One of the joys of having returned to the comics convention scene this fall was seeing old friends and industry comrades again after too many goddamn years – Walter and Louise Simonson, Marv Wolfman, Fabian Nicieza, Timothy Truman, Jim Salicrup, Dave Gibbons, Cat Staggs, and Jill Thompson, to name just a few – and to have a chance, at last, to meet, face-to-face for the very first time, a woman whom I’ve wanted to meet for a very long time, a woman of immense talent and of immense class…
The first time Gail and I communicated it was through Facebook, by which she reached out to me to apologize for all the press she was getting about her assignment to write Wonder Woman, i.e., “Wonder Woman Gets First Female Writer” and so forth, and that she wanted me to know that she kept trying to correct the press.
I said something like this: “But, Gail, if they print that, if they call you the second ongoing Wonder Woman writer, there’s no story.”
Of course, Gail went on to write one of the best ever run of the Amazon’s adventures.
Anyway, that led to Gail asking me to participate in her “Five Questions with…” site. Check it out. I just reread it – it’s one hell of an interview!
Gail and I continued to communicate via social media, but we still remained only “Facebook friends” until…
At this year’s NYCC, knowing Gail was there, I walked up and down the aisles until I finally found her booth. She was off at a panel, but I was determined to make time to at last meet one-on-one. So at timely intervals I kept walking over to her table – it was about the fourth time that I knew that she was back because the crowd and line around it snaked up and down the aisle. I stood off a little bit watching her talk to fans and sign her work until there was a (very) momentary break – I slid in, with apologies to the fans at the front of the line (“Justwant to say hello for a quick second”) – and felt like a complete idiot. I finally had a chance to meet Gail, and I was tongue-tied.
It felt like an eternity; but it was probably a maximum of three seconds, until I said, “Hi, Gail, it’s Mindy Newell.” (Like I was on the phone or something.) I think I stuck out my hand for a shake and said, “It’s so nice to finally meet you.”
She just stared at me. I thought I had done something wrong, so I think I said, “Well, I don’t want to hold anybody up,” and left.
Then, yesterday, I found this on my Facebook page:
It was lovely to meet the legendaryMindy Newellbriefly at my table at NYCC.
She’s the REAL first acknowledged writer of the Wonder Woman ongoing title
(something I get routinely, but incorrectly, credited as being).
She’s a huge inspiration and a lovely person, and when she came to meet me at my table I was too overwhelmed to do much more than just gasp out a hello.
But she’s a legend and I adore her!
Honestly, guys, the last thing I think of myself as is “legendary.” Legends in the comic books industry, to me, are people like Stan Lee, or Jack Kirby, or Steve Ditko. Or Neil Gaiman, or Marv Wolfman. Or George Pérez, or Alan Moore, or Karen Berger. (And yes, you, too, Mike Gold, as I kiss up to my editor here at ComicMix *smile*.) To me, it is absolutely incredible that I even know these people. Or worked with some of them. Or can call so many of them, and others, friends. Or that I knew and worked with Julie Schwartz, whom my daughter still remembers giving her pink sucking candies from the jar on his file cabinet in his office. Or Len Wein, who actually invited me to a poker game where sat around the table people who had only been names on a splash page before. Or Mark Gruenwald, who always made me laugh and actually hired me to work at Marvel.
I’ll tell you a secret.
Sometimes I feel like a fake. A fool. An illusionist.
Someone who didn’t try hard enough. Someone who gave up too easily.
Yeah, it’s easy to say, “I suffered, and still do, from chronic depression syndrome.” It’s easy to say, “I had a daughter to raise.” It’s easy to say, “I needed a job with benefits and a regular paycheck.” It’s easy to say, “I didn’t have any support.”
Is being the target of an uncouth, offensive, foul, and vulgar letter the same as being sexually harassed?
At the time it occurred – let me do the math here, hang on… okay, it was 29 years ago – I didn’t think so, because I thought of sexual harassment as being defined as (a) some goon putting his unwanted hands and other parts of his body on me; (b) the classic quid pro quo scenario of a sexual favor being demanded in return for professional advancement; and (c) something that happens face-to-face, as when, waaaay back in time when I was 19 and working as a receptionist in a Wall Street firm, the VP of my department called me into his office as I was doing my mail rounds and told me that “everyone” was talking about my sweater:
“What’s wrong with my sweater?” I asked him, trying to brazen it out. “Too informal?”
No, he said.
“Too tight?” I asked, thinking of Lana Turner, the original “sweater girl,” in an attempt to dare him to say yes.
No, he said.
I was stumped. What the hell was he getting at?
It’s what on it, he said.
I looked down at my sweater, which was extremely fashionable for 1972 – I’ve always been a fashionista – when animal prints on sweaters were all the rage. “You mean the cat?”
He stared at me a few seconds, and then…
“I mean the pussy.”
I didn’t really know how to handle it. I just looked at him, then turned and went back to my desk. The only thing I did that day was to tell another girl about it; all she said was, “Don’t let it bother you. He’s a prick.”
But I didn’t go back to work the next day. I told my parents that I quit, without telling them why, which of course led to a big fight and hurtful words about me and my abilities and work ethics, and to me sitting in my bedroom, disconsolate and believing that I had let everybody down, including myself.
Years and years later, as an adult who had matured into the “F-bombing” woman I am today, I brought up the incident with my parents. All was cleared up, and my father said that I should have (1) kicked the guy in his balls, and then (2) called human resources. My mother scoffed, and said, “HR wouldn’t have done a thing.” She was a wise woman.
• • • • •
Anyway, about that letter:
It was from someone in the comics industry, and here is an example of what it contained:
“You have no talent. The only reason you get any work is because you come strutting down the hallways in your short skirts and your fishnet stockings and your FMP’s…”
There were lots more sentences and accusations. All concerning my sluttiness and inability to construct a sentence. The words filled the front and back of the page. I was horrified. I saw red. I didn’t want this disgusting diatribe in my house, where my 10-year-old daughter lived.
And I was burning mad.
So I burned it.
Yep. Set it on fire, held it over the toilet, and flushed the ashes away.
And I swore that I was finished with anything to do with comics…
Right in the middle of a project.
I didn’t call anybody. I didn’t do anything. I don’t remember even telling my friend and co-worker, Karen Berger.
I don’t exactly remember how long it was. Maybe a few days. Maybe a week. Maybe two. I didn’t write a thing.
And then I got a call from Dick Giordano, who invited me to lunch at the Top of the Sixes. I told him it didn’t matter, that I was through – but it was Dick, and he was always a gentleman to me, and kind, and encouraging, so I agreed.
I don’t remember what Dick ordered, but I had a shrimp cocktail. And we talked.
He asked me if I still had the letter.
I looked down at my plate, then looked up at him.
“I burned it.”
Without the letter, he said, he couldn’t do anything. I said, “I know, and I know it was a stupid thing to do, but I couldn’t have that thing in my house.” Dick got it.
He asked me to finish the project. He talked about professionalism and how there were other people depending on me. He talked about my future in the industry. He talked about how I would regret walking away. How, ultimately, it would hurt me, while the perpetrator would continue on his merry way.
I finished it. For Dick. And for myself.
• • • • •
And no, it wasn’t Len Wein, may HaShem grant his soul peace and bless his family. It wasn’t Bob Greenberger or Julie Schwartz or Marv Wolfman or Alan Gold. It wasn’t Sal Amendola. It wasn’t Mike Gold or Andy Helfer.
But I know who it was, and so does he.
• • • • •
So, is being the target of an uncouth, offensive, foul, and vulgar letter the same as being sexually harassed?
29 years ago, I didn’t think so.
29 years later?
And 29 years later, I’m still waiting for an apology, and a thank you.
“What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity. They didn’t want female characters out there. That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not.” Marvel VP of Sales David Gabriel, Marvel Retailer Summit, March 2017
“Let’s find a place they say, somewhere far away, With no blacks, no Jews and no gays” The Machine, Lyrics from There But For The Grace Of God, Go I, Dec 1979
“Now the big publishing guns are on this diversity thing, but for how long? Think it’s going to last? It won’t. It won’t because it’s a trend, a ploy. It’s a stunt. This, my friend, is nothing but business.” Michael Davis, Bleeding Cool, Feb 2015
Just as I predicted the fate of comic’s only true diversity architect, Milestone Media, I said the current diversity bug would go away. I did not think it would be with such a loud send-off. David Gabriel, who I have never met but people tell me is a good guy, tried to walk back his comments.
You can try, but after hearing “yes, i killed that bitch and i’m glad she’s dead” no matter how many times the judge says to disregard that statement the odds anyone does are slim to none. The only thing that stops a scandal is a bigger scandal.
It would not surprise me if David Gabriel sent the CEO of United Airlines the following letter:
Don’t for a moment think this was not on its way to becoming a bigger national story. Marvel is a global entertainment power, and the story had plenty of legs.
In walked or more appropriately dragged United Airlines and Marvel is off the hook.
I say that not because I’d like Mr. Gabriel (who simply told the truth) to be put under anymore duress but because a national debate would have served comics well.
Oh well the best-laid plans, year right. For the record, I’m convinced Axel Alonzo is committed to diversity, as are others at Marvel. Alas, diversity comes at a cost and right now that like the rent seems too damn high.
The following first appeared in Bleeding Cool over two years ago. I think it still rings true.
In 2001 I sent Karen Berger, at the time editor-in-chief at DC’s Vertigo, a proposal for a graphic novel called Miracle Town. The story was about a black super-powered being showing up in Mississippi in 1932, or to put it another way; it was Strange Fruit almost 15 years ago. Along with the pitch were eight pages of detailed pen and inked art. Karen passed, saying it was “all right, nothing special.”
Now Mark Waid and J.G Jones, two white boys (said with love), show up with the same idea and it becomes the talk of the industry. Three weeks earlier Milestone 2.0 was the talk of the industry. Before that, Miles Morales, Black Superman, Black Avengers, Female Thor, Muslim Ms. Marvel, Black Human Torch, Black Captain America, yadda, yadda, whatever.
Now the big publishing guns are on this diversity thing, but for how long? Think it’s going to last? It won’t. It won’t because it’s a trend, a ploy. It’s a stunt. This, my friend, is nothing but business.
Superman will stay black just about as long as he remained dead.
Last year Mike Gold took a project of mine to an established and well-known publisher. Keith Giffen called this project one of the greatest ideas he’d ever heard. Now called Black Reign, it started life almost 20 years ago as The Underground at DC Comics. In asked Dwayne McDuffie to write it he changed the title to Glory Scroll. That lasted for a bit, but DC gave us the runaround, so I took it to Dark Horse, where it became The Underground again.
Mike Richardson’s involvement and keen insight challenged me to rethink the story. I did, and it became an entirely new story. That story with that title is still at Dark Horse, no longer a superhero story. When I pitched it to Marvel, it was called Black Power.
I sent “Black Power” to Marvel and never heard back. That’s not a slight, Axel is up to his ass in projects, and I’m simply not one to hound people. I’m never in any hurry with a pitch although I pitch so seldom. Because I spend lots of time coming up with concepts while servicing my existing projects. I let things take the time they take. If greenlit today, I couldn’t get to it for at least a year or more.
As you can see this project has been around and has had a home at three major publishers, DC, Dark Horse and my imprint Level Next. Level Next is a co-venture with Karen Hunter and Simon & Schuster. I later decided the first project from Level Next shouldn’t be a graphic novel but a mainstream novel.
So, enter Mike Gold. Mike and I happen to talk the day I made the decision to save Black Reign for a later Level Next release. Mike pitched the original superhero story, and for a second the project was called The Movement.
Black Reign BC!
After Mike Gold had pitched it for a moment, it was to be the Milestone 2.0 Foundation universe. That’s no longer happening — if it is, Lucy got some ‘splaining to do. What, pray tell, happened when Gold pitched this “incredible” (Giffen’s words, not mine) idea, rife with Black superheroes’ and filled with diversity?
He was told “Hollywood will never buy this. Too many black superheroes.” The only reason I’m not outing the publisher is the risk some people will find what he said, racist. He wasn’t racist; he was just saying what everyone is thinking.
Which is bullshit. Two words: Hancock, Blade, Spawn. Yeah, that’s three words but I went to public school, and math is not my thing.
“Too many black superheroes.”
So much for diversity, way, way back in 2014.
In 2015, there’s a debate raging whether Mark and J.G. Jones should even be doing this kind of story. Some say no because white guys can’t tell a Black superhero comic book story. What do I think? Of course, they should — Mark’s a fantastic writer and Mr. Jones is a badass artist.
The very real fact about black superheroes is white guys have always told the black superhero story, and unless a white boy does, it doesn’t count or doesn’t count as much. For my money, Mark Waid can tell any story he wants — in my book; he’s that good.
Yes, a black writer adds the certain legitimacy to black fiction. That’s not to say white writers can’t write a good black story; of course, they can. The example I hear most often about white guys in working in black areas is Eminem.
Eminem is one of the greatest rappers ever. To some, he is the greatest. To dismiss him because white is injudicious at best, stupid as shit at worse. To deny Mark because he’s white is just as silly. Few writers are on his level in comics, and that’s just the truth.
On, the other hand, Eminem doesn’t rap about being bnlack.
Regardless of your feeling towards who should write what, the debate shouldn’t be whether Mark or any other writer can tell that story.
No, the debate should be “why is diversity not a topic until the white boys say it is?”
Google any combination featuring the keywords black and superhero — with very few exceptions, the vast (as in massive) majority were created by white creators. When there were no authors of color, I will be the first to tell just how good it felt to see The Black Panther, Luke Cage, and The Falcon. Shit, as a kid all I cared about was seeing black characters in my favorite comics.
Then the battle was just to see people of color in comics, as characters and creators.
Now, African Americans as well as Latino, Asian and other ethnic groups are represented in both. The representation is small, but it’s there.
What’s not there is the acceptance of these characters and creators as A-listers. When DC or Marvel creates a black superhero, it’s embracing diversity, so when David Walker writes for DC’s Cyborg, that’s real diversity because David Walker is a hotshot, talented black writer.
David is among many writers and artists of color who have been bringing diversity to comics for many, many years. He was a talented writer well before he was writing for DC. He was also black before working at DC, in case anyone asks.
DC and Marvel will exploit diversity as the current fashion until such time it decides not to. Then, back in the closet, it will go to make way for next season’s hot designer and trendy look.
Nothing wrong with that.
It’s my hope this current wave becomes so huge that Marvel and DC stay in it. Failing that, when they get out to remember Marvel and DC don’t suddenly bring diversity to comics, this I know.
I also know diversity in comics was here before this and will be here after they leave. All you must do is Google, independent black comic books, and you can do that right now.
Comics are a business, and right now diversity is good for business. Conversely, for creators of color, diversity is not the current fashion or latest look. As much as the media would have you believe it, Marvel and DC are not the end all and be all when it comes to diversity.
As my fellow opiners Ed Catto and John Ostrander have, uh, well, opined on these pages, this year marks the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. You would think that there would be alot more hoopla about it, but even though CBS has announced the premiere of a new ST show and even though, as Ed reminds us, the United States Post Office is issuing a special commemorative stamp – which I am absolutely positively buying – it’s been amazingly quiet on the P.R. front, especially when you consider that the franchise is legendary not only here, but around this world.
Consider, if you will, the build-up to the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who in 2013. Not only was there a reminder of the looming date on BBCAmerica seemingly every single commercial break, but any little bit of news – rumors – was all over the Internet, on television, on radio, and in the newspapers. The BBC commissioned a TV movie, “An Adventure in Time and Space,” about the creation of the series and its effect on William Hartnell, the original Doctor. Peter Davison, Sylvester McCoy, Colin Baker and Paul McGann appeared in the comedic homage “The Five (ish) Doctors Reboot” – which was written and directed by Davison – along with David Tennant, Jenna Coleman, John Barrowman, Russell T. Davies, Steven Moffat, and many other actors and behind-the-scenes people long associated with the show. There was a world tour. And of course there was the 50th anniversary special, “The Day of the Doctor.”
Okay, I just did a quick search on the web. There are a lot of things happening, including the Star Trek: 50 Years, 50 Artists exhibition that debuted at the San Diego Comic Con this year, and which will continue to travel around the country and the world. There’s also: Star Trek: Mission New York, which is occurring as I write this over Labor Day weekend at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in the city. (Didn’t hear a word about it on any of the New York local news shows, or read anything in any of the metropolitan area newspapers.) There is also a traveling concert show of ST’s music, and the one that sound the most fun, Star Trek: The Academy Experience, which is happening now through October 31 here in New York on the U.S.S. Intrepid museum – now that’s something I could seriously get into…hey, Alix and Jeff, my birthday is in October. (Hint! Hint!)
But I still say it’s been amazingly quiet.
• • • • •
I ordered a copy of The British Invasion: Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, and the Invention of the Modern Comic Book Writer (by Greg Carpenter) mostly because I wanted to read the interview with my friend and once-editor Karen Berger; when I received the book I immediately read it, and though it will be an interesting perusal for those not around the halls of DC in the 1980s, there wasn’t anything there that I didn’t already know. I’ve just started the main bulk of the book, so I can’t really “officially” comment yet, but it already seems to be a rather, uh, “fannish” account of the introduction of the British artist community into this side of the pond’s comics business.
And there were other amazing talents from the mother country in DC’s pages, then – Alan Grant and John Wagner being just two. One thing I will say – and I know I’m possibly inviting trouble here, and I’m also saying this in a spirit of jealous discontent that still lingers from those days, as immature as that might be – but im-not-so-ho, the guys with the passports were given much more free rein to “create as they will” by DC’s PTB than those whose birth certificates registered them as Stateside natives. Just sayin’, that’s all.
• • • • •
I saw a picture of Donald Trump in a Jewish prayer shawl (a “tallis” or “tallit”) at the church in Detroit where he went to “court” African-American voters. Huh? Are you fucking kidding me? Trump’s the poster boy for the “alt-right” – don’t you just love the “new, cool, millennial” aphorism to describe his neo-Nazi, white supremacist acolytes?
For some of us, the 1990s was a certain kind of Golden Age of Comics. The success of Image Comics meant that creators were given a lot of freedom to do what they liked, with deep-pocketed corporations competing to see who could throw the most money at the talent. It was in this environment that DC launched the Vertigo imprint, and eventually set up a satellite office in London.
Art Young was in charge, fresh from a brief stint at Touchmark, Disney’s pre-Marvel attempt at the Direct Market. The only other person on staff was Tim Pilcher. Together, they published a slew of books (including most of the books originally commissioned for Touchmark) and generally made comics seem even cooler.
I only met Tim Pilcher a few times, although we talked on the phone fairly often. He always struck me as a delight, quick and funny and smart – although it should be noted that, like many, I am a sucker for anyone with an English accent.
Now he has a new book, Comic Book Babylon, not to be confused with this Comic Book Babylon by ComicMix pal Clifford Meth. Tim’s version is an account of his time in the Vertigo UK office, about the drugs and the sex and the blatant disregard for any sort of corporate decorum.
God, I wish I had been there.
MT: What titles did you work on? Were there any Vertigo UK titles you did not work on?
TP: Officially (meaning credited in the books) I worked on Face, Tainted, Shadow’s Fall, The Mystery Play, Rogan Gosh, Kill Your Boyfriend, and The Extremist. Unofficially, the first books I started working on were #4 of Enigma and #3 of Sebastian O. I was also working on Egypt, Flex Mentallo, The Eaters, Millennium Fever, and Tattered Banners towards the end of my tenure, but didn’t get credited in any of those. Other Vertigo UK titles I didn’t work on were the Tank Girl miniseries and film adaptation (which were pretty poor), and Mercy (as that was already completed by the time I’d started).
MT: Ever since I saw The Monkees as a kid I assume that all rock bands share a house, and from there, I imagine all kinds of groups share houses. There was a point when I was at UKCAC one year when I realized that I subconsciously thought all British comic book creators shared a house. While that isn’t true (not even for The Monkees), you did share a flat with a few. What is that like?
TP: Well, actually, at the time, many of us were mostly fans creating stuff for fanzines and writing and drawing for free. When I look back on it, it was a fun time and funny how I took all that creativity for granted. I lived with Fiona Jerome, who was a respected comics journalist and writer who went to John Brown Publishing and revolutionized their magazine publishing. There was Martin Hand, a very well regarded small press creator and Howard Stangroom (nee Will Morgan) who wrote lots of strips for Meatmen Comix. Plus, the house owner, James Wallis, who wrote for various comics magazines and eventually became a games designer. But there were little groups like this all over the UK. I used to go and visit the “Worthing crowd” who all came out of Northbrook College including Philip Bond, Jamie Hewlett, Glyn Dillon, and Alan Martin. They all used to share houses and hang out together, so it was quite common. The British comics scene is pretty small and incestuous!
MT: Did you resent having to go to a day job when they got to stay home?
TP: Not at all! I got to work in Soho, the coolest part of London at the time, and we had various creators and people popping by the office all the time. Plus, there was a free bar on our floor and private advance film screenings in the Warner Bros. building at least once a week!
MT: Can you describe your first week at Vertigo UK? What was most different from your other jobs?
TP: It was the first proper office job I’d had. Prior to that I’d spent almost six years working in retail, so not having to deal with the public and just me and Art in an office was a big change! I was very nervous and mindful of not screwing anything up! I probably put in far more extra hours than I needed to, as I was enthusiastic and really wanted to learn. In those days everything was much slower as we didn’t have computers (initially) so all our business was conducted by fax, phone and Fed Ex. It feels really archaic now, as I work with digital files being transferred all over the world and talk to my colleagues in Paris and L.A. on Skype on an almost daily basis. Technology has definitely made comics publishing much easier (in certain respects).
MT: Can you describe your last week at Vertigo UK?
TP: It was very bleak. In many ways it was like the emotional hangover of someone who’d been raving on ecstasy for three days straight and now had hit the mid-week depression blues. All the dopamine of the job had been used up. The fun had gone completely and things were very tense. I’d learned some very important, and hard, lessons. I think in many ways those hedonistic days of the Vertigo UK office have actually switched me around from a crazed party animal to an obsessive workaholic! Hopefully, one day, I’ll find the correct work/life balance!
MT: My tenure at DC overlapped yours, and our office was run much differently. For example, expense accounts were monitored so closely that we were not allowed to tip more than fifteen percent. Do you know if anyone in accounting was ever asked to verify your expenses?
TP: I think one of the major factors for Art wanting to set-up shop in London was exactly to get away from that micro-management. Karen Berger trusted him enough to run the London office, and as far as I was aware he had a pretty much carte blanche expense account (at least initially). I think as the spending went up, and the titles’ sales didn’t match that, questions in NYC were started to be asked. But really, it was impossible for DC’s accounts to prove how much an average taxi or a meal would cost in London, so they had to take our word for it.
MT: What was the most outlandish thing you ever expensed?
TP: I was actually very wary of pushing things because I didn’t want to kill the golden goose. In the book I talk about when Art took myself and our intern, Helen, out for my birthday to a fancy restaurant and spent the equivalent of around £450/$650 in today’s money on the meal and champagne, which was charged back to the company. So, thanks for that, DC!
MT: Have you seen the movie, The Devil Wears Prada? (Or read the book, although I haven’t done that.) Was Art Young like that?
TP: Actually, that’s a pretty good analogy, it was a little like that. Art was a tad flamboyant at times! I actually used Toby Young’s How to Lose Friends and Alienate People as my template in approaching the story: Eager, keen guy gets job of a lifetime and screws it up! To be fair to Art, he was a brilliant mentor, and I owe him a huge debt of gratitude for training me up and explain how the business works, and I’ll be eternally grateful for that…and all the free drugs.
MT: Finally, I asked Tim to tell me what people said about me, although I said I probably wouldn’t print that. Suffice it to say that he assured me that everyone thought I was the most beautiful woman in Puppetland, but he added this:
I can’t recall anyone being bitchy about anyone at DC at that time! You, Bob, Patty, Karen, et al were thought of as good guys. ;-) Sadly, it’s no longer the company we used to know! I don’t think there’s a single person left there working from our days! Nearly all the women have gone! All looks pretty bleak to me and sadly the company I grew up reading, loving and working for, no longer exists. Had lunch with Dave Gibbons the other day and he feels the same way!
Tell people that if they want copies of the book they can contact me on Twitter: @Tim_Pilcher
The President: What’s his plan? Ohila: I think he is finishing his soup. • Hell Bent, Doctor Who Season Finale, Series 9
“Sometimes I think about what my mom told me. How I was really, really sick when I was first born and the doctors thought I was going to die. But there was this one doctor who wouldn’t give up. And sometimes, when things are really bad and fucked up, and I’m just so fucking tired of hauling myself out of the abyss one more goddamn time, I wish he had.” • Mindy Newell, On Her Depression
18 October 1990
Dear Ms. Newell,
Thanks for the letter and the story, which I liked enormously. I’m glad you liked my little book and that it may have helped in some way. I’m sure you’ll avoid your Jack the Ripper and pull through with grand success; remember that most people do. I did. So will you.
Postcard I received from William Styron after I sent him a copy of “Chalk Drawing” along with a personal note after reading his “Darkness Visible.” I treasure it.
I recently had the fun experience at my day job of assisting with ECT – electro-convulsive therapy. While the procedure has come a long, long way from the days of One Flew Over The Cuckoo Nest, it ain’t – to put it mildly – pleasant.
Oh, the patient is put under general anesthesia with a hit of succinylcholine to control tonic-clonic activity, so it’s not exactly Torquemada’s House of Medieval Torture, but there’s still something ugly and uncomfortably sadistic about purposely sending an electrical charge through a brain, isn’t there? Even if it has proven to be a successful intercession against intractable depression. And something profoundly impersonal that disturbs me, too, in the way a human being is treated like a slab of meat on the grill. “How would you like that, sir?” asked the waiter. “Well done,” said the diner, to twist W. C. Fields.
Or is that I feel it more deeply because of my own acquaintance with the Darkness Visible, as Pulitzer Prize-winning author William Styron titled his memoir of his own battle with the disease.
At any rate, as I stood looking down at the patient as the doctor was about to go to Defcon 5, I couldn’t help thinking…
There but for the grace of God go I.
At the time I co-wrote “Chalk Drawings” (Wonder Woman #46, September 1990) with George Pérez, I hadn’t told anyone about the depression since I hadn’t been officially diagnosed with it; in fact, I didn’t even know that I had it, only that something was “off” and “wrong” and had been for a long time…a very long time, actually. IIRC, the only one I had ever even mentioned my anxiety episodes to – which are frequently symptomatic of the condition, though they can stand “alone” – was my editor Karen Berger, and even that discussion was on a friend-to-friend basis one night over dinner in a restaurant on Columbus Avenue (I think) in Manhattan, and only because I was in the midst of having a giant panic attack over my plate. So the story of teenage depression and suicide was a bit – well, the word serendipitous comes to mind, but I usually use that word connoting something good happening, as in good karma.
So I can’t say that the depression made the story easy to write – I only know that it came pouring out of me like milk from a carton. At the time I guess I thought it was because of my empathetic ability – not in the way of Betazoid Deanna Troi on Star Trek: The Next Generation, of course – to get inside the head of my characters. At least, that was what everybody (editors, fellow writers, and so forth) was telling me.
It’s well known that many creative people have suffered from depression, and you can Google “creativity and depression,” or “writers/artists and depression” and get a zillion hits. While the psychiatric community is still out on the actual conclusive evidence, i.e., the biological/genetic/chemical linkage, there is a lot of subjective support out there. And while by no means am I putting myself in the category of writers like David Foster Wallace or Virginia Woolf or F. Scott Fitzgerald or William Styron, I do somehow just know that my illness, while certainly fucking up my life in so many god-awful, totally horrible ways, has also led me to that oft-touted “empathetic ability” to get inside my character’s heads
But can I get into my head?
I have a dream, a dream to write a “personal memoir” in the form of a graphic novel (of course, I can’t draw worth a damn so I’ll have to find an artist) about my experiences with the “darkness visible” of depression. It won’t be a “my mommy and daddy fucked me up” account, as in Prozac Nation or in Girl, Interrupted, although, dearest family, you’ll be in there; you’ll have to be. I think, rather, that it will be more along the lines of Carrie Fisher’s Postcards From The Edge, vignettes or short-short stories.
Like the time, way, way back in 1976 (I told you it’s been around me for a long, long time) when I ran from my dorm room at nursing school through the streets of the Lower East Side of Manhattan to the L train subway station because I thought the clouds were falling down on me. And if you know the L train subway line, you’ll understand just how crazy I was, that the L train subway station at 14th St. and 1st Avenue could be a sanctuary.
That’s a great visual, isn’t it?
• • • • •
Holy Shit! Holy, Holy, Holy Shit!
That’s my review of Hell Bent, the Season 9 finale of Doctor Who.*
SPOILER ALERT! As I told editor Mike Gold on the phone last night after the broadcast, I though that Stephen Moffat was about to pull some time-winey stuff when the Doctor and Clara stole the TARDIS – taking us back to the very beginning of the story, with Clara “renaming” herself Susan, i.e., the Doctor’s “granddaughter.”
“I’ll make it.” • Jimmy Chitwood (Maris Valainis) • Hoosiers (1986)
Wow. Two weeks. That’s a long time to wait with bated breath. My apologies to everyone who turned blue while waiting to find out if I had broken my ankles.
To reprise: A little more than two weeks ago, Wednesday July 9 to be exact, I fell down the last flight of stairs of my apartment building. Immediate, serious pain in both feet and ankles – my knees weren’t doing so great either. Afraid to move, I yelled for help, but nobody came – it was 6 in the morning – and as I reached for my cell phone…duh! I had left it upstairs. But somehow, whether it was through the surge of adrenalin rushing through my veins or just pure stubborn idiocy, I got up, gritted my teeth, and shuffled/hobbled to my car.
Just using the gas and brake pedals sent sharp knives up my legs, but I told myself that if any bones were broken I wouldn’t be able to be doing this. I didn’t drive to my local hospital though; I wanted to get to work where my friends were, who happened to be nurses, plus of course there would be doctors. I wasn’t thinking clearly, I just wanted someone to tell me that nothing was broken;
I had some crazy idea that I could stick my feet under the C-arm and have Fantastic Frank, as Stan Lee would say, X-ray technician extraordinaire, also as Stan would say, take a picture and ease my fears – or not. I don’t know why I didn’t just go straight to the ER at the hospital across the street – it’s a Level One trauma center, and I had visions of sitting there all day while other, more seriously ill and wounded people were seen and attended to; and let’s face it, I didn’t want to know that I had broken anything, because I was supposed to fly out to Indianapolis on Friday – the day after tomorrow at the time – for the wedding of my cousin, Delightful Devin to his beautiful Marvelous Maria, as Stan would describe them.
See, I kept remembering a tale my brother had told me about how one autumn morning he and a bunch of his fellow residents were out having a game of touch football, and how one of the guys fell and was moaning and clutching his leg and saying that he had broken it, and how my brother and his band of merry medical men jeered him, saying “don’t be a baby, get up, walk it out,” and how they made this poor guy play out the rest of the game before taking him to the ER, where they all discovered that, yes, indeed, the guy had broken his leg.
So I was a mess, physically and emotionally.
But as I was laying on a stretcher in our Post-Anesthesia Care Unit – PACU, otherwise known as the Recovery Room – and realizing that the ice pack and cold soda cans weren’t do a thing, and that the pain was getting worse, not better, I admitted to myself that I was being really stupid, because the only way I was going to know if I had broken any part of my ankles or feet would be courtesy of an examination in the ER….
…where I discovered, that regardless of whether or not my bones were broken, I wouldn’t be going anywhere. I wouldn’t be getting on any plane in less than 48 hours…
…because the second worse thing happened on that fucked-upmiserable day:
My driver’s license wasn’t in my wallet!
Where the fuck was it!
Shit! Shit! Shit!
By the time I was admitted and seen (by a fabulous, young, handsome physician) and told that I wouldn’t need X-rays, that I just had majorly “soft tissue damage” to my ankles and feet, i.e, really bad sprains, and was discharged with the usual instructions about ice and heat and elevate and to “try to walk normally so nothing stiffens up,” all I could think about was oh my fucking god how the hell am I gonna get on the airplane for the wedding?
I was desperate. No, I was beyond desperate; I was a madwoman.
That afternoon I tore the house apart looking for my license. Then I called the New Jersey Division of Motor Vehicles; hell, I even went there – I swallowed three Advils before leaving the house – and, yes, I was trying to “walk normally so nothing stiffens up.” I brought everything I could think of to identify myself, including the driver’s license renewal form I had just received in the mail and my passport – which expired four years ago and of which the DMV informed me that the cut-off date for expired passports as identification is three years – and for my troubles the bitch at the DMV sneered after explaining my situation to her: “Well, I guess you’re just shit of luck.”
I should have reported her. But I was tired, my feet and ankles were really, really hurting me despite the Advils, so I just left.
Aside: Will someone please explain to me why the New Jersey DMV cannot simply look up your credentials via computer, including your picture, especially when you’re 61 and have been a licensed driver since the age of 17? Will someone please explain to my why the New Jersey DMV sends renewal forms – generated by computer – to licensed drivers but still requires six million forms of ID when you go to renew your license?
Aside continued: Especially when, after getting home and calling the Department of Homeland Security and finding out that yes, I should be able get on the plane even though I had lost my driver’s license because they could, by searching the system – looking up on their computers – identify Mindy Newell as a born and bred citizen of the United States with no stains on her record and not on any “No-Fly” list. And by the way, the person I spoke to at the DHS was really nice – she didn’t say, “Well, I guess you’re just shit of luck.”
Still, I was worried about my driver’s license. My writer’s imagination took over. What if someone had stolen it out of my wallet, and what if that someone was a terrorist/jihadist, and what if he or she used my driver’s license for some nefarious and horrible deed? Yeah, I went straight to that – never mind using my license to get into my bank accounts and screwing up my credit and finances.
I finally laid down and elevated my feet and put one of those gel ice packs on my ankles; I also lit a candle, and this nice Jewish girl said a prayer to St. Anthony, patron saint of lost things and lost causes. (I asked him to help me even though I’m Jewish, “because your boss was.”) And I threw in some Wiccan blessings, too.
Well, let me tell you, this Jewess’s prayers were answered.
Though not right away.
By Thursday my feet and ankles were black and blue and swollen, but by walking carefully (though “normally”) I could get around okay. Though more than once I stepped the wrong way and OWWWWWW! But still no license. I was very depressed and worried; called ye old editor Mike for some cheering up and a pep talk. It helped…some. (No offense to Mike.)
Thursday night. No license. I had just sent off the column you read two weeks ago. Then I noticed my checkbook, lying on the radiator cover that is next to my computer. What was it doing there? I picked it up. And something – or someone? St. Anthony? – made me open it.
There it was.
My driver’s license.
I don’t know how the hell it ended up inside my checkbook.
“Hey, St. Anthony,” I said. “It’s me again. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
On Friday the only trouble I had at the airport was lagging way behind Alix, Jeff, and my grandson as we walked to the gate. Oh, and security did check my ace bandages for, I guess, any hidden weapons. They didn’t make me unwrap them; just ran a metal detector or something over them. So while so many of you were fulfilling your dream of attending the San Diego Comic-Con two weeks ago, I was in Indianapolis, that fair city, at the wedding of Delightful Devin and Marvelous Maria (as Stan would say), and telling everyone was a great guy good ol’ St. Anthony is.
Or maybe it was the Wiccan blessings?
• • • • •
And to bring this back to comics…I read Ed Catto’s column (She Made Me Do It! Fangirls Lead The Way at San Diego!) with interest and delight. It’s so gratifying to know that women are standing up and proudly proclaiming their fangirl status and being noticed and appreciated.
Back in the dark ages (the ‘80s) when I first became a professional writer at DC, I was so innocent of the “old boys club” in the comics world that I had no idea that it was considered weird for a woman to love comics and/or to write them. Besides, there was my editor, Karen Berger, our own Martha Thomases, and so many other women at DC; and over at Marvel there was Louise Simonson and Jo Duffy and Bobby Chase, just to mention three. So I walked around the halls of DC for a very, very long time before it dawned on me that I was “unusual” in any way – to me it was just about loving the medium, it had nothing to do with gender. And when I went to conventions, I met plenty of professional women creators: Kim Yale, Joyce Brabner, Colleen Doran, Jan Dursema, Trina Robbins, Jill Thompson, Wendy Pini, and so many others.
You want to know how innocent I was? When people – especially younger women–tell me that I was a “glass ceiling” breaker, or that I was an inspiration to them, I used to say “I was?” And not in any make-believe false modesty, either. I just didn’t get it.
Now I do.
But if I was, so then also were all the above and all the women who have worked in comics and newspaper strips and graphic novels and all “sequential storytelling and art” since the industry began.
In the early 1970s, when I was in college, I went to hear Gloria Steinem speak. The modern version of the feminism movement was still in its early stages. My memory of the talk is fuzzy, but I remember her recounting the reaction of men on the left to women’s issues:
“She walks! She talks! She gets down on there belly and slithers like a snake! It’s – a woman who thinks!”
That quote kept coming to my mind while watching She Makes Comics, a terrific new documentary directed by Marisa Stotter. I say “terrific” because it is a thorough overview of women who have worked in the comics industry, from newspaper strips to cosplay costumers. To quote from the promotional material: “Featuring dozens of interviews with such vital figures as Ramona Fradon, Trina Robbins, Joyce Farmer, Karen Berger, Kelly Sue DeConnick, and Becky Cloonan, She Makes Comics is the first film to bring together the most influential women of the comics world.”
Unlike a lot of films about comics, this one looks at the entire industry. There are veterans of the early days, like Jackie Ormes and Ramona Fradon. There are the rebel women who rallied against the macho underground comics of the 1960s, like Trina Robbins and Joyce Farmer. There are retailers and cosplayers and journalists and academics. There is Karen Green from Columbia University, my current hero.
And yet, I was unsatisfied.
Maybe I’m too old for this (I say, like a cop in a buddy-cop movie). I’ve been having the conversation about women in comics with women in comics for nearly forty years now. Many of the women with whom I’ve had this conversation are in the movie, like Trina Robbins and Heidi MacDonald.
For most of those long decades, there have been many many many documentaries made that say, in essence, “Oh, look! Women can do this, too!” As an example, just a few years ago, there was The Girls in the Band, about women in jazz. It’s not a radical idea that women can be as creative and independent and talented (and venal and commercial and pretentious) as men.
Rather than an overview, I’d like to see more emphasis placed on people we don’t know as well. The filmmakers know this. In an interview with Stotter in Newsarama, she said:
“As we dove into the research, we found that there were actually far more women cartoonists who were working in the decades prior to the 1950s, enough for us to realize that excluding them entirely would be a disservice to our project’s mission. We broadened our scope a bit to include many of them, and Jackie Ormes is one of them. Her story we found particularly interesting because of her personal life. She was a real star in the black press, enough of one to hobnob with prominent black celebrities of the 30s and 40s, and land on an FBI watch list for associating with alleged communists.
“Her story was so fascinating on numerous levels, and we felt that it wasn’t enough to simply address the fact that she existed. We wanted to expand upon her story and highlight how important her contributions were to elevating depictions of middle class black life at a time when most newspaper images of African Americans were offensive stereotypes and caricatures.”
Please make that movie. And then make a couple dozen more.
This movie is a wonderful introduction to a topic that requires at least a twelve-part mini-series. It would include fans and distributors and teachers and librarians, at the least. It would talk about race and class and gender roles.
And maybe publicists, too. Then I could get interviewed.
“I’d love to kiss you, but I just washed my hair.” – Bette Davis
Over at GeekMom.com , founding editor and columnist Corinna Lawson wrote a review of both Wonder Woman #36 (featuring the new team of Meredith and David Finch) and Superman/Wonder Woman #13 entitled “Memo to DC: Wonder Woman Likes People. Honest.”
Corinna is not happy.
Neither am I.
Now it’s true that my opinion of the Amazon’s most recent adventures are tainted a bit by my experience in working on the title with two of the best people in comics, George Pérez and Karen Berger, in that I think we did the definitive version of Diana, incorporating and being true to the Greek mythology from which the character sprung. It’s also true that the tinge of envy I feel whenever I hear that a new writer has come on board the tile – Hey, DC!! What am I, chopped liver? – may color my reception of said new writer. And it’s also true that, if ever given the chance to write the character again, my take could be considered fairly radical – a feminist icon who is not pro-choice? Is, in fact very much anti-abortion. For reasons, good, logical reasons, I have gone into in previous columns.
But what bothers me most about Wonder Woman today is evident in the dialogue and scene descriptions that Corinna mentions in her review and that I read for myself. For instance, there is a scene in which two Amazons argue about helping their Amazon brothers….
Hold it right there!
Can you say oxymoron? Emphasis on the moron.
And there’s a lot of complaining – uh, bitching – on her part.
“…how will you ever grow stronger if you need us every waking moment?” she grumpily says as she rescues some human civilians.
And she bitches while waiting for Clark to finish writing up an article, “Why does
this take so long? Do you need to learn more words? And why are you using this ancient relic of your laptop?”
And she bitches when Clark gives up the fourth taxi to someone else during a rainstorm even though it means they will be late to the theater, never mind that they are both soaked to the bone.
Because, you know, Clark is such a “super” gentleman, while Diana is an Amazon bitch.
Although there is no such scene, something tells me that this Diana certainly lets Clark have it when he leaves the toilet seat up.
Bitch, bitch, moan, moan.
• • • • •
“Remember…the Force will be with you, always.” –Obi-wan Kenobi
Have you seen the trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens? It’s only 88 seconds long, but that was all it took for me to swoon and drool like Pavlov’s dog in anticipation of a return to that galaxy so far, far away.
“Must a name mean something?” Alice asked doubtfully.
“Of course it must,” Humpty Dumpty said with a short laugh; “my name means the shape I am – and a good handsome shape it is, too. With a name like yours, you might be any shape, almost.”
Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll
There was a time in my life when it was my silent, constant partner. I didn’t know then what it was; this thing had no name, and no one had yet advised me to challenge it, to call it out from the shadows into the sunlight. It hid in the cold dark crevices of my psyche, curled around my thoughts and dreams like a boa constrictor, never letting go, an anonymous thing. I knew there was something wrong, but without a name to call it, I could not voice it. Without a name to call it, I could not control it. Without a name to call it, I could not reclaim my self.
Yesterday I went to a comic book store for the first time in a very, very long time.
What the hell does that have to do with my struggles with it? A good question. A legitimate question.
The first time I discovered a store dedicated to comics was way back in the early 80s, during the time when this anonymous thing lived with me day after day, week after week, month after month. I don’t remember purposely sniffing it out – IIRC I just happened to be stopped at a red light on Broadway in downtown Bayonne, New Jersey. The storefront caught my eye; the windows were full of comics and some other stuff, but then the light turned green and I continued along my way.
But for the few moments while I was waiting for the red to turn to green, the thing had let go of me, or, at least, had lessened its grip. It wasn’t an “uh-huh” moment…
But very soon afterwards I was in the store and I wasn’t feeling weird, or odd, or frightened or any of that remote, sad, heaviness of the thing-with-no name which I carried with me – well, not so much, anyhow…
Yeah, not to put it through too fine a sieve – and, yes, it’s 28 years later – I think what I was feeling was comfort.
I looked at all the covers of the comics and the colors and the artwork and all the heroes – Superman, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Green Lantern, The Legion Of Super-Heroes, and all the rest – and I felt better. Okay, not kick-up-your-heels-and-do-a-dance better, but yeah, definitely better. Probably, as my therapist would say, it had to do with being suddenly face-to-face with the little-girl-who-was-me; she who was excited, who was curious, who read comics by flashlight after Taps underneath the covers of my bunk at camp.
I remembered her.
I was her.
I don’t remember what else I bought that day, but I do remember buying Camelot 3000, the groundbreaking maxi-series by Mike W. Barr and Brian Bolland, which imagines the prophesized return of King Arthur and his Round Table when the Earth is threatened by an alien invasion in the year 3000 A.D. I have always loved the story of the once and future king; it is the classic hero’s journey, told over and over again in many myths and in many cultures, the tale of the individual who is challenged to walk through the gauntlet, to vanquish the enemy, to achieve peace and knowledge even if cost is dear.
I read that first issue of Camelot 3000, and while I was reading it I escaped the hell of my life. And I kept going back to the comic book store and I kept reading C3000, and I bought and read other comics. I even wrote a “Letter to the Editor” that appeared in an issue of Green Lantern.
It was finally, and properly, diagnosed and named in 1990 as clinical depression.
And yes, naming the monster gave me power.
But I still hate it. Because it never really goes away, y’know? Even with medication and therapy, it’s always there, teasing me. “I’m still here. I had you once. I can have you again.” And sometimes it does, for a little while. The past month, for instance. But I have named it, and so its power is not what it was. And then, too, sometimes I think…
If the monster had not taken hold of me, if I had not had to struggle and walk through the gauntlet, I would have never walked into that comic book store in 1982 and started reading comics again. I would have never sat down on a rainy Sunday and written Jenesis, the story that led me to Karen Berger and New Talent Showcase and all the wonderful things that followed it. I would have never written Lois Lane: When It Rains, God Is Crying, and never would have been able to understand the pain of Chalk Drawings (Wonder Woman #46), which I co-wrote with George Pérez. I would have never gone to conventions and met so many wonderful people – this means you, Mike, John, Kim, and Mary. And you, Martha. And you, Bob Greenberger. And Karen and Len and Marv and Mike Grell and Tom Brevoort and Trina Robbins and Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner and Marie Javins. And so many others, some of who are no longer with us – Dick Giordano and Gray Morrow and Don Heck and Mark Gruenwald…
I hate you, depression.
I hate you with a passion that frightens me. You have fucked up my life in too many goddamn ways.
I would not be here now without you.
I said once before, in a previous column, that nothing is wasted.