Cinamon Hadley, whose appearance inspired the look of Death in the Sandman comic series, passed away today according to Sandman co-creator Neil Gaiman.
The body-piercer and goth icon whose portrait was immortalized as the second eldest in a family of anthropomorphized forces called the Endless, Hadley was described as extremely tall, extraordinarily thin, with bone-white skin, impeccable make-up and thin, black hair.
According to Gaiman in The Sandman Companion, he imagined the character as looking like ‘60s singer Nico as she appeared on the cover of Chelsea Girl. But the comic’s artist, Mike Dringenberg, had other ideas, and thought of a good friend in Salt Lake City. Gaiman writes, “He sent me a drawing based on a woman he knew named Cinamon—the drawing that was later printed in Sandman 11—and I looked at it and had the immediate reaction of, ‘Wow. That’s really cool.’”
Cinamon was diagnosed with the advanced stages of small cell neuroendocrine carcinoma of the colon in 2017. After a brief remission, the cancer returned and spread.
Our condolences to her family, friends, and fans. We hope she’s well met by someone who looks a lot like her.
Presenting two real-life stories from my days of yore, although names have been changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty.
Story The First:
I knew a girl in high school – I wouldn’t say we were friends, but she was someone who had never participated in the Piggy horrors. Sally was an A+ student, on the track to an Ivy League school. Pretty (but not gorgeous) and popular (but quiet about it), she came to me one day and said that she needed to talk to me privately. I was surprised… and a bit suspicious. What did she want? But because Sally had never been overtly mean to me, even though she was part of the clique that instigated most of the callous cruelties upon me, and because I still hoped to be “accepted,” and I wanted to believe for some reason she was about to warn me of some new devilishness about to be inflicted on me – forewarned was forearmed – I agreed. But it had nothing to do with me at all.
Sally was pregnant.
I was, frankly, shocked. Not just about what she said, but also because I was thinking, why are you telling me?
She seemed to be reading my mind about that last part. “I can’t tell Laura, or Toni, or anybody. It would be all over the school in a second. You know how they are.”
Did I ever. Still –
“But they’re your friends.”
All she said was, “I made an appointment with Planned Parenthood in the city. Will you come with me?”
I know exactly why I said “yes.” Out of kindness, certainly. But to be totally honest, I also thought that this could be a way in. Hey, whaddya want? I was a teenager.
We had to cut school the day of her appointment. I met her at the corner bus stop, about an hour after classes started. Sally was very quiet, she didn’t say anything, but I remember she was very pale. As for me, I was sure I would see my father in his car on the way to work. I wasn’t so worried about my mom – I knew she was already at the hospital, where she worked in the ER. At any rate, both of us were very nervous and impatient, waiting for that bus to the PATH train into the city.
At the time – September 1971 – there was a Planned Parenthood in Manhattan on First Avenue between 21st and 20th Streets. I guess – and I don’t blame her – that Sally made the appointment there rather than the one in Jersey City because Jersey City is too close to Bayonne… too close for comfort. Anyway, I don’t know what either of us was expecting, but it was modern and clean and the staff was professional, kind, and, most importantly, totally non-judgmental.
Sally’s name was called. I sat in the waiting room. It seemed like a long time, but the receptionist at the desk assured me everything was fine when I asked.
Interjection – as an RN in the operating room, I can tell you that the actual procedure takes very little time, especially in the first trimester [as Sally was]. Frequently I’m not even done with my charting before it’s over and I have to assist in transferring the patient to the PACU (Post-Anesthesia Care Unit, commonly referred to as the Recovery Room). Most of the intraoperative period is taken up with other things involved in any visit to the OR – anesthesia induction, proper and safe positioning, emergence from anesthesia, transfer to PACU, and monitoring in the PACU, which lasts about an hour or so on average, until discharge.)
Afterwards, as we had planned, we used our pooled resources and took a cab home. This was well before Uber or Lyft. Sally didn’t’ say much except to complain about some cramping – totally normal, btw – but the “worry” was off her face; she was visibly relieved. The cab dropped us off about a block from her house; I walked her home, and before she went inside, she turned and said: “See you in school tomorrow.”
No, we didn’t become best friends after that; things pretty much went back to normal, actually. Hey, we were teenagers, and there were rules of engagement. But I do remember that Sally was never around when it was time to “play Piggy with Mindy.
Sally went on to graduate in the top 25 of a class numbering 750 (I finished 145) and went on to that Ivy League school. I didn’t see her much after high school, a couple of parties and a reunion or two at the Jewish Community Center. I don’t even know what she went on to become as an adult, though I’ve heard she was “successful and happy.”
Story The Second:
Jack and Jill were my high school’s dream team. Every high school has one. Jack was the champion quarterback. Jill was the head cheerleader. Jack was the president of the Student Union. Jill was the editor of the school newspaper. Both had bright futures. Early admission to the colleges of their choice, with Jack receiving a full scholarship based on his football prowess to a Big Ten school, and Jill planning on majoring in journalism at NYU.
They were great people.
And they never treated anybody like Piggy.
Anyway, sometime in the late fall of our senior year, after the Thanksgiving holiday, Jill suddenly disappeared from the school hallways. First, we heard that she was sick with mononucleosis (the “kissing disease,” as it used to be called), but as January became March, rumors began spreading, rumors having to do with pregnancy and forced marriages. Especially after Jack dropped out – two months before graduation.
The truth broke free, as truth is apt to do, sometime in the fall of 1971. During the Christmas break when everybody came home from college, it was the talk of the town, the bars, and the parties.
Jill had become pregnant, and, since back in those stupid days, girls “in the family way” were not allowed to finish high school, she had been forced to leave under the cover of the mononucleosis story, though she refused to go to one of those “homes for fallen women” or whatever they were called. (Do they still exist?) Her parents had gotten her a tutor so she could finish her high school degree, but not only had she disappeared from the school hallways, Jill had also been confined to the house to “hide her shame.”
Worse, when Jill wanted to go to Planned Parenthood for advice – and advice only – her parents would not allow it. They were very observant Catholics and the name Planned Parenthood was as abhorrent as the name Judas Iscariot. Jill’s pregnancy was treated as if it were a monstrous sin.
She had also finally admitted that Jack was the father because her father had beaten it out of her. Her father then called his father, and they decided that Jack and Jill would get married right away.
And in 1971, not only could you not be pregnant in high school, you couldn’t be married, either; which meant that Jack had to drop out, too, meaning, of course, that he lost his football scholarship and any hope for college. And in case you’re wondering – no college for Jill, either.
Of course, there was always the future, but…
After they got married and Jill had the baby, and Jack got some kind of job, nothing much, he started drinking. Drinking hard. And doing drugs. Hard drugs.
And that’s how the story stood that Christmas break, the last week of 1971.
But it didn’t end there. About 10 years later I met one of Jill’s cousins at the mall. We got to talking about high school, and eventually – of course – Jack and Jill came up. I’ll never forget that conversation.
Jack’s downward spiral had continued. He lost one job after another. The drinking continued, and he was “chipping” http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=chipping on some weekends, too.
Then he started abusing Jill, and it hadn’t stopped.
“But Jill was always so smart. Why doesn’t she leave?” I said.
“Jesus,” her cousin said.
“Jill’s become really religious. That’s why she won’t leave. I think she thinks she’s atoning for getting pregnant and fucking up Jack’s football scholarship. “
That was the last time I ever heard about Jack and Jill. I have no idea what happened to them. Or their kids.
And, look, guys, I get it. This has been a summer and early fall of donating funds. I understand it’s a matter of priorities. I get the feeling of being “donated out,” too. And our hearts go out to the many caught up in the current round of hurricanes.
Even if it’s just $5, hell, even if’s just a $1, just think about what Bernie Sanders accomplished with an average of $27 to his campaign.
When people think of Planned Parenthood, they think “abortion.” But I’m telling you, and now I am speaking to you as a member of the professional healthcare community, the organization does so much more: Counseling and cancer screenings and preventative and maintenance health care. For women and for men.
When I was a child, I was mesmerized by the very concept of time. How was it discovered? Why are units of time, like minutes and hours and days, all measured in multiples of 6? What was there before time? Could time ever end? If so, what would replace it? Eventually, these thoughts made me throw up, and I would have to make myself think about other stuff.
But here’s the thing: Time happens. Whether you think about it or not.
I am reminded of this when I look at the list of contributors to Mine! A Comics Collection to Benefit Planned Parenthood. In addition to talents like Neil Gaiman and Jill Thompson, there are a bunch of people whom I know personally on the list but there are also a whole lot I don’t know.
All of these people do amazing work. All of them were new to me. This is because I am old and stuck in my ways, and even when I try to keep up, time passes.
It’s not just comics. Movie actors have a tendency to age as well. To me, Keanu Reeves is a young time-traveler, not a 53-year old man. Christina Ricci is Wednesday Addams, not a grown-up with breasts. All of the people I would cast in a movie about the Teen Titans are no longer teenagers.
Don’t even start me on popular music. Rock’n’roll is barely even a thing anymore. The angry young men (and women) of my punk rock days are now old cranks if they survived. Nobody wants to be the Next Dylan.
This is all fine. The entertainment (and art!) that I loved is still available to me. It’s easier to find than ever before, even when it was new. And new generations of artists are always being born, always working to create work that is meaningful to them, and to their peers.
There are some downsides to this, and I blame capitalism. There are financial incentives to those publishers (and producers, and manufacturers) who are first to find the Next Big Thing, or at least the Flavor of the Month. They can sign new talent for less than they pay more experienced workers, and they can offer something shiny and new to the marketplace. As part of the marketplace, I enjoy more choices.
As someone of a certain age, I don’t like being passed over for someone who will work for less money.
Being of that age, I’m also really worried about having access to affordable health care. Obviously, a huge chunk of the comics community agrees with me, because so many are contributing work to Mine! They know that, without Planned Parenthood, millions of people wouldn’t be able to get tested (and treated, if necessary) for STDs. Poor women and women without insurance (which might be all of us, if the GOP has its way) wouldn’t be able to get mammograms or other kinds of cancer screenings. They wouldn’t be able to get pre-natal and post-natal care. People would not be able to plan parenthood, one of the most important decisions a person can make.
The Mine! campaign runs for one more week. There are lots of cool perks you can get, and lots of good you can do by chipping in to make this book happen. I’m looking forward to reading stories by some of my favorites and discovering good work from more people I don’t yet know.
Consider a pledge today and you could find the same kind of fun. You could get a book and have a good time.
Somehow, I seem to have inserted myself onto the Marvel “Friends and Family” list for preview screenings. A few weeks ago I got an advance look at The Defenders in a small screening room with about 25 people. On Monday, I went to an IMAX showing of The Inhumans with an audience of several hundred.
The environment in which I see a film influences the way I feel about it. I love going to screenings because they make me feel cool and sophisticated. TheDefenders event was in the morning, with a group that included people I’d known for decades, in comfy chairs with excellent sight lines. TheInhumans was in an enormous theater, with an enormous screen, and hundreds of strangers (although there were some people I knew, including a new friend, an old friend and a really old friend.
Even before the movie started (and, to be fair, it’s not really a movie, just the first two episodes of an ABC television series), the mood was festive and celebratory. My date, ComicMix colleague Joe Corallo and I found our assigned seats and gleefully looked around to see whom we might recognize. Lots of people brought children with them, and they were thrillingly well-behaved. Before the movie started, we sang a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday” to Jack Kirby, in celebration of his hundredth. The print was crisp, and the creator credits received applause.
If only I could tell you I liked the show.
I knew nothing about the characters beforehand. I did a little browsing online, and Joe told me a few things (including how great the Paul Jenkins run was). I would imagine that most people who will watch on the ABC television network are similarly ignorant, and the show would allow for that.
It is not good. And it’s not good in a way that makes it seem, to me, to be the anti-X-Men. People with mutant powers are exalted here and given high-status government responsibilities. Those with no powers are sent to work in the mines.
The Inhumans live on our moon, in a city at the border between the light side and the dark side. We first see the king and queen, Black Bolt and Medusa, in bed, where she is using her superpowers (magically manipulating her long hair) to excite him as much as network television allows. These two people are attractive and playful, so I was ready to like them. Also, the actress, who plays Medusa, Serinda Swan, looks like a grown-up version of Ann-Margaret in Pocketful of Miracles, one of my favorite movies.
We see them getting on with their royal responsibilities, as they walk up and down and through the massive castle. First up is a ceremony in which two siblings find out if they have super-powers. It is there that we meet Black Bolt’s brother, Maximus, who we know must be a bad guy because it is the same actor, Iwan Rheon who played Ramsay Bolton on Game of Thrones. Maximus seems to have no powers but is allowed to stay in the royal quarters because his brother is such a softie.
There is lots of back-and-forth travel to Earth, sometimes through a sentient wall and sometimes with a giant bulldog which I think has some kind of fan following (and, hence, anticipation) but which is just a big CGI dog in these first two episodes. There is a royal betrayal, a rebel uprising, and a great escape. Each character gets a chance to use his or her powers, sometimes to great effect, sometimes just because, I assume, Jim Shooter said every character must use powers within the three pages back when he was editor-in-chief at Marvel. Some powers, like being able to come back to life after being killed, seem like a narrative cop-out, a deus ex machina of the gene pool.
A lot more questions were raised for me than were answered. Where does the royal family get all the leather for their outfits? What are they digging for in those mines? Are terrific eyebrows a way to tell which women have super-powers? Where does the food come from? I would have preferred to see more of the city as a whole, and less of the king and queen walking up and down stairs. Also, why are we supposed to think the king and queen are good and Maximus is bad? Wouldn’t it be more interesting from his point of view?
I think that Inhumans wants to be the new Game of Thrones, but without the historical parallels, the multiculturalism, the armies, the enormous cast or the budget. Instead, it seems much more like high school writ large, with the cool kids getting to have a working source of light, and the rabble doomed to the underworld.
Will it get better? Will it be even worse when it’s on a television screen, not in a theater? Will there be dragons or just giant dogs?
• • • • •
Just a reminder: It’s not too late to get in on our Kickstarter campaign for Mine! A Comics Collection to Benefit Planned Parenthood. This book will be full of cool stuff… including a story by Neil Gaiman and Mark Wheatley! You’ll be helping people around the country receive quality health care. We’re on track to hit our initial goal, and if we raise more than that, there will be lots more other goodies. So check it out, and pledge whatever you can afford.
How do we respond to racism and other forms of bigotry in our government. Do we cooperate and try to change the minds of the people in power? Do we quit and make a statement? Do we resist? Do we perform non-violent acts of civil disobedience and fill the jails?
In my life, I’ve advocated (and disagreed with) all of these things. Different times in my life, different circumstances, different perspectives. Therefore, I hesitate to call out people who make different choices than I do, as long as we share the goals of a fair and just, egalitarian, non-hateful non-violent society.
When the artists who were chosen for the Kennedy Center honors refused to attend a White House celebration hosted by a president they considered immoral, I was pleased. I was even more pleased to see the result of their resistance.
Should people in the arts resist? Should we try to change people’s minds with art? Should we use art to share our points of view in the hopes of understanding each other?
My mom’s favorite author as a child was E. Nesbit, and she turned me on to those books as soon as my reading level allowed. I loved the fantasy, but I also loved the insight into the lives of children like myself, but also not like myself. Nesbit was a Fabian Socialist, but none of her characters or their struggles pit the proletariat against the capitalists.
Later on, a librarian gave me A Wrinkle in Time, with a heroine as committed to social justice and compassion for all people as I wanted to be.
Neither of those authors was marketed as political propagandists. Both heavily influenced my political development.
(Also, decades later, reading a dedication to Nesbit in the front of The Books of Magic started my friendship with Neil Gaiman.)
We watched a fair amount of television in my house, all gathering around our only set on Sunday nights to watch Ed Sullivan. Even before the Beatles, I loved the show because of the stand-up comics. Often New York Jews, they sounded like my relatives, only smarter. And then there were guys like Dick Gregory, who didn’t start out political (at least to my child’s ears at the time) and then became radicalized and inspired me for the rest of my life. I will miss him and his Twitter feed.
Not everyone reading this will share my passion for these stories and story-tellers. Some of them will quote Moss Hart and say, “If you have a message, call Western Union.” That’s an easy way to dismiss work you don’t like, or that makes you uncomfortable.
Looking around the Internet, I notice some people complaining about our book and Planned Parenthood, with the usual lies and distortions about the services it provides. I don’t know where they get their information, but I know this much is true: Planned Parenthood is often the only place where people of all ages and genders can get cancer screenings, STD tests and treatments. Especially in rural communities, there might be no place else to get a PAP test or a mammogram. It might be the only place to get pre-natal care.
If you haven’t pledged already, please consider donating whatever you can afford. We have some really cool stuff for perks, and the book looks to be awesome. I’m sure a first edition is a terrific investment.
The past few weeks I’ve been talking a lot about other people’s Kickstarter campaigns. This week, here at ComicMix, I’m here to talk about our Kickstarter campaign that is active right now. That’s right; ComicMix LLC is working on a new project – a major comics collection to benefit Planned Parenthood.
I’m going to get into that in a minute.
This project has been in the works for nearly two years now. It started back in December of 2015. Fellow ComicMix columnist and my co-editor Molly Jackson and I were at Mia Pizza in Astoria NY. I was a mere two months into my tenure as a columnist here and we were discussing something we could do. We immediately thought of doing a comics anthology. We had a lot of ideas we were throwing around, including a throwback Crime Does Not Pay style anthology.
Eventually, Molly and I went on to bug our EIC Mike Gold about it. We thought of different things we could do, and different strategies we could take. I had a connection to Planned Parenthood and after discussing it with the ComicMix team we moved forward on that. After many, many months of moving up the chain, discussions, conference calls, and an election that shook us all deeply and put the idea on the back burner, we have finally come to a point where we can move forward with Mine!, A Comics Collection To Benefit Planned Parenthood. It was a lot of work from everyone to put this together, and I’m so excited I get to be a part of th15is.
Both Molly and I are editing this collection. We’ve been working with a wide variety of people in comics and beyond in lining up contributors for this. We’ve been provided incredible stories and gorgeous artwork for this book that has been inspiring to the whole ComicMix team. It swells our hearts to see so many people in comics coming together for such an important cause. It’s this coming together and working together that gives us all hope that things can and will get better.
Below is the press release. As I stated earlier, the Kickstarter is live. Please share this around and please consider pledging so ComicMix can put out a high-quality comics collection with incredible talent for one of the worthiest causes that I think of.
PLANNED PARENTHOOD AND COMICMIX L.L.C. TEAM-UP FOR MINE!,
A COMICS ANTHOLOGY FUNDRAISER
ComicMix Editor-in-Chief Mike Gold today announced the forthcoming publication of a graphic novel of original short stories to celebrate the important work of Planned Parenthood. The volume, to be edited by Joe Corallo and Molly Jackson, will be published this fall in celebration of over 100 years of Planned Parenthood.
Mine! will feature the work of Neil Gaiman (American Gods, Sandman), Gail Simone (Wonder Woman), Yona Harvey (Black Panther), Gerard Way (My Chemical Romance, Umbrella Academy), Gabby Rivera (America), Amber Benson (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Witches of Echo Park), Mara Wilson (Where Am I Now?: True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame), Mags Visaggio (Kim & Kim), Brittney Williams (Patsy Walker A.K.A. Hellcat!), John Ostrander (Suicide Squad), and Jill Thompson (Wonder Woman), among many other top comics creators.
Project Co-Editor Molly Jackson said, “Planned Parenthood is a vital resource for women and men from all walks of life, providing needed health care and support to millions of people all over the world. We are proud to do whatever we can to bring attention to their amazing work.”
Co-Editor Joe Corallo said, “The comics community is built on freelance labor that relies on the kind of access to healthcare that Planned Parenthood provides. We’re thrilled to see such a diverse group of people in the comics community coming together to support this essential cause.”
A Kickstarter campaign to help finance printing and distribution costs launches August 15th at 8:00 am EST. Mine! will be available in bookstores, comic book shops, and electronically all over the world.
Planned Parenthood is the nation’s leading provider and advocate of high-quality, affordable health care for women, men, and young people, as well as the nation’s largest provider of sex education. With more than 600 health centers across the country, Planned Parenthood organizations serve all patients with care and compassion, with respect and without judgment. Through health centers, programs in schools and communities, and online resources, Planned Parenthood is a trusted source of reliable health information that allows people to make informed health decisions. We do all this because we care passionately about helping people lead healthier lives.
ComicMix, LLC publishes a line of graphic novels by some of the best new and established talent in the industry. ComicMix Pro Services works with creators to produce, publish and market their work in a highly competitive marketplace. In addition, ComicMix runs one of the Internet’s most popular comics-oriented pop culture opinion and news sites.
Press inquiries and interview requests can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
This week I’m covering Scout Comics and Ben Kahn. Ben had self-published a comic titled Heavenly Blues which I had picked up a while back at Carmine Street Comics here in Manhattan. Since then, Scout Comics has picked up the series. I got the chance to talk with Ben about his comics career and having Heavenly Blues added to Scout Comics growing roster.
JC: Thank you for taking the time to chat with me about your new series at Scout Comics, Heavenly Blues! Before we get started, you’re a fairly new face to comics, at least in terms of being Diamond distributed. Can you tell us a bit about your writing career leading up to this?
BK: Of course. Heavenly Blues is my first series handled by Diamond, but my work in comics stretches back over twelve years. In high school, I worked on a webcomic that ran for around 700 strips between 2005 and 2012. It wasn’t much. I took video game sprites and used them to make comics in MSPaint and Photoshop. For a shock-comedy webcomic it was pretty successful, but that’s not exactly setting the bar very high. I loved working on the webcomic and making it taught me a lot about writing dialogue, but it eventually just kinda ran out of steam. A big part of that was I had started working on Shaman. Production on Shaman ran from 2011 to 2015, when it was released. Shaman was actually distributed by Diamond as a trade paperback. So Heavenly Blues is my first series in Diamond, but it’s not my first rodeo with them. While I was working on Shaman, I was also working as a writer and designer for a mobile game company. Don’t ask me what games I worked on, they were all terrible. But working on those games gave me the resources to make Shaman, so all’s well that ends well.
JC: I’d like to expand on what you were discussing regarding Shaman. As someone whose self-published before I understand how daunting of a feat that can be. How did you go about making that happen and what were the challenges and rewards for you?
BK: Making Shaman was one of the most difficult, and rewarding things I’ve ever done. It’s a five-chapter graphic novel that I worked on with Bruno Hidalgo (who is working with me again on Heavenly Blues) and was about a necromancer and his teenage daughter going on crazy adventures and bringing heroes and villains back to life. Think Hellblazer meets Rick & Morty. I was very lucky to work with Philly-based publisher, Locust Moon Press. They helped me put together a creative team, find artists for covers (including Farel Dalrymple, JG Jones, and Jim Rugg). Really, they taught me everything I know about making comics. To get the book actually printed and into stores, I had to do a Kickstarter campaign. The campaign was successful, but man was that the toughest month of my life. Kickstarter’s great. The stories and creative voices it’s empowered are truly something to behold. But man oh man am I happy that I don’t have to do another Kickstarter. I’m so proud of the work Bruno and I did on Shaman. It was my first real comic book, the first time I really got to see characters I imagined come to life. It was beyond rewarding, and not just because seeing your book in a store in between Saga and Spider-Man is the coolest thing ever.
JC: Okay, now onto Heavenly Blues! How did you come about thinking up this idea, and at what point did your collaborator Bruno Hidalgo join the project?
BK: The original kernel of an idea was an old Irish proverb “may you be in Heaven half an hour before the devil knows you’re dead.” It got me thinking of a heist on Heaven, where thieves had 30 minutes to break in and make the ultimate score. The story naturally moved away from that idea, but that’s where the idea of “heist in the afterlife” started. Rather than having present day, alive characters break into heaven, I realized that the characters could be much more varied and complex if they were already dead. Bruno came on board the very second there was a script done. He was the only artist I wanted to work with on this. There was almost no downtime between Shaman ending and Heavenly Blues beginning.
JC: Like Shaman, you went about self-publishing Heavenly Blues at first. Why did you decide on the self-publishing route for this series?
BK: Self-publishing was never the end goal. The idea was always to do a small print run to get the word out there while I pitched to publishers. Part of the reason I wanted to do a print run before pitching to publishers was to build up some early awareness and buzz. Judging by the existence of this interview, it worked! With Shaman, I wanted to have all five issues done before printing. But with Heavenly Blues, I decided to do a small print run of the individual issues. Part of this was wanting more content for conventions, and part was seeing just how easy it was when my life partner did it (Kathleen Kralowec of the wonder The Lion & The Roc webcomic).
JC: When did you decide to pitch the series around and why is Scout Comics the best home for Heavenly Blues?
BK: Pitching was always the plan. From day one, I wanted Heavenly Blues to have a real publisher. It was the same with Shaman. I pitched it to every comics publisher there was, but even though we got really close with some, it didn’t work out. But I pitched Shaman back in 2013 and 2014. And even though that feels like such a short time ago, the comic industry has really changed in just the last couple of years. There’s a whole new tier of publishers that just didn’t exist when I pitched Shaman. No Scout, no Black Mask Studios, no AfterShock Comics, no Vault Comics. Heavenly Blues simply entered a very different environment than Shaman did. I had a couple of publishers interested in Heavenly Blues, but Scout really impressed me from the get-go. Brendan Deneen and James Pruett have been fantastic to work with. Scout is young and hungry, and is putting out some really spectacular books like Solar Flare, Mindbender, InferNoct, and Girrion. It’s a library I’m very proud to be a part of.
JC: Some of the characters we see in Heavenly Blues are based somewhat on real people. What about those people and events in history inspired you to write this story?
BK: The nature of the story gives me access to all of history. I wanted to create the “ultimate” team of thieves and wanted to pull from the most iconic archetypes from around the world. I didn’t want to use real historical people though, I wanted more freedom in establishing their personalities and backstories. Some characters are based off more generic archetypes, like 16th-century ninja Hideki Iwata and ancient Egyptian grave robber Amunet. Others are inspired by more specific people. With the main character, Isaiah Jefferson, he’s a bank robber from the Great Depression. He very much follows in the John Dillinger model of the Criminal as Celebrity. Wild West outlaw, James ‘Coin Counter’ Turner, was based heavily on Doc Holliday with some notable differences (namely Coin Counter’s less than heroic morality and his queer sexuality). I think Erin Foley’s inspiration is the most interesting to me, as she doesn’t originate from a traditional ‘thief’ archetype. Instead, she comes from the character Pearl in Scarlet Letter. Scarlet Letter was one of my favorite books in high school, and I was excited at the opportunity to explore that kind of time period and culture.
JC: You tackle elements of Christianity in this story. Since that can be a sensitive subject for some people, how do you go about writing a story with a religious backdrop?
BK: Honestly, the religious aspect never really factored into it. I’m Jewish. Heaven and Hell were never presented to me in a religious context. The afterlife isn’t a big deal in Jewish culture. It’s almost never mentioned, and when it is there are very few details. When I was first told about Heaven and Hell, I had so many questions that there were no answers to. So Hell is just the torture dimension? Who decides who goes where? Does judgment change with modern morality, or is it fixed? Heaven and Hell never seemed like real places that people could exist in, so this is my attempt at answering those questions and creating an afterlife that feels, for lack of a better word, real. I think by now people have been exposed to dozens if not hundreds of depictions of Heaven and Hell that are relatively secular. And if someone is offended…*shrug*
JC: What comics and comic writers influence your work and made you want to get into comics in the first place?
BK: Oh man, I was just thinking about this today. Now I actually get to tell you my comics Mt. Rushmore: Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Brian K Vaughn, and Geoff Johns. They each influenced me in major ways. Vaughn’s Runaways was the first comic I ever read, Johns’ Green Lantern was my first superhero series I followed month to month, Gaiman’s Sandman inspired me to become a writer, and Morrison’s everything turned my reality into a fragmented kaleidoscope of dream time. I think comics are greatest creative medium ever invented. I think it’s the perfect union of incredible writing and incredible art. I think every medium has its specialties and what it does best, but what comics do better than anything else is depict the impossible. An epic battle of the gods among the cosmos is just as easy to depict as two people talking in a diner, maybe easier. There’s absolutely nothing that can’t be done in comics, and that inspires me every day.
JC: What advice can you give to all the self-publishers that may be reading this?
BK: What advice can I give? Be obsessed. Like, crazy obsessed. Unhealthily obsessed. Be prepared to forgo social events and spend ludicrous amounts of money on a creative team. You want a professional book? Gotta pay people a professional rate. There’s no cheat or shortcut. I truly believe comics aren’t something you can do unless you’re willing to throw absolutely everything you’ve got at it. But if you’re obsessed enough, that’ll be a price you’ll pay without a second thought.
JC: Thanks again for taking the time to chat with me! Where can people pre-order Heavenly Blues and do you have anything else you’d like to plug?
BK: Heavenly Blues is out in stores on July 26th, and the Diamond order code is MAY171769. You can find Shaman on ComiXology or on my Etsy store. My next convention is Five Points Comics Festival, so catch me there in New York this weekend on May 20-21st. And make sure to check out all the other great books from Scout Comics!
Forgive me, Constant Reader, but I am still somewhat hungover from my Eisner Awardsweekend. As evidence, I tell you that I have the new issue of one of my favorite titles, Bitch Planet, in my apartment, but I have not yet read it.
(I may read it during the course of writing this, because I plan to have lunch today. Stay tuned.)
My colleagues in this space, Emily Whitten and Mindy Newell, have already written about the great cast and the tight scripting. I want to talk about some aspects of the show that are more ephemeral.
I haven’t read American Gods since it was published in 2001, but I remember being knocked out by it. The story of a war was not that unusual, but the fighters were, battles between the old gods (from Europe and Asia and Africa, like Odin and Anansi and Star) and the new gods (technology, media, celebrity). I mean, I already loved Neil, both as a person and as a writer, and his previous novel, Neverwhere, had been fun, but I thought American Gods was a great leap forward. It had an empathy towards its characters that I found to be much more personal and nuanced than the previous book. In fact, I considered it to be downright politically radical.
All these years later, my memories of the story have faded. There are some vivid images, notably a vignette in a taxi cab, but I don’t remember a lot about the plot or the characters. I am old. I have a lot of characters already in my brain, and I try to prioritize remembering the ones in real life.
I was excited to sit down with my brand-new subscription to the Starz channel on Sunday night, a bit nervous because the early reviews I’d read all talked about how violent the series was. Sure enough, the opening scene looked like it had been dipped in henna. And yet, it didn’t give me the icks. Later, there was not only more blood, but walks through a forest filled with skulls, threatening skies and ominous, discordant music.
It wasn’t scary. It was quite lovely. And even though he hadn’t had anything to do with it (that I know about), it seemed like Dave McKean might have influenced the production design, at least for those scenes. They shared his sense of chaotic beauty.
The acting is terrific, and the casting superb. My foggy memories of the characters flash a bit, but I think I would relate to them just as much without reading the book. Even in the most dire circumstances, the actors seem to be having a great time, especially Ian McShane.
American Gods remains a political fable, albeit perhaps a different one than I read in 2001. My sympathies in the war among the gods remains with the older deities, although my mistrust of the whole lot of them is still strong. In this time, unlike the turn on the century, the war is also played out between the cities and the small towns, the coasts and the flat fly-over country. When there is a fight in a bar in the first episode, I have no doubt that the humans who watch are Trump voters.
Do I think that the old gods are Republicans and the new gods are Democrats? Hell, no. Neither do I think their worshippers divide up quite so simply. I think there are plenty of rural folks who love celebrities and smart phones. I think lots of urban hipsters would drink mead if it was offered. And I think all too many of us, no matter where we live or what we believe, would spill blood to get what we want.
This has been my first week with Starz. When I called my cable company to add it, I specifically told them I wanted it for American Gods. I see that they also have the new Ghostbusters. So I can have my Neil fix and Kate McKinnon without having to find the remote. That’s one less sacrifice to the tech gods.
So exhausted last night. And aggravated. Got stuck in a major traffic jam on the New Jersey Turnpike that was so bad I finally said fuck this, made an illegal u-turn, backtracked and got off the turnpike, and drove through side streets in Newark and Jersey City until I finally got home 3½ hours after I had left my starting point. By that time I had to pee so badly I was actually in pain, and I was cursing as I parked the car because I knew that at any minute I was going to wet my pants, and then of course, the straps on one of my bags broke and the contents went spilling all over the street, so by the time I actually got into my apartment building’s elevator I knew it was a lost cause, despite the Kegel’s, and yes, ladies and gentlemen, I wet my pants. The stream of urine warmed my upper thighs and my tuchas, and I cursed and at the same time felt so much physical relief.
Anyway, like I said, I was exhausted. I dropped everything I held in my hands to the floor in the hallway, went to the bathroom, tiredly cleaned myself up, threw my jeans and everything else down below into the laundry basket, put on my bathrobe, lay down on the couch, turned on the TV, and fell asleep. Out like a light. TV – the perfect lullaby.
And I woke up to Neil Gaiman in my living room. No, no, no, not that way. Neil is a married man, to the wonderful and amazingly talented musician Amanda Palmer. The TV was still on and there on the screen was Neil in the eponymous documentary Neil Gaiman: Dream Dangerously. I lay on the couch and watched for a while, memories flooding my head, watching Neil (whom I haven’t seen in a gazillion years) and other friends like Karen Berger and Heidi MacDonald (I haven’t seen them in a gazillion years, either), and then I finally got up, made my tea, turned on the computer, and started to write today’s column.
On Saturday I watched the first three episodes of Hulu’s adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, which is based on Canadian author Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel. Brilliant. Abso – fucking – lutely brilliant. And also horribly scary.
The scariest thing about it? The destruction of the United States of America happened so slowly, it was so normalized, that it wasn’t noticed until it was too late. In the third episode, “Late,” Offred (Elizabeth Moss) realizes she has awoken to the world, that “she was asleep before… Nothing changes instantaneously. In a gradually heating bathtub, you’d be boiled to death before you knew it.” We learn that the rights of citizens were suspended in the interests of national security – terrorism was blamed for the assassination of the President and the destruction of Congress, though the truth was far more ominous. Each “sacrifice” that followed was an incremental one, one made for the “greater good.” (The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few… or the one?) Until, finally, without realizing it, it was all gone. And it was too late.
“Having been born in 1939 and come to consciousness during World War II, I knew that established orders could vanish overnight. Change could also be as fast as lightning. ‘It can’t happen here’ could not be depended on: Anything could happen anywhere, given the circumstances.”
Including a “Baby Man” in the White House.
My theory on Trump’s “policies” always boiled down to this: “I’ll show him!” Everything about Trump, even his decision to enter the Presidential campaign, is that most simple reasoning of any child – or immature adult – who has been teased, made fun of, or otherwise embarrassed. He is determined to undo anything and everything President Obama enacted. All because the former President made fun of him at that White House Correspondent’s Dinner.
From “Trump Discards Obama’s Legacy, One Rule at a Time” (New York Times, May 1, 2017, by Michael D. Shear): “An obscure law known as the Congressional Review Act gives lawmakers 60 legislative days to overturn major new regulations issued by federal agencies. After that window closes, sometime in early May, the process gets much more difficult: Executive orders by the president can take years to unwind regulations – well beyond the important 100 – day yardstick for new administrations.
“So in weekly meetings leading up to Jan. 20, the Trump aides and lawmakers worked from a shared Excel spreadsheet to develop a list of possible targets: rules enacted late in Barack Obama’s presidency that they viewed as a vast regulatory overreach that was stifling economic growth.
“The result was a historic reversal of government rules in record time. Mr. Trump has used the review act as a regulatory wrecking ball, signing 13 bills that erased rules on the environment, labor, financial protections, internet privacy, abortion, education and gun rights. In the law’s 21-year history, it had been used successfully only once before, when President George W. Bush reversed a Clinton-era ergonomics rule.”
Hmm. My theory is proven.
Getting back to The Handmaid’s Tale and Margaret Atwood’s essay…
How responsible are we, all of us, for allowing Trump to sit in the big chair? How much did we normalize his campaign? Certainly the media didn’t help, covering every rally, every stupid fucking tweet, as if once again the burning bush was speaking to Moses on the slopes of Mt. Sinai. Ratings, baby, ratings. But ultimately, it was We, the People, who did it. I was talking to a Trump supporter during the campaign, someone in the health field, like me, and I asked him how he could support someone who made fun of a reporter with a physical disability? He answered, “Oh, he wasn’t making fun of that guy. Go online, watch him at other rallies. Trump always throws his arms around like that.”
Normalization. Seeing only what you want to see.
Are you fucking kidding me?
And now we, and the rest of the world, are in a “chicken fight” with North Korea. And we, and the rest of the world, are holding our collective breaths as two petulant children draw their lines in a sand and dare each other.
The Starz adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s award-winning novel American Gods is finally here, and having seen the first four episodes, I can tell you that, like Mad Sweeney in a bar fight, I am all in.
For those who haven’t read Gaiman’s novel, first published in 2001, it and the Starz adaptation featured are centered around an impending battle between two types of American gods – the “old gods” who crossed the seas from other countries with the immigrants who believed in them, and the “new gods” of technology, celebrity, drugs, and mass media that have gained in followers as belief in the old ways of life waned. The conflict is seen through the eyes of Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), a recently released convict who finds himself at loose ends after his old life falls apart, and becomes the personal assistant of the mysterious and charming Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane). Shadow’s adventures with Wednesday as they travel the country meeting Wednesday’s mysterious associates and gathering them for the coming war drives the plot as both the viewer and Shadow learn more about who Wednesday is and what he is up to.
In the beginning of the TV series, the story unfolds gradually because we are seeing it as Shadow experiences it. It mixes vivid dream sequences with Shadow’s quiet awe at experiencing vast expanses of scenery after his imprisoned life, but also with Wednesday’s more lively banter, which pulls Shadow out of himself. The style is decompressed and may require patience early on from those unfamiliar with the book, but it also allows you to really sink into the richly detailed storytelling that Gaiman does so well and that the production crew has brought to life.
These specifics serve to make this work of fantasy fiction feel oddly real – like this could certainly happen, if not to us, then at least to some other person somewhere. The first two episodes are a slow build, but as the pieces begin to slot in place for both Shadow and the audience, the pace quickens – as the weirdness Shadow is experiencing stacks up, and Shadow starts to accept that the world is not what he believed it to be. It’s possible that the introductory episodes may be a bit confusing for those who haven’t read the book, as a pantheon of characters is introduced pretty early on, sometimes only with hints about what gods or goddesses they portray; but I think that patience will pay off as things coalesce by episodes three and four.
After all, this is a show that, eventually, has everything – mystery, humor, weirdness, raw emotion, sex (and it’s varied and not censored, so be advised), creepy chills, heists and cons, immense sadness, over-the-top violence, angst, and the feel that we are simultaneously in the midst of an epic story, a small-town American experience, and a backwards buddy cop movie (given neither Shadow nor Wednesday is an entirely upstanding citizen). The show, like the novel, can be raw and pulls no punches and has some moments of epic melodrama (but hey – so do the gods themselves). It reflects harsh truths and ugly realities, and isn’t afraid to show the grimier, less beautiful side of humanity.
Yet already in four episodes there have also been several immensely beautiful and oddly peaceful scenes – and the way they fit together into the broader fabric of the story comes directly from Gaiman’s writing. His ability to meld humor and horror is also not lost in the screen adaptation, and viewers will experience an odd sense of fun even in the midst of dark happenings. Wednesday’s constant unpredictable behaviors, for example, bring to mind a crazy old grandpa, who messes with Shadow even in the middle of a bank heist because he gets a kick out of keeping him on his toes. And a scene where Shadow’s wife Laura Moon (Emily Browning) is reunited with her former best friend Audrey Burton (Betty Gilpin) is incredibly dark and pretty gross, but also absolutely hilarious in its absurdity.
Another striking thing about this show is how relevant the novel’s themes, as brought forward into this iteration, remain. The show addresses racism, cheating spouses, death, religious beliefs, sexuality and homosexuality, and more as the story unfolds. And at its heart, it addresses where we choose to put our faith, and the clash between traditions and values new and old. There is no question that, as when Gaiman wrote the novel, we still struggle with the conflicting pulls of living an authentic life while also being enmeshed in the sometimes overwhelming and disconnecting communications of modern media. And it is apparent in today’s political climate that America still struggles to reconcile varying and conflicting cultural beliefs with what this country is supposed to represent in democracy and equality. As Mr. Wednesday astutely notes, “[America] is the only country in the world that wonders what it is.”
For would-be viewers who are fans of the book, there is no question what this show is – it’s the best kind of adaptation. It’s deliciously satisfying to see the story we know so well come to life, remaining faithful to the narrative and the characters while keeping any adjustments that might need to be made for the transition to television from changing the dynamic or intention of the original. For example, episode four delves into the backstory of Shadow and Laura, and changes and additions are certainly made; but at the same time, that episode is so well-scripted and evocative, and fits so well with the earlier episodes, that it may be my favorite episode so far. In addition, the show is laden with details and chunks of dialogue, both large and small, that come directly from the novel and have been worked seamlessly into the screen version.
While keeping close to the details of the original, the stunning cinematography, effects, and music of the show are also exactly what’s needed to evoke the feel of Gaiman’s book. When Bryan Fuller and David Slade were first announced as two of the executive producers on American Gods, I began having high hopes for it, as their recent work together, Hannibal, had a uniquely creepy, dreamy, mysterious feel which lent a strange, unreal beauty to even the horror elements of grisly scenes. Given the variety of weird, mysterious, and surreal happenings that unfold for Shadow as he begins to realize that all is not what he thought, I knew a similar vision from these creators (along with Michael Green and others) could be a good fit for this story, and wondered if there even was anyone else who could successfully bring Gaiman’s vision to life.
And come to life it does in these first episodes. American Gods, both book and show, begins with a tangible atmosphere of foreboding. Shadow feels it as he waits to be released from prison; and viewers feel it through the clever use of techniques such as extreme attention to small details, as well as time lapse and then slow-motion videography; along with an excellently moody soundtrack that is mostly wordless and full of strange and unsettling notes. The depth and style of the soundtrack so far, while unique, also struck a familiar note (hah!) for me, which is unsurprising, given that Brian Reitzell, who is responsible for the music, was also responsible for the Hannibal soundtrack (which I discussed with him at SDCC 2013) and Fuller has spoken highly of his work. When the soundtrack does include popular songs, they are an exceptional fit for the scenes. For example, Lead Belly’s Where Did You Sleep Last Night and Bob Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall are both disquieting and in keeping with the small-town America feel that pervades the much broader, epic and wide-reaching story Gaiman is telling. And the use of Garbage’s Stupid Girl over a montage showing Shadow’s wife Laura’s dissatisfaction with her circumstances is brilliant.
The actors cast for the main roles are also brilliant, and embody Gaiman’s characters to a T. Whittle and McShane do a lot of heavy lifting as Shadow and Wednesday, playing perfectly off of each other as the quiet, distrustful ex-con and the sharp but slightly shady con-man who is more than he appears. Pablo Schreiber as Mad Sweeney, a nearly-seven-foot-tall leprechaun, is a delight to watch as he chews the scenery portraying the craziness of that character, who absolutely needs that larger-than-life energy to work. Yetide Badaki as Bilquis is introduced through what was probably one of the weirdest scenes in the novel and, I’d imagine, one of the hardest to shoot in the show. It’s super trippy, and doesn’t stint on the nudity, either – but Badaki handles it gracefully, making what could be a jarringly unreal scene seem intimate and acceptable.
Emily Browning masterfully portrays the flawed and fairly unlikeable Laura Moon in such a way that you at least appreciate how she remains her own person in a way that’s not necessarily nice but is very human. Betty Gilpin is fantastic as the distraught but also angry and snarky Audrey, trying to pick up the pieces after her world is shattered. Jonathan Tucker brings Low Key Lyesmith to life with sly, worldly humor in exactly the way I’d picture, and I can’t wait to see more from him. Bruce Langley as Technical Boy is appropriately off-putting, smarmy, and impersonal even as he’s being nasty. Orlando Jones as Mr. Nancy is harsh and in-your-face, with a rhythmic showmanship that is perfect for his role. Gillian Anderson as Media is both seductive and disconcertingly hollow. And Peter Stormare is absolutely perfect as Czernobog, evincing a sense of brutality and darkness even as he embodies his current role as a diminished god who once relished his work in the Chicago slaughterhouses.
Even as a fan of the book, I acknowledge that the first episode was slightly slow going as the drama began to unfold; but it still drew me in – and now that I’ve finished episode four, I’m no longer wondering whether this series is going to keep me hooked. The cast, the drama, the visuals, and the storytelling have all drawn me in, and I definitely want to see more.
And you can too, since the first episode of American Gods is airing on Starz right now!
So check it out, and until next time, Servo Lectio!