A few weeks back I made mention of my newfound love of my local comic shop. And in rekindling a relationship with them, I was torn with what to do with my old comic shop. You see, the manager of the establishment is a longtime friend and colleague whose opinion on good quality pulp and paper I covet. So, I came to an agreement. From my local shop I would establish my subscription box with “the big two” cape books — Batman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Titans, Captain America, and so on. And on the other side of that comic coin, I issued a challenge to my friend:
Take the $20 I would have given you for my subscription box, and turn it into any other books you think I’d like. Just nothing mainstream per say.
Well, a few weeks ago, I got my first custom crate if you will. In it, came the entire run of #1 issues from DC’s newly christened Young Animal imprint (and a pair of other books unrelated to fully spend the $20). Eric, said manager-friend, did his homework well. He knew I’d long been a fan of the Grant Morrison years of Doom Patrol, and with that, made the choice to show me what a full line as directed by Gerard Way would look like.
So, what of Doom Patrol? As penned by Way himself, I’m left (ironically) between diametric opinions. I truly either loved the book or I loathed it. Nearly a month since cracking it open, with several rereads has yet to solidify my thoughts. Way clearly loves the Morrison years as much as I, but in doing so he creates a book that offers as much new content as it relies on obscurer-than-obscure references throughout the thin read. By books’ end I had a sense of where we’re headed, without any idea what (if any) the stakes are. As a number one, the issue skates by on style points enough to warrant a second issue buy for sure. Will I be getting it? No.
Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye is Vertigo to a tee. Gerard Way also writes this book, wherein a retro-futuristic spelunker of yore has recently lost his wife but gained a new ocular outlook on life. Unlike DP, this one is weird, but grounded solidly. Cave Carson himself is maudlin, but thanks to slick art by Jon Rivera, the panels breeze by. Because I have a strong feeling (and truly no urge to Wikipedia about it further) that the book is dusting off a silver age concept, there’s that quintessentially Vertigo vibe to the proceedings. Darkness around the edge of a hipster plotline? Sure, count me in. The added pocket of mysteries — the wheres, whys, whats, and hows of the titular eye — would certainly give me reason to see it through a few more episodes.
Shade The Changing Girl is penned by Cecil Castellucci and is the wild trip Gerard Way perhaps wishes he’d written himself. Taking cues from the Shade, the Changing Man — itself a dusted-off ditty from one of the first Vertigo-rounds — the Girl takes the basics of the brand and boils them in some serious acid. What we get, in its best parts, is the sheep of CW drama in a Vertigo wolf’s clothing. When a braindead mean girl is reanimated by a dimensionally-traversing bird-man who has appropriated some Shade-Tech, the result is psychedelic in media res of epic proportions. The book is a rough read in all the right ways. Its concepts are challenging enough to remain engaging despite the off-kilter kitsch of being weird for weirdness sake – which itself is a Vertigo trademark, as far as I’m concerned. Suffice to say, with a blissful balance as presented of properly pretty/trippy art Shade was the biggest standout to me of the line.
Last and least comes Mother Panic. Jody Houser delivers a Tarantino-esque revenge porn comic wherein a wealthy socialite stalks Gotham on the fringes Batman misses to punch bad men in the dicks until the crime is solved. Forgive my blunt snark. Mother Panic is a sludge-dirty book that seems to be joyless in the face of its Young Animal brethren.
The plot – revolving around our hero trying to pin down an artist-cum-serial-killer – is rote enough to have been back-burner fodder from a spec script of Hannibal. The titular heroine is mean, nasty, and nasal throughout. And her Rom: The Space Night pajamas may look striking on the cover of the book, but read as a half-thought mid-panel. Where Cave, Doom Patrol, and Shade each combined darker and mature themes into their retro-tinged panels, Mother Panic is a gothic melodrama with no light to be seen; save only for the Jim Krueger / Phil Hester backup piece which delivers at least one laugh before toppling into gritty grizzle for the sake of blackity blackness. Color me unimpressed.
But… I digress.
Pair those four books with two other indie gems (tied together as Eric denoted: all written and/or directed through the lens of a rock and roller), and you paint me a more-than-satisfied customer. Young Animal was off-the-beaten path enough for me to feel that hipster vibe I was searching for when I came up with the challenge. My best advice to you: befriend your local pulp slinger, and throw down the gauntlet yourself. I’m certainly a better fan for doing it. Let’s reconvene in a month and see what box #2 will hold!
As much as I would like to spend this column and all of my writings for the foreseeable future on what happened this election and its consequences, I’ll be returning to comics this week as this is what I and everyone at ComicMix signed up for. If I feel it’s applicable down the line, you better believe I’ll be writing about it here.
I’ve dedicated more than a few of my columns to the new Doom Patrol and to DC’s Young Animal imprint. Everything I had written about prior to today has been speculative regarding Young Animal as a whole. Now that at least one issue of all four series under the Young Animal banner have been released, I’d like to discuss my thoughts on the imprint so far.
For those less familiar, DC’s Young Animal imprint is “curated” by musician and Eisner Award winning writer Gerard Way, those titles being Doom Patrol, Shade The Changing Girl, Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye, and Mother Panic. Doom Patrol is the flagship title and what Gerard Way had originally pitched. Shade is an update of Peter Milligan’s Shade The Changing Man at Vertigo, which was an update of Steve Ditko’s original concept in the late 1970s. Cave Carson is an obscure DC side character who’s never had his own series before. Mother Panic is a new character created by Gerard Way, Jody Houser, and Tommy Lee Edwards.
After reading three issues of Doom Patrol, two issues of Shade, and one of both Cave Carson and Mother Panic a few things have become very clear. These comics are all character pieces. They’re very much driven by one character in each series, with Doom Patrol’s focus shifting somewhat while keeping Space Case in primary focus.
Some of this works. In a lot of ways this approach is also necessary. These are characters most comic readers aren’t as keenly aware of. Mother Panic is entirely new, though taking place firmly in Gotham.
My problem with the stories so far is they lack strong antagonists. There is no singular villain that shakes me to my core. The stakes in a lot of what I’ve read so far haven’t really been fleshed out. Space Case has some vague danger and weirdness following her, but we don’t really know to what extent and what’s at stake. Shade had aliens that seem to kind of be looking for her, but we aren’t really all that sure yet how that’s going. Cave Carson’s eye is causing him problems, but, again, there is no clear antagonist. The closest we get to a clear antagonist is in Mother Panic, and even then little time is spent on her.
Now to be clear, I do really like strong character pieces where other elements of the story become secondary. This is only a problem for me as this is prevalent in all four titles. If I feel like I’m getting more of the same across four titles, it’s easier for me to be willing to drop one as time goes on.
We are also getting more of the same across all these titles in that they are all about straight cis white women – with the exception of Cave Carson, who is a straight cis white man. This by itself isn’t inherently bad. However, DC Comics has been trying to expand its readership and I’m not entirely sure I’m seeing how this will end up doing so in the long run. They’ve been doing a good job in terms of pumping out plenty of comics with straight cis white women or now some bi cis white women with Wonder Woman and Harley Quinn. I don’t see how creating another white hero in Gotham is a step forward or a tool to garner new readers.
I know it may sound like I can’t be enjoying these books if I’m being critical about them. That’s not the case; I have been enjoying these comics overall. If anything, I wish more of the main DC titles took up some elements of these books. They’re often weird and deal with alienation and other feelings that either aren’t tackled in other DC Comics. The art is expressive at best and different at worst. The characters do all stand out and were fleshed out well from their debut issues. I do plan on continuing to read them for the foreseeable future.
That being said, DC Comics and others need to be more considerate about the future. I know I said I wasn’t going to talk about the election and its aftermath, but this does feel applicable. Now more than ever comics are going to need to step up. We have elected a bigot to the highest office in the land who has already appointed a bigger bigot as his top adviser. We need imprints that aren’t as white. Imprints with more diverse characters and more diverse creators. Outside of Tamra Bonvillain, nearly everyone involved with Young Animal is straight cis and white. And while I do commend them on the amount of women working on the imprint and the amount of women that are leads in the comics they’re putting out, we need more than that. We need not just white women, but people of color, queer people, and non-Christians feeling welcome and accepted. Feeling they can be superheroes too.
There are plenty of places to start. DC Comics controls the characters and universe from Milestone Media and doesn’t seem to be doing anything with that. Now is the time to do something. Marvel Comics seems to be onto something having Ta-Nehisi Coates help to bring people in to expand their Black Panther universe. Joe Illidge has been working hard over at Lion Forge to start Catalyst Prime, a series of superhero titles with both diverse characters and creators set to debut next year. We can only hope other comic publishers will be able to learn a thing or two from what Catalyst Prime will be and I hope for their success.
I’d be more than happy for more pop up imprints like Young Animal. I do think Gerard Way is doing something good. We just need more and different things as well. We need comics important to other audiences.
Here’s an idea: give Grace Jones a pop up imprint. I don’t know what she’d do, but I can tell you right now I’d read it.
I started writing a weekly column here at ComicMix a year ago today. The past year I’ve given my thoughts on a number of issues focusing in particular on diversity in comics. Those issues have often involved LGBTQ representation. I’m going use this column to highlight some of the topics I’ve covered, see if anything has changed or if any predictions I had made turned out to be true and maybe add in an anecdote or two.
The second column I wrote for ComicMix was about Coagula, DC Comics first and only trans superhero. A lot has happened this past year as far as Coagula is concerned. She went from being an obscure character created by Rachel Pollack from a still uncollected run of Doom Patrol, a long cancelled series with seemingly little hope of being brought back as a monthly comic to being the flagship title for Gerard Way’s Young Animal imprint. Additionally, Gerard Way has stated he wants to bring Coagula back in his run. I can’t stress to all of you enough how great it’s been see this series of events unfold.
Another early column was regarding Alysia Yeoh, Barbara Gordon’s trans friend, getting married. Though there was a lot of press around that and Alysia Yeoh seemed to be gaining some interest from fans the character, one of the incredibly few trans characters that DC Comics has, faded into obscurity.
I spent no less than twocolumns discussing my displeasure with Iceman being outed. It’s been a long time since I discussed it so I thought I’d follow up on that. It took until All-New X-Men #13 for Iceman to pursue men and not just talk about coming out to someone. He embarrasses himself in a gay bar, runs out and runs into a guy named Romeo (I’m not kidding) who happens to be an Inhuman. I guess they wanted to make sure that character was named Romeo to make sure you’d get that Marvel is borrowing from Shakespeare here. The poor handling of Iceman being gay would almost be funny if it wasn’t so sad. It’s somehow managed to be worse than I even thought it was going to be, and I came in with low expectations.
Bi-erasure came up a few times discussing characters like Constantine who was being portrayed as straight in the now-cancelled NBC series and Marvel’s Hercules being portrayed as straight despite the character’s history of bisexuality. Bi-erasure came up again as Harley Quinn was portrayed as straight in the Suicide Squad movie and most recently with Gal Gadot confirming that Wonder Woman would be portrayed as straight for the 2017 film. If you want a bisexual Wonder Woman, stick with Greg Rucka for now.
I still don’t think Poe and Finn from Star Wars: The Force Awakens are in love with each other.
When David Bowie passed away early in the morning of January 11th, I had tossed out my previously planned column (with editor Mike Gold’s permission) and wrote about how much David Bowie had meant to me over the years. One story I had forgotten to include was the one and only time I was in the same room as David Bowie. I was seeing a Nine Inch Nails at Hammerstein Ballroom here in New York with my friend Jake back in 2005 with the Dresden Dolls opening. After they opened up in VIP balcony seating above us came out Chris Rock, Marilyn Manson, and David Bowie. The standing room crowd started chanting just being in Bowie’s presence. It got so loud and disruptive that he opted to get up and leave until the house lights went off so as not to draw attention away from Nine Inch Nails. Real classy guy. If you’re unfamiliar, give his album Station to Station a try.
Back in June, AfterShock Comics announced a new series, Alters, written by Paul Jenkins with art by Leila Leiz. The principle character, Chalice, is a trans woman and the hook for the series is “She can only be herself when she’s not herself.” I wrote about my reservations and the red flags I saw from reading the write ups. Paul Jenkins reached out to me and we conducted an interview for the following week. I want to stress that Paul was very polite and agreed to all the questions asked without any hesitation. Now that issue #1 is out we’ve seen the comic be met with mixed reviews, many of which unfortunately reaffirm my reservations based on the initial announcements. Paul Jenkins has done some incredible work including his Marvel Knights run on Inhumans which I can’t recommend highly enough, but the missteps in Alters would be hard to make a course correction on at this point, at least as far as I can tell.
Oh, and I took issue with Simon Pegg making Sulu gay in Star Trek Beyond against George Takei’s wishes even after asking George Takei first. It sounded like a cheap publicity stunt for some free marketing that backfired. Now that the movie is out, it happens that Sulu didn’t even get to kiss his husband in this movie who’s already barely in the film so it turns out I was right to be cynical about it. That column led to the liveliest discussion I’ve had on Facebook about anything I’ve written for ComicMix. Even more than that time I said we don’t need Iron Fist.
That about sums up my summing up of my first year as a columnist here at ComicMix. I’d like to thank Martha Thomases for suggesting me as columnist in the first place, Mike Gold for going with that suggestion, having faith in me to deliver on a weekly basis and for acting as a sounding board and mentor over the past year, and everyone else at ComicMix for being welcoming and supportive over the past year. Most of all, I’d like to thank everyone who’s been reading this column over the past year for your time and support.
I hope you’re as excited for what the next year will bring as I am.
DC in the 80s is a Webzine for the DC Comics Fans with an affinity for 80s comics. It’s fun, upbeat and engaging. Justin Francoeur and Mark Belkin keep the fan fires burning with wit and a great degree of nostalgic professionalism. I’m fascinated by the their endeavor, so I reached out to discuss it with them.
Ed Catto: Can you tell me a little bit about the site and how it came about?
Justin Francoeur: My formative years of comic book reading were during the early 80s to the early-to-mid 90s. Roughly six years ago, there wasn’t much on the Internet about DC Comics from the 80s (or it was scattered all over the place and not easy to find) so I decided to make a tumblr blog specifically spotlighting the house ads of that era. There were a lot of ‘buried gems’ in that time period and my goal was to identify them and discuss the interesting history behind them. It just started as a review site, really.
You can thank our executive editor, Mark Belkin, for the evolution of this site. It was his suggestion that DC in the 80s could be something more. With his help, it went from a tumblr blog to a website with reviews, articles and interviews. We chose a ‘zine interface to emulate the DIY aesthetic of the 1980s ‘zine culture – where anyone with a typewriter, a passion for something, and access to a Xerox machine could distribute an 8-page booklet to anyone willing to read it. Despite our commitment to journalistic integrity, this is still just a fun project for us – and we hope the DIY aesthetic of our site reminds people of that.
Mark Belkin: Justin invented it and ran it for a long time before I came along. I joined in about 2014, and Justin asked if I would post a few things. I did for a bit, but I did not get involved until later – 2015. Justin started to kick around the idea of me interviewing people and being more involved, and I felt inspired to do more. Now I feel I am a great #2 to Justin, and am really happy being a “full time” contributor. We click when it comes to making the site grow, and seem to do well working off each other.
EC: Why do you think there is so much interest in DC Comics from the 80s?
JF: To be candid with you, I think it had a lot to do with the New 52 DC relaunch of 2011. I think the radical reboot of a lot of DC characters had readers – mainly millennials – who still wanted to read about their favorite DC characters, re-visit their favorite comics they read growing up and it brought back a renewed interest in the 80s (and by extension, the early 90s) material. DC fans don’t disappear, if they’re not happy with what’s currently being published, they just re-read their favorite comics from their back-issue bin.
Additionally, there’s a bit of a retro 80s craze run-off that has drawn people to our site. Prime examples include VH1‘s I Love The ’80s, National Geographic‘s The 80s: The Decade That Made Us, as well as numerous radio stations and websites that are fixated on 80s nostalgia. Enough time has elapsed that it’s cool to look back and celebrate the 80s in an un-ironic way. Part of the original goal of this ‘zine is to tie-in what was happening in then-current 80s culture with what was happening in DC Comics of the 80s and create some links between the two. I always like it when a reader leaves the site learning something new. I also like it when a reader leaves a comment along the lines of “I totally remember that comic series! I’m going to go out and hunt it down again! Thanks!”
MB: DC Comics in the 1980s was a revolution in creativity. Because of the late 70s implosion and the almost sale of DC to Marvel in the early 80s, I believe that they were willing to take more chances. Paul Levitz, Karen Berger, Jenette Kahn, Dick Giordano, they took so many risks creatively and brought in amazing creators. They gave people chances to experiment, to kill off tested characters, to change everything around. I would have killed to be in those Len Wein/Marv Wolfman editorial meetings when they were planning Crisis and Who’s Who. From everything I read, it evolved organically and grew from them just doing it… and later bringing in British talent like Brian Bolland, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Grant Morrison. These are the most creative comic books creators of all time. What they did was change the world.
They also gave other talent a chance to take some pretty incredible changes. Sure, putting Frank Miller on a Dark Knight series makes sense – he had such buzz coming off his Daredevil and Ronin work – but it’s still ballsey. Robin being dead? Old man Batman? Letting Frank turn their number one property, Superman, into a tool for the Government, and openly mocking him? These stories are still some of the best of all time, and editorial deserves respect for letting it happen.
They let Keith Giffen go nuts on Legion of Super Heroes art and nuts on the comedy with Ambush Bug, and then let Keith and JM Dematteis experiment with Justice League. They brought in John Byrne to do what he wanted with Superman, pushed George Pérez onto Teen Titans, Mike Grell on Green Arrow, Timothy Truman on Hawkman. These are some of the best comics ever made, and these stories stand until this day.
My dream has always been to be an editor for DC Comics, and everything about what happened in the 1980s is what I would be absolutely honored and privileged to be a part of. Sorry, that turned into a thesis and/or cover letter. But long story short, the comics were dope, and they remain dope today.
EC: Back in the 70s, I remember the nostalgia craze for the 50s. Is something similar going on here?
JF: I honestly believe it’s a ‘generational’ thing. Growing up in the 80s I was still in elementary school and thus didn’t have much money to my name – thankfully, I had a huge long-box of then-current comic books my dad had been collecting for me, so I had a pretty healthy knowledge of what was going on. I always swore that someday I’d go back and revisit all of those issues I wanted to read. I’m thirty years older and now I have disposable income to spend, so this is a great time to catch up. We’d like to think that we’re here to help you find the hidden gems of that era.
MB: I feel that everything goes in 20-year cycles. The 70s had the 50s craze, which ran into the early 80s. The 80s had a 60’s thing that ran into the early 90s. The 70s into the 90s. Especially in music, fashion, and in art. If you think about the Silver Age, it was the Golden Age but updated. 60s updating the 40s. The 80’s Bronze Age updated the 60’s Silver Age. In the 2000’s, you saw the emergence of Identity, Infinite, and Final Crisis. Its 20 year cycles. Right now we are into the 90s, which I can’t speak to because I didn’t collect comics in the 90s. But even though we are nostalgic for the 80s, DC in the 1980s transcended the decade. Everything they did affected the 90s. Crisis, bwa hahaEra Justice League, Watchmen, Dark Knight. All those affected the 90s and are still affecting comic books today.
Also, I think, we live in an age where the Library of Alexandria is at our fingertips, and people know which stories to scout out and buy. This makes it where people are always discovering the work, and people have such fond memories of it.
EC: How does the DC fan of the 80s differ from the DC fans of today? Or are they the same?
JF: The DC fan of today is multi-faceted; there’s lots of different ways to become a DC Comics fan. Of course there’s still the “physical” comic book, but now there’s also console/computer games [i.e. DC Universe Online, Batman: Arkham Knight], the films [i.e. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad], the live-action TV shows [i.e. Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Gotham] and the cartoons [i.e. Batman: Brave and the Bold, Vixen, Young Justice]. It’s actually a really great time to be into DC Comics – there are lots of options available.
However, someone cosplaying as Stephen Amell’s Green Arrow will swear to you that they’re a major Green Arrow fan – and they’ll be absolutely correct – but will have never heard of Mike Grell’s The Longbow Hunters. This is one demographic of fans we’re trying to reach. They may never actually end up touching a comic book (being satisfied with the CW universe of the character), but if we can convert a few of them over to DC comic book fandom, that’s great.
On the other side, I’m finding that fans of the 80s material are generally not too keen on adapting to the more current media. They are less likely to be standing in line on opening night for Suicide Squad because “it’s not the Suicide Squad they grew up reading, but they’ll watch it when it inevitably comes to Netflix”. Coincidentally, these are also the really interesting fans to talk to – you can tell that DC Comics from that era really had a profound effect on them and they will happily tell you all about what it was like collecting the comics, playing the RPGs, watching the Superman films for the first time and their initial reactions to major DC comic moments like Crisis On Infinite Earths, John Byrne’s Superman relaunch, or Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Batman: Year One.
MB: I remember going to comic book shops from ‘85 until the summer of ‘89, when I stopped collected. I think the Marvel movie success has brought back the kids to shops and conventions. For a while, you never saw kids going into comic book stories. When I was a kid, I saw a lot of adults, but they were considered “childish” or immature for liking comic books. I could feel their stigma. Nowadays there is still a stigma, but it’s different.
Another difference is there are a lot more ‘in the know’ fans then back then. I remember there was the guy who would read Amazing Heroes and/or The Comics Journal and knew so much more than we did. In fact, knowing too much is what killed comic book collecting for me in 1989. Someone told me about an interview with Rick Veitch, and how he was not allowed to do the Swamp Thing #88 the way he wanted, and was off the book. It killed everything for me. If I had never known that, and all I simply knew was that he was no longer doing the book for whatever reason, I may have stayed collecting. And maybe that’s something today? Too many people know too much about how the sausage is made and it translates into people dropping the hobby. Could be the price too. Comics seem to be doing ok now, so maybe people are coming back.
We review a lot of new material, because we want the fans of the 80s to know there’s a lot of great new stuff that DC is doing. I love the Rebirth stuff, and I’m excited for the new Doom Patrol. We try to break through the stereotype of “everything new sucks,” because I don’t believe that. There is always good new music, art, movies, and there are definitely good new comics. I just read All Star Batman #1, and was really excited to see where Snyder and Romita Jr would be taking the story. In my opinion, Tom King, Gail Simone, Jeff Lemire recently, and some others, have done some of my favorite comics books in decades.
EC: It seems like there’s a lot of 80s cosplayers and customizers out there. Why do you think that is?
JF: Mark is typically on the front lines at the comic conventions interviewing creators and taking photos of cosplayers. I tend to be more of the ‘Oracle’ to his ‘Batman’ (filling out the paperwork, researching for interviews, managing the e-mails and social media accounts), so I don’t get much opportunity to talk to cosplayers. The ones I have chatted with are doing it for the pure love of the character. I feel that anybody who’s willing to parade around wearing silver body-paint for the afternoon to look like Captain Atom is worthy of being called a DC fan.
I think the customizers (I’m assuming you’re referring to ‘action figure customizers’) are really just trying to fill a void – a lot of cult-favorite 80s DC characters were never immortalized as action figures [i.e. Infinity Inc., All-Star Squadron, L.E.G.I.O.N.] and this is their chance to rectify that. The Kenner Super Powers Collection were some of my favorite 80s toys growing up (I suspect that’s the case with a lot of our readers) and I could only imagine what would’ve opened up for me had the toy line lasted more than 3 waves.
MB: People like dressing up and making things their own. Not in a bad way, but we live in a very “Look at me” generation, where people are constantly one-upping themselves on social media. Not a bad thing at all. I also think it goes back to people knowing about more characters, and being able to get resources (‘How-to’ videos on YouTube, any materials you may need on Amazon) to make great costumes and action figures. I actually really enjoy collecting DC action figures, and would like to customize a few I’ve never found.
EC: Have you had any surprises from your fans? I’m curious how predictable or unpredictable 80’s DC fans are.
MB: Justin is much better to speak on this. He answers the emails and tweets. I’m too busy caring about myself.
JF: The fans I’ve encountered have always been polite, knowledgeable and eager to share memories with us. Something that always seems to catch me off guard, however, and I’m not sure if this is just limited to fans of comics from the 80s or all comic book fandom in general, is how much venom and vitriol is directed towards the whole “Marvel comics films vs. DC Comics films” debate. It’s not like you need to choose sides; this isn’t the Spanish Civil War. You can appreciate both companies for what they are. Calling ourselves “DC in the 80s” is a bit of a misnomer, since we’re not “DC or nothing” fanboys. A lot of great work came out of Marvel, DC, Eclipse, First, Pacific, Renegade Press, Fantagraphics, Kitchen Sink Press and Dark Horse during the 80s and we recognize and acknowledge that.
MB: I loved DC, but I also loved Grendel and Elementals in the 80s. Almost as much as anything. But DC is my favorite. I might be categorized under the “Make Mine DC” crowd, even if I own 200 issues of X-Men.
EC: What’s your favorite series from the 80s? What are your favorite series now?
JF: At the risk of sounding cliché, I’m still discovering new 80s favorites on a monthly basis as I’m re-reading older DC material for what seems like the first time. If I had to narrow it down to just one, I’d go with Grant Morrison’s run on 1988’s Animal Man ongoing series. Those 26 issues really changed the way I looked at comics. I actually discovered it a bit later in life – during my early college years. I remember reading the TPB off the rack at my local Chapters and I was so impressed by it that I returned the next day to purchase it (and the following two volumes). It’s been sitting on my bookshelf ever since.
Currently, the DC material I am most excited for is Gerard Way’s Young Animal imprint. I’ve flipped through the ashcan and am thoroughly impressed. I’m really hoping that a new batch of talent can re-spark that ol’ Vertigo magic that really made DC stand out over everything else on the market in the late 80s/early 90s. The first few issues have been released yesterday and as of this writing I’m actively trying to avoid comic book review sites (and spoilers) until I can pick up the issues myself and read them with a blank slate.
MB: Other than everything Alan Moore did, I have three special series:
The Rick Veitch run on Swamp Thing. So criminally underrated and I want nothing more than convince Dan Didio and Jim Lee to publish #88. It was so twisted, so dark yet funny, so smart. I loved Veitch, and I will have an interview with him that I got in Baltimore, probably in the next few weeks.
Doom Patrol with Grant Morrison, Richard Case, with lettering by John Workman. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Case and Mr. Workman recently, and am working on a story based on that run. I think there is such an amazing artistic spiritual undertone to that run. Especially the Painting That Ate Paris with the Brotherhood of Dada. I feel I could teach a course on that run, and still not be able to convey how groundbreaking it was. As Justin said, that Animal Man run is up there, but Morrison’s Doom Patrol run was magical for me.
The Question by Dennis O Neil and Denys Cowan. Everything about this made Question my favorite all time character. It was surreal, intelligent, real and violent. It spoke to me as someone growing up in Brooklyn and discovering philosophy, and violence in the streets.
This week’s column marks my one-year anniversary of doing this at ComicMix. Though I’m tempted to do a year in review, this past weekend was New York Comic Con so that idea is going to have to be put on hold for at least a week.
I started Thursday morning by getting to the Javits Center around 9:00 am. After going through a few different lines, getting my bag checked, getting my badge scanned, and waiting on another couple of lines, I was in by about 10:15 am. I hit the show floor and did the rounds. At 11:00 am I went to my first panel.
Body of Evidence: How We See Ourselves in Comics had panelists ranging from librarians, comic creators, a performer and my friend David Baxter, as well as a physician discussing healthy body image in comics as well as touching on disabled representation. Most of the disabled representation revolved around the character of Oracle and a point that fellow ComicMix columnist Martha Thomases has made with me before: while it’s great to have disabled representation, why is it that a woman isn’t able to heal from her exploitive attack in a world where Batman breaks his back and recovers?
While the panel had passionate panelists making interesting points, the panelists were noticeably cis, able bodied, and white or white-passing (David is half Native American). That doesn’t take away from the points they were making, but seeing people of color, trans, and disabled people share their experiences would have been helpful and enlightening. Especially at a convention that ejected Jay Justice, a queer disabled person of color, from a panel because they couldn’t accommodate the scooter she needs to get around.
That panel was far from the only one that suffered from some lack of diversity. Along with fellow ComicMix columnist Molly Jackson, I attended the Wonder Woman 75 panel on Friday. The panel was majority male, and almost exclusively white with the exception of the legendary Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, who frustratingly talked the least during the panel. And despite Greg Rucka being on the panel, Wonder Woman being confirmed as queer was never mentioned. Perhaps it would have been during a Q&A, but the panel ended early without one. As one of I’m sure many queer people in attendance, saying that was disappointing would be an understatement. You’d think with Wonder Woman being on the cover of this year’s NYCC program for NYCC would have provided some motivation.
That night while waiting in line for another event, I was discussing the Wonder Woman 75 panel with a friend when two people on the line in front of me interjected. They told me how they attended the Queer Culture: LGBT Presence in Pop Culture panel and to their surprise the panel was exclusively cis white men, or at very least white-passing. Beyond that they discussed how that was a similar experience they had at other panels.
Friday was also the day of the DC’s Young Animal panel, and if you’ve been reading my column over the past year you could probably guess that was on the top of my list of panels to attend. The panelists included creators Gerard Way (Doom Patrol, Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye), Nick Derington (Doom Patrol), Jody Houser (Mother Panic), and Marley Zarcone (Shade, the Changing Girl). This particular panel was packed and had a very enthusiastic crowd. Fans of Gerard Way hung onto his every word as he talked about how the Young Animal imprint came to be and gave previews of the books to come. They even handed out a cassette (you read that right) with a new song of his. The highlight for me was during the Q&A when someone asked about queer representation and Gerard discussed how he has been talking with Rachel Pollack about her run and Coagula in particular and bringing her back. When he had mentioned how Coagula was a trans superhero the packed panel room cheered. This goes to show how starved people are for trans representation and further pushes the point I and others have been making for some time now; reprint Rachel Pollack’s run on Doom Patrol.
While I did enjoy the DC’s Young Animal panel quite a bit, it was again an all cis white panel. For this particular panel, similar to the Wonder Woman panel, it was because of the creators that were available or asked. The only way to have more diverse panels is to have more diverse creators.
And they shouldn’t be limited to diversity specific panels. The goal of those panels is to raise awareness. The idea is for panels on diversity to be a starting point of a conversation, not the ending point. We can see that with panels like Marvel: 50 Years of Black Panther featuring different creative minds behind the character, as well as the panel on Luke Cage. When you have people of color working on comics, they get to be on the panels to discuss them. We desperately need more of that not just because it’s right, but to ensure a future for comics.
The future of comics does not encompass the same demographics as before. Women, people of color, queer people, disabled people, and people that cover more than one or all of the above are reading comics. They want representation, and they want a seat at the table. That’s not to say they never read comics before, but many didn’t because they didn’t see people that looked like them or they didn’t tell stories that were in any way relatable. Straight cis white guy with superpowers trying to get the girl doesn’t really speak directly to the experiences of many of the groups I mentioned even in metaphor. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to in recent years who finally got into comics through small publishers and webcomics finally representing people like them because they honestly didn’t believe comics as a medium represented them.
Before I left NYCC on Saturday I got to be a guest at the Geeks OUT! Booth selling copies of my new comic as well as signing copies of their anthology I had been in last year. In the couple of hours I was at the booth, people of all different backgrounds came over and gushed over the items they were selling, like a t-shirt saying “Strong Female Character.” Many also stopped to take a preferred pronoun sticker from the table. They’d ask if they were free, and many asked if it would be okay to take an extra one for a friend. People were thrilled that a group like Geeks OUT! Was considerate enough to create stickers like these for everyone.
As comics fandom is becoming more mainstream and more diverse, comics need to keep up with these changes. NYCC 2016 is a good example of some efforts to keep up with those changes… but not getting there quite yet.
Last week, DC Comics released a free preview of its new Gerard Way-curated imprint, Young Animal, with the tagline “Comics For Dangerous Humans.” Outside of the credits listed on the inside front cover and a couple appearances of the new DC logo, it’s made to look very different from what DC puts out. This sixteen-page preview is digest sized, in black and white, and has no ads for anything other than Young Animal titles.
The wraparound cover feels is a silver age throwback. Older iterations of the Doom Patrol are prevalent, as are Cave Carson and Shade The Changing Girl. This reminded me how both Doom Patrol and Cave Carson were co-created by Bruno Premiani. Hopefully they’ll showcase this in the credits of the comics. Bruno Premiani is an underrated artist in the grand scheme of things and more people read comics today should know who he is.
DC has been doing a good job as of late crediting creators in their comics so it’s very possible we’ll see that. Shade The Changing Girl is based off of the original male counterpart created by Steve Ditko, adding to the decades long tradition in comics of rebranding Steve Ditko creations for more profit than Steve Ditko made.
Once you open this preview zine, the interior cover has a letter from Gerard Way. In it he discusses not only the contents of the preview zine but how different Young Animal is for him than his previous comics outings. He inspires confidence in the reader, as well as the importance of collaboration and how everyone working on a Young Animal comic believes in the power of these characters and the power of the stories they’re telling with them. For me, this letter did exactly what it was intended to do: inspire confidence in the reader and make me more excited to read these comics than I was beforehand.
After Gerard’s letter we get a character profile of the lead from each of the four Young Animal comics. This includes Shade The Changing Girl, Cave Carson, Space Case from Doom Patrol (presumably the lead), and Mother Panic. Like in the old DC Who’s Who (edited by ComicMix’s own Robert Greenberger), these profiles are full of information that helps flesh out the characters and make us care about them before the first Young Animal comic hits the shelves. Good call on Gerard Way’s part.
The rest of this preview is filled with black and white, unlettered pages from the four different titles. The art for these titles does look top notch.
It all ends with a page showcasing the creative teams on the titles. Sixteen people in total. I had mixed feelings here.
On the one hand we have seven out of sixteen creators being women and that’s great. One of which, Tamra Bonvillain who I previously mentioned is also working on Alters for AfterShock, is trans. I don’t know how much queer representation we have on the creative teams beyond her, but it’s something. It’s especially promising that she is on Doom Patrol, a series that has dealt with queerness to some extent with Grant Morrison and even more so with Rachel Pollack, but not so much since then.
To have just shy of half the creators being women and having three of the of the four titles focus on women is important. We also get to see more of Todd Klein’s lettering and who would ever say no to that?
On the other hand, there was something missing: people of color. Seeing the creative team being all white or at very least all white with a couple or so white-passing (I don’t have DNA samples or their ancestry.com logins) made it stand out even more to me that the characters in all the books are white or white presenting. Yes, Shade The Changing Girl is an alien, but she looks white.
In all my online poking around, the only character of color I could see in preview images was Joshua from Grant Morrison’s time on Doom Patrol. Rebis might count technically, but was either referred to as Larry, the original cis white male host of Negative Man, or Rebis. The character’s blackness was completely erased save for one scene early on.
This is not anything that I feel is malicious or even intentional. Clearly Young Animal is trying to tell interesting stories and attract new readers or bring back old readers who enjoyed the early comics at Vertigo. They want to appeal to women as well. However, not all women are white.
That sounds harsh, but there isn’t really another way I can put it. I think Gerard Way is doing something great with what we know so far of Young Animal. I enjoyed Umbrella Academy. Each one of these titles look interesting to me and I will be giving them all a shot. I even plan on buying extra copies of Doom Patrol #1 to give to people to get them into it too. And every single interview I’ve seen or statement I’ve read from Gerard Way fills me with confidence in this project at a time where I’m not easily made to feel confident about a mainstream comics endeavor.
That being said, I do hope we see more characters of color in the comics than we’ve been seeing in the previews so far, and that as Young Animal hopefully succeeds and grows that we’ll see more creators of color joining the fold adding more comics with characters of colors moving the plots forward.
I’m excited to get in on Young Animal at the ground floor and I hope many others out there are as well.
Of course I always like seeing more queer representation too. Especially for titles like Doom Patrol. I heard a rumor that Rachel Pollack still has more Doom Patrol stories to tell and that this time she’ll get the recognition she deserves.