Tagged: Michael Chabon

Mindy Newell: Mindy’s Mishes And Moshes

This week is a mish-mash featuring my reactions and thoughts to some of my fellow ComicMix columnists and two reader’s thoughts on my column from last week.

In response to my column last week, which I wrote while watching the New York Giants/Green Bay Packers wild card playoff game, Mark Belktron wrote:

Johnny O (the O is for Ostrander) talked about the King, a.k.a. Jack Kirby, yesterday, and his first encounter with the “mild-mannered” genius of the four-color page. Hey, John, did you read the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon? If not, you really must! In fact, as I once mentioned long ago and far away (but not in another galaxy – at least, I think not), anyone who claims to be a comics fan must – im-not-so-ho, of course – read this, uh, amazing semi-fictionalized and semi-biographical novel of the birth of the comics industry in Depression-era America.

On Friday (January 14), Marc Alan Fishman did a “Tim Gun” critique of the DC film version of Justice League PR picture, which accompanied an article about the film in USA Today. I don’t read that paper, so Marc’s column was the first time I saw this pix. I think Marc has it correct, for the most part.

Batfleck does look fitting (as in, it fits the character), although I have always wondered, going all the way back to Michael Keaton’s turn as the Caped Crusader in Tim Burton’s original Batman (1989), just how weighty and cumbersome the… costume? uniform?… let’s go with “outfit”… and how the athletic and martial-arts empowered Gotham Knight is able to move so swiftly and ably wearing that thing – hmm…have any of the cinema Batmen been able to even turn their head to talk to someone or espy something without having to turn the whole body? (Yes, unwieldy sentence, but so is the suit. Isn’t it?)

Also love, love, love Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman (as I’ve mentioned numerous times before), but, unlike Marc, I don’t care that the colors of her armament are subdued. Of all the characters’, um, outfits, hers is the most realistic and closest, im-not-so-ho, to what Amazon warriors would wear to battle over 2000 years ago. The others don’t bother me one way or another. Cyborg is just another variation on a, well, cyborg. The Flash and Aquaman are pretty much what I would expect from a Zack Snyder film – and I don’t think that the orange-and-green “look” of the comic would ever translate well to the big screen, and barely to the small screen, for that matter. Anyway, it makes sense that the colors of the deep, dark sea, down so far that sunlight is an unknown (think views of the wreck of the Titanic, lit by mini-submarine) would be reflected in what the “King of the Sea” wears.

My only question about Flash continues to be – why hire a new actor (Ezra Miller) to play Barry Allen when Grant Gustin is just so damn excellent in the role? Yeah, yeah, I know…the televerse and the cineverse are alternate realities, or something. But here, once again, Marvel does it better, blending their ‘verses into one smooth reality.

“That game not only got away from the Giants, but the backlash in the media against OBJ [that’s Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. for you non-football people] the next day is killing me as a fan. Have you watched OA yet?”

Sorry, Mark, but im-not-so-ho, a player with the vaunted ability of OBJ should have caught both of Eli’s passes early in the first quarter…especially that wide-open beauty in the end zone. I don’t really care what the players do off the field – well, barring domestic violence and any other behavior which can lead to some serious injury to themselves and/or others (New York defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul blowing his hand up real good with a firecracker, for instance) – if they show up on the field. My brother thinks OBJ is overrated, and I do tend to agree with him, if only because the wide receiver is too damn inconsistent to be placed with the other great wide receivers of the game. The players of the NFL apparently get it – OBJ was named to the All-Pro second team this year.

Regarding that same column, in which I wondered if the new 24 will be “worth it,” ReneCat said:

“Mindy, you hit the nail on the head! 24 without Jack (especially) and Chloe is just 24 Lite.

Perhaps I’m just a big, bitter grump, ReneCat. (Reference Star Trek: The Original Series, Season One, Episode Eight: “Miri.”) I just watched the last three episodes of last season’s Homeland before watching the sixth season of the show on Showtime last night; Miranda Otto was so remarkable as Russian double-agent Allison Carr, and she (Miranda, not Allison) – who ended up “dead real good,” riddled with bullets in the trunk of the car that was getting her out of Germany – is playing Rebecca Ingram, the former head of the CTU who is apparently now regretting leaving the intelligence agency. It is, according to the Fox Network, one of the leading parts. So I will definitely being turning in to watch, at the very least, the premiere of 24: Legacy.

Mike Gold’s column on River Song, the remarkably capable, strong and intelligent archaeologist/con artist/warrior-protector with a great sense of humor and about 92% of all the sexuality ever expressed in the 54-year history of the program, she has been, is, and/or will be married to the Doctor” was right on the mark, for my money. Very coincidentally, I just ordered The Diary of River Song before reading Mike’s column, although since I hadn’t read Mike’s column I got the more expensive set on Amazon instead of at Big Finish. I would have cancelled the Amazon order and gone over to Big Finish, but my package has already shipped, to be delivered tomorrow. Oh, well. As Mike said:

I hope to see River return sometime this season as it is Steven Moffat’s last as writer/showrunner. I hope to see River Song return anywhere at any time, if that latter phrase has any real meaning in a world where time travel exists.

“But, hey, I’ll settle for Alex Kingston returning damn well anywhere.”

Me, too, Mike!

Well, that’s about it for this week, folks. My column, as usual, is running late – unusually so this week, as between my full-time job and my parents’ ill health I haven’t had the time or the “mood” to write. Apologies to my fellow columnists whom I haven’t mentioned, except to say that, in regards to graphic novels and comic shops, Martha Thomases and Ed Catto, I am guilty of buying the collected issues in one volume. And also, Arthur Tebbel, the only movies that I saw on your list of the Worst Movies of 2016 were Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Independence Day: Resurgence, and that I couldn’t even get past the first half-hour of the later (which I tried to watch on Netflix) and that the former was a travesty of great proportion, except for, once again, Gal Gadot’s Diana, Princess of Themyscira.

Addendum: By the time of next week’s column, we will have had one full weekend of President Donald J. Trump. Will we all still be here? Will there even be a column? Will America be…Amerika?

Mindy Newell: The Amazing Adventure Of Mohall And Newell

So today (Sunday, which is yesterday), Editor Mike sent me a link to a column on The Jewish Daily Forward’s website which asks the question “Do Marvel Movies Have An Anti-Semitic Problem?” – which also happens to be the dumbest article I’ve ever read on their site.

Granted, The Forward – which was born way back in 1867 as a Yiddish language daily newspaper published by dissidents from the Socialist Labor Party – is a left-leaning paper whose heart and soul is the Jewish-American experience, with strong ties to Israel, and its articles are purposely written with that audience as its primary target. And granted, The Forward has not been the only news media outlet that has noted and remarked upon the recent rebirth of overt and increasingly violent anti-Semitism around the globe, especially in Europe. And yes, The Forward should be praised in its unadulterated and unabridged journalism that consistently calls out the perpetrators.

But sometimes the paper looks for boogey-men where no such creatures exist. And in this article, author Susan Mohall is not only trying to lasso the moon but gets critical facts wrong – such as stating that Stan Lee was born in Romania.

Excuse me, Ms. Mohall, but Mr. Lee (born Stanley Martin Lieber) was born on December 28, 1922 in New York City, specifically an apartment house at the corner of West 98th Street and West End Avenue. Our pal Danny Fingeroth, former Marvel Comics editor and writer and author of Disguised as Clark Kent: Jews, Comics, and the Creation of the Superhero and – by the way – co-author of The Stan Lee Universe, confirmed this to Editor Mike.

Susan Mohall apparently takes umbrage at the fact that the Jewish characters of the Marvel movies don’t go around with yellow Stars of David on their clothing identifying them as Jews:

In the comics, Kitty’s Jewish heritage is extremely important to her. In the movies, her Jewish identity isn’t even mentioned. In “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” which introduces us to Pietro and Wanda – a.k.a. Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch – the omission is even more blatant. The film portrays Wanda as a baby (despite the fact that the two are twins in the comics) and her name is never even mentioned. Quicksilver’s Jewish identity is at least alluded to.

 “After rescuing Magneto, Quicksilver implies that Magneto might be his father, but if you don’t already know that, then this moment goes by so quickly that it hardly matters as a relevant part of Quicksilver’s character. Quicksilver’s name was also Westernized from Pietro to Peter in an attempt to erase not only Pietro’s Jewish identity but his Romani identity as well.”

Oh, God, I’m so frustrated and annoyed that I wish that I could write this in all caps!!!! Instead I will use numerous exclamation points to assert my impatience with this idiot!!!!! Susan, my dear woman, the X-Men are mutants!!!! For over 50 years mutants have been Marvel’s superhero stand-ins for every single person who has ever been ostracized from society!!!! Ostracized and abused and tortured and killed for their religion, the color of their skin, their political beliefs, their birthplace!!!!

Ms. Mohall also accuses The Powers That Be behind the Marvel cinematic universe of focusing on Magneto as a Jewish villain:

The only character in the X-Men franchise whose Jewish identity is ever specifically mentioned and explored is Magneto. In the first X-Men movie we see Magneto being taken away to a concentration camp, and in X-Men: First Class we see Magneto hunting down and killing Nazis. Magneto also uses his own experiences with prejudice as a Jewish man to justify his violent motives. But while Magneto is a well-written and complex character, he is still a villain who murders people and uses his background to justify it. Having another Jewish character to challenge Magneto would have been excellent storytelling. Instead what we get is the erasing of all other characters’ Jewish identities and the only character who is identified as Jewish is our murderous villain.

Okay here come some more exclamation marks!!!!! My dear Susan, you are beyond words in your ridiculousness!!!! Didn’t you at the least read Exodus?!!!! I’m sorry to have to enlighten you, my dear, but Jews are quite capable of murdering and other quite immoral acts!!!! Please tell me that you have heard of the Irgun!!!! The “paramilitary” organization that splintered away from the Haganah during the Palestinian Mandate (1931 – 1948) and conducted terrorist activities like blowing up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on July 22, 1946 because it was a base for the British occupation!!!!

You do know that Menachim Begin, signer of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty with Anwar Sadat, was a member of the Irgun!!!!! Susan, sweetheart, I guess you never heard of Operation: Wrath of God, in which the Israeli government authorized the Mossad to terminate the perpetrators of the Munich Olympics massacre of Israeli athletes!!!! Steven Spielberg made a movie based on it!!! It’s called Munich!!! I suggest you watch it!!!!

Okay, take a breath, Mindy. Count to 10.

The author also accuses Marvel Studios of “white-washing” HYDRA from its Nazi roots.

“Why is HYDRA’s identity as a Neo-Nazi organization completely sanitized in the movies?…HYDRA originates during World War II as part of the Nazis military. However, Red Skull, the leader of the organization, wants to run things and turns HYDRA into his own terrorist group. But he is never not a Nazi, and HYDRA never abandons Nazi beliefs. From the movies, you would glean that HYDRA just wants totalitarian power. The Nazi part is glossed over. It’s as if the producers are worried about the potential fallout of comparing HYDRA to the Third Reich, which is just so strange, especially since Nazis are the perfect villain. Everyone hates them”

Oh, Susan. I guess you never saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier and you never have watched Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. HYDRA evolved, my dear. It’s gotten smarter, its adapted, it’s gotten smoother – just as our own rat-fuckers learned from Watergate – but it is certainly is still fascist, and it’s certainly not “shy[ing] away from its Nazi roots.”

And, Ms. Susan Mohall, I would certainly be surprised if you have read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, the 2001 Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Michael Chabon, which tells the (fictionalized) story of the birth of Marvel and the U.S. comics industry, which was 99.9% midwived into life by the sons (and some daughters) of Jewish immigrants.

Including Mr. Stanley Martin Lieber.

And by the way, you forgot to mention Jack Kirby.

Born Jacob Kurtzberg.


Emily S. Whitten: Terry Pratchett – Shaking Hands with Death

Best-selling author Sir Terry Pratchett passed away on Thursday, March 12, and the final tweets from his Twitter account were a fitting and poignant way to announce his passing. Even though I knew it was coming, given Terry’s long struggle with Alzheimer’s and attendant health issues, it broke my heart a little bit more to hear that it really was the end.

I was fortunate to know Terry for almost ten years, beginning with my work on The North American Discworld Conventions after meeting Terry at a book signing in 2005 Along with being a great light in this world and one of my all-time favorite authors, he was also my longtime friend; and it’s hard to know how to sum up my feelings in the wake of his passing.

So much of my life would be different and much less rich without having known Sir Terry. From lending warmth and humor to the reading breaks I took from dry law school texts, to the experiences and wisdom and new opportunities I gained through building conventions from scratch, to wonderful friends I’d never have met if not for a shared love of Discworld, to all of the myriad ways his writing has caused me to ponder and question my views of the world, reading and knowing Terry literally changed my life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I know that I am not alone in my feelings here, and my sincerest condolences go out to Terry’s family, his other friends, and the many, many other Discworld fans who are also mourning his death.

It’s both a nice thing and a strange one to see all of the public tributes to a person I am mourning on a personal level as well as due to the loss of his amazing talent; but I am very glad to see Terry getting the honor he deserves the world over for his achievements and contributions. Many are paying tribute to and writing about him and his works, and I’m sure that won’t cease any time soon, which is as it should be. It’s great to know that his impact on the world will be felt for years to come; and it’s comforting to read or listen to the social media posts and discussions by fellow Discworld fans and friends. (And this talk by Neil Gaiman, who honored Terry by devoting much of his time at an event onstage on March 12 to reading a bit of Good Omens and remembering Terry in conversation with Michael Chabon.)

Discworld fans are some of the most fun and intelligent folks I’ve ever met in fandom. As sad as I am over Terry’s passing, it delights me to see the many tributes, stories, and testimonials to how Terry and his work continuously changed people’s views and lives. It also surprises me not one bit to see that Pratchett fans have already begun to think up ways to ensure the memory of Terry lives on forever not just through his works, but through what his writing inspires other people to create. The “GNU Terry Pratchett” code is both a touching reference to Going Postal, and a bit of nerdy fan fun that would have delighted Terry, who was always glad to see fans enjoying Discworld, and unfailingly giving of his time and attention to those who appreciated his work.

But that doesn’t sum up the essence of Terry. The best summation of the Terry I knew comes from Neil Gaiman, in the foreword he wrote for Terry’s most recent collection of non-fiction writings, A Slip of the Keyboard. It can be read here. As Neil noted, Terry, while often genial, could in fact also be angry and impatient – with stupidity, with injustice, with unkindness – and he wasn’t one to hide or repress that anger. Instead, it underlies a lot of the genius that makes the Discworld series great. Underneath the humor and the fantasy, and the trolls, dwarves, wizards, witches, dragons, and more that inhabit that magical land, lie currents of deep and incisive observations and thoughts about how the world is versus how it should be if things were just and fair; and how and why we humans both often fail at being the better people he imagined we can be, and sometimes, against all odds, succeed in glorious fashion.

Terry’s brilliant satire both skewers humanity for its shortcomings and lifts it up for its goodness because of, as Neil put it, his love “for human beings, in all our fallibility; for treasured objects; for stories; and ultimately and in all things, love for human dignity. …anger is the engine that drives him, but it is the greatness of spirit that deploys that anger on the side of the angels, or better yet for all of us, the orangutans.”

This is the Terry that I treasure and will remember forever, from our first genial meeting in a small Virginia bookstore, through discussions and plans about what the North American convention ought to be like, (“by the fans, for the fans!”), and into odd and entertaining conversations had over a shared bowl of edamame at whatever sushi place we could locate wherever we happened to be. Along with his work, the funny and sharp yet still sweet moments I shared with Terry are what I will continue to hold dear. Like the story about the National Book Festival that I told BBC Radio 5live in the interview about 5 minutes from the end of this program. Or the time at the 2009 NADWCon when, after half a day of rushing around with Terry as his Guest Liaison, we found ourselves in the Green Room for a few unprecedented moments of calm. As Terry signed some books that needed signing, I took a pause from working at 2 p.m. to eat my first meal of the day, a yogurt and a granola bar (hey, I never said I acted like a sane person while running conventions). A couple of bites of yogurt in, Terry looked up from where he was industriously signing away and said, in a voice of concern, “Are you alright?” I said, “Yes, Terry, I’m fine. Why?” And he replied, with that slight twinkle in his eye, “You’ve gone quiet. That can’t be normal.” And there it was, the slyly sharp and observant Pratchett humor, poking fun at me for my regular stream of chatter, with which by then he was very familiar; but combined with a genuine concern that maybe something in the universe wasn’t quite right for a friend just then and something might need to be done about it. That was Terry to a T.

From start to finish, Terry was also defined by being a prolific and driven writer. Starting out as a journalist for the Bucks Free Press at the age of seventeen, Terry never stopped writing. Even near to the end, Terry continued to be driven to write, and has thus left us with one more finished Discworld book to look forward to; The Shepherd’s Crown, which should be out sometime this fall. It’s a Tiffany Aching book, which delights me both because Tiffany has always been a favorite of mine (Wintersmith sharing the title of My All-Time Favorite Pratchett Book with Night Watch), and because The Chalk where the Tiffany books mainly take place is closest in Roundworld geography to the area in which Terry lived. When I visited the area and walked out to Old Sarum and the surrounding area after reading the Tiffany books, I experienced the odd sensation of seeing The Chalk through Terry’s eyes and storytelling, and feeling the overlay of his magical fiction on the reality I walked through – or, to put it in more Pratchettian terms, feeling the thinning of the fabric of reality between the Discworld and Roundworld. For that experience as well as the beauty of the area and the feeling that, like Tiffany, Terry was very connected with and grounded in that land, The Chalk has always held a special place in my heart. I find it fitting that the last Discworld book is set in the Discworld equivalent of the land Terry lived in and loved.

In thinking of Terry’s passing, I recall that over the years, Terry noted that many people had told him that they feared Death less thanks to his portrayal of the character as an, if not exactly friendly, then at least comfortable and natural presence in the Discworld series. As with Terry’s other characters, Discworld’s Death reflects some of the fundamental truths about human nature that Terry understood and was so well-versed in; and is, I think, a Death Terry would not have been afraid to meet. It deeply saddens me to know that I will never again share a bowl of edamame and a fascinating conversation with Terry, but it comforts me to think that Death came for him as for an old friend with a mutual understanding of how the world works, and that they are now off somewhere together, keeping company with cats as they “murder a curry” during a companionable journey across the black desert to the ultimate end.

Although I can’t converse with Terry in this life anymore, the final thing I would like to say to him is: Even though you’ve left us, Terry, you’ll always be with me in spirit. I’ll miss you forever. Thank you for being my inspiration and my friend for so many years.

And when it comes to your writings, whether they be the much re-read favorites or the newest and last book of the Discworld series, I will always Servo Lectio.


Mindy Newell Discovers “Books”

Captain AmericaI discovered the All Souls trilogy by historian and fiction writer Deborah Harkness – I’m currently reading the final book, The Book Of Life (the first being A Discovery Of Witches and the second titled Shadow Of Night) and loving it, unable to stop, eager to discover how it all ends and yet not at all eager for it to end – quite by accident, which is usually the way I discover books.

I was browsing at Word, a terrific independent book store at 123 Newark Avenue in downtown Jersey City, New Jersey, and which deserves all the support in the world, as being an independent book store in these days of Amazon taking over the world is not only risky, but incredibly brave. BTW, I’ve never been in Word when it wasn’t crowded with bibliophiles. All of you, who love b-o-o-k-s know what I mean. There’s nothing like browsing in a bookstore, is there? Taking your time, picking up books, enjoying the heft and weight of them, feeling and enjoying the überzeist of shared love of the printed word that permeates the atmosphere.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica website, “How soon after the invention of writing men began to make books is uncertain because the books themselves have not survived. The oldest surviving examples of writing are on clay or stone. The more fragile materials used for writing at various times have generally perished. The earliest known books are the clay tablets of Mesopotamia (that part of Asia fed by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and their tributaries, and which we know today as Iraq, Kuwait, northeastern Syria, and part of southeastern Turkey and southwestern Iran) and the papyrus (a thin, paper-like material made from the papyrus plant, which still grows along the Nile delta) rolls of Egypt. There are examples of both dating from the early 3rd millennium B.C. The Chinese … were the third people to produce books on an extensive scale. Although few surviving examples antedate the Christian Era, literary and archaeological evidence indicates that the Chinese had writing and probably books at least as early as 1300 B.C. Those primitive books were made of wood or bamboo strips bound together with cords.”

The Greeks and Romans also used papyrus, binding them by using leaves at the type and bottom of the papyrus to form rolls (as seen in movies such as Gladiator and Ben-Hur). It was the Romans who expanded bibliography; they had a healthy book publishing trade which spread into Western Europe and Britain as the empire expanded. All straits of society during this period had access to these books, even the poor, while owning a private library was a mark of distinction among the upper classes.

During the early Christian era, the codex replaced the papyrus roll. By binding the papyrus leaves (the origin of our use of the word “leaf” when referring to book pages) this early book could be opened instantly to the exact text being searched for, eliminating the need to roll the papyrus until the text being searched for was found – not to mention having to reroll it. Also, both sides of the papyrus could be used.

By 2500 B.C. into the middle of the second century, vellum and leather, both made from calfskin, had replaced papyrus – the Dead Sea Scrolls, the first of which were discovered in 1946 in what is the West Bank of the disputed Palestinian territories, and which are the earliest known manuscripts of the Old Testament, along with other biblical era writings, are written on vellum and leather. Then, during the Dark Ages it was the monasteries that kept book writing alive. (A Canticle For Leibowitz, the 1961 Hugo Award winner for science fiction, by Walter M. Miller, Jr., tells the tale of Catholic monks in a post-apocalyptic United States as they strive to preserve the remnants of knowledge against the day that humanity rises from the nuclear ruins to rebuild civilization.)

The books of the 15th century resembled our modern book except that they were not yet printed, although paper, which had come to Europe and Britain from China through the middleman Arab trader, was rapidly replacing vellum and leather. Authors were writing in the language of their people, whose literacy was increasing, and the production and sale of books were boosts to Renaissance economies, which were increasingly reliant on the rise of the middle-class guilds.

And then came Johannes Guttenberg.

Guttenberg, who was originally a blacksmith and goldsmith before he became a printer and publisher, was born about 1398 and died in 1468. He was the first European to use movable type printing (invented in China around 1040 A.D.) and also created oil-based ink. Of course, as most of you know, he also invented the printing press. By figuring out how to combine these individual components into one practical system, Gutenberg enabled the mass production of printed books, which subsequently led to mass communication, a critical turning point in the rise of the civilization in which we live today.

Skip ahead 500 years to the birth of the comics industry in the mid-20th century, so beautifully captured by Michael Chabon’s brilliant and Pulitzer Prize-winning 2001 novel, The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier And Clay – and anyone who claims to be a comics fan and has not read this book must have his or her Merry Marvel Marching Society membership immediately revoked. Think about what the comics industry, if it existed, would like – each story of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, or the X-Men individually created, one of a kind, and probably locked up in the libraries of rich individuals and those of museums and universities dedicated to collecting rare art forms, to be taken out and displayed in occasional exhibitions.

The “man on the street” would perhaps, once in a while, buy a “black-market” version of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four, smeared with mimeograph ink or supposedly “hand-copied” by some dubious “artist” who claimed to have seen the original. There would be no fandom to create the first comics convention in New York City in July, 1964 at a union meeting hall on 14th and Broadway, which was attended by 100 people, one case of soda, and George R.R. Martin (A Song Of Fire And Ice, i.e., Game Of Thrones) who was the first ticket purchaser. And there sure wouldn’t be a San Diego Comic-Con.

So the next time you browse Amazon or download a book on to your Kindle or iPad, or read a comic book on the web, stop and think about it. Think about the hundreds of centuries that it took to create that mass-produced copy of The Book Of Life or whatever novel you’re currently reading. Think about the thousands of years it took for you to hold that staple-bound, printing pressed copy Captain America #23 in your hands.

Think about it.

And don’t let real books, or real comics, become as dead as … Well, as dead as that first manor woman to “Fred Flintstone” a message into a tablet of clay.


Mindy Newell: Go West, Young Man

Newell Art 131104“Washington is not a place to live in. The rents are high, the food is bad, the dust is disgusting and the morals are deplorable. Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country”

Horace Greely

Editor, New York Tribune

July 13, 1865 Editorial

The New York Tribune, established in 1841, was the most progressive and influential newspaper of its day. Horace Greeley, founder and editor of the paper, was a notable social reformer and political activist and through his leadership, the Tribune advocated for abolition, the legal protection of unions, protectionism (known today as anti-globalization or anti-free trade), and against nativism, the political position of demanding a favored status for certain established inhabitants of a nation as compared to claims of newcomers or immigrants. (In modern America Greely would be considered a leftist liberal Democrat, though in the antebellum, Civil War, and eras those beliefs belonged to the Republican nee Whig Party.)

Today a statue of Greeley sits at 33rd Street and Broadway in Greely Square, directly across the street and south of Herald Square, home to Macy’s and the end point of the Thanksgiving Day parade where the Rockettes do their famous line kick dance every fourth Thursday of November.

I know that statue well, for Greely Square is also across the street (and above) from the 33rd PATH (Port Authority Trans-Hudson) terminus. And the PATH train was the way I commuted into New York City whenever I needed be at DC Comics, back when the company “lived” at 666 Fifth Avenue.

Last week – Tuesday, Tuesday, October 22, to be exact – Diane Nelson, President of DC Entertainment, sent a memo to DC employees. You might have seen it already, but here it is:

Dear DCE Team,

As I hope you know, I and the entire DCE exec team work hard to offer transparency about as much of our business plans and results as we possibly and responsibly can. In an effort to continue to do that where possible and to ensure you are hearing news from us, rather than a third party, I am proactively reaching out to you this afternoon to share news about our business.

I can confirm that plans are in the works to centralize DCE’s operations in 2015. Next week, the Exec Team will be in New York for a series of meetings to walk everyone through the plans to relocate the New York operations to Burbank. The move is not imminent and we will have more than a year to work with the entire company on a smooth transition for all of us, personally and professionally.

Everyone on the New York staff will be offered an opportunity to join their Burbank colleagues and those details will be shared with you individually, comprehensively and thoughtfully next week. Meeting notifications will be sent tomorrow to ensure the roll out* of this information and how it affects the company and you personally.

We know this will be a big change for people and we will work diligently to make this as smooth and seamless a transition as possible.



My first reaction when I saw it was “Oh, maaaaaan.” My second reaction was “knew it was going to happen.”

My third reaction was sadness, and, surprisingly, since it’s been thirty (!) years since I first stepped onto the PATH train in Jersey City (New Jersey) and took it to 33rd Street and Greely Square to walk up the Avenue of the Americas and west on 53rd Street to 666 Fifth Avenue and the offices of DC Comics, a feeling of dislocation. I felt cast adrift, even though 99% of my friends and co-workers no longer work at DC, and, in fact, the office itself has long since moved to 1700 Broadway, across from the Ed Sullivan Theatre, home of the David Letterman Show.

Many people on various websites have commented on the move. The news media picked it up, including a rather stupid, no, correct that, very stupid piece on WPIX Channel 11 (CW-NYC) while on break at work on Wednesday. I suppose the segment producers thought they were being clever, because they tied the news into some guy who wants to start a “superhero” school in the city, although actually it looked more like self-defense classes for kids. As far as the DC thing, they showed animated Superman and Batman, etc. on the screen, and then the reporter signed off and “flew off.”

But no one thought of the history behind the thousands of four-color pages produced by DC. No one thought of interviewing Michael Chabon, author of The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier And Clay, the Pulitzer Prize winning novel that chronicles the rise of the comics industry in New York City though thinly veiled characters based on Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and dozens of other early comics professionals. No one thought to interview those writers and artists who made their name at DC.

And no one thought of the history behind the hundreds of thousands of four-color adventures that started out as a way for those writers and artists to earn a living during the Depression and became the mythology of the 20th century, a doorway into imagination for generations, for hundreds of thousands of dreamers who grew up to become artists and writers and police officers and f, refighters and astronauts and astrophysicists because of those four-color pages, those adventures of Superman and Batman and the Flash and Wonder Woman and Green Lantern and the Martian Manhunter and so many, many more, inspired them.

Yes, Marvel Comics is still here. (But for how long?) Yes, many of those who created those adventures never lived in New York City or its surroundings, originally mailing in their work, then faxing in it, then e-mailing their pages over the internet. Yes, Marvel Comics is still here. (But for how long?) And, yes, New York City will always be the city of dreams for the millions who come here to start or restart their lives.

But the citizens of the great metropolis will never again look up in the sky and cry, “Look! Is it a bird? Is it a plane?”

No, it was DC Comics, home to the supermen and superwomen who lived here, if only in the imaginations of those who loved them.

*By the way, Diane, there’s a typo in the memo. It’s “rollout,” not “roll out.”)




Emily S. Whitten: Neil Gaiman, Michael Chabon, and Awards Aplenty

Neil Gaiman and Michael Chabon have numerous things in common. They’re both fantastic writers; they’ve both written for (and about) comics; they’ve both won Hugos, Nebulas, and a slew of other impressive awards; they’ve both penned Sherlockian-style tales; they’ve both had novels adapted for the big screen; and they both have great hair.* Another thing they have in common is that last weekend they were both at George Mason University in Virginia, receiving awards at the annual Fall for the Book festival. I was fortunate enough to attend both ceremonies.

Both evenings started out with a nice VIP reception in which ticket-holders could mix and mingle and chat with the authors while having a drink and some hors d’oeuvres. Both authors signed books and made it a point to try to have a personal word or chat with as many attending fans as possible, and everyone had a great time.

On Friday, Neil Gaiman was on hand to accept The Mason Award, presented to authors who have made extraordinary contributions to bringing literature to a wide reading public. Joining the impressive ranks of past winners Dave Eggers, Jonathan Letham, Chinua Achebe, Sherman Alexie, Greg Mortenson, and Stephen King, Neil took the stage in front of 1,800 enthusiastic fans prior to the award presentation to read from a couple of his newest works and to answer questions.

His first reading was a selection from his just-now-this-very-second finished new adult novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which will be published “sometime next year” (possibly July-ish). The intriguing snippet of story we heard centered around a seven-year-old boy and began with an ominously sinister morning, in which said boy and his father have their ordinary breakfast routine interrupted by the discovery that the family car is mysteriously not in the driveway where it ought to be, but instead down at the end of a nearby lane. A death and the introduction of an odd family with three generations of women who clearly know things quickly follows…”and then it gets weird,” says Neil. From what I heard, I don’t doubt it, nor do I doubt his word when he says he didn’t start out to write a scary book, but now thinks this is the scariest thing he’s ever written. Despite my propensity for needing to hide under the covers while reading scary stories, I can’t wait to read more.

Neil followed the reading by answering a number of audience questions with his customary slightly mischievous sense of humor, including the question of “Why?” to which he answered, “Why not?” Why not, indeed. More substantive information we gleaned included that the books he enjoys writing the most are those with the “huge highs and terrible lows” in which he gets to “stomp around and phone my agent to go, ‘Why do you let me do this?? I could have been a gardener!’“ (To which she replies, “No you couldn’t. Just write the book.” It’s good to have a sensible agent.) In further discussing writing, Neil’s extremely complicated advice to those who want to be writers was to “Sit down. Start. Write. Keep writing.” However, he then admitted that if you truly want to become a real writer, you will receive a postcard in the mail, which you must then burn with a black match at midnight, and then there will be a knock on the door, and he and all of the other Mason Award winners will arrive wearing robes, and surround you, and then they will say: “Now you learn.” And then you will be a real writer.

I am expecting my postcard any day now.

In little known facts, Neil shared something he wasn’t sure he’d ever mentioned before, which is that in American Gods, the farm with an ash tree which is an hour south of Blackburg is based on an old decaying family farm belonging to Tori Amos, which he visited with her years ago and decided to adapt for the book. He also shared that his writing gazebo, which he’s mentioned several times on his journal, was built for him by some Renaissance Faire friends (and that writers should never be let near tools because they wouldn’t know what to do with them). Neil declared that the gazebo was perfect except for the mice – who nibbled on the drafts of The Doctor’s Wife script which he’d planned to send to the Library of Congress! I’m usually a big fan of small furry creatures, but in this case: for shame, tiny cute rodents!

Neil finished his talk by reading an unpublished spooky short story called “Click Clack, The Rattle Bag,” prefacing it by sharing his love of the spooky month we’ve entered. “We are getting into what Ray Bradbury called ‘The October Country,’” he said, “that one time of year when I can look around at all the shop windows and see the kinds of things I like, and go, ‘Oh gosh! Giant spiders and dead things! How cool is this??’” His love of scary things well noted, he then proceeded to scare the wits out of all of us with the new story. Thanks, Neil.

As always, it was a delight to listen to Neil, and I’m looking forward to his upcoming works, which include children’s’ books Chu’s Day and Fortunately, The Milk (which will feature art by comics artist Skottie Young ); the adult novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane; and his new Sandman story.

Moving on to Sunday, Michael Chabon was awarded The Fairfax Prize, which honors outstanding writers for their literary achievements and has previously been awarded to Tobias Wolff, Joyce Carol Oates, Norman Mailer, Mitch Albom, Michael Cunningham, E.L. Doctorow, Ann Patchett, and Amy Tan. Prior to accepting the award, Michael, an amazing wordsmith and storyteller in person as in his prose, took the stage to answer questions from a very tough interviewer: himself.

In discussing his writing, Michael asked Michael, “What’s up with all the similes?” …and then answered his own question using three similes; before admitting that really, it’s just “something in the wiring” that causes him to see likeness in two unlike things and include it in his works. He also gave several answers to the question of where he gets his ideas: 1) “I have no idea!” 2) “The book just appears in my brain, whole and inexplicable.” and 3) (the most truthful one) “Ideas are the easiest; swarming, ubiquitous, chronic. The hard part is sticking with the ideas when they start to lose their luster.”

In discussing his opinion of the value of MFA programs, Michael said that the MFA program he was a part of “made a man out of me,” by giving him a seriousness of purpose, inspired in part by observing all of the hard-working women in the program and their resolute determination to take advantage of the opportunity that feminism had brought with it. The MFA program taught Michael the discipline of actually sitting in his chair for long periods of time, typing and re-typing and editing and re-editing his work.  It also taught him much about the craft of writing, including having to ask himself a hard question after a critique of his first, very character-intensive story by his advisor, i.e. “How could I have forgotten to tell a goddamned story??

In telling a story, Michael recommended that even if pulling from personal experience, one can’t just record each thing that has happened, as real life tends to have pockets of tedium throughout. Instead, “you need to edit your life, and shape it; but most of all, you need to lie – to compress people, leave out events, and thus make things more interesting.” He also shared that his favorite characters to write are “the assholes – the ones who’d have ready comebacks and fun dialogue,” such as Inspector Dick of The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.

Despite his enjoyment in writing the dickish characters in his novels, Michael is a very nice guy who looks at readers as friends to share with. And he does want to share with as many people as possible, stating his desire to “produce popular art, which is unreservedly and unmistakably both.” Being this year’s recipient of The Fairfax Prize speaks to his success in achieving this goal.

It was a real pleasure to hear Michael speak, and I am looking forward to reading his newest novel, Telegraph Avenue, which was published in July of this year and is now sitting on my bookshelf in hopeful anticipation of my having a free moment or two sometime soon.

That’s all the news from me this week, but I’m off to New York Comic Con tomorrow, so there’s sure to be more coming up!

Feel free to say hi if you see me in New York, and until next time, Servo Lectio!

* Oh yes, and there is also this.

TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis Doesn’t See London, But He Does See France

WEDNESDAY MORNING: Gold… Mike Gold. And Doctor Know.

Mindy Newell: Fly Girls

Kelly Sue DeConnick rocks!

Women had made their mark as pilots well before World War II. Amelia Earhart, Jacqueline Cochran, Nancy Harkness Love, Bessie Coleman, and Harriet Quimby were some of the women holding records in aviation.

When war broke out in Europe, Cochran, Harkness and other women went to England to volunteer to fly in the Air Transport Auxiliary, which had been using female pilots as ferriers since 1940. These women were the first American women to fly military aircraft – Spitfires, Typhoons, Hudsons, Mitchells, Bienhams, Oxfords, Walruses, and Sea Otters under combat conditions.

In 1942, now in the war, the United States was in desperate straits for combat pilots. After much political maneuvering and bickering, it was decided to train women as ferry pilots, with Jackie Cochran enlisted to direct the program. 25,000 women applied; only 1,830 were accepted; of these, 1,074 passed the training and became Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPS. The WASPS flew over 60 million miles, piloting everything from trainers to fighters like the P-47 Thunderbolt and the P-51 Mustangs and the heavy bombers: B-17s, B-26s, and B-29s. They ferried new planes long distances from factories to military bases and departure points across the country. They tested newly overhauled planes. And they towed targets to give ground and air gunners training shooting  – with live ammunition.

In 1959, an independent researcher named William Randolph Lovelace, who was part of the team developing the tests for NASA’s first male astronauts (who became known as the Mercury 7 – see or read The Right Stuff) became interested in finding how women would stand up to the same conditions; in 1960, he invited accomplished pilot Geraldlyn “Jerrie” Cobb to submit herself to this challenge.

The tests ranged from general physicals and X-rays to weird things like swallowing a rubber tube to test stomach acids, undergoing electrical shocks to test the ulnar nerve (found in the forearm), having ice water shot into their ears to test vertigo and reaction time, and dozens of other weird oddities. (See or read The Right Stuff to get an idea of the regimen.)

She became the first American woman to undergo and pass all three phases of the testing.

19 more women were invited into Lovelace’s program, which was funded by WASP director Jacqueline Cochran.

13 passed.

They became known as the Mercury 13.

I bring this up because writer Kelly Sue DeConnick is doing something remarkable in the new Captain Marvel series. Without publicity or blowing of trumpets, DeConnick is rewriting the possibilities – no, the actualities – of “women in comics.”  Using the proud history of women in aviation, including the WASPs and the Mercury 13, DeConnick and her team, which includes artist Dexter Soy and editor Stephen Wacker, are presenting women who are just as smart, just as stupid, just as capable, just as frightened, just as full of bravado, just as confused, just as sure-minded, and just as fucked-up as any of their male counterparts.

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth

of sun-split clouds, – and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung

High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,

I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung

My eager craft through footless halls of air….

High Flight

John Gillepsie Magee, Jr.

By the way, Captain Marvel rocks!

Fly, girl, fly!!

TUESDAY MORNING: Emily S. Whitten, Neil Gaiman and Michael Chabon

TUESDAY EVENING: Michael Davis In France


REVIEW: John Carter

The problem with being a trendsetter is that if you’re successful, you get imitated time and time again. Such was the fate that befell Edgar Rice Burroughs’ pulp heroes Tarzan and John Carter. The thriller-seeking readers of pulp magazines were enthralled by ERB’s pulse-pounding, straight-forward prose, which was strong in ideas and weak in word craft. A century ago, Burroughs, writing as Norman Bean, serialized his first Martian saga in All-Story between February and July 1912. It found an eager audience and was later collected in book form as A Princess of Mars. Through the years, there came more adventures with and without Carter set on the red planet natives named Barsoom.

I discovered the stories through the compelling Frank Frazetta covers on the Science Fiction Book Club editions and thought the stories were interesting. Clearly I was not alone because time and again, people in comics tried to adapt the stories with varying degrees of success. Similarly, Bob Clampett in the 1930s and then others tried to mount a screen adaptation. While Barsoom proved inspirational to countless writers, artists, and filmmakers, the planet remained elusive. Over the last century, many a story has been set on Mars — from swashbuckler pastiche Gulliver of Mars to Philip K. Dick’s “I Can Remember it for you Wholesale” (a.k.a Total Recall) – meaning our celestial neighbor has been well-mined. (more…)

Derrick Ferguson Gets Himself To Mars To See JOHN CARTER

Walt Disney Pictures
Directed by Andrew Stanton
Produced by Jim Morris and Colin Wilson
Screenplay by Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon
Based on “A Princess of Mars” by Edgar Rice Burroughs
It was while waiting in the theater lobby for my wife after we had just seen JOHN CARTER that I heard a snatch of conversation that most likely was duplicated in one way or another in movie theater lobbies all across the country.  It went something like this; “It would have been a better movie if it didn’t try to rip off so many other movies.”
If I was not the sweet, gentle soul you all know and love I would have put that worthy in a serious headlock and informed him that the book the movie JOHN CARTER is based on, “A Princess of Mars” was written back in 1912 by Edgar Rice Burroughs who just about created the sub-genre of science fiction which could well be termed “Sword and Planet.”  With his series of novels set on the Red Planet, Mr. Burroughs also created a template for heroic adventure fiction that has has been homaged, borrowed, copied and downright stolen from then until now.  John Carter is the great-great grandfather of dozens, if not hundreds of heroes in comic books, novels, movies and television.  Not to mention the influence the books has had on writers, artists and scientists.  Most American astronauts will claim “A Princess of Mars” along with “Star Trek” as the major influence in them wanting to be an astronaut.  The importance of Edgar Rice Burroughs, his creation of John Carter and his vision of Mars simply cannot be overstated.
But that’s enough of the history lesson.  You’re here to find out if I think JOHN CARTER is worth your time and money.  Okay, for a change I won’t make you read the whole review to find out.  Yes.  JOHN CARTER is most definitely worth your time and your money.  Not having read the book in quite some time I’m not going to swear to the faithfulness of the adaptation but most of the major scenes rang true to me and they’re what I wanted to see and I wasn’t disappointed.
John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is a former Confederate Army soldier who goes west to prospect for gold after The Civil War and finds a whole cave full of the stuff.  He also finds trouble from a Union Captain (Bryan Cranston) and some bloodthirsty Apaches.  This leads to Carter being trapped in the cave and transported to Barsoom, which is what the inhabitants of that planet call Mars.
The bewildered Carter is captured by Tars Tarkus (Willem Dafoe) the Jeddak (king) of the Tharks, the fierce Green Warriors of Barsoom.  Standing some seven feet tall with tusks, and a double torso with four arms, they are the first clue to the bewildered Earthman that he isn’t in Virginia anymore.  But it’s not as if Carter is entirely helpless.  Due to the lesser gravity of Barsoom and his denser bone/muscular structure he has the strength of a hundred men and is able to leap incredible distances.
Meanwhile, over in Helium which is home to the human looking Red Martians, they are realizing that they cannot win their long war with their hereditary enemies, the Zodanga.  Arraignments are made to marry the Princess of Helium, Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) to Zodanga’s ruler, Sab Than (Dominic West).
However, Dejah Thoris doesn’t think much of this at all and runs away, an act which leads her to being captured by the Tharks and meeting John Carter.  Once she sees his extraordinary abilities, combined with his exceptional swordsmanship, she sees a way out of her marriage and a way for Helium to win the war.  However, unknown to all, there is a third faction at work in this conflict.  The Holy Therns, led by Matai Shang (Mark Strong) have been secretly manipulating conflict between the various tribes and races of Barsoom for thousands of years for their own hidden purposes.  And they’re not about to let a wild card like John Carter interfere in the plans they have for Barsoom.  Or Earth…
The sheer joy of seeing a major motion picture based on anything written by Edgar Rice Burroughs probably prevents me from seeing any flaws in the movie.  Taylor Kitsch wouldn’t have been my first choice for John Carter but after seeing him I don’t know who else could have played the role so well.  He commits himself fully to the story and the character and there was never a moment he wasn’t convincing. 
As Dejah Thoris, Lynn Collins has a lot to live up to as Burroughs described her in the books as being so impossibly beautiful that any real woman would have a hard time fulfilling that description but she does the job admirably.  And her role in the story is fleshed out considerably by having her be a scientist/swordswoman  as well and not just a princess to be rescued.
Willem Dafoe as Tars Tarkus and Thomas Haden Church as Tal Hajus, a rival Thark warrior do a superb job of giving the giant green warriors personality but Dominic West’s character could have been a better villain.  He’s little more than the errand boy for the Holy Tharns but West is such a good actor, I’m willing to let it go.
And maybe it’s just my thing, but when a movie costs as much as JOHN CARTER, I appreciate seeing it up on the screen and I certainly did.  This is a big-budget movie that actually does look like a big-budget movie with some really astonishing sets and eye-popping locations.  This is how a larger than life movie with larger than life characters is supposed to look.  Not like a TV movie on steroids.
Bottom line: I liked JOHN CARTER a lot.  It’s a movie made by talented folks who respect the source material and delivered what I was looking for and that’s more than enough for me.  Enjoy.
132 minutes
Rated PG-13
What Publishers Don’t Do

What Publishers Don’t Do

Photograph of author Michael Chabon at a book ...

Image via Wikipedia

This week’s tempest in a book-pot was sparked yesterday by the fine writer Michael Chabon, but it could easily have been any one of a thousand other authors. In an interview with the Washington Post, occasioned by the upcoming flood of his back catalog into electronic formats, Chabon complained about his royalty rates:

When it’s comes to royalties on a paper book, that rate (25 percent) is completely fair when you think of the expenses a publisher takes on — the delivery trucks and the factory workers and the distribution chains. But it’s not fair for them to take a roughly identical royalty for an e-book that costs them nothing to produce.

There have, of course, already been a dozen or more impassioned blog posts and hurt tweets, from various publishing folks, taking offense at that “nothing to produce.” It is wrong, and horribly wrong, and all of us who work in the business know how much time and effort and agida goes into turning a manuscript into a readable ePub file, or its multifarious brethren. And that’s only the beginning of the process — merely making something exist is the simplest part. One might hope that we all could take that as read by this point — that Publishing, as a verb, is much larger, and encompasses many more complicated, useful, necessary processes than the simple printing and warehousing of books.