Tagged: Neil Gaiman

Mindy Newell: Success and Failure, Conclusion

 “All you can do is open up the throttle all the way and keep your nose up in the air.”

First Lieutenant Meyer C. Newell

P-51 Mustang Fighter Jock

Separated from his squadron, shot up and leaking hydraulic fluid somewhere in the skies over Burma

What is the measure of success? What is the measure of failure?

In the previous three columns, I’ve told you a little bit – well, quite a bit, actually, about early failures in my life. And for a very long time I let my, uh, lack of success, hold me back, drag me down. That old albatross had a permanent nest on my shoulder. The Fantastic Four may have visited the Negative Zone, but, guys, I lived there.

In my mid-thirties I was divorced and living with my parents. Alix was two or three. She was sleeping in a portable crib, I was sleeping on a cot in the den. And then one day – sometime in my late thirties, I think – I was driving with my father in the car. I don’t remember where we were going; I think he was driving me to an appointment with one of the numerous psychiatrists and therapists I had seen in an attempt to “figure out what was wrong with me.” Oh, that was fun, let me tell you. One doctor put me through a round of physical tests and blood work to see if there was a physiological reason for my “blues.” (Tests came back. I was perfect.) Another doctor gave me his trench coat, telling me to cover up my legs because he was getting sexually excited. I went to a therapy group for newly divorced women; all I remember of that is the woman whose husband regularly beat the crap out of her. “Jesus, honey,” we would all say, “get the hell out of there.” She would just start to cry and go on and on about how much she loved him until the hour was up. We never got to talk about anything else. There was one doctor who talked to me for five minutes and gave me a prescription for Valium, the drug of choice in those days for women on the edge of a nervous breakdown. I took one Valium, fell asleep for 18 hours and dumped out the bottle. A week later I got a bill for $500.00 for “services rendered.” I called him and told him I was sending him $50.00, and just try to take me to court. Never heard from him again.

The best, though, was the shrink who was an Orthodox Jew. He told me that the only thing wrong with me was that I wasn’t married, so “I should stop dating the goyim, marry a nice Yiddisher man, and have lots of babies.”

Anyway, back to that day in the car with my dad. We weren’t talking much, just bits here and there. Suddenly my dad started talking about a mission he had been on during WW II. It had been a bombing and strafing mission somewhere in Burma, the objective being to destroy the latest installment of the railroad the Japanese were building – see The Bridge On The River Kwai for reference. They had met a lot of resistance, and on one strafing run my father’s P-51 got hit up badly. One of the hydraulic lines was hit, and he couldn’t keep up with the rest of the squadron on their flight back to the base. They had to leave him.

“Wow, Daddy, what did you do?” I asked. (The answer is above.) And then he said, “Know what I’m saying?”

And the light bulb suddenly clicked on over my head, just like in the old Looney Tunes cartoons. “Thufferin’ Thuccosthasth!” I said. “I do!” (No, not really. I mean, yeah, the light bulb went on, but I didn’t suddenly start sputtering and slovering like Sylvester the Cat.)

I’m not saying that all of a sudden my life was a bed of roses and that everything was hunky-dory. No. Quite the opposite. It took finding the right therapist. It took swallowing my pride and starting on an anti-depressant. But mostly it took a lot of hard work, a lot of tears, a lot of self-recrimination. Most of all, self-forgiveness.

These days I wonder. All my failures – but were they really failures? Weren’t they just part of the pattern that’s made me who I am today? And any failures, any successes that I continue to experience will just add to that person who I will be tomorrow, next week, next month, next year or in a decade.

These days most people would say that my life is a success. Well, I don’t know about that, but if it is, it didn’t happen without failures, some my own, some caused by outside factors. For instance, two years ago I got laid off. (Yes, Virginia, registered nurses do get laid off these days.) It sucked. I cried. I ranted. I worked at a couple of hospitals I wouldn’t send my worst enemy to. (Well, maybe I would.) But I also went back to school and finished my BSN, opening up new doors for me.

As for my other career, the one in comics? A lot of people in the comics industry have commented and complimented me on my “ear for dialogue,” my ability to get into the heads of the characters I have written. Maybe that wouldn’t be true if I hadn’t lived the life I have lived. I probably would never have submitted a story to DC’s New Talent program. I wouldn’t have written When It Rains, God Is Crying, or Chalk Drawings with a certain mensch who goes by the name of George Pérez. I wouldn’t know Mike Gold or Martha Thomases or Len Wein or Karen Berger or Neil Gaiman. And I wouldn’t be here writing this column.

Black and White.

Stop and Go.

Yin and Yang.

Success and Failure.

The ups and downs of life.

TUESDAY MORNING: Can Michael Davis Possibly Still Be Black?

TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Can Emily S. Whitten Possibly Be Talking About Deadpool? 

Martha Thomases on Neil Gaiman and Alison Bechdel

As if to offer a bookend to last week’s column about Neil Gaiman and creativity, Amazon delivered Alison Bechdel’s new book, Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama. A companion to her harrowing and brilliant previous book, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, which was about her father’s life in the closet and eventual suicide, Are You My Mother is about her relationship with her mother, and the life of an artist.

I’ve been a huge fan of Bechdel’s work since I first saw her strip, Dykes to Watch Out For. The sense of humor on display here, making fun of the challenges facing those who aspire to change the world with their passion, fervor, and political correctness, mirrors my own. (If you, too, like Bechdel’s series, I can’t recommend The Complete Wendel enough because Howard Cruse is incredibly funny.) I know the people in the strip. I identified with these characters so closely that I would sometimes question my sexual orientation.

Are You My Mother isn’t funny. I mean, there are some laughs, but the story is about the struggle the artist faces when she tries to make art that is honest and meaningful and, with luck, lucrative enough to make a living. The struggle involves the women she loves, including her mother and her therapists. I’ve read some criticism of this book that centers on the sections about psychiatry, saying they are too literal, too heavy-handed. I didn’t find that to be true. I thought they reflected the artist’s zeal to find answers, to find ways to heal her pain.

Gaiman discussed the nuts-and-bolts of an artist’s life. He talked about what to do, what kind of jobs to take, how to deal with discouragement, and how to carry on. Bechdel describes the work, the really hard parts, where you have to dig and be honest, no matter what the consequences.

I don’t think these two perspectives are in conflict, nor do I think one is superior to the other. I think, in fact, both are saying the same thing: that to be an artist, one has to find one’s unique gift, and then one has to present it to the world. No one else has the same gift, so no one else can do your work for you.

For example, this week, I’ve been mesmerized by a begonia I planted on my terrace. It is red, with an orange undertone and a blush of rose. There is a gray spot on it, one that is probably the first bit of mortality. I cannot stop staring at it. Even when the sky is overcast, the petals seem to glow. I can’t tell you why this moves me so much. Perhaps, in a previous life, I was a queen in India, and my king presented me a jewel with the same tones. Perhaps I lost a beloved baby blanket with that color. It looks a bit like blood, thinned with lemon juice. I know that every writer I enjoy would find a different story to explain it.

As should I.

Gaiman and Bechdel are describing the same thing, but inside out from each other. Either way, it still fits.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman


Mindy Newell: Success And Failure, Part 1

I wasn’t sure what to write about this week. Then I read Martha’s column about Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, and I watched the video. Then I read Denny’s column about what it takes to get hired. So I thought I might put my two cents in by telling you a bit about my experiences with success and failure.

When I graduated from high school back in the dark ages, I didn’t really have a clue what I wanted to do. No, that’s not it exactly. I knew I was going to college because… well, it was what was expected of nice Jewish girls of a certain economic class. I had some vague idea about going to medical school; mainly, I think now, because when I was young I would tell the adults who asked that I was going to be a neurosurgeon – they always laughed when I said that, that I distinctly remember – but don’t ask me why I picked that particular specialty. Maybe because of Ben Casey, or maybe because I just liked the sound of the word itself. Anyway, that autumn I would be off to Quinnipiac College – it wasn’t yet a university in 1971 – as a biology major, because that seemed a good idea for someone who wanted to be a doctor. Quinnipiac wasn’t even my first choice; that was Boston University and the College of Nursing.

My parents were proud of me.

My friends were impressed.

My boyfriend tried to warn me.

But me?

I was just along for the ride.

My first semester at Quinnipiac was a disaster. Besides the usual freshman blues, gaining 10+ pounds, and having a stick for a roommate, I hated my classes. It was all hard science and math, and my professors were incredibly boring. Except for English 101. My professor was a hippie and the textbook was the Playboy College Reader, and no, it did not contain the Playmates of the Months. It was chock full of the truly great and weird and fascinating articles, stories, and interviews found within Playboy – yes, they are really in there, folks. I read stories by Harlan Ellison and Isaac Asimov and Philip Roth. I read interviews with Alex Haley and Timothy Leary and Ken Kesey. There were articles about the Vietnam War, Black Power, and Richard Nixon’s administration. My professor led us in fascinating discussions and I got to write some really cool papers on some really far out subjects.

Without telling my parents, I switched my major for the second semester to English with a minor in Women’s Studies. I took Introduction to Science Fiction and An American History of Women along with other rockin’ classes. I started to feel really good about myself – successful – and lost the 10+ pounds.

Then I came home for the summer and all hell broke loose.

“English?” my mother scoffed. “What are you going to do with that?”

“Women’s Studies?” my father yelled. “What, you need to go to school to learn how to be a woman?”

“You’re not going back,” they both said. “You’re going to go to work and learn the value of a dollar.”

To their eyes I was a failure.

And my mirror backed them up.

To be continued…

TUESDAY MORNING: Michael Davis’s Head Hurts

TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Emily S. Whitten’s Fangirl Tribulations


Martha Thomases: Neil Gaiman – And Failure

If you haven’t already seen this video, rush right over here and listen to Neil Gaiman give a commencement address at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia last week. In his inimitably charming manner, Neil advises the new graduates on how to approach a life in the arts.

He is wise and he is insightful, and he inspires me to riff on a few of his tenets. And, because I’m me, I’m going to quibble with another.

The best thing he says is the scariest: Fail. You can’t be an artist if you don’t fail, frequently and spectacularly. You have to make mistakes, and you have to make them in public, or it least in front of an editor or a curator or a choreographer or a director who will be a witness. If you don’t make mistakes and fail, you don’t test your limits, you don’t discover who you are and what kind of art you are capable of creating.

It’s not enough to just make mistakes, or we would all be successful artists. You also have to learn from the mistakes you’ve made. Sometimes the lesson isn’t obvious – Neil describes how he misspelled the name “Caroline” as “Coraline” and thus was born a brilliant story – but if you don’t learn, you’ll keep making the same mistake, expecting it to suddenly produce success. And then you are an executive in the DC marketing department, not an artist.

He also talks about not taking jobs just to make money, which is a fearless thing for a young artist to attempt. Money is important, especially when you don’t have any. It pays for rent and food. It allows you to clothe yourself so you are presentable and can get other jobs. Sometimes the artist has children at home, and a hungry baby really doesn’t understand why artistic integrity is a thing. Like making mistakes, this is where the true nature of the artist is revealed. You can make the sacrifices for your art, and learn from them, as you learned from your failures. Maybe you’ll learn that the life of the artist isn’t for you.

That’s no disgrace. That’s real life.

And now, here’s my quibble. Neil tells the kids in the audience that, whatever happens to them, they should “make good art.” If the cat dies, “make good art.” If you lose a leg, “make good art.” If you can do it in the bad times, you can do it in the good times.

I’m in favor of good art. There should be more of it. However, one of my personal demons, when I sit down to write, is the fear that my work isn’t good enough. I’m much better off attempting to make art, without sweating whether or not it meets anyone’s standard of “good.” A writer writes because she has to write. An artist makes art because she has to make art.

“Good” comes with luck, practice, inspiration and skill.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman


Dennis O’Neil: What It Takes To Get Hired

The faithful among you may recall that last week we did a backflip through time to the sixties and beheld a young journalist taking a test and being offered a comic book job that changed virtually everything about his life forever. But this same journalist, now wizened and hard of hearing and just a bit crotchety around the edges, said that no comics aptitude test exists. Eh?

That was then and this is now. To the best of my knowledge, I am the only Marvel Comics employee, past or present, to take the test. I got to know both my predecessor and my successor in the job, and neither mentioned pre-employment testing.

But people do get hired by comics companies. So – how? Darned if I know. When I sat behind an editor’s desk, I did my share of job-giving, both to hopefuls applying for staff gigs and to freelancers, and usually my choices were pretty good-to-excellent. If I had a secret, I don’t know what it was. Something to do with hunches and intuition, maybe.

But there were things I liked to see in applicants. First: simple literacy. Does this person know that the big letter goes at the beginning of the sentence and the little dot goes at the end? (Don’t laugh. Instead, ask any middle school-and-up teacher you know if all his/her pupils have this competence.) Has s/he read a book or two? Did s/he enjoy reading the book or two? Second: interest in writing (and/or editing) per se? Not just writing comics – storytelling! Until I’m proven wrong, which could happen any second now, I’ll believe that most good comics writers are writers who have a liking or aptitude (or, ideally, both) for this particular medium and if comics didn’t exist, the person would be doing poems or plays or short fiction or novels or whatever.

We’ll take a paragraph break here, mostly because I feel like doing it, and move on to third: willingness to learn. Nobody knows it all, and that includes you and me, and nobody will ever know it all, but you can know more than you do now and if you want to get good at this job, or any job, you should. (Besides, its fun to know stuff. But don’t tell the no-child-left-behind crowd.)

And finally, fourth: Does the job applicant seem to be a reasonably adult human being?  Willing and able to deliver on promises? Willing to accept compromise? Able to play well with others? Respecting but not worshipping the rules, whatever they may be? Having a closetful of Brooks Brothers suits and Hermes ties?

Just joshing about that last one.

I’m tempted to add a fifth: loyalty. But that’s something you learn about someone over time and so it’s hard to detect during a job interview and anyway, my veneration of it is probably rooted in my own insecurities.

Recommended reading: Crazy Wisdom Saves the World Again! by Wes Nisker

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases, Neil Gaiman, and Failure


Mindy Newell: The Agony And The Ecstasy Of Writing

Ah, the joys of writing.

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

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

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

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

”Yes, sir,” I said. “Yes, ma’am.”

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

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

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

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

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

Fiction as primal scream therapy.

Tuesday Morning: Michael Davis Continues With His Black Thing!

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


Dennis O’Neil: Comic Book Career Day

I leaned across the desk and shook his hand.

“Congratulations, young man,” I said. “You scored in the ninety seventh percentile on the comic book writing aptitude exam and so you’re my new Batman writer. I’ll need twenty-two pages by the end of the week.”

He smiled and left my office. A moment later, I glanced through the open door and saw him waiting for the elevator, straightening his tie. From forty feet away I could admire the gleam on his shoes.

Okay, it didn’t happen that way, or any way like that. It couldn’t, because there is no aptitude exam for aspiring comics writers. There is, as a matter of woeful fact, no defined career path, and if there were one, it would probably be changing about now.

But the god of full disclosure, if such there be, compels me to admit that, matter of fact, once there was a test for comics writing wannabes and I took it and I passed and that explains my life from about age 25 on. Roy Thomas, who had recently joined Stan Lee at Marvel Comics, sent the test to me at the office of the small newspaper where I was working and pissing people off. It consisted of four pages drawn by, I’m pretty sure, Jack Kirby, a piece of a comic book that was lacking words. The task was to add word balloons and maybe captions. Well, wouldn’t you have done it? Simple, easy, kind of fun. I typed something or other and sent it to Roy and late one evening a week or so later, he called offering me a job. I got into my battered station wagon and started trekking east…

I can’t say that I began a career in comics because I don’t consider what I’ve done a “career.” That term – career – implies planning and goals and maybe a timetable.  None of that for me, thank you. It was catch-as-catch-can, a series of jobs, meeting the right people at the right time, screwing up, being given second chances, getting fired, getting hired, finally settling into a position that was everything a butcher’s kid from north St. Louis could ask for and retiring still young enough to get angry at politicians.

So I am not the guy you come to for advice on how to become the next Neil Gaiman or Frank Miller or pick your personal favorite comic book success story. I didn’t do what those guys did and maybe I couldn’t do what those guys did. But will that stop me from pontificating on the subject? Who you talking to?

Ergo: next week I’ll share with you the paltry few strategies I employed when my various editorial gigs required me to hire staff members or freelance creative types.

The thrills just keep coming…

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases is Whedon Out Women


Martha Thomases: The Farmer and the Cowman Should Be Friends

As a child growing up, I loved cartoons. At that time (the 1950s and early 1960s), that’s a bit like saying that I loved breathing. There were cartoons on Saturday morning, and cartoons every afternoon. The movie theater near my Grandmother’s house had Saturday matinees that were three hours of cartoons.

But I loved comic books more.

My husband, John Tebbel, was the first animation maven I ever met. He not only knew the difference between Disney and Warner Brothers, but he knew the individual directors, and quickly taught me how to spot Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnson. He explained who the Fleischer Studio was and why I should care.

We went to animation festivals in Ottawa, Canada and Annecy, France. I saw films by George Dunning that weren’t Yellow Submarine. I met Bill Scott and June Foray. We would go to the Jay Ward store when we were in Los Angeles.

Naturally, I tried to share my love of comic books. My success rate was lower. He liked Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman. He loved Kyle Baker. Milk and Cheese made him laugh out loud. Still, he never quite got the superhero thing.

I’m not writing to celebrate two geeks in love. I’m writing about how sometimes, we let our differences divide us. Do you like Marvel or DC? The Big Two or independents? Broadcast or cable?

We defined our affection for two art forms that were graphic storytelling. One moved and one didn’t. One had finite time limits and one didn’t. Each of us, with our affection for our chosen art, could appreciate the other’s favorite.

I would like our political discourse to work at this level, but that isn’t going to happen as long as there is so much money and power involved. However, if there is anything that would make my husband’s life more significant, it would be if we could each of us share our love for pop culture with the rest of the world. Instead of fighting over which piece of the pie is the biggest or the best, we could have more pie.

John liked pumpkin. I prefer blueberry.


SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman



I’ve seen the light.

I’ve seen the future of comics.

I had a meeting yesterday with a company that is going to change the game on the net and can change for comics and creators. I’ve haven’t been this excited since I was 17 and my very first real girlfriend Yvonne Stallworth said, “My parents won’t be home until the morning.”

At 17you know what that means, right fellas?

Poon tang…yeah.

Or in my case spending the night saying; “Please…please…please.”  Before you think I was begging for poon tang; “Please, Please, Please” is the title of a James Brown song I was singing… as I was begging for poon tang.

I can’t talk about the company or what they are doing…no that’s not true, I can talk about it but I’m hedging my bets just in case I’m wrong…which, by the way, I’m not.

That way if they crash and burn I’m protected and if they succeed I’m golden!

All the above said, I’m at a lost as to what was the last game changing moment in comics.

I guess it was the New 52 from DC.

I guess.

I’m not sure because to say something is a game changer is a big deal. Because it’s such a big deal I started thinking, what does it take to be a real game changer?

This is what I came up with. Areal game changer is a person or event that creates a new way of looking at things and years later that way has become the way.

So, with my personal criteria noted what follows are what I consider the most important game change decisions or people who have done so since I’ve been reading comics. You may disagree and if so feel free to amend, add or challenge some or all of my choices.

This list is in NO particular order.

  • Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man
  • Image Comics
  • Jack Kirby
  • Stan Lee
  • Dwayne McDuffie
  • First Comics
  • Mike Gold
  • Milestone Media
  • Death of Captain Marvel
  • Death of Superman
  • The New 52
  • The iPad
  • The Killing Joke
  • Crisis on Infinite Earths
  • Secret Wars
  • Death of Barry Allen
  • Neil Gaiman’s Sandman
  • Neil Gaiman
  • Kirby’s fourth world
  • Death of Gwen Stacy
  • Dave McKean
  • Bill Sienkiewicz
  • San Diego Comic Con International
  • Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles
  • Alan Speiegal
  • Arkham Asylum
  • Paul Levitz
  • Jenette Kahn
  • Axel Alonzo
  • Howard Chaykin
  • Dark Horse
  • Mike Richardson
  • Len Wein
  • Marv Wolfman
  • The A.P.E convention
  • John Jennings

Like I said the above list is in no particular order. Don’t send me comments about McFarlane being before Stan Lee, the list is in no particular order.


Now. Have at it!




What goes into making a memorable character for a story?

According to Lawrence Block, author of over one hundred novels and recipient of the Grand Master award from the Mystery Writers of America, they must be three things: plausible, sympathetic, and original.

I think that’s a damn good definition of what makes a character real. Except that I think Mr. Block used the wrong word. It’s not “sympathetic,” it’s “empathetic.” Now, sympathy and empathy are kissing cousins, but sympathy, I think, allows the individual to separate from the character just a bit, to feel for the character while still allowing for some separation – six degrees of separation, if you will. Empathy, on the other hand causes the individual to feel with the character– it’s the recognition of self in someone else.

Without that recognition, without that empathy, the character is in danger of falling flat, of eliciting a “who cares?” response. The great characters are empathetic – Scarlett O’Hara of Gone With The Wind, the Joad family (especially Tom and “Ma”) of The Grapes Of Wrath, Vito and Michael Coreleone of The Godfather, Caleb Trask of East Of Eden, Joe and Kirsten Clay of Days Of Wine And Roses, Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, King George VI in The King’s Speech.

In comics there is Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and his sister, Death, the X-Men’s Max Eisenhardt/Erik Lensherr/Magneto and Jean Grey/Phoenix (Dark and “Light”), Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Mary Jane Watson, Selina Kyle/Catwoman, and Sue Storm/The Invisible Woman. Of course there are more; I just chose those characters that appeared at the top of my head as I write this. You will have your own characters that engender empathy.

Originality is hard.  The history of storytelling begins when our ancestors first sat down around the fire and told tales to ward off the dark night. The history of storytelling is ripe with heroes and villains, love and betrayal, valor and cowardice. Originality, I think, comprises the total picture. As Block says in his book Telling Lies For Fun And Profit, “it’s not the quirks that make an enduring character, but the essential personality which the quirks highlight.” In other words, and like I said, it’s the whole picture, the complete character or individual that makes him or her an original.

Norma Desmond’s quirk is her inability to adjust to age and talkies, to realize and accept that time, and Hollywood, has marched on. Tom Joad’s quirk is his inability to accept injustice, even if it causes him to murder, which he sees as no injustice. Vito Coreleone’s quirk is to see the world as an “us against them” scenario, to nurture the family while attacking the world. Michael Coreleone’s quirk is to talk of love and loyalty to the family while he destroys it.  Swamp Thing’s quirk is that he is a plant trying to be a man. And Death loves life, even as she takes it away.

Plausibility allows the reader to suspend his or her disbelief, to accept that the actions of the character are true and real and acceptable. Now in comics, of course, plausibility is a two-edged sword. Of course we know that nobody can fly; nobody is invulnerable or runs at supersonic speed; no one can turn invisible or survive the explosion of a gamma bomb (except Bruce Banner, of course!) But as readers of superhero comics, we willingly suspend our disbelief, the implausibility of the character, before we even open the book. Why? Well, I think it has something to do with the capturing of our imagination, the “what if?” factor that I wrote about several months ago. But I also think that the other factors mentioned above play a role in our acceptance of Superman or Rogue. Empathy: “I get it. I know what it’s like to be Rogue, to be unable to really touch someone, to really get close to someone.” Or “Yeah, sometimes I feel like Kal-El, a stranger in a strange land.”

I watched Game Change on HBO. The movie is based on Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime, by John Heilemann of New York magazine and Mark Halperin of Time. Both men are seasoned politically analysts, and their book, which was released on January 11, 2010, is an inside look at the Presidential campaign of 2008. The HBO movie focuses on Palin, played by Julianne Moore, from the moment the McCain campaign decides to ask her to be his running mate to Obama’s running mate.

The movie is riveting. Moore buries herself completely into the role, and I’m guaranteeing right now that she wins an Emmy for her performance. Sarah Palin is, without a doubt, love her or hate her, an original. She is empathetic – and sympathetic – as she works to maintain her sense of self and, love them or hate them, her own beliefs against the McCain and Republican political machinery.

But is she plausible? The movie shows that, as far as being capable of being “one heartbeat away from the Presidency,” Palin was an implausible candidate. But don’t tell that to the huge – and I mean huge – groundswell of love and support she engendered.

Yesterday afternoon I went to my local comic book store, Vector Comics, to pick up my haul. Joe and Tina, the terrific and wonderful owners of the shop, were busy with other customers, so I browsed through the stacks to see if anything not on my list that caught my interest. (Actually, almost everything piques my appetite, and if I allowed myself to buy everything I want, I couldn’t pay the rent!)

Know what I found? The Sarah Palin comic from Bluewater Comics.

What a character!

TUESDAY: Michael Davis