It’s funny ’cause it’s true.

I’ve been thinking a bit about physical comedy lately. I adore the accidental nature of it—the element of surprise, the spontaneity. Pranks and pratfalls are the easiest way to get a rise out of me—laughter should I be a witness and fury should I be a victim. Don’t try to prank me. It will not end well.

But what is the funniest moment of the prank or pratfall? My answer would depend on the medium used to tell the story—prose, a comic strip, or live action and animation. With live action and animation, the most humorous moment is the moment of surprise, the instant where a deviation from how the victim believed things would occur takes place. The sucker punch. The pie in the eye. The dishes crashing to the floor. I believe that when creating a comic (“chopping” the action into static images) the most hilarious moment of the action changes, occurring when the reader’s anticipation of the victim’s surprise is at its height. As readers, we quickly fill in the blanks, creating an image in our mind’s eye before our actual eyes can gaze upon the panel containing the action’s climax. And so the panel of the victim “talking junk”—blissfully unaware that the shadow of his attacker has fallen upon him—becomes funnier than the attack. In some instances depicting the final action is not even necessary; a cut away from the action to a different scene altogether allows the reader to participate as a storyteller, the climax limited only by his or her imagination.

Comedy, folks!


Commerce, you are.

It is astounding to me that more creators aren’t talking about the partnership between writer Jonathan Safran Foer and Chipotle CEO Steve Ellis to add the works of famous authors to Chipotle packaging. It’s a brilliant merger between art and commerce, the kind once largely enjoyed by the world of comics. With the swift disappearance of the comic strip from newspapers, much like the removal of cartoon shorts before movies, we’ve created an environment where comics must be sought out in specialty shops by diehard fans. We’ve dismissed the casual reader and the curious bystander.

Of course, readers have abandoned newspapers almost as swiftly as newspapers in turn abandoned comics. To fight for a return of the comic strip to the daily newspaper is to seek shelter in a condemned house. Art must be brought to the masses—and the masses are dining on fast food, downloading apps, and utilizing social media to engage with others. It might seem as if our fast-paced world has simply outgrown the comic. This is false. In fact we have been primed for it, more than ever used to taking in information through an alloy of written and visual content. And that is exactly what comics are.

Of course the Technicolor exploits of the superhero can’t be replicated on a Chipotle bag. And it would be odd to package sequential-art sagas with the latest digital magazine. But one can certainly enjoy a one-page comic by Rashida Jones and Josh Cochran upon downloading the recent issue of Glamour. And it would be fairly easy to add a comic such as xkcd to a store’s packaging.

Yet a creator’s reach will only be as broad as his willingness to reach out to others. Sadly there is a xenophobic streak that runs through the comic industry that inhibits the ability to embrace novel ideas—and people. The world of webcomics does appear to be more welcoming than the neighboring realm of print, and perhaps that is where new unions between art and commerce will be found.


Punch bowl.

In comedy there is a rule that one shouldn’t “punch down,” that one should not attack one who is in a weaker position and who is of no threat. It is an unnecessary cruelty that should not be engaged in if one wishes to be the “better man.”

In marketing? You punch everywhere. Should another company have a weakness, said weakness should be exploited. Should another company have an asset left unprotected, said asset should be obtained. Should another company have a market left unsatisfied, said market should be quickly wooed. Companies are not men. They do not deserve empathy or consideration nor do they provide it to others. Compassion should be reserved for those able to bleed more than just revenue.

In comics, spectators have amused themselves for decades watching the battle between the “big two”—Marvel Comics and its distinguished competition, DC Entertainment. Despite a good showing by DC, Marvel can easily be declared the winner at this juncture, regaining the number one spot in the market and a position as America’s premiere comics publisher in the eyes of the public. DC has had great difficulty shaking its image as an out-of-touch underdog, despite pulling from the same talent pool as Marvel and producing similar work. If DC wishes to rid itself of its “Dad’s Comics” public persona, it will need to carefully examine where its corporate culture diverges from Marvel’s and decide if changes need to be made. However, a silver medal is still a medal. DC might just be content with the status quo.

Marvel, comfortably settled in first place, has never had a problem “punching” in any direction it deemed fit, be it a well-timed barb lobbed at DC during a panel—“We don’t publish books weekly; we publish them strongly”—or delivering a blow to Dark Horse via a partnership with Lucasfilm to produce Star Wars comics, declaring years of Star Wars canon carefully crafted by the indie publisher to be irrelevant.

Wayward

Dark Horse, though producing great work, is in danger of becoming the indie market’s DC, due to Image’s rising star and increased bravado and a very short window provided to establish a unique brand in a changing market. Much like DC, its positive moves tend to result in tepid responses, though thankfully the company is not at all prone to the public relations disasters endured by DC.

A recent Image press release, however, is a bit of a concern. After spending the past few months “punching up”—repeatedly pointing out DC’s and Marvel’s weaknesses in speeches and interviews—Image has now clearly “punched down,” using advertising not only to promote upcoming work, but to suggest that the work of its competitor has grown stale, introducing Wayward as “the perfect new series for wayward Buffy fans.”

75. Buffy TVS (Dark Horse)

  • 03/2008: Buffy TVS #12 – 88,930
  • 03/2009: Buffy TVS #23 – 64,108
  • 03/2010: Buffy TVS #33 – 46,568
  • 03/2012: Buffy TVS Season 9 #7 – 29,908
  • 03/2013: Buffy TVS Season 9 #19 – 22,424

I would have done the same. Wayward looks fabulous and will cater to the same audience—and who can resist a great pun? Dark Horse has the option to take it on the chin, or respond via advertising to let all know that Buffy is doing just fine and that Queen B will not be relinquishing her crown any time soon! The latter would allow for the initiation of a friendly rivalry akin to Marvel and DC, but one more evenly matched.

I would love to see a Dark Horse that is more vocal about its success! It produces the best superhero book on the market, but buzz surrounding Empowered is almost nil. (Truthfully, I’ve wondered if a defection to Image would bolster recognition.) It draws superstar talent but does not aggressively link said talent to Dark Horse in the eyes of the public. (Consider Marvel’s “architects” and “young guns” or Image’s Experience Creativity campaign.) I’d also enjoy seeing a Dark Horse that once again reaches beyond the realm of comics, pushing back into movie theaters and onto our television screens. Who wouldn’t love a survival horror game set in the Hellboy universe?

Everyone loves a winner—but I find an underdog with the potential to be a winner much more alluring. The puzzle of how to properly groom a usurper for the top spot brings out the Olivia Pope in me I suppose!


Read, white, and blue.

I no longer read Marvel and DC comics. That statement should not be considered an insult. The snippets made available to me in previews certainly look to be of great quality and both companies have hired fantastic creators who produce work outside of the superhero realm that I continue to enjoy.

Simply put, I am not the target audience for either line. While there are a handful of works intended to draw in different types of readers, both lines overall are clearly designed to bring in an audience in its mid-twenties to mid-thirties that is overwhelmingly white, male, and flush with disposable income. It is an audience that is shrinking in number, but is still more than willing to fork over substantial amounts of cash for a weekly diet of superheroic exploits.

And so, amusingly, its universes are skewed to appeal to that demographic. Those with even loose ties to the comics industry are well aware of editor Janelle Asselin’s astute critique of the cover to Teen Titans #1. What Asselin didn’t touch upon—a key factor I immediately noticed and mentioned to friends—is the complete lack of black culture both in the image and in Marvel’s and DC’s lines in general. Given the irritating obsession American youth have with black American subcultures (fashion, language, music, etc.) it is surprising to see it stripped from material geared towards teens. However, it is surprising only if one does not take into account two basic facts: the lack of black writers and editors at Marvel and DC; and that the majority of “teen” books are created for older white men who wish to read superheroic coming-of-age stories about the characters they loved as adolescents. And it shows.

As a detached observer, I can certainly see why DC and Marvel wish to completely drain their current resource before fully committing to the laborious task of recreating lines that appeal to multiple audiences. At this point, the demographic they cater to—though shrinking—is still the greatest in number with the greatest amount of disposable income. It is far easier to simply raise prices and change the race, gender, or sexual orientation of a tertiary character than to seek new talent and alter one’s brand.

It would be far easier for DC and Marvel to reach new audiences if their current audience was not so abhorrent to change. And so changes are made on the outskirts—in alternate universes, in solo series set apart from the main event, and in B- and C-list characters. It is a very smart move given the volatile nature of current readers—though I would certainly advise both companies to take a more aggressive stance in creating works that appeal to women. It is a market that is simply growing too fast and has too much money to ignore—especially when smaller comic companies are already taking great care to cater to it.

What I simply fail to understand is DC’s and Marvel’s refusal to band together to wring as much profit as possible from their current audience! I have said—repeatedly, to anyone who will listen—that given the similarities found in both lines, Marvel and DC should release separate but simultaneous “Crisis” events that dovetail into a Marvel vs. DC crossover, the climax of which would launch a short-term Amalgam universe, which would then fold as the DC and Marvel universes are rebooted—just in time to coincide with Avengers and JLA blockbusters in movie theaters. If one’s golden goose is dying, it’s best to feed it with as much grain as possible so those last eggs are glorious.

What would rise from the ashes? A new Marvel and DC featuring universes with a diverse selection of characters and stories—with decidedly lower prices and weekly releases to lure in a larger number of readers.


A new spin.

I’ve blogged at length about Vertigo in the past—and its relation to Image’s ascendance to Vertigo’s former position as the reigning leader in publishing avant-garde works from famous writers in the realm of comics. There is no way Vertigo can regain its former glory in the short term. Success begets success and Image has been riding on a wave of positive press and celebrity that sees no signs of cresting. Yes, there were critics who rightfully pointed out the lack of racial and gender diversity in its current crop of superstars, but given that this is an issue that plagues nearly all of Image’s peers, it seems strange to hone in on one company in regards to what is so very clearly an industry-wide problem.

It is a problem that in regards to racial diversity will likely not improve at companies such as Marvel, DC, Image, and Dark Horse—not due to willful bigotry, but the focus on established writers to increase notoriety means that these companies are not interested in discovering new talent, leaving them to a pool that is overwhelmingly white and male. At best, one can hope for an increase in the number of books written by a small number of established female writers. Unlike the dismissal of concerns regarding racial diversity, gender diversity does seem to be a clear focus. The purchasing power of women is phenomenal (as is the number of women who read for pleasure). So while there is irritatingly not a press to increase the number of female creators, there is a clear desire to create an environment where female consumers feel welcome and can purchase books that reflect their interests. I predict Marvel, Image, and Dark Horse will continue to press female-centric ad campaigns, increase the number of books with female leads, and attempt to increase the number of books per month written by the one or two established female authors available to them. DC, for all its negative press, has bucked the trend by smartly leaning on Snyder as a talent scout, slowly increasing not only the number of female writers, but writers of color as well. DC would do well to keep Scott Snyder extraordinarily happy, for he does three jobs for the price of one: writes well-received comics, discovers new talent, and possesses the ability to launch a charm offensive for DC greater than its management or editorial staff. In layman’s terms, he’s a genuinely nice person to be around.

But the focus today is not on DC proper, but the Vertigo imprint. And I feel that as DC has bucked trends, so should Vertigo as well. Where Image and Dark Horse are focused on acquiring superstars, Vertigo should be focused on creating them by locating fledgling talent. The imprint should also lean on the talent pool largely ignored by Image and Dark Horse—female writers and writers of color.

And Vertigo had best work fast, for smaller companies such as BOOM! Studios have done an excellent job crafting a quirky, female-friendly image that is highly appealing. Note that the company was the first to participate in the successful We Are Comics campaign, showcasing the diversity in its staff. A quick rundown of its creators also shows a greater number of women when compared to companies above its weight class.

Where BOOM! woos women, even smaller companies such as Lion Forge and crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter woo writers of color. Those who have been discriminated against previously will turn to areas where those of their group are clearly visible in campaigns and have found success. Why bother approaching an editor who has no interest in you when you can take your project directly to the people? And so Kickstarter swells with projects—some good and some bad—but with a diverse selection of writers not found anywhere else in comics. Everyone is afforded equal access to be considered.

So with companies chipping away at its platform from above and from below, how does Vertigo compete? Surprisingly, by resting on its laurels. Vertigo still has name recognition in many circles even beyond the realm of comics and into the world of prose publishing where so many women are key figures. It should use its reputation to focus on adapting key works by established female prose authors and authors of color. Of course, this route will only remain successful as long as Karen Berger remains inactive. For many she still is Vertigo, and the moment she should decide to set up a comic imprint at a prose publisher (or even worse, a comics publisher), Vertigo maintaining any foothold would become that much more difficult.

However, money helps in overcoming adversity. Should Vertigo have access to a budget larger than its peers, providing a decent paycheck to creators would help the imprint look a great deal more appealing to struggling talent, even if the contracts being offered down the road provide greater freedom or possible long-term gains. Many will willingly accept a work-for-hire situation or endure editorial missteps for additional funds—especially if Vertigo takes great care to ensure said missteps do not occur often.


Golden Archie.

I’ve been impressed with Archie Comics as of late. While I’ve always been fond of the Riverdale gang (except Veronica), the company itself has made a serious effort to embrace diversity and redefine what we think of as suburban small-town America. It’s the America we’ve always wanted and pretended we’ve always had—the one that embraces everyone and accepts and delights in all colors and creeds.

Sounds very “after-school special,” no? It is, but the company can safely revel in its hokey elements while dragging its less tolerant readers towards enlightenment—while four-color competitors such as Marvel and DC must tiptoe around its reactionary clientele lest the delicate white eggs they have placed all in one basket tumble to the floor of the direct market.

Archie, however, has been weaving baskets for eggs of all hues on Tumblr. (As an aside, its Tumblr account is hilarious.) Reveling in camp is a nice way to lure former adult readers back into the fold. While those adults will likely continue to view Archie Comics as a company that produces kids’ material, they will buy tie-in merchandise for themselves or perhaps purchase material for their children. Still, while Archie Comics has been making strides, I’d like to see more from the company.

Multi-Media Outreach: A new incarnation of The Sims video game, wildly popular with women and young girls, is just around the corner. Partnering with EA to provide a special DLC pack of the Riverdale gang (and neighborhood) would be a brilliant move. I’d also like to see Red Circle characters move past comics towards the small screen. A kids’ cartoon show featuring The Fox would blend the best of DC’s slick animated output and the charming humor of Marvel’s cartoon past. And, of course, there would be a host of toys to sell. Speaking of toys and cartoons, the time is very ripe for a new era of Josie and the Pussycats. Getting Josie’s crew to the small screen as Jem gears up for the big screen would give the illusion (and hopefully spark the reality) of a rebirth in material geared towards young girls. Just make sure women are involved in the creative process! Oh, and make Alexandra and Alexander Asian! Surely, we are past having solely one member of a minority group in the mix.

New Genres and Imprints: I love that Archie Comics was daring enough to delve into horror with Afterlife with Archie. I hope that they continue to test new waters by launching a small line (three books maximum) of romantic graphic novels for women. Alitha Martinez has worked with Archie Comics in the past. Looking at her work on her original characters, she would likely fit in well given such a project. I’d also love to see Yasmin Liang and Natalie Nourigat tapped too.

Celebrity Creators: Once I heard Lena Dunham would be writing a four-part Archie series, I immediately stated that the company should seek out Nicki Minaj for a Josie issue. The goal is to acquire work from controversial men and women who are a great deal smarter than the public believes them to be—resulting in good stories and an immense amount of publicity.

A “Face”: In the same way Stephenson has become synonymous with Image, Berger (and now Bond) represents Vertigo, and Didio is DC, Archie needs a couple of “charmers” out front and center to woo the media. Like the company itself, they should be seen as quirky, cheerful, and sincere.


ECCC: Comic convention contemplation.

The Washington State Convention Center is an exceptional place to host a convention—airy with ample space and fantastic lighting. Plus, there are restaurants, hotels, tourist traps, drugstores and department stores all within a short radius. It’s what sets Emerald City Comicon apart from its larger competitors. NYCC and SDCC have been unpleasant experiences for me due to terrible locations that provide no respite from the overwhelming convention crowds unless I’m willing to travel long distances from the convention. At Emerald City, one is able to pop across the street and eat at a cozy restaurant or take a nap in one’s hotel room. There’s no escape from the Javits Center without walking at least a dozen very long Manhattan blocks. As for San Diego? Good luck finding anything affordable.

And good luck finding anything affordable at the closest contender to claim the title of ECCC East—Dragon Con. Not only are ticket prices ridiculously expensive compared to other conventions, the nearby hotels charge exorbitant prices designed to gouge attendees. Rates often double those found at Emerald City. And while the location is perfect—countless amenities are only a block or two away—the comics industry is treated as a mere afterthought. Film, television, and prose reign supreme.

Comics come first at Heroes, but the convention’s location is horrifically dull. While Seattle, San Diego, New York City, and Atlanta offer an amazing array of activities apart from their conventions, Charlotte offers little in the way of excitement.

Given that Emerald City is quite a trek for me, I’ve been thinking about how best to recreate the magic of the convention closer to home. I’m sure many convention organizers looking for a lucrative investment are too. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

The Location: Atlanta, Georgia. Specifically? The Atlanta Convention Center. However, a set-up similar to Dragon Con where a few smaller hotels share space would also work well.

The Date: Like Emerald City, the event should be scheduled during “Spring Break.” Weather in Atlanta during that time is exceptional, and a late March or early April date would provide a great kick-off to the convention season for those tired of winter weather. Plus, being such a great distance from Emerald City would allow it to occur at a similar time without “poaching” guests from that convention. Those who would attend “Peachtree City Comicon” would likely never consider Emerald City due to the distance involved. And Megacon, currently showing signs of weakness, could easily be cannibalized.

Key Factors: If one is going to host a comic convention in Atlanta, three organizations/events should be involved or showcased in some manner. The first is Cartoon Network/Adult Swim. The second is the Atlanta branch of the Savannah College of Art and Design. The third is the ComicsPRO annual membership meeting. Also, making a deal with hotels in order to keep rates in the range of $100.00 to $150.00 a night is essential. Expensive hotels hurt attendance.

I’m sure the last thing Jim Demonakos and his crew want is to launch yet another large convention, but they have shown that they can succeed where many others have failed. Plus, there is a clear “convention vacuum” here on the East Coast that no one has been adequately able to fill. I’d like to see someone fill it—and I’m willing to put my money and muscle where my mouth is to make it happen.


All-Negro Comics #2

So, one blog entry, a few Tumblr posts, a few tweets, a dozen or so e-mails, and one week later—here we are!

Full disclosure: I received two responses in total regarding the publication of All-Negro Comics #2. Am I disappointed? Yes. However, two things console me—that creators are focused on some amazing projects dear to their heart and have no time to participate (which makes me very hopeful about the industry) or the possibility that creators would prefer another individual at the helm of such a project (easily and amicably resolved). I much prefer these two options compared to the possibility of the industry not caring about the inclusion of black voices! And I know, given the passion and talent of the black men and women in the industry right now, that the third option is not an option at all.

So, is the All-Negro Comics anthology dead? Never! The work is in the public domain and is available for anyone to pick up the torch. It is my hope that those in the comics industry will pick it up and carry it to the masses. I am not abandoning the project; I am very eager to support it as a consumer!

For any individual considering taking on this project, please note that while I only received two creator responses, the interest expressed by fellow fans was quite positive. If you have the talent to create comics and a few like-minded colleagues, you absolutely can do this! And we’ll be here to buy it!


All for one.

“If a Negro got legs he ought to use them. Sit down too long, somebody will figure out a way to tie them up.”Toni Morrison, Beloved

Late last night I had an idea, promptly dismissed it as crazy, and went to sleep. It woke up with me this morning, settled in with me at breakfast, and has remained lodged within my cranium since. Apparently, it’s here for the long haul. The last time I had a crazy idea I ended up with the Ormes Society, so I’ve decided to entertain this visitor for as long as she plans to stick around. Allow me to introduce you…

All-Negro Comics #1 (now firmly entrenched in the public domain to be enjoyed by all) appeared in June of 1947. I’d like to publish All-Negro Comics #2. I’m sharing my idea today in the hopes that you would too.

Black people have been making comics since there were comics. A cursory look at our ancient history and you could argue that black people invented comics. But in America we were not always provided a chance to share the national stage enjoyed by creators of other races—to create works that would become our modern-day myths. The purpose of the second issue of All-Negro Comics would be to celebrate the milestones of a past long buried by the industry and carry them with us into the present in order to leave a legacy for the future. I want to show the diversity found in regards to black individuals within the comic industry: men and women who come from various professional levels, genders, generations, sexual orientations, religions, and geographical regions—creators who have been influenced by everything under the sun.

I’d like to keep the length of the comic fairly small (roughly 32 pages featuring 8-10 vignettes of 3-4 pages) and distribute the work digitally. My focus is on reaching a large number of lower-income readers who desperately need to hear black voices but may not have the capability of finding a local comic shop or the funds to spend four dollars on a comic book. Donating one or two dollars to a Kickstarter project would likely be all they could handle, but a large number of small donations would allow for an acceptable page rate to be offered. Also, starting off small would enable me to gauge how receptive fans would be to this type of project and make it easier for creators to contribute and introduce (or reintroduce) characters they could take with them to other projects. Even better, it would allow for further issues by all-new creative and editorial teams. The brand could be passed from one to another as if a totem, a badge of honor, or simply a way to link generations.

Q: Hey, if I created a character, who would own it? Who would own my artwork?

A: Each creative team would make their own agreement as to how the ownership of new intellectual properties would be shared. Artists would own the artwork they produce; writers would own their scripts. Point blank—creators own their creations. If you wanted to use an existing character that you already own, you would be welcome to do so. Creative teams would be welcome to publish their work elsewhere if they so desire! Yes, even in print! I’d only ask that you wait until March 1, 2014, if you plan to share your work elsewhere (website, sketchbook, script archive, another anthology, etc.)—and provide All-Negro Comics #2 with a one-time, first appearance credit.

I think it would be a wonderful idea to honor those who came before us by using public-domain characters (Ace Harlem, John Henry) or gods (Anansi, Papa Legba). It’d be nice to make sure these characters were not forgotten, but could live on and be reinvented like Thor or Wonder Woman. (I’m curious to see if someone could snatch Breezy back from Chris Brown.) And, of course, the lead character in each vignette should be black. It’s All-Negro Comics, folks!

Q: So, black lead characters and black creators, huh? Any other story requirements?

A: Your work should be suitable for ages 16 and older. That’s it. You are black, so your story is as well. Sci-fi, western, romance, war, noir—it doesn’t matter. In fact, the more diversity the better.

Q: If you want diversity, why not open the project up to people of all races?

A: Because it is important to showcase black voices that have been silenced elsewhere. Honestly, black storytellers are dealing with specific anti-black stereotypes that argue that (1) they are not intellectually capable of professional literary work and (2) they have an agenda to denigrate white people with their creations. These are negative stereotypes perpetuated by fans and professionals that creators of other races simply do not have to deal with (though there are certainly other difficulties to be encountered). Places where black writers can combat these stereotypes are insanely rare. We must cherish and protect each platform we are given. For readers, I wanted to provide inexpensive stories where black people could be seen and heard. Both are vital.

Q: So, what would campaign contributors get? And creators?

A: Readers would get a 32-page digital comic with no advertisements for the very low price of one or two American dollars. I wanted this to be a project for the people, a project that even the kid who works at Foot Locker or the woman who works at McDonald’s could be a part of. I’d edit the work free of charge and there would be no printing costs. Funds raised would be provided to the creators.

Q: Your heart is in the right place, but it’s not feasible given ______.

A: Is there something I haven’t taken into account? I’m certainly open to hearing the feedback/wisdom of others! Please let me know.

Q: I’d love to help, but I am so not black! What can I do?

A: Plenty! One, you can help to spread the word by linking to this page! You can also blog about black creators that you would love to see more of in the future or would like to see honored by the industry. If you are an artist, feel free to promote the project by working on a pin-up of a black creation of the past (Torchy Brown, “Jive” Gray) and share it on your site (or donate it to be offered as a limited-edition Kickstarter bonus)!

Q: I’d love to help, and I am so black—but I’m swamped! How can I help?

A: See the answer above! (I’d also suggest angling for a cover spot or providing the afterword or foreword.)

Q: Anything else?

A: You tell me! This week has been set aside for discussion. Would you want to read a project such as this? Who would you want to contribute? Would you like to contribute? Talk amongst yourselves—or with me! (My people—those who’ve emailed me before–hit me up on the direct line.) If all goes smoothly, we’ll move onto submissions and art samples next week! If not? Well, we’ve had some good discussions about some great creators who definitely deserve our praise.

(For further information regarding the development of this project, please click here.)


Enter the dragon.

Sexual harassmentI must shamefully admit that some of the responses quoted in the second panel of Jim Hines’ comic once mirrored my own. I could barely contain my irritation when an individual would come forward to discuss his or her personal experience with racism or sexism in the entertainment industry (publishing, film, gaming, etc.) and yet refuse to name the individual who participated in the harassment or discrimination. How could one allow a bigot to stay in power and thwart the career of another black creator or prey upon another woman? As a victim, how could one willingly condone the cycle of abuse when the mere utterance of a name could “slay the dragon”?

I was so focused on winning the public war that I overlooked the private battle. These men and women have families to support, a desire to create that consumes them, and a reputation to uphold. To be marked as one who “named names,” one who made the company look bad—as opposed to the one actually engaging in the unsavory behavior—would jeopardize one’s career by alienating those in power. Coming forward, yet remaining vague regarding details, would allow the company in question to quietly rectify the situation while still alerting fans to the bigotry that continues to plague the industry.

Sometimes, often, the dragon is simply too powerful to be slain. But sometimes, often, individuals come forward privately, not publically. A female creator is told confidentially why it would be best for her to avoid a particular colleague or limit time alone with him; a black creator is quietly informed as to why certain individuals will not be receptive to his work. These hushed anecdotes act as precious guides, allowing creators to tiptoe past the dragon and navigate his lair successfully—or simply to find treasure and glory in a less guarded lair.

This is not to say that those who have named names have not chosen the proper path. As a reader (or player, or moviegoer), it can be quite satisfying to hear one acknowledge the source of a problem that, quite honestly, is evident in the work produced. Female fans and consumers of color are often dismissed as delusional when discussing institutionalized sexism and racism within the industry. When an actual creator comes forward and names names, there is a moment of vindication that is generally lost when a vague accusation is brought forth. For when a vague accusation is brought forth, reactionary fans will often label the whistleblower coming forward as a liar or bitter incompetent.

It is so difficult to make one’s way as a woman or a person of color in the entertainment industry that I would rather an individual do what is best for one’s career and the careers of one’s peers than to consider the wishes or comfort of a fan such as myself. The industry can only improve if these men and women are able to remain within it. If a quieter form of resistance is required, so be it.


Timeless icons.

Batman 1972I know comics and I broke up a while ago, but I must state that Francesco Francavilla’s pet project modeled after works appearing under DC’s Elseworlds imprint is money on the table for DC. Three sets of 64-page one-shots starring the trinity. Each character gets a different decade: Superman against the backdrop of the gluttonous, Cold-War-fueled ’80s; Batman in the crime-ridden, wayward ’70s; Wonder Woman fighting for our rights in the mid ’60s. Superstar artists all the way. When it’s all done, bind that sucker up in a huge hardcover crammed with all sorts of pin-ups of the trinity in different time periods. Then? Do it all over again with a different set of artists: Superman in the early atomic age (’50s); Wonder Woman taking on Nazis during WW II (’40s); Batman trying to keep Gotham from sinking during the Great Depression (’30s).

Money on the table.

I want to take a moment to expand upon what I mean by that phrase. Every product containing Batman is profitable. Fans of the character will purchase even subpar work containing an appearance by the Dark Knight. However, the work I described in the preceding paragraph, if marketed correctly, would have a great deal of longevity as a trade and would easily interest fans outside the standard direct market. What I described is a coffee table book crammed to the brim with trendy, superstar artists, featuring America’s favorite modern myths and leaning heavily on the country’s most beloved form of entertainment—nostalgia.


Movin’ on up.

When I moved I had a decision to make. Would I spend the ninety dollars required to bring my comic collection with me or would I leave it behind?

I left it all behind—every comic, every graphic novel, every ashcan, every sketchbook, every ‘zine. Such a decision was not to be made lightly. I began first by pruning, eliminating books I knew I would not reread and would not miss. Great swaths of comics from the nineties were relinquished, banished to Ikea dustbins and set aside for donation. In the end, when I had accepted that I would be leaving my entire collection behind, I set aside a weekend to simply sit and read. I was pleasantly surprised to find that many of the older works held up.

Though I had the funds to take my collection with me, I was reluctant to take it out of my “start-up money.” I knew that bringing the books with me was not a necessity. A more religious (and more annoying) person would probably mention the need to put away childish things. But comics are not childish things. How can a medium, a fully formed method of storytelling, be childish? The notion is absurd.

It is, however, an expensive thing—as a consumer and as a creator. As a consumer, one must have the space to house a personal library and the lucre required to spend $2.99 on roughly seven minutes of entertainment. That’s $25.00 an hour—nearly double the average person’s salary.

And yet that $2.99 must provide for nearly a half-dozen creative individuals—writers, pencillers, inkers, letterers, colorists, and editors. The amount of labor involved to produce such a small—though delectable—morsel of entertainment is astounding and should be adequately compensated. Often, it is not.

Artwork by Sean MurphyIn Chris Arrant’s interview with the talented Sean Murphy (who amusingly provided an image that once served as the logo for this site), Murphy was asked if the comics industry was a young man’s game.

“I think it probably helps to be young, not only because you have more energy, but it means you probably have less real-world responsibilities like a mortgage or children (I certainly wouldn’t have had the luxury of doing Punk Rock Jesus if I had two kids to feed). Going to conventions, staying out late and hobnobbing certainly isn’t as fun as it was when I was in my 20s.”

I have to disagree with Murphy. The comics industry—any entertainment industry—is a rich man’s game, be he young or old. Surprisingly, creation itself is a luxury—one that requires time, supplies, and a support network. Those who have wealth are able to acquire resources in greater abundance. Those who do not have money but still possess the desire to create are often expected to suffer for their art. Poverty is romanticized. We swoon over the starving artist or struggling writer. “You have to love comics to be in it.”

When I left my previous position at an academic publisher, I was adamant that I would remain in publishing. In fact, I was certain that I would make the switch to trade or comic publishing—and perhaps write as well. Had one stated that I would set my creative aspirations aside for the field of property management, I would have scoffed.

Yet I left the books behind for a reason. I am far too practical to let the wide-eyed writer inside of me drag me into noisy, cramped apartments; cold, polluted cities; and low-paying daytime drudgery in an attempt to satisfy her creative wishes. I am poised to purchase my first property; she will have to settle for a diary and a library card.

Perhaps when I make that last payment on that last house—somewhere near water where the skies are blue and the political affiliations are as well—I will allow her some leeway. Luckily, writing isn’t a young man’s game.


Image is everything.

The title of this post is a bit of a misnomer since I plan to touch upon comic companies directly competing with Image, but good headlines are hard to come by! I’ve been thinking a bit about my previous posts concerning the fate of Vertigo (of which there were many). I had come to the conclusion that Image would usurp Vertigo’s grip on the publication of cutting-edge titles from superstar creators and talent on the cusp of notoriety. Looking at Image’s line-up, I can certainly say that I was right. I had also assumed that Vertigo would then conquer IDW’s domain, bringing quality cult classics from other arenas to the world of comics. My belief was that IDW would simply roll over, unable to compete with DC’s monetary resources. Those predictions were wrong. IDW has in fact strengthened its position: securing work from creators Jeff Parker, Steve Niles, and Duane Swierczynski; luring away former DC editor Sarah Gaydos (who can boast of her work on Vertigo’s Django Unchained); and expanding its list of titles. Clearly realizing that there is strength in numbers, Dark Horse and Dynamite have entered into a partnership. While the partnership concerns only digital works, there are still many more months of announcements and a long stretch of convention season still ahead of us.

Where does this leave Vertigo? Stripped of its power and glory—seemingly embedded in its former executive editor, Karen Berger—it must begin once more as a fledgling imprint, laying the groundwork necessary to rebuild its talent pool and brand. At first glance, it seems to be doing a superb job, publishing work such as Prince of Cats and Django Unchained. Though the works listed are of a higher quality than the fare once found on UPN and the WB, I can’t help but recall how the struggling stations bolstered their ratings by reaching out to talent of color—and wonder if DC has attempted the same with projects from writers such as Mat Johnson and Ronald Wimberly (as well as the earlier acquisition of Milestone’s characters). That Prince of Cats does not boast an i in its upper left-hand-corner should honestly be of great embarrassment to Image. That Mat Johnson has made Vertigo his home in the four-color realm should be unsettling as well. Why is Image unable to “seal the deal” with creators such as these?

But will Vertigo possess the ability to do so much longer given the absence of Berger and her protégés?

“I wrote a scene where Juliet is smoking weed with her homegirls in the bathroom. I started thinking about NY in the late ’70s and ’80s, [so] I put that in there. Karen liked it. Karen was real supportive. It was important to me that Karen dug the characters. I broke down the whole book.

“I guess here’s where things got difficult. I got lost in the bureaucracy. They switched editors twice on ‘PoC,’ and in the end, I lost that game of musical chairs, and badly. I had to nag to get things looked at and approved. Because I wanted certain control over things like color and design, the process was held up further. The fact that I’m a bit mercurial didn’t help.”Ronald Wimberly

The empire has clearly fallen, and I think this remaining dominion of Vertigo will be conquered by organizations such as Dark Horse, Oni, Top Shelf, Drawn & Quarterly, and—of course—Kickstarter. As for Vertigo, I wonder if it will simply become an imprint for quirky off-brand works featuring existing DC properties.

I (and many others) have jokingly referred to Image as the new Vertigo, but can Image become the new DC?

“Image will increasingly shift from creator-owned to in-house properties. These ‘in-house’ properties may themselves be partially creator-owned, but the focus will be far more on developing their own brands (in the style of ‘The Walking Dead’) than launching those of independent entities. Of course, a big part of this has to do with TV/movie options, etc.”Valerie D’Orazio

A shift in Image from creator-owned to in-house properties? Sounds ludicrous, no? For those paying attention to interviews with Stephenson, it shouldn’t seem too farfetched.

“One of the things we’ve been working on this year, with our What’s Next campaign is to focus more attention on continuing series, through both ads and retail posters, because it is important for people to be aware of those books. We’re also working on a variety of retail incentives to make it as easier for retailers to support a title at literally any point in its run, whether it’s on issue one or 100.”Eric Stephenson

I don’t think Image will ever abandon its focus on creator-owned properties, but I think there will be greater emphasis placed on promoting books featuring characters owned by the Image partners. After all, charity begins at home.

Can Image become the new DC? DC is an engine that runs on the fuel of its beloved icons; Image is a young company and possesses no icons. However, with twenty years beneath its belt, Image can certainly use nostalgia to its advantage. Just as it was successfully achieved with the Extreme titles, Image can reinvigorate interest by (1) relaunching earlier works with new visions by popular creators and (2) providing longstanding Image titles with consistent material by their original creators, cosmetic revisions for struggling works, and new “jumping on” points for all.

In regards to diversity, DC simply takes a consumer’s approach, using its vast resources in an attempt to acquire what it has difficultly cultivating in house—popular characters of color and a diverse writing staff. Image appears content to be pursued by talent, which generally results in homogeneity in regards to race and gender. Earlier, I was discussing with a friend how I felt that talented black writers mainly tended to eschew the mainstream, convinced in the belief they are not welcome. Now, it seems there is even an avoidance of smaller companies, with Kickstarter reaping the benefits—leaving slim pickings for actual publishing companies.

“No one likes to say this out loud, but for the most part, the submissions publishers receive are not very good. By and large, the art is so bad that even the proudest parent in the world wouldn’t put it on the fridge if their kid brought it home from school. There are endless pitches that are either re-hashed versions of stories that have already been told, or even worse, completely incoherent. Most of the time, looking through the submissions pile is pretty depressing.”
Eric Stephenson

If a racially diverse selection of writers is a goal—and to be honest, it seemingly isn’t a goal for the industry, nor a concern outside of Black History Month—both DC and Image will have to select representatives who can act as talent scouts and impress upon the populace that diversity is a concern. Image will need to woo established writers of color (Liu, Bernardin, etc.) from other comic companies and arenas; DC—hit with a wave of bad press that has made many established writers wary—may have to settle for grooming novice writers with potential.

“Don’t know if [Milestone] would fit at Image. They’re kind of about that solo pioneer spirit. And imprints revolve around one creator’s properties.”
—Cheryl Lynn Eaton

The above quote is one from a debate I had on Twitter on whether Image could succeed with an imprint akin to Milestone where DC had clearly failed. Though Image excels at world-building across multiple titles (as most comic companies excel), those worlds clearly spring from one writer’s creative vision—generally, one lone white guy (Kirkman, Silvestri, etc.). What was so wonderful about Milestone was that men and women from a large variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds came together to create quality comics featuring a world that was equally as diverse. Image cannot provide that. DC cannot provide that. I cannot think of one company that possesses the diversity, the level of talent, and the financial stability required to recreate such an operation. All three are required for it to work.

All in all, I’m interested to see how things unfold—for Vertigo, for Image, and for the industry as a whole. Even Milestone, which celebrates its twentieth anniversary this year, may have surprises in store.


A Flash in the pan.

I got my Earth One: Wonder Woman! But I’ve already discussed that. Today, I’m here asking for a mile out of the inch that was given. I want more. Specifically, I want Earth One: Flash, Earth One: Green Lantern, and Earth One: Justice League. And then? I would like the Earth One universe to rest on its laurels and allow for innovative ideas concerning wholly new characters.

For Earth One: Flash? We’d be examining the life of one Walter West—endearingly referred to as Junior. Desperate to fulfill both the Park family’s desire for another doctor to add to the fold and the West family’s desire to have yet another West as a member of the police force, the affable Walter—the son of Wally and Linda West—works as a medical examiner for Central City’s police department. Walter’s grandfather, Jay, has recently retired from his position as police commissioner. Walter’s uncle, Barry, still holds a position as captain. Wally, Walter’s father, died as a hero in the line of duty. Walter worries that he will be forever trapped in his father’s shadow, unable to live up to the idyllic example Wally provided.

Walter possesses all of the wisdom of the Park and West clans and none of the grace. His mind is forever two steps ahead while his body is a half-step behind—until a freak accident while out in the field leads to a discovery that alters Walter’s life permanently.

I chose to retool the West family to allow for both nostalgia and novelty. Earth One would have its first biracial superhero and a brand new character but also tie heavily into existing characters and themes explored in Flash issues. I believe that all of the Earth One volumes should serve as a bridge, connecting the history of past tales to our modern culture. Stories bend and shape to fit who we have become as a people.

Next up? We’ll discuss Earth One: Green Lantern and how I like my Green Lantern like I like myself—black with a handful of green.


Let off some steam, Bennett.

DC is rightfully lambasted for what the company gets wrong in regards to representation. However, diversity initiatives launched by the company to correct existing problems are often ignored by fandom.

The above is a perfect example of DC getting it right. Outside of the realm of self-publishing, the comics industry’s writing pool is overwhelmingly homogenous—white, American, and male. I’ve often stated that the best way to diversify the talent pool is to hire writers from outside the field of comics and allow said writers to hone their skills by (1) pairing them up with established professional comics writers on ongoing titles or (2) allowing novice writers to create short back-up stories in existing popular works. And though disgruntled reactionary fans would like to accuse Marguerite Bennett of simply being a quota hire, she is an individual with the talent and determination necessary to improve DC’s status quo. In addition, many white male writers launched their careers in comics in the exact same manner as she (sans the added stress of bigots combing through their credentials with a fine-toothed comb). Luckily, for Bennett—and for DC, for that matter—gender was of no importance to Snyder in picking his protégés. And, equally as important, Snyder’s profession as a teacher allows him access to a diverse (and novel) selection of writers in regards to race, religion, and gender—something his peers cannot take advantage of given the industry’s overwhelmingly white and male pool of writers and apprentices. In Snyder, DC has a tutor, recruitment center, and diversity outreach program in one—and is clearly taking advantage of that fact.

David Brothers, who beat me to the punch, discussed Bennett’s recent hire, networking, and the dearth of writers of color in the comics industry. David suggested, and I agree, that the lack of writers of color in the comics industry may be linked to the lack of creators of color in the social circles of those in a position to hire new creators. Networking in any creative industry is key. Without the ability to network, aspiring writers are relegated to talent contests, cold pitches at conventions, and unsolicited submissions. As indicated in Nancy DiTomaso’s piece for the New York Times, opportunities for success are frighteningly slim.

“Help is not given to just anyone, nor is it available from everyone. Inequality reproduces itself because help is typically reserved for people who are ‘like me’ … Because we still live largely segregated lives, such networking fosters categorical inequality.”Nancy DiTomaso

I am lucky in that my social network is absurdly diverse. There are many I adore who are “like me,” yet there are clear differences in race, gender, nationality, and age. There are cultural bonds upon which friendships have been formed that bridge all differences. Still, diverse social and professional networks sans the power to employ individuals are useless in changing an industry’s landscape. The industry will change only when those in a position of power to generate change feel the need to expand their existing networks, or younger individuals with diverse networks assume positions of power. Waiting for the industry to “age out” of its racial and gender inequality is frustrating, but given the mainstream’s disdain for other outreach methods and its current industry monopoly, I don’t see change occurring any other way.

Finally, I apologize for the title of this blog post. Actually, no. No, I don’t. It is glorious.