Tagged: Louise Simonson

Mindy Newell: Are Comics Genetic?

Is reading comics genetic? Is there a gene that dictates whether or not you’re going to be a comics lover?

I don’t remember when I first fell in love with reading comics. Hell, with reading, period. Just got off of the phone from my mom, who said that by the time I was in kindergarten I always had my nose in a book, which puts me at about four years old. She also said that I was reading at the third grade level

“What about before kindergarten, Mom?”

“You would go to our bookshelves and pull out a book and turn the pages and talk to yourself as if you were reading.”

“Was I?”

“I don’t know, I don’t remember. Oh, and you loved to look at the illustrations.”

“You mean picture books?”

“No, I mean the illustrations in Last Of The Mohicans and Alice In Wonderland and The Three Musketeers. You got milk stains over our Book-of-the-Month Club leather-bound copies with the N.C. Wyeth drawings and drove your father nuts.”

I still get food and drink all over my books.

“What about comics?”

“I just remember that you always read them.”

“That was in the ‘50’s, right? Weren’t you worried that I was going to corrupt my poor innocent brain?”

“No. You were reading, that’s what was important.”

“But did you ever read comics? Did Daddy?”

“Nope. Neither of us.”

“And Glenn never read them, either, right?”

“You were the only one.”

Are comics genetic? Is there a gene that dictates whether or not you’re going to be a comics lover?

Just got off the phone from Alixandra.

“Hey, Alix, you weren’t really a comics reader when you were a kid, right?”

“Nope. Well, Betty And Veronica.”

“But I don’t remember you reading them the way I do, right?”

“Right. But I loved reading.”

“But not comics. Not like me.”


So reading comics isn’t genetic. There is no gene that dictates whether or not you’re going to be a comics lover.


Several weeks ago I went out to dinner with the family – mom, dad, my brother and sister-in-law, and my soon-to-be 12 years old niece, Isabel.

She had Jeff Smith’s The Complete Bone Adventures Volume 1 on her lap, and was trying to surreptitiously read without getting caught or getting food on it.

I was so impressed. Not for trying to sneak reading while out to dinner with others – that’s not exactly polite social manners, is it? – but for having discovered Jeff Smith’s totally cool story on her own.

I love Bone, too, Isabel.

Isabel loves comics. Has it been my influence? I’m not sure. Meaning, what came first, the chicken or the egg? I remember giving her a full year’s worth of Louise Simonson’s Power Pack for her 5th birthday – I think it was her 5th birthday, this is what happens to your brain on menopause; girls, don’t do menopause if you can avoid it – but was it because I knew she loved comics or was it because I wanted to turn her on to comics?

She has a huge collection of Archie, including the graphic novel that collects stories from the beginning to the present. Favors Veronica over Betty (she looks like little Ronnie, but she hates when I tease her about it) and thinks Reggie is mean, Jughead is dumb, and Midge and Moose are cool. Izzy really likes the Archie Marries Veronica/Archie Marries Betty storyline. But she’s not so much for the “new look” – she goes for the classic.

Me, too.

I’ve got a comic book she made for me when she was six. It’s about a vampire. Isabel loves vampire stories.

Me, too.

So reading comics is genetic? There is a gene that dictates whether or not you’re going to be a comics lover?

Damned if I know.

TUESDAY MORNING: Michael Davis Expletive Deleted

TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Emily S. Whitten, Women, and Costumes



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


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!


Mindy Newell: The Agony And The Ecstasy Of Writing

Ah, the joys of writing.

Well, not when you’re working on your capstone project, the culmination of the past 18 months, the paper that will lead me to that walk down the aisle in mortarboard and gown to the hallowed, somber notes of Pomp and Circumstance. How did that get to be the graduation processional march anyway? Wait, I’m going to look it up. Tawk amongst yawselves….

This is what Wikipedia says: “The Pomp and Circumstances Marches, Op. 39” are a series of marches for orchestra composed by Sir Edward Elgar. In the United States, the Trio section,” Land of Hope and Glory” of March No. 1 is sometimes known simply as” Pomp and Circumstance” or as “The Graduation March,” and is played as the processional tune at virtually all high school and college graduation ceremonies. It was first played at such a ceremony on 28 June 1905, at Yale University, where Samuel Sanford, Professor of Music, invited his friend Elgar to attend commencement and receive an honorary Doctorate of Music. Elgar accepted, and Sanford made certain he was the star of the proceedings, engaging the New Haven Symphony Orchestra, the College Choir, the Glee Club, the music faculty members, and New York musicians to perform two parts from Elgar’s oratorio – “The Light of Life” and, as the graduates and officials marched out, “Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1.” Elgar repaid the compliment by dedicating the “Introduction and Allegro, Op. 47” at the first London Symphony Orchestra performance later that year. The tune soon became de rigueur at American graduations, used primarily as a processional at the opening of the ceremony, although it is still used now only as at Yale.”
Oy, the things you and I learn because of this column!

As I was saying, academic writing is not at all like writing fiction, or like writing this column – which could be fiction. Some of it, anyway. You’ll never know, will you? Academic writing is about rules that must not be broken under any circumstance, although I think that only God knows why. I’ve had arguments with several professors – before I learned better – about why academic writing must be so dry and impersonal and polysyllabic. In other words, b-o-r-i-n-g. “Look,” I said. “Doesn’t it make sense that if the writing’s engaging, fun, and inclusive of the audience, that audience will enjoy reading it, and if the audience enjoys reading it, then the audience will r-e-m-e-m-b-e-r it. As in, the audience will not need ten cups of coffee just to get through the abstract.”

“Ha-rumph!” said the professors, looking down their snoots. “Balderdash! Ms. Newell, we assume you want to pass this course.

”Yes, sir,” I said. “Yes, ma’am.”

In other words, just shut up and do what they say, Mindy. And I do. And my academic writing is damn good, if I do say so myself, even if those last two sentences would never get through the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th Editon. Because they start with conjunctions.

But fiction writing – now that’s, as the doorman to the Emerald City said to Dorothy, a horse of a different color.

You can have fun when you’re writing fiction. Oh, there are rules about plot and structure and grammar. But those rules are easily broken. It’s about style. And style, baby? That’s the fun part. Style belongs to you. You, the author.

Raymond Chandler. Edna Ferber. Alan Moore. Toni Morrison. Ernest Hemingway. Anne McCaffrey. Brian K. Vaughn. Gail Simone. Neil Gaiman. Louise Simonson. Grant Morrison. Lynda Barry. Harvey Pekar. Mari Naomi. Frank Miller. Alison Bechdel. Each of these wonderful writers with their own style, their own voice. It’s one of the reasons, maybe the reason, why they are loved, why their books are snatched off shelves and downloaded onto e-readers.

Or maybe it’s not so fun. Maybe it’s hard, maybe it’s heartbreaking, maybe it’s terrifying, maybe it’s cathartic. Maybe you don’t really know where these words are coming from or why you have these ideas, but you only know that if you don’t get them out of your head or your soul and down on paper, someday they will eat at your guts and corrode your brain and destroy what’s left of your humanity.

Fiction as primal scream therapy.

Tuesday Morning: Michael Davis Continues With His Black Thing!

Tuesday Afternoon: Emily S. Whitten Reveals You, Too, Can Get Started! 


MARTHA THOMASES: Superman Red… or Blue?

My last two columns generated a certain amount of off-topic political discussion, which is 1) exciting and 2) frightening. The fright stems from the fact that political discussions got us kicked off this site four years ago.

The excitement comes from proving something I have always believed. Feminists claim the personal is political. I think the arts are political, too. You may have a different opinion. It depends in your definition of art. I think art is something created by an artist that makes you see the world in a new way.

Forty years ago I had surgery, and was lying on my parents’ couch zonked on major pain killers. I was reading Dune, watching the Olympics and the political conventions. I couldn’t tell which was which. Maybe that’s because Dune is a mind-blowing book. The sequels never moved me as much. Perhaps it was the drugs, or maybe they need world-class diving in the background.

Different people with different perspectives can find enjoyment in the same entertainment. The Hunger Games, which seemed to me to be a reasonably populist and feminist fable, has made over $200 million as I write this, and I doubt all those ticket-buyers are part of the Occupy Wall Street crowd.

Comic books would seem to be an All-American form of entertainment. Especially superhero comics. Truth, justice and the American Way. Upholders of the law who best criminals and ne’er do wells. And yet, those of us who consider ourselves rebels and/or leftists have found plenty that resonates.

Superman is an undocumented alien. The X-Men are scorned because they are a minority, born different from the rest of us. The Legion of Super-Heroes imagines a future in which we not only survive, but learn to use science to live in peace. Mostly.

Often it is the sensibility of the writer that makes a story resonate politically. Twenty years ago, when Bill Clinton was running for his first term, Louise Simonson and Jon Bogdanove supported his candidacy. Dan Jurgens did not. If you were reading Superman comics then (when one storyline ran through four different titles, each published a different week of the month), you might have been able to pick out their different points of view.

There are people who share my political beliefs whose work I don’t like, and people with whom I disagrees whose work I read avidly. There are writers like Jamie Delano, who I mostly love but whose work I like less the more I agree with him.

We have an election ahead of us this year, and I hope that, as a nation, we can debate issues on their merits, and not descend into the kind of lies and distortions that frequently foul our discussions. And I hope comics do their part, presenting different issues and different perspectives through the prism of graphic fiction.

I think Superman is a Democrat. How about you?

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman Goes To The Big Show

Jeffrey Catherine Jones, 1944 – 2011

Noted illustrator and sometime comics artist Jeffrey Catherine Jones died yesterday of complications from emphysema.

In comics, her work appeared in Heavy Metal, the various Warren magazines, Epic Illustrated, and many, many others. Committing herself to illustration in general and expressionism in specific, she was a member of the legendary Studio along with Michael Kaluta, Barry Windsor-Smith and Bernie Wrightson. Jones’ illustrations graced a great many science fantasy novels (Michael Moorcock, Dean Koontz, Fritz Lieber, Andre Norton, and others) and magazines as well as publications such as The National Lampoon.

Her work has been reprinted in a number of albums, most recently IDW’s [[[Jeffrey Jones: A Life In Art]]]. This ironically titled tome was released at the beginning of this year.

Jones married Mary Louise Alexander (now Louise Simonson) in 1966 and had a daughter, Julianna, the following year. In 2001 Jeffrey had gender reassignment surgery. In recent years she suffered from numerous ailments, but had made a sadly brief return to the drawing board last month.

In one of the highest compliments imaginable, illustrator Frank Frazetta called Jones “the greatest living painter.”

‘Thor’ Movie Annotations

walt-simonson-louise-simonson-ralph-macchio-thor-268x450-7099929With [[[Thor]]] taking the number one spot in box office receipts for the second week in a row, we must consider one of two options:

  1. There are a lot of people going back to stare at Chris Hemsworth, Kat Dennings, and Jaimie Alexander, or…
  2. People are hunting for all the Easter eggs and hidden bits in the film.

And so verily, we come to you, ComicMixers, with this list of notes, eggs of Easter, and bits of magic you may have missed when you were recently gazing upon the God of Thunder! Have at thee! Here is the Odin-list of annotations from the recent film released by the Studios of Marvel, of the humble Midgard. Did you catch of these visages, mortal? Let us find out! Huzzah!

Warning: spoilers from this point forward. You’ve been warned.