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Mike Gold: Gerry Conway, Freedom Fighter

I’ve been reading Gerry Conway’s new Amazing Spider-Man mini-series (or whatever; contemporary comic book numbering would even baffle the ancient Romans who had no concept of “zero.”) and I’m enjoying it… but not in the way I expected. I expected Classic Conway, which is fine. What we got was a solid Spidey story written in a very contemporary style.

But that’s not this old dog’s only new trick.

Gerry’s been very busy standing up for creators’ rights; obviously, including his own. His efforts have earned praise from Neal Adams, the medium’s worthy and long-time leader in the ongoing battle for creators’ rights. Most recently, he’s been commenting on DC’s latest talent-relations habit where they would bonus comics talent for extra-media use of characters they created. If the creation was at all derivative, DC no longer feels the need (non-contractual obligation based upon decades of precedent) to write a check. For example, Gerry Conway created Power Girl – with artists Ric Estrada and Wally Wood – but, because Power Girl is “derivative” of Superman, no bonus. One would think the character is derivative of a certain soon-to-be-televised Marvel superhero, but that’s a story for a different legal team. DC can define derivative any way it wants, but the end result is that money that once went into creators’ pockets now stays in DC’s.

The fact is, any character created for the DC Universe is derivative at least in part simply because it must exist in the DC Universe and honor the DCU’s laws of physics. The old bonus thing is now meaningless because the creator has no recourse except to complain. There is no incentive to trust DC with your new creation because they feel you’re lucky to walk away with your page rate intact. Maybe.

From this point forward, only an idiot or a newbie would create a character for the company. The DC Universe, perpetually fighting eight decades of staleness, is going to continue to press the Reboot Button like some crack monkey in a lab.

This is hardly Gerry’s first rodeo at the Freedom Fighters’ Ranch. Way back in 2014, Gerry wrote a very impressive piece that was reprinted in Forbes Magazine about how Amazon’s acquisition of Comixology hurts comics creators.

This is so important that I’m actually putting it in a separate paragraph and italicizing it:

What hurts comics creators hurts comics readers, and hurts the entire comics medium.

I must make two disclaimers. First, I’ve known Gerry for, oh damn, almost 40 years. That’s frightening… for Gerry. Second, Gerry Conway has created or co-created the Punisher, Firestorm, Steel, The Deserter (my favorite; sadly, it fell victim to the DC Implosion), Killer Croc, Tombstone, Man-Thing, Killer Frost (if you watch The Flash teevee show, that would be Caitlin Snow) and just under a zillion others. So, yeah, it’s his ox that’s being gored, but when you’re right, you’re right.

And Gerry Conway is right.

By the way, you’ll note I called Gerry an “old dog” up in the second paragraph. For the record, he’s two years younger than I am. So I mean “old dog” in the nicest, Scoobie-Doo sort of way.


Mix March Madness 2015 Webcomics Tournament: And The Winner Is…

hero_initiative1…the Hero Initiative, who thanks to the efforts of dedicated fans buying additional votes for their favorite webcomics, raised $554 this round for an overall total of $2122 to help comics creators in need! Plus Philip M. Hofer, creator of Comic Easel, who got $408 to help him get a new computer so he can get back to work building comic websites, for a grand total raised of $2530…

Yeah, yeah, I hear you cry, this is nice and all, but you really want to hear who won the competition? You’re not willing to sit through long-winded explanations designed to draw out the suspense, and that’s why American Idol got cancelled?

Oh, all right. The winner is…

…yes, we’re still going to put it after the break… (more…)

Box Office Democracy: “Avengers: Age of Ultron”

It’s almost impossible for me to be too positive about Avengers: Age of Ultron. It’s a movie that would have been the movie of my dreams when I was 10 years old, when I was 20 I would have told you there was no chance it would ever happen, even at 25 I would have thought it was far too optimistic. It is as good as superhero movies get and as a life long fan of superheroes I loved it to pieces. I love how the fight sequences feel like playing with a big box of action figures but with a quarter billion dollar budget. I love Joss Whedon’s banter and the performances he gets from his actors each of whom feels perfectly cast. I even love it for the flaws, that it’s a little too packed with winks and teases, that there’s a pervasive refusal to call people by their code names, the dawning realization that I don’t care about Iron Man at all. I’m overjoyed that I’ve been able to see comic book movies get to where they are right now that when the standard bearer for the genre comes back I can only stand back in awe.

James Spader is so unbelievably good as Ultron. I thought Ultron was a mistake as a villain, I just didn’t believe he was interesting enough to pull an entire movie when I never cared for his comics, but Spader is so good I literally couldn’t remember Tom Hiddleston’s name when it was over. Spader turns a character I frequently thought had no personality (and I’ve read very few Ultron stories so it might not be a fair assessment) and turned him in to a character that had a sense of humor, and more importantly a real point of view. There’s a moment early in the film where Ultron accuses Tony Stark of not wanting peace but quiet and after the events of this week in Baltimore that hit particularly hard. While Spader is the glittering jewel of the new cast Elizabeth Olsen is also a treasure, she provides some human emotion to moments that would otherwise feel too large and fantastical to connect with and I’m quite thrilled to have her in the Don Cheadle level of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.


Box Office Democracy: Ex Machina

I didn’t expect too much from Ex Machina walking in to the film. I had seen the trailer every week for what feels like months, a perk of patronizing one of the few theaters that participated in the limited engagement I suppose, but I wasn’t terribly impressed. It looked like a competent but pedestrian sci-fi thriller with a second act twist I was reasonably sure I had figured out in advance. I was wrong about all of those things. I was wrong about the twist, I was wrong about the film being pedestrian, and the film is so far beyond pedestrian I’m ashamed at the thought. Ex Machina is one of the most compelling, gripping, transfixing movie I have seen in quite some time.   It’s such a fascinating movie to talk about that I’m crestfallen that it is in such a limited release that I will likely have to wait weeks to talk about it with anyone. I want to stand on street corners and bully passersby to go buy tickets, more people need to see this movie.

Ex Machina is the first directorial effort from veteran screenwriter Alex Garland and it’s almost unbelievable how skilled he is as a novice. While he is working with a small cast the performances he gets from his actors are uniformly excellent. Oscar Isaac has been fantastic in every film I’ve seen him in but he’s on another level here as Nathan. Nathan is a character that needs to have a quiet menace about him and Isaac oozes it from every pore. He commands all attention when he’s on screen in much the way I imagine it would be to share a room with a predatory cat. Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander make for a fascinating on-screen duo as the software engineer Caleb and the artificial intelligence (Ava) he has come to test and I suspect that their performances will feel even more special on repeat viewings once the viewer understands the whole story.


REVIEW: Thunderbirds are Go

tbirds1I’m giddy as a schoolgirl, and I don’t know what to do with my hands.

I should explain.

Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds is as major a lynchpin of my childhood as M&Ms, my Big Jim collection, and faking sick to stay home from school…usually to watch Thunderbirds. The Tracy brothers, launching rescue missions from their secret island, was filled with edge of the seat action, staggering special effects and miniatures, and engaging character work.  This is made more impressive that the characters were played by marionettes.  Electronically keyed to the dialogue and incredibly detailed, but marionettes nevertheless.  The show is as well-loved and respected worldwide, but most so in England, where it’s as beloved as other Sci-Fi touchstone Doctor Who.  So it was rather a given that they’d go for a remake of the series eventually, and the 50th anniversary is just too tempting for anyone to pass up. (more…)

Mix March Madness 2015 Webcomics Tournament Round 2! Vote Now!

Round 2 of the Mix March Madness 2014 Webcomics Tournament— okay, now it’s April Armageddon— starts here! Voting lasts until Midnight EDT on Wednesday, April 8!

Congratulations to everyone who made it through Round 1! We’re down to 64 webcomics, and we’ve raised another $59 for the Hero Initiative. Thank you for indulging our delays due to a family emergency here.

Let’s get on with the show!


Martha Thomases: Gen Con Freedom Fighters

When I first started to work in comics, even though the medium was looked down on by mainstream culture as a bunch of geeks, it was very much an old boys’ club. There were women involved, even feminist women, but we were few and far between, leftovers from the hippie and underground comix scene. The boys in the boys’ club were as terrified of being considered feminine or queer as everyone else in the world was terrified of being considered geeks.

And now, being a geek is cool.

As geek culture becomes more mainstream, the definition simultaneously becomes more vague and more specific. That is, the meaning is in the ear of the beholder.

This week we saw some evidence that geek culture has transcended homophobia. Not that there aren’t still plenty of homophobes (and misogynists) (and racists) among us, but they are no longer our loudest voices.

As my pal, Marc Fishman, noted here on Saturday, Indiana recently passed a “religious freedom” law that, according to the Associated Press, “prohibits state laws that ‘substantially burden’ a person’s ability to follow his or her religious beliefs. The definition of ‘person’ includes religious institutions, businesses and associations.” For example, a bakery owned by conservative Christians (or Muslims) (or Jews) could refuse to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple.

The people who support the bill don’t like the way it has been perceived by the public, because it makes them look like the bigots that they are. As this Christian news site describes it:

“Under Indiana’s religious freedom law, not one Gen Con attendee (gay, transgender, cross-dressing) could be denied a seat at a lunch counter by that mythical boogeyman – the Christian bigot burger-maker with his ‘gaydar’ fully activated. That’s not what this law does.

“Instead, it protects a private business owner (who might be gay themselves) from being coerced by the power of government to act in a manner incompatible with their deeply held religious convictions. In other words, it protects the Jewish sign maker from being forced by the state to make pro-Nazi placards for the next skinhead convention.”

Aside #1: There is a long history of printers refusing to publish work with which they disagree, whether because the content is “pornographic” or otherwise politically distasteful. These printers simply turn away work they don’t want to do, without wrapping themselves in any kind of religious trappings.

Aside #2: So far, there have been no laws protecting the religious freedom of those devoted to other proscriptions from the book of Leviticus. I eagerly anticipate the first case in which a tattooed person or a menstruating woman is denied service because such things are forbidden by the Bible.)

Gen-Con, by the way, was one of the first companies to announce that they would look for a more hospitable business environment. Yes, the game convention. Rarely have I been so proud of my geek-dom. Instead of presenting themselves as the home of the Gamergate crowd, Gen-Con chose to stand up for all the people who enjoy gaming, insisting that everyone be welcome.

In the process, they pointed out that geeks (even queer and female and trans and non-white geeks) have money to spend and we won’t be shamed into use our dollars in ways that insult our own selves.

In other nerd news this week, the tech venture capital firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers won a Pyrrhic victory over Ellen Pao. She had sued them for gender discrimination and lost, but in the process she opened the curtain on the casual misogyny of tech culture. As with Anita Hill a few decades ago, this case will have long-term effects that will last longer than the particular judgment.

And the Ellen Pao decision has the added benefit of not putting Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court!

It’s been a good week. Say it loud, “I’m a Geek and I’m Proud.”

Remembering Irwin Hasen: 1918-2015

At its best, comics is like a family, where people in the field are known by their first names by fans and peers alike. Jerry, Joe (well, several Joes, actually, but context always makes it clear which one), Will, Bob, Bill, Stan, Jack, Steve, Marie, Carmine, Len, Marv, Flo.


Irwin Hasen was my friend, just as he was a lot of people’s friend. Of course, millions of people knew Irwin through his comics (Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Wildcat, the Fox, and, of course, Dondi). But because he had no children and no local relatives, Irwin’s friends and companions were his cartooning contemporaries, the cartoonists he mentored, and a steady stream of admirers, thirty to fifty years his junior, who crossed his path in various ways. Some were fans, some fellow comics pros. Some were descendants of his contemporaries, seeking information about and connection with their parents or grandparents through Irwin, who had known them all.

Irwin was always a jolly presence at the local New York Big Apple conventions, which is where I first encountered the man (as opposed to his work, which I’d been seeing since I was a kid). But it was on trips to Allan Rosenberg’s conventions in New Jersey where I got to really know him. Ken Wong would drive me, Irwin, Arnold Drake and Jim Salicrup out to those cons, and that’s where I got to spend time with Irwin and Arnold—talk about a ride with history!—and discovered the mischievous marvel that was Irwin Hasen. When not gossiping about some comics figure present or past, Irwin would drift off to sleep, and I’d wonder, “Did Irwin just die?” But then he’d respond to something one of us said with a hilarious one-liner and we’d know he was not only alive, but kicking.

Over the past ten or so years, Irwin was hospitalized several times with various conditions, often dire and seemingly fatal, all of which he rebounded from, until the final one on March 13th. No matter what, though, until the end, his grip was always strong, clinging to life like he clung to a pencil to express his vast creativity. Any number of times I figured I would never see him again, and time after time he bounced back, sometimes better than before, since the doctors would have cleared up whatever was causing him trouble. It was amazing to behold.

For instance, last year, Ed Steckley, president of the Manhattan chapter of the National Cartoonists’ Society wanted to do an event honoring Irwin. I told him I thought that Irwin’s event days were over, but to not take my word for it. “Let’s go to Irwin’s house and you’ll see for yourself.” Well, we went to Irwin’s, and he was totally up and on, energetic and crystal clear. Ed’s Irwin event was held at the Society of illustrators, and Irwin enjoyed every minute of being the center of attention, entertaining the large crowd that turned out to honor him.


Box Office Democracy: Chappie

Chappie is an amazingly frustrating movie, perhaps singular in its ability to vex me. I enjoyed so much of it while I was watching it, director Neill Blomkamp is quite good at evoking an emotional response, but in the days since I’ve seen Chappie I have grown steadily angrier at it. It’s a movie that’s so tone deaf to the world around it and so unnecessarily. All of the pieces of this movie I enjoyed could have been contained in a framework that was not so brashly ignorant of the important issues it brings up only to causally discard.