Tagged: Mike Gold

Jen Krueger: Down Another Rabbit Hole

Krueger Art 140204A few days ago I decided enough was enough. My rig was light on hardware, but I had a few good programs and some decent resources at my disposal, so it seemed time to take on Jinteki Corporation, whose work in the biotech sector I can only assume is more sinister than the public realizes. I made a run at a few of their servers in the hopes of scoring some of their secret agendas, but it wasn’t long before they’d lured me into a trap that put an end to my attempt at hacking them. Then again, I’m sure I’ll make another run at them in the near future since all of this happened in Android: Netrunner, a card game I’ve recently become enamored with.

Prior to six months ago, I hadn’t played a tabletop game in years. This is probably not very unusual for an adult; but even as a kid, I didn’t play them often. My infrequent interaction with board and card games probably had something to do with the fact that I’m an only child who wasn’t particularly socially skilled, meaning a group of playmates with which to play games wasn’t a given for me. But it was probably also partially due to the fact that most of the board and card games I was exposed to never struck me as particularly unique or engaging. Sure, a game of Scrabble here or a hand of Uno there could be fun, but I never found myself jonsing for another round of either, or any of their ilk.

Then what happened six months ago, you may ask? A friend of mine introduced me to a slew of new titles over the course of a two-day gaming marathon. They ranged from card game Dominion, to storytelling game Fiasco, to the Game of Thrones board game, to name a few. Over more than 15 hours of gaming, I found that I liked almost every game we played. A couple more get-togethers after that turned into me introducing other people to some of the titles I’d enjoyed most, and I realized that as quickly as I’d started wanting to play a board or card game once a month, I’d moved on to wanting to play one once a week. When my gaming Sherpa introduced me to Android: Netrunner a few days ago, it only took a single playthrough for me to immediately want my own set of the game.

But how was tabletop gaming able to suck me in so fast? The larger selection, greater uniqueness, and higher quality of titles today are certainly big factors. And I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that a lot of my friends are into tabletop gaming now too. Of course the combination of more engaging games and a circle of friends to play them with will make the experience of gaming now much better than my childhood experiences. Ultimately, I don’t think my status as a tabletop game convert can be entirely credited to the games themselves, or the people I play them with (fun and lovely as both are). Like many other things in my life, my gaming geek outs can be traced back to a pretty simple fact about me as a person:

I am a fangirl.

When I get into a new TV show, I move incredibly quickly from pilot viewing to binge watching. When I like a book that kicks off a series, I don’t wait to finish the first installment before buying the rest of them. And when I started doing improv, I was going to at least three shows a week before I’d finished my level one class. But this behavior doesn’t come from a conscious decision on my part to get more into the things I like. And I’m also not a fangirl of things like Doctor Who and the Mountain Goats because something about them made me love them exponentially more than other shows and bands, respectively. I’m a fangirl because (for better or for worse) anything I love, I love intensely. My favorite movies and comics may bring out signs of this propensity, but the trait itself is ingrained in me independent of any specific work. Trekkie or Browncoat, Gaimanite or Potterhead, I think all fanboys and fangirls have this in common. We couldn’t keep ourselves from nerding out about the things we like if we tried. Then again, who would bother trying? Embracing my status as a fangirl makes it easy to unabashedly delve headlong into anything I think is cool and have a great time doing it.

Speaking of which, I’ve got some reading up to do on Android: Netrunner expansions, because new packs of cards are released monthly so you can keep customizing and honing your personal deck. How cool is that?!





Mindy Newell: For The Love Of The Game

Newell Art 140103As I write this, the Super Bowl XLVIII kick-off is still 36 minutes away.

I’ve been thinking a lot about football the last couple of weeks. It’s a showdown between the best offensive team, the AFC Denver Broncos, led by Peyton Manning, who has had what may be the greatest quarterback season ever while breaking numerous statistical records, and the NFC Seattle Seahawks, whose cornerback Russell Wilson is the *ahem* cornerstone of the best defensive team of the 2013 season.

It’s also the first Super Bowl in which the physical dangers and complications of the sport on its players have been as discussed and picked over as much as any debate about the game and who is going to win.

This season also saw the NFL going over the top in its security efforts, this year dictating what size pocketbook a woman may carry into an arena – and also offering “official NFL team logo clear plastic tote bags at all club merchandise outlets for only $9.95.” In other words… a baggie! Also in 2013: the wide-spread discovery (I didn’t know, did you?) that the NFL is considered a non-profit organization by the IRS (!!) and efforts to end this status, including numerous on-line petitions and the Properly Reducing Overexemptions for Sports Act – or PRO Sports Act – bill by Senator Tom Coburn (OK, R) and Senator Angus King (MA, I)

I love football.

I love football because of its personal memories for me. My dad taking me to Yankee Stadium for the first time to see the Giants play the Colts because my mom had to stay home to take care of my sick brother and him explaining the intricacies of the game and coming home to discover that I was even sicker than Glenn, with a 103° temperature. My father pointing out Richard Nixon (pre-Presidency) sitting only a few rows behind us. The family driving down to Princeton to watch the annual Jaycee pre-season game between the Giants and the Eagles. Being jealous of Glenn because he shook Hubert Humphrey’s hand as the Vice-President walked into Yankees stadium to watch the Giants take on the Redskins. Driving up to Yale for the games while Giants Stadium was being built. Tailgating with my brother on a frozen day to rival this year’s winter, when we were almost alone in the stadium’s parking lot, which was an icy, snow-swept tundra with gale-force winds, and determinedly grilling steaks and hot dogs anyway. Taking Alixandra to her first Giants game and having to stand in the tunnel because she was afraid of the rain. Being at the 1986 Giants-Niners NFC championship game with Glenn, watching Mark Bavaro continuing to step forward with five or six Niners on his back. Harry Carson running for his first defensive touchdown and Lawrence Taylor covering him, and after the game, listening to the post-game report, Taylor replying, when asked by Giants sportscaster Bob Papa what Taylor said to Carson as the two ran downfield, “Harry, you sure do run slow for a black man.” (Please, no letters.) The Giants winning their first Super Bowl against the Broncos under Bill Parcells.

So many memories. I could go on and on and have enough for another month of columns.

I love football for the game itself. The beauty of the running backs sprinting downfield, evading the secondary. The splendor of catches made in three or even four man coverage. The excitement of 4th and goals. And yes, for the sheer physicality of it.

And, yes, I love football for the sheer physicality of it.

When I heard that Junior Seau had committed suicide, I was shocked, as was every sports fan. Listening to the news, I flashed back to the first issue of NFL Pro Action, which I had edited for Marvel. That issue included an article, entitled “Pumped!” featured the San Diego linebacker demonstrating some of his upper body workouts. The last paragraph read:

“Lifting weights helps your confidence – knowing that you went to the weight room, sacrificed your time, and concentrated on your strength. When you’ve done this, you have an edge. When I hit the field, I feel confident that if there is a big guy coming after me, I’ll be equipped to take him on. It’s a mental edge, but it helps me gain leverage. If you don’t have that confidence on the field you should be there.”

He started the Junior Seau Foundation in 1992. Its mission is “to educate and empower young people through the support of child abuse prevention, drug and alcohol awareness, recreational opportunities, anti-juvenile delinquency efforts and complimentary educational programs.”

Seau played 13 seasons for the Chargers, later playing for the Miami Dolphins and the New England Patriots. He retired in 2009. He was All-Pro ten times, played 12 times in the Pro Bowl, and made the NFL 1990’s All-Decade Team, and the Chargers inducted Seau into their own Hall of Fame.

And on September 16th, 2012, three months after his death, the Chargers retired Number 55, Junior Seau’s number, in an opening game ceremony.

The words I quoted above were spoken by a man who loved his profession, loved the game, loved being able to play, and loved being able to give back. And later, when it was announced that the cause of Seau’s death was really the chronic traumatic encephalitis (CTE) brought on by his years of playing football, I wondered if, given the choice, if Seau had known the danger and what lay before him, if he would have chosen to play the game for the love of it anyway.

Not the money.

Not the fame.

For the love of the game.

I wonder if it’s worth it.

The two-minute warning for the first half has just gone off. Seattle leads by 22 to Denver’s big, fat donut hole.

And I wonder if all players down on that field and watching in the stadium or at home or at a local sports bar, are wondering, will wonder, if it’s been worth it.

Worth it for the love of the game.





Michael Davis: Steranko – Who Is He, And What Is He To You?

Davis Art 140128My subtitle is the title of a great Bill Withers song, but an even greater Creative Source song. If you are of the age where you think of Twilight as a classic film, chances are you have never heard of Bill Withers, Creative Source or that song.


I could understand not being aware of Creative Source. They were a bit off the beaten path. However any music fan not aware of Bill Withers should drop less Ecstasy and lighten up on the trance. People, Boom, Boom, Boom with an occasional auto corrected voice may be music, but a song it is not.

Whatever age you are, if you are a fan of comics you should have heard of Jim Steranko, or simply Steranko as he is better known.

A comic fan, a true fan of the medium, not aware of Steranko is akin to a history buff thinking Lincoln is only a carmaker.

I’m not about to, nor am I qualified to give a detailed overview of his work. Please, yes I’m saying please, do yourself a big favor and look him up.

As I said, I can’t even begin to cover his contributions to our industry but I will share with you what I hope is a small indication of his importance to an industry he changed forever.

In the mid to late 90s I ran Motown Animation & Filmworks, (MA) Motown is the most famous record company in the world and if you doubt that name three record companies and do so without Goggle.

Oh. I’m sorry. You’re quiet now.

MA was a film and television division of Motown that at the time Motown was owned by Polygram and both were Phillips Companies.

Phillips is a enormous corporation and anything what comes under their umbrella is protected with an army of lawyers that will crush any affront to their intellectual properties (IP), patents, products and the very saying of their name is like a lone Klan member yelling “jungle bunny” at the Black Murderer convention.

On the flip side, if you make any move while within a corporate structure that has even the smell of being problematic you could be bitch slapped.

Bitch slapped like I was when I appeared on a CNN financial news show and answered “Fine” when asked how I thought what I was doing would affect the stock price.

The show was live and after I unclipped my lapel mic – if that long – my cell rung. The booming voice of Clarence Avant, Chairman Of The Board of Motown Records told me to, “Never, ever, comment of the stock price, anywhere, anytime for any reason!”

He was not happy.

And that was just over one word.

That was a serious blunder on my part. I simply didn’t know but ignorance when you head up a key division of a major company is no excuse.

I learned fast that without first running some decisions past Business Affairs I’d run the very real risk of a very bad day.

IP was at he very heart of my core business at Motown and because of such I created a comic book division called Motown Machineworks. One of the titles was a book and character called Stealth.

As soon as the press broke on that book I got a call from a fairly well known artist. I won’t mention his name because what I’m about to say may cause him to pop some shit in my face when next we meet and I don’t need that kind of noise in my life. Hell, I’m already on probation because of the last two people who popped some shit in my face.

This creator said he had a friend who was producing a book called Stealth. I said that was a problem. He agreed. But he said the problem was mine.

I explained to him that MA owned the trademark to that character name and suggested whatever he was smoking he stop. He boldly told me that he would create a P.R. nightmare for me if we did not “Cut the kid a check.”

“So let me get this straight. I pay someone to stop you from causing Motown a public relations problem over a trademark we own.”

Yep, that’s what he meant.

“Fuck you.” I cheerfully said with a pretty good chuckle. “Tell that kid to lawyer up and I’ll make sure he knows you were the one to clue me in.”

C L I C K.

Never heard a word from him on that matter.

Even if I wanted to cave like a little bitch when I had no reason in the world to do so, the amount of time and effort dealing with this would be a needless waste of resources and resources mean money and losing money in corporate America is bad but wasting money on a non issue?

I may have been shot.

What, pry tell, does this have to do with Steranko and his importance to the comics industry? I’ll tell you.

A couple of days later I get a call from Jim Steranko.

What follows is the word for word exchange between Jim and I. This I know because I have journals going back to high school. The time of the entry is 2:20 pm. That means I did not wait to get home to write about it.

 “I’ll get to the point, I created a character called Stealth some time ago and I read recently that you are launching a book about a character with the same name. I’m sure my character predates yours and I call on you as a gentleman to step back from that name.”

“Take it. It’s yours.”

How important is Steranko to comics?

His impact in the field commands and deserves that kind of respect.

He’s that important.





Jen Krueger: Apparently I’m Kermit

Krueger Art 140128Of the myriad of characters that exist in Westeros, apparently I’m most similar to Tyrion Lannister. When it comes to the cast at Hogwarts, I could stand in for Hermione. And in a galaxy far, far away, I’m interchangeable with R2-D2. All of these results were drawn from online quizzes, but I probably didn’t have to tell you that. Your Facebook feed is likely as full as mine of results to the same (or similar) questionnaires.

The first memory I have of a “where would you fit in the world of (insert pop culture reference here)” quiz is one featuring the Hogwarts Sorting Hat placing the user in one of the school’s four houses. I recall seeing it online shortly after Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone became a huge hit in theaters, and my reaction to it was, How cute, I bet little kids will get a kick out of doing that. Today though, this bite-size pop culture personalization is a daily occurrence amongst my adult friends. With so much of ourselves represented in social media, it’s natural to want our interests in entertainment reflected there, but lately I’ve been wondering why that expression now comes so commonly in this quiz form.

I’m sure some of the draw is in the unique style of fan service these quizzes offer. They encourage geeking out by breaking down shows and movies in a way only fans would understand, and do so in an interactive and personalized manner. Obviously anyone could take a quiz to learn which companion they’d be if they found themselves in the TARDIS, but only a Doctor Who fan would appreciate the difference between being told they’re a Donna or an Amy. This active invitation to the user to move beyond simply thinking about the property’s world and into thinking of themselves as part of the property’s world is hard to replicate in other things aimed at fans. And since fancying yourself similar to a character you love is obviously going to be flattering, it’s no surprise the bulk of these questionnaires are aimed at telling people which character they’re most like.

So the impetus to take the quizzes makes sense. But why post the results on Facebook? Sure, sharing our favorite entertainment with friends is nothing new, but proclaiming I love the BBC’s Sherlock is very different from posting that I got Sherlock Holmes in a “Which Sherlock Character Are You?” quiz. The former reveals one of my pop culture touchstones, but the latter takes things a step further by letting me define a bit of myself with that specific touchstone acting as a yardstick. And silly as it might be, I have to admit it’s actually possible to tell things about people based on their results.

This week, a questionnaire telling the user what Muppet they would be was particularly popular amongst my friends. Looking at which Henson creation everyone got, I saw a correlation between the traits of their designated Muppet and the traits those friends prize in real life.

Is this a shallow way to think about people? Yes. But, weirdly, it works, at least to a certain extent. It also explains something I hadn’t ever understood before: people answering the questions in a way they think will yield a particular result, or re-taking a quiz until they get their desired answer. If we put enough stock in the results to be pleased when aligned with a favorite character, and we find other people’s results to the same quiz to be generally accurate, then I suppose it stands to reason that receiving a result comparing ourselves to characters we don’t like would be undesirable.

At the end of the day though, the lifespan of the results of these quizzes is the same as that of the quizzes themselves: extremely short. Accurate or not, today’s Downton Abbey questionnaire will be replaced by one about The Hunger Games tomorrow, and both will be forgotten by next week. But maybe this actually contributes to the popularity of these quizzes in a way; they’re quick bursts of fandom made no less fun for their brevity. If movies and TV act as pop culture meals, then these questionnaires are pop culture amuse-bouches. And they fulfill that role well.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to see if I can get someone other than Lady Edith on this Downton quiz.





Mindy Newell: Superman, Wonder Woman, and Mythic Complications

Newell Art 140127

So my fellow ComicMix columnist Marc Alan Fishman doesn’t have a problem with the idea of Wonder Woman being a descendant of Kryptonian colonists in the next installment of the Superman cinematic universe. Yes, I know that this may be just one of those wild Internet rumors, but I gotta tell ya, ever since The National Enquirer broke the story of Al Gore, Rielle Hunter and their love child, I don’t easily dismiss stories that are far off the media mainstream path. And besides, Warner Bros. has, to quote another ComicMix correspondent (Vinnie Bartilucci) “gone on record how ‘complicated’ a story Wonder Woman has.”


Wonder Woman’s origin is based on the myths of the Hellenic culture, the same culture that gave The Iliad and The Odyssey, the two Homeric mythic sagas that are considered epics of the imagination and central to modern Western literature. Not to mention that during the Hellenic period Athens was the center of philosophy, or that the Library of Alexandra is believed to have contained over 700,000 volumes before it was burned by Julius Caesar’s troops, or that the Isle of Rhodes harbored universities that taught politics and diplomacy. Not to mention brilliant thinkers whose names escape me – oh, now I remember: Plato and Socrates and Pythagoras and Socrates and Aristotle and Euclides.

The Percy Jackson series is based on the Hellenic myths. The BBC is currently airing Atlantis, based on the Hellenic myths. Battlestar: Galactica (both series), Xena: Warrior Princess, the video game God of War – all based on Hellenic mythology. I even read that Moulin Rouge!, which starred Nicole Kidman and Ewan Macgregor, was based on the Orpheus myth. You know, the story about that guy with the lute who attempted to rescue his beloved wife Eurydice from Hades.

I think that when Warner Bros. uses the word “complicated” in describing Wonder Woman’s story they are really saying that they believe the American audience is ignorant and dumb.

I think they are looking in the mirror.

•     •     •     •     •

While I’m on the subject of the Amazon Princess, many of my sister writers who are involved in comics either as authors or critics are dismayed that Wonder Woman has been relegated to “Superman’s Girlfriend”; hell, I ain’t so that happy about it. But I’ve recently fulfilled one ambition for 2014 and have read the four issues of Superman / Wonder Woman that are available on www.Comixology.com – in fact, I subscribed to the ‘zine. In all honesty, I don’t think it’s badly written at all; I especially like the relationship between Diana and Hessia.

I do have two major complaints, though. The first (and most important, since this is a book that is about the relationship of two people) is that so far the heart-to-heart conversations are not taking place between the two lovers, who seem to be struggling to get past their (understandable) physical desire for each other in establishing a real relationship. The honesty and heart-to-hearts are not between Kal-El/Clark and Diana, but between two other couples: Diana and Hessia, and Superman and Batman.

My second complaint is that, for right now at least (after all, the series is only four chapters in), the book seems to be a Justice League of America / The Brave and The Bold hybrid. It seems more like a team-up book than one exploring the dynamics of the relationship between these two great DC icons, with all the “guest appearances” of other heroes.

What I’d like to see writer Charles Soule do is “borrow” from Marvel’s great superhero romances – Jean Grey and Scott Summers, especially. I hope he has the “writer’s balls” to do this. If he does, he’ll be on track to writing a really great comic, imho, of course. But if the book’s pairing becomes simply a veneer of a relationship, it will just disappear into the great void that has swallowed too many comics with great promise, but which ended in boredom and cancellation.





Michael Davis: The Black Age Of Comics

Davis Art 140121Last year Marvel made big news with the Black Avengers book they are doing or have done or will be doing.

Truth is I don’t know if it’s been done or not because these days I rarely read comics that get massive press. Unless I know the creator I’d rather pass on hype – especially if that hype has to with new black characters.

I’m sick to death of some making a big deal out of the black character they are bringing to comics.


Two reasons. The first is because two seconds (if that long) after the story appears in the press or the book goes on sale I’m asked to comment.

“DC is doing a book where two black people are in a street scene. What are your thoughts?”

“Well I think that anytime a major publisher puts two black people in a scene it’s another step towards Dr. King’s dream.”

That’s what I’d say. Sure I would.

If ever some asswipe asked me such an asinine question I’d be doing hard time for putting my foot up their ass. Not the 300 bullshit hours of community service I’m doing now. I don’t think anyone’s stupid enough to be that stupid but trust me some have come close.

Because of my so-called status as an African American creator I’m subject to many a question about Negro progress in the industry, so the easiest way for me to avoid going to jail is to tell the truth which is “I have not seen it so I can’t comment but I hope it’s good and if so it succeeds.”

Or, maybe my status has nothing to do with it maybe they know I’m good for a rant or two because I’m either fearless, careless or always high thus I will tell the bare truth no matter what. I’m not fearless, I’ve been careless won’t comment on being high but stupid I am not

Imagine the co-creator of Static saying, “What the fuck is Static doing fighting a fucking giant fucking fish? Fuck fuck fuckidy-fuck!!!!!

Not good.

I waited to comment on the recent new 52 Static book from the DC well after they killed the book, which, by the way, should have been killed. I’ve heard all the “DC should have given it a chance” bullshit on the net, but let’s get real. The book had issues and was not getting the support from the fans so what is DC to do? Continue to take a loss?

Wake the fuck up world. This is reality this is not some chat room where some pussy deprived little fan boy thinks he knows better than Diane Nelson, Jim Lee or Dan Dildio.

News flash: they don’t.

Truth is I don’t comment on any black book unless I love it. I refuse to say anything negative about black comic book content, not because it’s all-great because let’s face it a lot of is horrible. I won’t comment because I’m not that guy. Never in my life have I publicly stated any bad, adverse or harmful remarks against any black comic, creator or publisher…

Unless said creator or publisher invites a response by putting out straight up imaginary bullshit about Milestone. Then it’s on.

I won’t even comment publicly when a black creator says there are simply no black women characters created by black creators that have reached a mainstream audience.


Milestone’s teenage girl superhero Rocket reached and was an overwhelming success in the mainstream market – before she got pregnant. Then she was mainstream news. You can’t get more mainstream than the Washington Post and CNN, to name but two.

I did send the guy who was saying that in interviews an email saying “really?”

Dark Horse has a new book coming out called Skyman. Everything I’ve read about Skyman mentions he’s black.

Everything I’ve read except for the official Dark Horse press release.

I like that.

The Black Age Of Comics Convention (yep, I stole the name of this article from them) promotes black creators, publishers, comics and black pop culture in general. The goal of the convention is to reach black people and black kids in particular because there are so few black heroes for young kids of color to relate too.

That’s a wonderful thing and they do great work.

99.9% of everything I’ve ever done in comics, television, radio and mainstream publishing the main characters are black because that’s what I do. I’ve always tried to reach a mainstream audience and I’m well aware that black anything is a difficult sell in the first place.

So the second reason (this is so long you forgot I said two reasons eh?) is that I am sick of media news that spotlights the African American aspect of some projects because never, and I mean never, do any of these news stories even attempt to acknowledge what has gone before and most publishers co-sign that bullshit.

So that young black mother or father who sees that TV news report on Marvel’s Black Avengers will think this is the first time ever for a black character in comics and run out to get it for their kid.

To put it another way, it’s like saying Elvis never listened to or was influenced by black music. Eminem is a great rapper and I’m sure if FOX News had a music channel they would have you believe he started Rap and discovered Dre.

Milestone is the most successful African American line of comics in history. We were not the first to publish black superheroes. Not even close. And we said as much and still say as much in public.

You can bet when black kids attend the Black Age Of Comics Convention they are told repeatedly about the vast history of black characters in comics and all media.

My dear friend (to me more like family) Lana Walker is one of the very few people I won’t question if she wants me to meet someone. If she called and said “Michael, I want you to meet with this axe murderer who will try to kill you” I’d take that meeting. No question.

I hate Hollywood parties. Hate them. Lana asked me to come to a Hollywood party and meet some people. That’s like asking Superman to come to a party at Kryptonite mountain – it kills me. I went to the party, no questions asked.

I’m pretty damn sure Lana did not tell those people, “You should meet Michael Davis, he’s black. When I showed up it was pretty damn obvious I’m black. When a new black character shows up and the media covers it, the publisher promotes it as if it’s the first black character ever it is not only, in my opinion, fucked up lazy journalism. it feels to those who know it’s bullshit like yet another total disregard of African American history.

I’d just like publishers to at least give a nod to what has come before when promoting black content.

Or do like Dark Horse and make it about the character.

If you feel the as a journalist the black angle is a good one, do some fucking research and at least write something about what has come before even if it’s something like this:

Black Dick, the story of an African American private eye is a new comic from Poon Tang Publishing. It’s the very first black comic ever… I think.

If people like the character and the idea behind it color will matter not. Blade and Spawn are perfect examples. Yeah, Spawn is black. If you can’t tell because of his mask ask yourself what’s up with that third leg.

BTW, “Black Dick” is trademark & copyright Michael Davis 2014 All Rights Reserved and is not the first black character.

I think.





Jen Krueger: Cream Rising to the Top

krueger-art-140121-150x142-9457076I’ve been a fan of Top Chef for years, and this season has me particularly hooked. I like the New Orleans setting, the accompanying season of Last Chance Kitchen has been stellar, and I’ve found a few of the challenges to be some of the best the show has ever done, mostly because they manage to be surprising despite the show being in its eleventh season. But the biggest surprise to me about this season of Top Chef has nothing to do with the content of the show; it’s the sheer fact that I’m watching it.

Frustrations with my cable provider reached a breaking point last summer when I was overcharged by more than a hundred dollars in a single bill, and since most of the shows my roommate and I watch regularly are available through the combination of iTunes, Netflix, and Hulu Plus, we decided to call it quits with cable. Saving money was the obvious perk, but I was also more than happy to cut down on extraneous TV watching borne out of getting sucked into a show coming on after something I’d intended to watch, or worse yet, the time-wasting passive intake of crap I’m not even interested in but end up watching just because the TV is on.

On the other hand, while almost all of the scripted programming I enjoy is available through multiple outlets besides broadcast TV, most of the reality shows I liked seemed to be available only through iTunes, if anywhere at all. I’d always found the idea of buying episodes of reality shows silly since I don’t see any rewatch value in them, competition shows for the obvious reason that knowing the winner and loser of an episode takes away most of the point of watching it, and documentary-style shows because so many of the ones I watched tend to be of little to no substance. Even at just $1.99 a pop, I couldn’t imagine myself paying for them, so I figured they’d simply drop out of my viewing rotation altogether and was kind of bummed out at the thought.

Then I started tallying up the reality TV I’d been regularly watching. One iteration of Storage Wars, two shows about persnickety interior designer Jeff Lewis, three MTV shows about teenagers having kids, four sets of Real Housewives, and five food competition shows later, I wasn’t close to done but was sufficiently embarrassed at the volume of reality TV I’d been consuming. Ugh, I can totally live without this stuff, I thought. And I’ll save hours each week by not watching garbage!

But lumping together all reality TV as garbage isn’t really fair, is it? The first reality show I remember ever getting hooked on was Project Runway, which was innovative and entertaining while showcasing genuinely unique talents in an industry I knew little about (at least in the first few seasons of the show). Before morphing into a sensationalized and formulaic show on Fox, Kitchen Nightmares was Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares on Channel 4 in the U.K. and documented sincere attempts on the host’s part to save restaurants in much more detail, meaning insight on everything from how to cook specific dishes to how to best run meal service to how to create a local customer base were all offered on camera by Gordon Ramsay. And though it was short-lived, Anthony Bourdain’s The Layover showed me more about the real local cultures of both cities I know well and cities I’ve never been to than I think I could’ve gleaned through hours of my own research and experiences.

I realized the black-and-white view I’d taken on reality shows in a cable-less household was entirely and arbitrarily self-imposed. I decided that by culling the quality reality wheat from the trashy reality chaff, I could still get my competition and documentary-style fixes without losing hours to the empty albeit entertaining morass that previously clogged my DVR. Last but not least in sealing the deal, I tallied the costs of an iTunes season pass for the few gems like Top Chef that I decided were worth keeping up with and found it comes to less than the cost of two months of cable. With a bargain like that, it suddenly seemed silly not to buy the handful of reality shows I like most. And after all, in any season of Top Chef, the Restaurant Wars episode alone is always good for at least $1.99 worth of entertainment.




Mindy Newell: Blood And Streams

Newell Art 140120“Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” – Gene Fowler

 “It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader. If you do not believe in the characters or the story you are doing at that moment with all your mind, strength, and will, if you don’t feel joy and excitement while writing it, then you’re wasting good white paper, even if it sells, because there are other ways in which a writer can bring in the rent money besides writing bad or phony stories.” – Paul Gallico

 “Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed.” – “Red” Smith

 “The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.” – Philip Roth

 “The road to hell is paved with adverbs” – Stephen King


Maybe you’ve figured out by now that today I’ve got nothing. Zip. Nada. A big Krispy Kreme donut hole. So I’ll just do a bit of stream of consciousness and see what comes pouring out.

Chris Christie. I don’t know why it took so long for Bridgegate to become front-page news. Everybody who lived in New Jersey last August seemed to know that the closing of the entrances to the GW Bridge was a political bullshit thing. Traffic study? C’mon, this is New Jersey. Everybody knows that the traffic at the GW Bridge sucks 23 out of 24 hours a day. You need a traffic stuffy for that?

What I don’t get, what everybody in New Jersey, home to Tony Soprano and Enoch “Nucky” Johnson (renamed Thompson in Boardwalk Empire) and the dirtiest politics in America, doesn’t get is how Christie’s staff could be so stupid as use e-mail in planning and enacting their stupid pet tricks. As to “was the boss in on it?” and “did Christie know and when did he know it?” You could bowl me over with a spoon if it turns out that the Governor was ignorant of his staff’s shenanigans. But I won’t be surprised if he comes out of this smelling, if not like a rose, at least then like a refurbished brownstone in downtown Jersey City. A function of all political flunkies is, after all, to fall upon their sword for God, Country, and Emperor when necessary, and I think that’s what’s going to happen.

“Ignore the barrage of violent threats and harassing messages that confront you online every day.” That’s what women are told. But these relentless messages are an assault on women’s careers, their psychological bandwidth, and their freedom to live online. We have been thinking about Internet harassment all wrong. That’s the journalistic “hook” for Amanda Hess’s cover story “Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet” in Pacific Standard magazine appeared on January 6, 2014, and the story’s first paragraphs are about her experience of receiving death threats over Twitter while on vacation in Palm Springs. Amanda Hess was on the Brian Lehrer show last week to talk about this. I couldn’t hear the whole thing because she came on in the second half of the show and I had to go into work, but I sat in the parking lot as long as I could listening and thought of all the stories I’ve heard this year from my friends in the comics industry. I’m thinking that maybe the end of “net neutrality” isn’t such a bad idea after all. Maybe making it a little harder to have full access to the web will help cut this shit out?

Nah. To quote Scotty in The Search For Spock, “the more they over think the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain.” I don’t know what the answer is, but it aggravates the hell out of me.

I adore my grandchild, Meyer Manual. I adore watching Alix and Jeff be parents. But I still can’t get used to the word “Grandma.” It just doesn’t fit into my self-image vocabulary. Isn’t that incredibly fucked-up? I am trying to think of another “name” for myself to have him call me. When Alix first began to talk she called my parents by their first names, and continued to do so for a very long time; I don’t remember when she stopped and started calling them Grandma and Grandpa, but I do remember that my father didn’t like being called Meyer at first – “I’m your grandfather, not your friend” – but when Alix grew into calling him Grandpa, he missed the first-name bit. I think some part of him was longing for that tiny little toddler. Me, I’d love it if little Meyer calls me Mindy. What the hell, I’ve always been an iconoclast, why stop now? On the other hand, I don’t care what he calls me, as long as he calls me (she said in her best Groucho Marx imitation).

Speaking of my father, we took him out on Saturday night to celebrate his birthday. I told you about how he kept eating the french fries as my brother “Heimliched” my mom, how he’s in his own “Never-never land” most of the time, and how in so many ways my father is gone. And yet, sometimes there’s the glimmer of the old Meyer. My brother ordered a vodka gimlet for him, specifying “Stoly’s.” The waiter repeats it, “Yes, sir, vodka gimlet with Stoly’s” and suddenly my father intercedes. “Ketel.” “You want Ketel 1?” my brother said. He nodded, and then he lapsed back into that place where he lives most of the time. But later, while driving home, Alix told Jeff and I that she heard my dad tell Isabel “it’s an honor to be here with you and the baby to celebrate my 91st birthday.”

Been thinking about the lack of comics in this house for the last year (for financial reasons, as I mentioned in a previous column). Been thinking that I might head over to Comixology or one of the other sites and do some downloading to catch up. Definitely cheaper. But only as a temporary measure. Somehow not holding the comic in my hand while reading seems wrong to me. Well, if not wrong, then weird. Maybe that makes me a Luddite, but if Jim Kirk can read A Tale of Two Cities in hardcover in the 24th century and Jean-Luc Picard treasures his copy of Moby Dick in the 26th, then I’m just doing my part to ensure that real books hang around for future generations.

And, yes, comics count as real books.

Blood has been spilt in their making.

TUESDAY: Jen Krueger




John Ostrander: Bad Boys, Bad Boys

Ostrander Art 140119I was watching perhaps my favorite new TV show of the season, The Blacklist, last Monday. James Spader’s Raymond “Red” Reddington exacts a fierce revenge on those who wronged him. Reddington has done terrible things throughout the series and yet I find myself drawn to him, even rooting for him. I doubt that I’m the only one.

It’s not the first time for me. There was James Gandolfini in The Sopranos and, to an even greater extent, Michael Chiklis in The Shield. Who is the real center of The Dark Knight – Christian Bales’ Batman or Heath Ledger’s Joker? It’s a tradition that goes back a long way – the most interesting character in Shakespeare’s Othello isn’t the title character but Iago, the great and cunning villain of the play.

I really enjoy writing the bad guys as well. My favorite Star Wars creation? Probably the rogue and con man Vilmahr “Villie” Grahrk. Over at DC, I had a whole series centering on the villains – Suicide Squad. My faves among them – probably Amanda Waller, Captain Boomerang, and Deadshot. It’s not hard to spot. Hell, even John Gaunt, GrimJack, is not a hero except maybe by default.

So… what is the attraction? I am, by most accounts, a nice guy. So where does all this come from? The bad guys have to come from somewhere inside of me. Why are all of us attracted by the Joker, or Hannibal Lecter, or Raymond Reddington and the others?

Going back to my acting days, it was always fun to play a villain. First of all, they usually had the best lines. More important, I think the villains do things that you and I have atavistic urges to do, but our own conditioning, our own morality, keep us from acting on those urges. By identifying with the bad guys, by emotionally investing myself with them and their acts, I do the crime without having to worry about paying the price. I get the thrill without having to worry about the consequences.

I especially enjoy writing characters like Captain Boomerang. Boomerbutt (as others called him) was remarkably well-adjusted in a rather reprehensible way. He knew exactly who he was and he was happy with it. No angst, no desire to make himself better. Nobody liked Captain Boomerang more than Boomerang himself; it might be safe to say that he was the only one who liked Boomerang at all. He was fine with that as well.

Another secret of villains is that they don’t think of themselves, for the most part, as bad. They may think that the rules don’t apply to them but they feel they have the perfect right to do what they’re doing.

I don’t like every villain. Simple thugs and bullies – not very interesting. Same goes for the megalomaniac who wants to rule the world. Usually they’re pretty one note. No, give me the guy or gal with intelligence or at least a low cunning, a sense of humor, a worldview of some kind, a touch of theatricality and who has no compunction about doing what they do. Ah, that’s a villain I can sink my literary teeth into!

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

TUESDAY: Jen Krueger



Martha Thomases: Whatever It Is, She’s Against It

thomases-art-140117-150x116-9924058When Brooklyn Nine Nine won the Golden Globe for best television comedy on Sunday, my first thought was, “That’s the end of that.”

I mean, I love the show. I thought the episode that came after the Globes on Tuesday was really funny (although I don’t want to see any romances develop within the department. None. At All. Ever.).

But now I know that other people like it. It’s not cool anymore.

You may ask yourself, “Why does a woman who is 60 years old care about what is cool?” And you would be right. I have long held the belief that no one can be cool once he or she has children (exception that proves the rule: David Bowie). My colleague, Mike Gold, disagrees, telling me that his daughter’s friends think he is. I suspect they do think he’s cool – for a parent.

There is something ridiculously satisfying about being the one of the only people who likes something. It’s a secret that you share with only a favored few. I have felt the way about Peter Bagge, back when John Holmstrom first published him. Once he started working with Fantagraphics, I still liked his work, but felt let down that I had to share him.

Comics fans are especially bad about this, in my experience. I can remember several times when I would go to a comic book store, select my choices (mostly superhero comics) and go to the cashier, only to have him (always a him) tell me I had terrible taste and shouldn’t shop in that store. This never happened to me at any other place I shopped, not even at Pat Field which, before Sex and the City, was far too cool for me.

And so, I can only conclude that comic book fans are more rigid in their idea of exclusivity than even the fashion police. It’s almost enough for me to enjoy some schadenfreude about comics fans being squeezed out of the San Diego Comic-Con, except that I am one of them.

Speaking of which, if one wants to continue to enjoy one’s super-cool object of joy, one should hope it catches on enough to become uncool. Yeah, Firefly was awesome and I want to be a brown-coat until I die, but what I’d really like are more episodes which we would have had if the ratings were higher.

Which brings us to a useful definition, found in this article. Key quote: “The great video blogger Ze Frank once said, ‘Being cool is about not participating in traditionally enjoyable experiences and creating the illusion that happiness can be found in alternative, less enjoyable experiences. The degree to which other people around you try to emulate your alternative lifestyle and fail determines how cool you are. You’re only as cool as people wish they were.’

“‘Cool people starve themselves, get neck tattoos and listen to bands the rest of us have never heard of. These things are not fun, and they are not popular, and that is exactly the point.”

Coolness is not something one can achieve by trying for it. I was never cool, because I was always too enthusiastic about my pleasures. That’s okay, I’d rather have joy than admiration or envy.

Personally, I question how much longer tattoos can be cool. Eventually, people’s mothers will have them.


LATER TODAY: Michael Davis

SATURDAY: Back to our normal schedule with Marc Alan Fishman!