Tagged: Marc Alan Fishman

Mike Gold: Where Have All The Comics Gone?

gold-art-130925-150x217-4987394About a thousand years ago, I was on Steve King’s WGN radio show (now sorely missed) and somebody called in and asked about the name “Comic Book.” I was taken aback momentarily, trying to decide if I should go into my “we’ve kicked the kids out of the donut shop” auto-rant. Out of respect for Steve and his 33 state / five province reach, I did a short history instead.

I talked about how the original comics were simply reprints of newspaper strips, some funny (hence the term “funny books”), some were adventurous, and the best were surreal. Within a few years all the licenses were tied up – not just the good ones – and new publishers like Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson had to hire young (read: inexpensive) writers and artists to create new stuff.

Funny comic books continued to dominate newsstand and subscription sales for the better part of two decades. Indeed, Dell Comics’ Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories sold over three million copies each month, the majority as subscriptions. Other movie cartoon stars did quite well, and before long we had a plethora of original funny animal and funny human comics, including Bob Montana’s Archie, Walt Kelly’s Pogo (yeah, the li’l possum and his alligator buddy got their start as a comic book feature), and Shelly Mayer’s Sugar and Spike.

In those hallowed days, comic books were only available on newsstands (stand-alones, in drug stores, transportation stations, etc.) and by subscription. There were no comic book stores. The concept was ridiculous: how could you make money only selling ten-cent product?

This is a question that haunted publishers in the late 1950s when the traditional outlets started to die off. Shopping malls replaced drug and candy stores and five-and-dimes (Woolworths, Kresges) were rendered redundant by convenience stores. Public transportation was severely reduced as people moved out of the inner-cities and into suburbs and outlying neighborhoods, necessitating the purchase of a car. You can’t read a comic book – or text, for that matter – while operating an automobile.

The medium survived, if you call this survival, by the creation of the direct sales marketing system wherein cockroach capitalist comic book stores could order new comics on a non-returnable basis. They received them about three weeks early, so those few remaining newsstands faced severe competition if they were located near a comics shop. Then again, those few remaining newsstands couldn’t care less: the amount of profit in a comic book wasn’t worth the effort of maintaining the racks.

Several comics retailers and at least one severely shortsighted comics distributor discouraged marketing towards children because “they didn’t have enough money and weren’t worth the bother.” Oh, yeah? Well, then, where are your new customers going to come from ten or twenty years down the road?

Well, twenty years down the road, comic book sales were a small fraction of what they had been and, as DC’s co-publisher recently quipped, “our average reader is about 50 years old.” (I paraphrase.) So, in effect, by cutting off the kids we’ve voluntarily placed ourselves in the position the mom’n’pops were in a generation ago. Worse, actually. Most kids know from comics characters not because of the comics, but because of the movies and television shows. They find comics confusing, boring and expensive – if they can find them at all.

As my fellow ComicMixer Marc Alan Fishman said last week, a few publishers are trying to correct this by establishing lines of kid-friendly titles. If they succeed, we’ll have a next generation of comic book readers.

If they fail, the American comic book will become part of our cultural history.

So here’s what you can do. Halloween is coming up. Many publishers have produced special digest-sized comics to give to trick-or-treaters, and that’s great. But if you can’t find them, there’s plenty of new kid’s comics out there. Buy a couple dozen and give them out instead of all that sugary candy stuff.

If you already bought all that sugary candy stuff, ship it to me. I’ve got plenty of comic books.


THURSDAY AFTERNOON: The Debut of Tweeks!


Martha Thomases: News Fantasy

thomases-art-130920-150x130-6601559This past Sunday saw the Season 2 finale of the HBO series The Newsroom. When it was over, I was really happy with the season.

Apparently, other people? Not so much.

There are a lot of reasons to criticize The Newsroom. It’s not very realistic. The people who work for the cable news network, especially those with off-camera jobs, are much too attractive. Even the slobs are put together by stylists. Because it is an Aaron Sorkin show, characters will frequently speak in paragraphs, something hardly anyone does in the real world, and certainly not at work in a fast-paced newsroom, where anything more than a grunt or a nod takes too much time.

It’s a world where we know a character has been emotionally damaged because she is female and she cuts and dyes her long blonde hair into a cute red pixie cut. This is so shocking that the network’s lawyer doesn’t want her to testify at a lawsuit. It’s a world where women wear phenomenally high heels to work, and keep them on all day, even when they are at the office for 16 hours or more.

It’s a world in which a major news decision, which we are supposed to consider to be courageous, involves reading the AP wire and seeing that one story might be more important than another.

In other words, it’s a fantasy. I enjoy fantasy. I enjoy HBO fantasy. True Blood and Game of Thrones are my idea of fun times. Why shouldn’t I like The Newsroom?

If you don’t like it, I understand. It’s a series pitched to big city media junkies, even more than The West Wing. It’s easy to claim it’s a liberal fantasy, but if it was truly progressive, the women would be more than caricatures. The Jane Fonda character (a joy!) is the only woman not defined by her relationship to a man (unless we count her son). And she is played for comic relief.

The big pay-off at the end of the last show (SPOILERS! if you’re squeamish) was when the lead anchor, played by Jeff Daniels, proposed to his executive producer (and former fiancée) Emily Mortimer. It was a surprise because they hadn’t been dating, because they hadn’t been flirting, and they certainly hadn’t been sleeping together – at least not recently. He realized he loved her because of who she is and how she lives.

It’s as shocking as the Red Wedding, and way more romantically satisfying.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

SUNDAY: John Ostrander


Michael Davis: Milestone Media Announces Static Shock is Gay

Davis Art 130913No.

No we didn’t.

I was sent the accompanying image by a fan that asked me, as co-creator of the character, what I thought of it. The image is of Virgil Hawkins (Static) making out with his best friend Richie. Frankly, it didn’t bother me and I was much more concerned with how this woman got my personal email.

Turns out I gave it to her at the end of my Black Panel at the San Diego Comic Con, which struck me as suspect because she’s not Asian.

Shit, I said I would no longer do Asian girl joke references. OK, let me try that again… turns out I gave it to her at the end of my Black Panel at the San Diego Comic Con, which stuck me as suspect because she’s not pretty.


Actually she’s very pretty so let me try that one more time, turns out I gave it to her at the end of my Black Panel at Comic Con, which struck me as suspect because she’s fat as shit.


Frankly I don’t remember what she looks like and I don’t care. She could have had one eye and weighted 500 pounds. I still wouldn’t care. I see the person I don’t see anything else but the person. I don’t see color, sexual orientation or

religious beliefs.  She must have been way cool because I gave her my personal email.

I guard my personal email like my social security number. There are people who think they have my personal email but they don’t. I answer every single email I get from every email address but some take a lot longer than others. In my mind giving my personal email to everybody would be like giving my social security number to a telemarketer.


Speaking of stupid, I posted the image on my Facebook page with the following caption:

Sooooooooo, someone asked me what I thought of this image of my character Vigil Hawkins (Static) kissing his best friend Richie.

It’s fine with me and if it’s not with anyone else I could give a fuck.

A few people assumed I was saying Static was gay. I never said that. In fact one of my friends posted the following, so let me get this straight, Static is gay? To which I replied, no, but I’d be cool with it if he was.

Still even after that a few folk thought I said he was gay.

Nope, never said that.

Just so we are clear Virgil is not gay just so we are crystal clear, when he becomes Static he doesn’t become gay. That would be… wait for it… wait for it… Wait for it… a shock.

Damn, I’m witty.

Derek Dingle, Denys Cowan, Dwayne McDuffie and I created Static. I was lucky enough to be chosen to write the Static bible. That means I created most of the major and supporting characters for the series. There is an expression, writers write what they know and that’s what I did. I based Static on my childhood and my family.

My mother’s name is Jean, father, Robert, sister, Sharon. The family name “Hawkins” is my cousin’s, most of Virgil’s friends were named after members of my Bad Boy Studio mentor program mine, Brett, Kevin and Thor. Their real names were Brett Lewis, Kevin McCarty and Thor Badendyck.

Yeah, I had a student named Thor.

All of those guys are fantastic creators now. Don’t take my word for it, Goggle those Bad Boys (damn, I’m witty) and see for yourself. Brett & Thor’s work will be easy to find, Kevin on the other hand will take a bit more effort. Kevin is like me, you need a key word like “comics” or “Dark Horse” if not then you will end up with about a zillion murderers all named Kevin McCarthy.

Bad Boys Studio has an alumni like that you will never believe. One day I’ll write about it just as soon as I have a heart to heart with Brett about some stuff.

But, (sorry Peter) I digress.

As I was saying, I based Static on my life growing up and as far as I remember I did not grow up gay. I am gay now, I’m a lesbian. I do so love me some women.

Damn, I’m witty.

Static is not gay but he is black. I do remember growing up black. Some black people especially those in the church have a real problem with homosexually.

Every single time I write anything in support of gay rights some in the black church take me to task. It’s always an angry email, which almost always mentions “role model” for black boys.

I get it. I’m not mad at people for having their beliefs. Really.


Static is based on my life. Mine. Not anyone else’s, mine. Role model? Gay people can’t be role models? Really, shit I guess I have to stop using Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci as examples of great artists.

If I’m okay with Virgil coming out as gay does anyone really think I give a fuck what he or she think?


I think with all my heart people should be allowed to love whoever they want to love.

With all due respect, if you create a world famous character based on your life you can get as mad as you want when someone draws a picture of your character kissing someone of the same sex.

However, until you create that world famous character based on your life I suggest you get a life.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

SUNDAY: John Ostrander


Martha Thomases Is Outraged!

thomases-art-130913-150x190-1007605In the last week, DC Comics has made me exhausted. I can’t keep up with my own outrage.

At first report, DC reportedly drove off J. H. Williams and W. Haden Blackman from the pages of Batwoman by decreeing that Kate Kane could not marry Maggie Sawyer, a storyline that they had been developing for more than a year.

How could this happen? DC had always been a leader in creating a diverse universe, or at least it did during my tenure there. We were so LGBT-friendly that I was able to work with GLAAD to get an awards category established for comics and graphic novels when they gave out their yearly prizes. And now they’re going all reactionary? That made no sense. The Internet rumor that they were doing this to suck up to Orson Scott Card made even less sense, and, happily, turned out to be complete paranoid speculation.

Was I going to have to boycott DC Comics, which I’ve been reading for 55 years?

Then, as it turned out, the news story was more complicated. The editorial edict was not against gay and lesbian marriage, but all marriages. I don’t think this is what we had in mind when we wanted marriage equality. The editorial theory is that a married hero can’t be interesting, but instead must be miserable and lonely to have a dynamic emotional life with a lot of story opportunities.

I understand what they’re saying here, but I think it’s lazy. It would be like saying that a hero can’t have a successful career, because poverty has more dramatic potential. However, having an editorial edict about marriage does make it easier to manage the stories from a brand perspective, as potential Hollywood blockbusters. Hollywood loves single heroes, considering them to be sexier and more appealing to the coveted 14-25 male audience. It’s letting marketing trump editorial, and, even worse, it’s letting paranoia about movie marketing trump comic book creativity.

Batwoman is currently one of my favorite books. It’s one that I show people who don’t think they would like superhero comics. Even when the story isn’t necessarily to my taste (Killer Croc doesn’t interest me that much), the artwork is always lushly gorgeous, the lay-outs intriguing, and the characters both enigmatic and engaging.

While I don’t know J. H. Williams, I consider myself to be a huge fan, and it upsets me to see him and his colleague treated so poorly. Editors are an important element of the creative process, and nothing I say should be considered anti-editor. However, it’s bad management for editorial to swoop down and demand changes at the last minute, especially on a story-line that was already approved. It’s no way to treat talent. It’s no way to run a company.

Was I going to have to boycott DC Comics, which I’ve been reading for 55 years?

The latest news as of this writing is that Mark Andreyko will take over Batwoman. I enjoy his work a lot, and, while I don’t think we’ve met, we’re Facebook friends and we seem to share a sensibility. I’m curious to see what he’ll do with Kate Kane, so I guess a boycott isn’t really an option, at least not for me at this point.

Here’s the thing. It’s been taking me longer and longer to read my comics every week. The pile will sit there for days, waiting for me to get interested. I’m writing this on Monday, and the “Villains Month” books have sat there since Wednesday. I’m not sure I care anymore. Treating artists and writers like cookie-cutters has made reading the books a chore. I don’t have to spend money for more chores. Chores surround me, for free.

Nagging about chores is something that ruins a lot of marriages. Way more than being the hero.

FRIDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis (honest)



Martha Thomases: Conventional Fashion

13-02-09_ichoosepeace_logo_finAs you read this, I’m riding the rails to Baltimore for the Baltimore Comic Con, one of the more pleasant shows of the year. I expect to have a weekend of discovering new comics, seeing old friends, and spreading the word about ComicMix Pro Services.

However, as I write this, instead of thinking about comics, I’m obsessing about what to pack. I need to wear my ComicMix shirts, because that’s the brand I’m promoting. I need to wear comfortable shoes, because I’ll be on my feet a lot, either welcoming people to our booth or walking the floor. And I’ll need a garment – pants or a skirt – to go in-between the shirt and the shoes.

I could wear blue jeans (most people do), but I don’t think they look right with a dark blue shirt. I could wear my white jeans, but it is after Labor Day. How much of a rebel do I wish to be? Will I get credit for being a rebel, since no one seems to be aware of this rule at all anymore? I could wear a skirt, but then I have to sit with my knees together and shave my legs. Which I mostly do, but I have the illusion of choice when I wear pants. I could wear khakis, but I don’t own any, since they make my hips look ginormous.

My choice of garment is also determined by other factors. If I select something snug, I might look thinner, but not be able to comfortably eat. If I opt for something baggy, then I might look like I’m not taking my job seriously. I want to look somewhat cute, because then I look friendly and approachable. I don’t want to look like I’m trying to be 40 years younger than I am, because that is pathetic and sad.

It occurs to me that there are certain parallels between my fashion quandary and telling stories in mass market comic books. There is the licensed character, which media moguls insist on calling “the brand” instead of calling it the character, which is what it is. There is the story, which must be appropriate to the medium and the genre. I might want to wear my favorite shirt, but it’s not appropriate to the task at hand, nor for the people whom I’m trying to reach in this particular venue. Similarly, if I’m hired to write a Superman story, it should feature Superman, and it should follow certain conventions. One does not wear a t-shirt with a taffeta skirt.

My convention look is not made up of only three elements. I may choose to wear jewelry, or a scarf. My hair is styled a certain way that is uniquely mine. I may add layers, a jacket or a sweater. Similarly, my Superman story might have Superman, super-powers, super villains and threats to humanity, but it will also have elements that are unique to me, to the way I write and what I value in the character.

None of this has anything to do with high art, but it does have to do with respecting one’s audience. I want to give the reader not only what she paid for, what she wants, but also what she doesn’t even know she wants. A unique discovery, a bit of joy, that cements our relationship.

So, that’s settled. Now, what should I wear to the Harvey Awards?

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

SUNDAY: John Ostrander


Martin Pasko: A Brief History of Mail Power Fantasies

Pasko Art 130905Last week’s column, about the apparent suicidal impulses of the US Postal Service, advanced what I hope is a baseless and purely paranoiac thesis: Because UPS, FedEx, and their ilk don’t cover every form of deliverable and are prohibitively expensive for many small-business shippers, we are in urgent need of alternative low-cost means for shipping parcels and other three-dimensional objects that can’t – or won’t – be deliverable to us in electronic form any time soon. That’s because the P.O.’s collapse might happen faster than we can create the infrastructure necessary to take up the (very minor) slack.

That would be a Geek Apocalypse. Some momzer with an encyclopedic memory of The Overstreet Guide won’t be able to profitably ship you that copy of Tales To Astonish #12 you bid too much for. And your ability to receive items like priceless Mr. Terrific maquettes, or the Talents’ endless flow of royalty checks for $.35, will be jeopardized. And then suddenly, one day, before you know it…entire vital industries start getting wiped out. Y’know, like Hero-Clix.

But it’s hard to be too sympathetic to the USPS’ increasingly strident argument that it needs more funding and a different budgeting process. Perhaps because there’s a reason it’s OK to bail out Detroit but not USPS: the auto industry hasn’t yet come up with a car that can go anywhere except the direction you’re trying to steer it in.

If all this leaves you unmoved to lament the coming Götterdämmerung in Mail Valhalla, perhaps you might shed a tear out of nostalgia. When the Post Office finally goes, so, probably, will the memory of some – odd and arcane, to be sure – pieces of comics history.

For example, whatever else USPS is trying to preserve, it isn’t a commitment to the goal expressed in huge letters on the New York City main branch: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” That inscription is believed to have been carved by a young stonemason named Ira Schnapp, who went on to play a major role in comics history by designing the classic Superman logo and lettering most of DC’s top-tier output for roughly the first fifteen years of its existence.

Over the next 50 years, the USPS was indirectly responsible for some memorable, comics fanboy-beloved policies and procedures. I’ll discuss a few of those next week, when I perform the death-defying feat of ending this two-and-a-half part rant and starting a new one, establishing a premise that you will have forgotten by the time you conclude reading about it the following week.

Before USPS became irrelevant to comics, it resorted to printing comic book content, in a sense – such as with the 2007 Marvel Super Heroes series that put Spider-Man on a stamp. It was one such “issue” that inspired the project that arguably brought the uneasy alliance of comics and USPS to its disastrous apotheosis.

The negotiations for the use of Superman on a stamp to commemorate his create led to high-level talks that generated a custom comics initiative. This project, of which I was the alternately fascinated and appalled editorial supervisor, was The Celebrate The Century Super Heroes Stamp Album series. This was part of a much more ambitious campaign, The Celebrate The Century stamp series. It seemed like a simple, sure-fire plan: nine sets of stamps commemorating each of the nine decades of the 20th Century. The subjects of the stamps for the first half – the 1900s thru the ‘40s – were selected by a panel of scholars assembled by the USPS. The remaining stamps subjects would be chosen by polling…those notorious champions of intellectual rigor and high-mindedness, the American people.

Which means that our first five volumes were filled with cleverly-written, beautifully drawn, and impeccably researched two-page spreads in which Superman and his Justice League friends enlightened while entertaining on such worthy subjects as the League of Nations, the development of antibiotics, and the WPA. The latter half of the series featured third-tier super heroes no one had ever heard of, but which were chosen because they were minorities, got excited about I Love Lucy and the Slinky Toy.

We were on an aggressive schedule with a tremendous investment by the client: print runs in the millions. We managed to do the huge job of research, creating the Editorial, and fact-checking the first five books on the P.O.’s schedule, which required the comics-format albums to be on sale at the same time as the corresponding stamps. We didn’t get into trouble until we got to the issues based the stamps the Brand-Conscious American Consumer “voted in” – a slew of stamps featuring Other Companies’ trademarked intellectual property.

In the sort of bureaucratic failure of due diligence that has made USPS a company that could not lose more money if it subcontracted its shipping to Amtrak, the USPS had secured the rights to the images it used on the stamps, but not the clearance of, or payment for, use of the images in licensed products based on the stamps.

What ensued was a train wreck, with the rights-holders demanding outrageous and labor-intensive changes to the already-completed art before they’d be approved. Some of the licensors’ objections had to be negotiated away because they negated the very concept of the project itself.

The widow of a certain famous children’s book cartoonist withheld approval for over two months because she could not be dissuaded from what she seemed to think was a simple, reasonable request: that her late husband’s creation, which was the subject of the stamp, not be upstaged by a DC super hero character, and that the super hero who described the stamp’s history to the reader had to be deleted.

As Jules Feiffer once put it…a subtle pattern begins to emerge…

Next Week: “You’ve Got Mail!”…We Just Don’t Know Where It Is.

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman


Martha Thomases: My Take On Affleck

Thomases Art 130830Gold Art 130828Like my colleagues on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I have been confounded by the negative energy directed at Ben Affleck after the announcement by Warner Bros. that he would play Batman in the next Superman film.

The Internets almost always hate every announcement from Hollywood that has anything to do with nerd culture. I remember the howls when Christian Bale was announced to play Batman in the Nolan movies, and how Heidi McDonald ran photo number eight from this slideshow in her defense of the casting. Worked for me.

The objections seem to stem from fans’ displeasure with some of Affleck’s earlier work. They especially cite Daredevil, which I kind of liked, even though it’s overwrought, and Gigli, which I haven’t seen. And don’t intend to ever see.

I love Ben Affleck. I have loved him at least since Mallrats and definitely Chasing Amy. When I had a chance to talk to Kevin Smith at some industry event, I told him I thought Affleck would be a great Superman. He agreed. He even said Warner Bros. wanted Ben for the part. That was more than 15 years ago.

Which brings me to the reason I believe.

I can only imagine that the Internet complainers never saw Hollywoodland. It’s the story of a private detective investigating the death of George Reeves, the actor who played Superman in the original television series. Affleck plays Reeves in a performance that, in my opinion, should have earned him an Academy Award nomination. He not only creates a layered, believable portrayal of George Reeves, the man, but he vividly recreates the Reeves we knew from television. The way he holds his body changes when he is on-camera and when he is off.

This performance alone should tell us that Ben can be both The Dark Knight and Bruce Wayne. I’m not the only fan of the character who thinks so. The actor previously rumored to be the next Batman agrees with me.

So does Patton Oswalt, whom I love very dearly (and chastely, from afar). He said:

“A Batman portrayed by someone who’s tasted humiliation and a reversal of all personal valences — kind of like Grant Morrison’s “Zen warrior” version of Batman, post-Arkham Asylum, who was, in the words of Superman, “…the most dangerous man on the planet”? Think for a second and admit that Ben Affleck is closer to that top-shelf iteration of The Dark Knight than pretty much anyone in Hollywood right now.”

That quote should establish Oswalt’s geek credentials pretty well. And make his point.

Like Denny O’Neil, I have my qualms about a movie that features both Superman and Batman. It could be fun, but I’m not sure that Zack Snyder, the director of Man of Steel, is the person to direct it. He has cited Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns as his inspiration, and that’s not my favorite interpretation of the characters. I like it when Batman and Superman are friends, when Superman’s optimism lightens Batman, and Batman’s realism ground Superman.

I’m less happy when they fight. Especially if they aren’t going to team up and save the world together at the end.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

SUNDAY: John Ostrander


Martin Pasko: Actually, The Postman Never Rings At All

Pasko Art 130829When I was a little kid, the original The Fly scared the crap out of me. Then, later, when I wrote the Star Trek and Justice League franchises in comics, I felt a morbid and uneasy fascination with the transporter idea, which I’d always thought had a greater potential for disaster than deliverance. But I never did much with it, because my early Vincent Price-induced trauma left me with zero interest in writing about steaming piles of misshapen, dying flesh. So I never thought I’d see the day when I’d write these words:

We need teleportation. Badly. And we need it now.

Why am I bending your digital ear with this?

Well, another day I never thought I’d see is the one when the number of Americans who self-identify as Geeks would outnumber Americans who give a flying rat’s ass about what happens to the US Postal Service.

The great irony of this is that many of the people who stand to lose big-time if the USPS achieves its goal of total self-annihilation are Geeks.

If this painfully slowly-approaching disaster isn’t averted, no amount of muscular adblockers will be able to Improve Your eBay Experience. And there are still some comics publishers who don’t drop-ship everything from Canada by courier service. Moreover, there still exist certain types of vendors who think DHL is an even bigger nightmare than the postal system, and a few pesky creative dinosaurs who still have the temerity to expect payment for entertaining you. And they expect it from Accounting Departments who are already resentful enough as it is about having to generate all those 1099s at year’s end. Which is why their indulgent bosses reward them for never, ever suggesting that Talent can be paid via Direct Deposit, which is obviously evil and irresponsible, in addition to being too much trouble, because that’s how the government that needs to be shrunk in the bathtub now pays The 47% all that social safety net money they don’t deserve and which is obviously a Socialist plot.

All these nice folk will feel like they live in an even more dystopian alternate universe than they already occupy if those little paper things that are redeemable for cash and prizes stop showing up in their cobweb-infested mail boxes.

Yes, I know you know what “going postal” means. But you may not be old enough to remember why, despite the fact that many local P.O.s are named after famous people living or dead, there’s no such thing as a David Berkowitz Post Office. Which is why you may be blissfully unaware that you’re not getting half your mail because your letter carriers’ dogs talk to them and tell them what they should do with it instead of delivering it.

For you, USPS’ headlong rush to make the case for its own irrelevancy to modern life might have a greater significance, so it is my duty to helpfully call it to your attention.

In the interest of appropriate full disclosure, I should add that I’m uniquely qualified to talk about the USPS on a site that’s supposed to be about comics, and not just from having been tortured by them through a few decades as a freelancer (an old girlfriend once got so tired of hearing me bitch about the horrors they visited on me, she nicknamed me BMK, which stood for Bad Mail Karma).

Oh, no. There’s more. You see, I was once involved in creating comic books FOR the USPS, which was a little trip through Pinhead’s Lament Configuration all by itself.

Have I hooked you? Good. Then maybe you’ll come back here for that story next week. I mean, maybe you’ll deign to sample this column again. In spite of everything.

Because in that tale – from the ‘90s, mind you – lies an insight into the monumental and long-customary – and therefore ineluctably irreparable – bureaucratic ineptitude that will inevitably result in USPS’s demise. This, despite a Congress that, while having done nothing else of substance, has managed to reinstate the possibility of its remote mail centers receiving Ricin-laced envelopes on Saturdays.

Hmm. The dogs I live with are barking. That must mean the mailmoron’s here. But that’s impossible. It’s not even dark yet. Must be a new person on this route. Excuse me while I go peer out at him or her suspiciously through the venetian blinds, like one of those crazy old people who’s about to run outside waving a broom to shoo the neighborhood kids out of the driveway. That’ll inspire continued excellent service, I’m sure.


The mailmoron has just delivered six pieces of mail, only four of which are for people who don’t live here. Plus, unlike her predecessor, she actually noticed the large banker’s box under the mailbox. The one with the sign on it reading, in 72-point type, outgoing mail. Which means she actually took the prepaid packages and stamped letters that have been sitting in it since Tuesday. And will do whatever her dog tells her to do with them.

I never thought I’d see the day.

Next week: Neither rain nor snow nor sleet nor gloom of night can possibly make anything worse.

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman


Dennis O’Neil: Of Ben And Fans

Dennis O’Neil: Of Ben And Fans

Gold Art 130828Gawdy laws! What is all the commotion?! Somebody find out about the attack on voting rights? The bloodshed in Egypt? In Syria? The shrinking food stamps program?

Oh. An actor was hired to do an acting job. And a lot of moviegoers are unhappy about it.  Well…

The angst might be a little premature. A special effects film doesn’t find its final form until shortly before it graces your closest multiplex and so we can’t know how casting Ben Affleck as Batman will parse out. We have no idea how the character will be used, where he will fit into the screenplay, whether or not he may have some quality that the filmmakers will find useful.

When the world learned that Michael Keaton had been chosen to drive the Batmobile in director Tim Burton’s 1988 Batman it seemed like a highly questionable pairing of performer and role. But what we didn’t know, all of us inclined to say nay, was that Mr. Burton had his own vision of what the character might be and proceeded accordingly. Not my vision, but a vision that was valid on its own terms. Burton made a pretty good movie and then he made another. Not great flicks, but I’ll generally settle for pretty good.

Unless you’ve been on a digital media fast for the past several days (and if you have, good for you!) you’re aware that the next movie adapted from DC’s comics will team the company’s two signature heroes, Superman and the aforementioned Batman and if I were looking for something to fret about, that teaming would be it. Since both cape wearers are immensely popular, it makes marketing sense for the movie guys to costar them, just as it made marketing sense for the comics publishers to put them under the same covers, way, way back in the 1940s. We all know that more = better. (Don’t we?) But I’m not a marketing guy, I’m an editorial guy, and I will claim that, really, Superman and Batman don’t belong in the same story. There’s a problem of proportion. Superman, at his mightiest, could haul planets around. Batman… gee, he’s real smart and strong and –

– and he doesn’t partner well with Superman. The problems and antagonists appropriate for one are not appropriate for the other. In putting them both at the center of a story simultaneously the storyteller can either ignore the implicit contradictions (or be blissfully unaware of them) or devise separate story arcs for each, different but interrelated, which is how we usually dealt with company-mandated crossovers that had to involve Batman and Superman and whoever else had to be in the mix.

Or – best case scenario – the writer can be so clever and sly and ingenious that he solves the problem in a way that has never even occurred too me.

Casting is a big part of film making – there are highly paid professionals whose sole task is to help directors with the chore – but its not the only part; let us not forget writing and editing and production values and cinematography and locations…

I’ve liked Ben Affleck’s recent work behind the camera – Gone, Baby, Gone is surely one of the best private eye pictures – and so I’m willing to forego prejudging his forthcoming incarnation as Batman and, what the hell, wish him luck.

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman


Martha Thomases: Comics… and How Science Works

Thomases Art 130823There was a time when it was assumed that people who read comics were not very smart. They couldn’t understand a book without pictures, despite the opinion of Lewis Carroll, as expressed by Alice. This opinion began to lose ground in the 1970s, and by the 1980s, when Art Spiegelman published Maus, some people began to think that comics were for people who were too smart.

During my time at DC, I saw a parallel development among schoolteachers and librarians. When we first start displaying our wares at book shows, we initially faced skepticism. As comics stories like “The Death of Superman” made the news, and more serious work, like Sandman, got reviewed in mainstream media, these professionals began to understand how graphic story could get students and library patrons excited about reading.

For the most part, comics have played only minor roles in classrooms. The excellent For Beginners series has covered about a bazillion topics. This September, NBM gets into the act with an American edition of a Dutch book, Science: A Discovery in Comics by Margreet de Heer. It is available in paper and pixel.

I could use a book that would explain science for the not-so-smart types I described above in the first paragraph. I’m terrible at memorizing the periodic tables, and if I start to think about time and how to define it, I get dizzy. Alas, this book does not fix my head.

It does something better.

deHeer traces the history of science from the ancient Egyptians to Richard Dawkins and beyond. She covers all the sciences: biology, geology, physics, astronomy, chemistry and so on. She describes scientific inquiry from the time that science was as hunch-based as religion (when it was assumed there were four elements, and the earth was the center of the universe) until now. Not only does she cite the times when scientists proved each other right, but also the times when they proved each other wrong.

She does this with charming drawings, with two characters who walk through the millennia, and interact not just with historical science, but with the people affected by their discoveries. It deftly shows that there is more to history than a list of kings and battles.

A lot of fundamentalist types, especially creationists, like to point at the errors other scientists have found in the work of Darwin, and claim that since his original theory of evolution was flawed, that means God created the world in six days a few thousand years ago. That’s not how science works. Real scientists never take “Yes” for an answer. They always seek to disprove an old theory, or prove a new one. When science proves something is false, it is as much a vindication for the scientific method as proving something is true.

If you have a curious kid in your household, you could do worse than get her this book. Even if that kid is 60 years old.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

SUNDAY: John Ostrander