shadowy Secrets, Wild Danger, and Sensational Adventure! Thrill to Five Fantastic Stories of Savage Mystery, Amazing Action, and Incredible Excitement from Sean Taylor, Nick Ahlhelm, R. P. Steeves, I. A. Watson, and Chuck Miller! Follow Armless O’Neil as he makes his way in bold new stories from the finest in New Pulp today! Featuring a stunning cover by Mike Fyles and wonderful cover design by Sean Ali as well as excellent interior design by Matt Moring (Print) and Russ Anderson(Ebook), Pulp Obscura Proudly Presents Blood-Price of the Missionary’s Gold: The New Adventures of Armless O’Neil! From Pro Se Productions in conjunction with Altus Press! Pro Se Productions- Puttin’ The Monthly Back into Pulp!

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Mike Gold: Old Farts Are The Best Farts

In this space last Saturday, my dear friend and adoptive bastard son Marc Alan Fishman stated “modern comics are writing rings around previous generations. We’re in a renaissance of story structure, characterization, and depth… I’d like to think we the people might defend the quality of today’s comics as being leaps and bounds better than books of yesteryear.”

Simply put, the dear boy and my close pal and our valued ComicMix contributor is full of it.

Don’t get me wrong: there’s a hell of a lot of great writing out there today, and I agree with his opinions about most if not all of the young’un’s he cites. Today’s American comics reach a much wider range of readers. There’s also a hell of a lot more comics being published today – although those comics are being read by a much smaller audience in the aggregate – and I take no comfort in saying there’s more crap being published today as well: Sturgeon’s Law is akin to gravity. Marc’s comparison to the comics of the 1960s and 1970s is an apples-and-oranges argument: the comics of the pre-direct sales era, defining that as the point when most comics publishers virtually abandoned newsstand sales, were geared to a much younger audience. Even so, a lot of sophisticated stories squeaked through under the “Rocky and Bullwinkle” technique of writing on two levels simultaneously.

As I said, there are a lot of great writers practicing their craft today. Are they better than Carl Barks, John Broome, Jack Cole, Will Eisner, Jules Feiffer, Archie Goodwin, Walt Kelly, Harvey Kurtzman and Jim Steranko … to name but a very few (and alphabetically at that)? Did Roy Thomas, Louise Simonson and Steve Englehart serve their audience in a manner inferior to the way Jonathan Hickman, Gail Simone and Brian Bendis serve theirs today? Most certainly not.

Then again, some of the writers he cites are hardly young’un’s. Kurt Busiek has been at it since Marc was still in diapers. Grant Morrison? He started before Marc’s parents enjoyed creating his very own secret origin.

Marc goes on to state that John Ostrander and Dennis O’Neil would say that the scripts they write today are leaps and bounds better than their earlier work. I don’t know; I haven’t asked them. But I can offer my opinion. Neither John nor Denny are writing as much as they could or should today because they, like the others of their age, they are perceived as too old to address the desires of today’s audience – which, by the way, is hardly a young audience. I wonder where this attitude comes from?

But let’s look at the works of these two fine authors from those thrilling days of yesteryear. John’s Wasteland, GrimJack, Suicide Squad, and The Kents stand in line behind nothing. As for Denny, well, bandwidth limitations prohibit even a representative listing of his meritorious works, and I’ll only note Batman once. Let’s look at The Question. A great series, and he wrote that while holding down a full-time job and while sharing an office with a complete lunatic. Then there’s Green Arrow, Green Lantern, Iron Man, The Shadow… hokey smokes, I wake up each Thursday morning (in the afternoon) blessing Odin’s Bejeweled Eye-patch that Denny is writing his ComicMix column instead of spending that time doing socially respectable work.

I am proud of this medium and its continued growth – particularly as its growth had been stunted for so long. And I’m proud of my own service to this medium. But, as John of Salisbury said 953 years ago, we are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants.

And, standing on those shoulders, we swat at gnats.

THURSDAY: The Aforementioned Mr. O’Neil!


Marc Alan Fishman: In Defense of Modern Comics, Part 2

Welcome back to the ranting and raving, kiddos. Be forewarned, some time has passed since my last article – one week to be exact – but I’m still angry as all get-out. For those just joining us: Tim Marchman’s review of “Leaping Tall Buildings” in the Wall Street Journal was an incendiary piece of trash. The review meant to blame the lack of universal love (and sales) of comic books due (in part) to the “clumsily drawn” and “poorly written” books themselves. Last week, I argued on the side of the artists. This week, I mean to tackle this asshat’s jab at the scribes of our pulpy tomes.

To say that, on the whole, modern comics are “poorly written” is just about the silliest opinion I’ve heard since my buddy told me “Ranch dressing tastes bad on chicken.” First off, ranch is delicious on chicken. More to the point, modern comics are writing rings around previous generations. We’re in a renaissance of story structure, characterization, and depth. Writing, much like art, is largely subjective when it comes to collective opinion. That being said, certainly anyone with minimal brain power might be able to tell good writing from bad. Easy enough for us all to agree that the Avengers was better written than the Twilight movies. OK, maybe that’s a bit unfair. Axe Cop is better written than Twilight… and it’s penned by a six year old. Either way, I’d like to think we the people (of Comic Landia) might defend the quality of today’s comics as being leaps and bounds better than books of yesteryear.

I know this might be daring (and insane) of me to say… but for those old farts and fogies that proclaim comics “aren’t what they used ta’ be!” – and imply the scripts are worse now than they were in the 60s or 70s – should go back to the nursing home, and yell at the TV until dinner. Call it a sweeping declaration. Call it mean-spirited. But I call it as I see it: Modern books are simply written better. Today’s comics – when they are good – embrace pacing, motif, and intelligent payoffs by and large far more than ever previously. I assume Marchman, while researching for his article, was only reading Jeph Loeb books. And if that’s the case? He’s probably right. But I digress.

Open a book today. You’ll see things that previous generations simply failed to execute properly. A modern comic is unafraid to let the art speak for itself. Not every panel needs an explanatory caption box anymore. Gone are lengthy thought balloons that explain away every ounce of subtlety. Writers allow their characters time to emotionally deal with their actions, and end books on a down note when needed. And as much as terrible crime against nature it is, modern writers are even willing to ret-con, reboot, or reexamine the past of a character to better flesh out their drive or motive. It’s been done before, I know, but never as good as it’s being done now.

Comic writers today (again, “by and large”) embrace risk like no other generation before them. Guys like Kurt Busiek and Robert Kirkman channel their love and admiration of tropes and stereotypes, and drill down to new and unique concepts that spin old ideas into fresh ones. Dudes like Grant Morrison and Jonathan Hickman layer super-psuedo science and lofty concepts within their stories to transform the truly implausible to the sublimely believable… a metamorphosis of story that a Stan Lee would not have ever delivered to the true believers. And what of our own ComicMix brethren, whose bibliographies aren’t complete… Would John Ostrander or Dennis O’Neil say that the scripts they write today aren’t leaps and bounds better than their earlier work? As artists (be it with brush or word), we always strive to evolve. That equates to the present always being better than the past.

Simply put, Marchman’s postulation that the scripting of current comics is to blame for the lack of sales in comparison to alternative media (like movies or TV) is hilariously wrong. While he’s quick to back his point with the cop-out “continuity” argument, he lacks the niche-knowledge necessary to know how idiotic he sounds. With the advent of Wikipedia, friendly comic ship owners, digital publication of archive materials, as well as countless other online resources… the barrier to entry for someone truly interested in buying a comic is the commitment to seek out the backstory. To blame the lack of sales on an arbitrary assessment of the quality of the stories, was made without considering the avalanche of amazing material being published today.

If I can use a trope from the bag of Seth MacFarlane, I’d like to end on hyperbole. You see, Mr. Marchman, if you want me to believe that comics today are poorly written? I’d like you to read current issues of Action Comics, Batman, Animal Man, Swamp Thing, Invincible Iron Man, Fantastic Four, The Boys, Dial H, Saga, Irredeemable, Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi, Justice League, Green Lantern, Powers, Monocyte, The New Deadwardians, Batman Incorporated, Courtney Crumrin, Saucer County, Fatale, and Batwoman. Then get back to me. Until that time? Suck-a-duck.

SUNDAY: The Aforementioned Geriatric John Ostrander

Mindy Newell: Success And Failure, Part 1

I wasn’t sure what to write about this week. Then I read Martha’s column about Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, and I watched the video. Then I read Denny’s column about what it takes to get hired. So I thought I might put my two cents in by telling you a bit about my experiences with success and failure.

When I graduated from high school back in the dark ages, I didn’t really have a clue what I wanted to do. No, that’s not it exactly. I knew I was going to college because… well, it was what was expected of nice Jewish girls of a certain economic class. I had some vague idea about going to medical school; mainly, I think now, because when I was young I would tell the adults who asked that I was going to be a neurosurgeon – they always laughed when I said that, that I distinctly remember – but don’t ask me why I picked that particular specialty. Maybe because of Ben Casey, or maybe because I just liked the sound of the word itself. Anyway, that autumn I would be off to Quinnipiac College – it wasn’t yet a university in 1971 – as a biology major, because that seemed a good idea for someone who wanted to be a doctor. Quinnipiac wasn’t even my first choice; that was Boston University and the College of Nursing.

My parents were proud of me.

My friends were impressed.

My boyfriend tried to warn me.

But me?

I was just along for the ride.

My first semester at Quinnipiac was a disaster. Besides the usual freshman blues, gaining 10+ pounds, and having a stick for a roommate, I hated my classes. It was all hard science and math, and my professors were incredibly boring. Except for English 101. My professor was a hippie and the textbook was the Playboy College Reader, and no, it did not contain the Playmates of the Months. It was chock full of the truly great and weird and fascinating articles, stories, and interviews found within Playboy – yes, they are really in there, folks. I read stories by Harlan Ellison and Isaac Asimov and Philip Roth. I read interviews with Alex Haley and Timothy Leary and Ken Kesey. There were articles about the Vietnam War, Black Power, and Richard Nixon’s administration. My professor led us in fascinating discussions and I got to write some really cool papers on some really far out subjects.

Without telling my parents, I switched my major for the second semester to English with a minor in Women’s Studies. I took Introduction to Science Fiction and An American History of Women along with other rockin’ classes. I started to feel really good about myself – successful – and lost the 10+ pounds.

Then I came home for the summer and all hell broke loose.

“English?” my mother scoffed. “What are you going to do with that?”

“Women’s Studies?” my father yelled. “What, you need to go to school to learn how to be a woman?”

“You’re not going back,” they both said. “You’re going to go to work and learn the value of a dollar.”

To their eyes I was a failure.

And my mirror backed them up.

To be continued…

TUESDAY MORNING: Michael Davis’s Head Hurts

TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Emily S. Whitten’s Fangirl Tribulations


Dennis O’Neil: What It Takes To Get Hired

The faithful among you may recall that last week we did a backflip through time to the sixties and beheld a young journalist taking a test and being offered a comic book job that changed virtually everything about his life forever. But this same journalist, now wizened and hard of hearing and just a bit crotchety around the edges, said that no comics aptitude test exists. Eh?

That was then and this is now. To the best of my knowledge, I am the only Marvel Comics employee, past or present, to take the test. I got to know both my predecessor and my successor in the job, and neither mentioned pre-employment testing.

But people do get hired by comics companies. So – how? Darned if I know. When I sat behind an editor’s desk, I did my share of job-giving, both to hopefuls applying for staff gigs and to freelancers, and usually my choices were pretty good-to-excellent. If I had a secret, I don’t know what it was. Something to do with hunches and intuition, maybe.

But there were things I liked to see in applicants. First: simple literacy. Does this person know that the big letter goes at the beginning of the sentence and the little dot goes at the end? (Don’t laugh. Instead, ask any middle school-and-up teacher you know if all his/her pupils have this competence.) Has s/he read a book or two? Did s/he enjoy reading the book or two? Second: interest in writing (and/or editing) per se? Not just writing comics – storytelling! Until I’m proven wrong, which could happen any second now, I’ll believe that most good comics writers are writers who have a liking or aptitude (or, ideally, both) for this particular medium and if comics didn’t exist, the person would be doing poems or plays or short fiction or novels or whatever.

We’ll take a paragraph break here, mostly because I feel like doing it, and move on to third: willingness to learn. Nobody knows it all, and that includes you and me, and nobody will ever know it all, but you can know more than you do now and if you want to get good at this job, or any job, you should. (Besides, its fun to know stuff. But don’t tell the no-child-left-behind crowd.)

And finally, fourth: Does the job applicant seem to be a reasonably adult human being?  Willing and able to deliver on promises? Willing to accept compromise? Able to play well with others? Respecting but not worshipping the rules, whatever they may be? Having a closetful of Brooks Brothers suits and Hermes ties?

Just joshing about that last one.

I’m tempted to add a fifth: loyalty. But that’s something you learn about someone over time and so it’s hard to detect during a job interview and anyway, my veneration of it is probably rooted in my own insecurities.

Recommended reading: Crazy Wisdom Saves the World Again! by Wes Nisker

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases, Neil Gaiman, and Failure