Quick edits.

Gail Simone asked a fabulous question on Twitter. My thoughts?

I think an editor has a greater responsibility than just making sure the “trains run on time.” An editor must make sure the work is correct grammatically and visually. But, as importantly, an editor must make sure the story makes sense. And not just that the single issue makes sense, but that it fits the ongoing continuity. And if you are working at Marvel or DC, there is the added responsibility of protecting the brand and your Rolodex—a narrow tightrope to walk. You are an ambassador to three worlds—the creator’s, the salesman’s, and the consumer’s—and must satisfy the needs of all. As an aside, just as Jeff Parker stated that a good writer must stop being a “fan,” it is necessary for the editor to stop being one as well. You cannot be personally invested as a fan would be. You must be able to pull back and view the material objectively. No identification. To be able to pull back is key in order to identify flaws in the tapestry and suggest revisions. To pull back allows for more creative freedom, free rein to try new things. Fewer instances of “Batman wouldn’t do that.”

In comics, an editor assumes multiple roles—talent scout, copy editor, salesman, researcher, critic, and creative consultant. If you’ve been lucky enough to discover a good one? Hold on tight.


There’s no place like home.

New York City has often been referred to as its own major character in the series Sex and the City. While I don’t agree, the importance of New York to the series cannot be denied. New York—any city—has an impact on its denizens, shaping them to fit the existing culture within its borders. To move to a new area, not as a tourist or transient figure, but as a settler, is to assume the customs and lifestyle of one’s neighbors that are necessary to survive and maneuver efficiently. If not, problems quickly occur. For example, Brooklyn-born, the excessive socialization required amongst strangers while in Atlanta is still disconcerting. Privacy and solitude are at a premium in New York and are not to be relinquished without great reluctance.

Good fiction requires cities to have their own cultures as well. The character of a region is shown by how the landscape and structures are depicted. It is also reflected in the temperament and appearance of its citizens. For these reasons, team-ups and crossovers must be created with care. Unless the “hook” of a tale is to show a “fish out of water,” a mish-mash of incompatible worlds and characters is confusing and distasteful to the reader. One cannot build the foundation of a good story on earth that is not firm.

Seemingly rebroadcast at least once yearly, the crossover between Homicide: Life on the Street and Law and Order is fantastic. Both worlds are clearly defined, and characters from both series find themselves as strangers in a strange land. Another tactic that works is to simply create a new world for all the characters in question. This has been successfully executed repeatedly in comics, the Amalgam universe (depicting blended versions of Marvel and DC characters) likely being the most lucrative example.

With DC Entertainment’s New 52 initiative, the DC, Wildstorm, and Milestone universes have been folded into one world. As a former fan of Wildstorm and Milestone characters, the development is frustrating. It is frustrating because I do not feel that a new world was developed that was hospitable to all characters; Milestone and Wildstorm characters were simply plugged into the DC universe. The number of Milestone characters appearing has been minimal, so a fish-out-of-water approach could have been successfully taken with Static and Xombi. However, given the sheer volume of Wildstorm characters inserted and the incompatibility of the former DC and Wildstorm universes—one an idealistic place with nearly black and white depictions of good and evil, the other a more sinister place with various shades of gray—results have been dreadful. DC fans have largely ignored Wildstorm characters. Wildstorm fans, given a strange world that in no way exploited already weakened nostalgic ties, had no reason to stay. I am apprehensive about what will occur should more Milestone characters make an appearance.

DC’s recreation of Earth 2, a world that could have easily been shaped to fit Wildstorm and Milestone characters, is essentially the existing DC universe with different characters plugged in. The culture remains the same—charmingly idealistic. In contrast, Marvel’s Ultimate universe began as a world that was much darker and cynical in nature compared to the existing Marvel universe. As of now, the two Marvel worlds are largely similar, and a large event featuring a rebooted world containing the most popular characters and concepts from both would work fabulously—though given fan resistance to change, it would probably be best to test the waters with a temporary revision akin to Age of Apocalypse.

But, uh, back to the lecture at hand: how does DC solve the problem of compatibility? There are three options: remove the Wildstorm characters from the DC universe; alter the Wildstorm characters to fit the DC universe; present the Wildstorm characters as part of DC’s underground, an off-the-grid assemblage of cynical characters largely not in contact with DC’s icons.

I’m curious to see which path DC decides to choose.


Vertigo a go-go! Redux!

The birthing process for the new Vertigo has been long and laborious. It is clear given the new projects announced and those resulting in cancellation that the company will soon be reborn as the offspring of Wildstorm and the Vertigo of years past. Hopefully, it will be stronger and more lucrative than its predecessors, while maintaining the qualities that made them great.

I believe a mission statement is beginning to develop under the watchful eye of Hank Kanalz. Vertigo will publish quality work from popular creators featuring established comic properties that do not fall within the realm of the DC universe—Astro City, Fairest, Tom Strong, Sandman. In addition, Vertigo will also provide adaptations of popular, envelope-pushing works from other mediums such as film and television—Django Unchained, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. With properties chosen carefully, Vertigo can maintain its unusual “edgy” brand while reaping the benefits of crass commercialism.

For the moment, however, Vertigo has been hit with a wave of bad press. Dismal sales and the loss of Berger and books such as Hellblazer make it appear as if the imprint has lost its way. The imprint desperately requires some positive attention and good will prior to its upcoming releases hitting the stands.

Two words: digital initiative. Take a collection of Vertigo works no longer in print (and likely never to be reprinted) and release the first issue of each series for free for a limited amount of time. Remaining issues could then be sold for a very low price. For example, fans could download the first issue of Millennium Fever for free and purchase the remaining issues at a later date for merely a few bucks. It would allow fans to once again acquaint themselves with Vertigo and reestablish the brand as well.

Minimal effort for what could be a lucrative and popular project? Why not?


I want this, comic artists. Really.

With RZA now at Black Mask, I’ve been thinking about my old idea for a graphic novel/anthology where artists draw comics utilizing lyrics as scripts. My idea? It’s fabulous. Just saying. And while I always knew which songs I wanted drawn, I had never attached them to specific artists. Let’s rectify that, shall we?

“Children’s Story” by Slick Rick and Adam Warren
“Shakey Dog” by Ghostface Killah and Chris Brunner
“The Sweetest Thing” by Lauryn Hill and Afua Richardson
“On the Run/Murder” by Royce da 5’9″ and Ron Wimberly
“Break You Off” by The Roots and Terry Dodson

Feel free to add your own to the wish list! Get on this, comics industry!


Samples.

“Honestly, when it comes to comics and nostalgia, I want more Public Enemy than Puffy. Meaning, you should take the old stuff and mix it into some weird ish that is only vaguely familiar.”Cheryl Lynn Eaton

The comics industry is awash in nostalgia and has been for decades. And though the word nostalgia has become distasteful to many, it is not the existence of nostalgic work that is a problem. The ubiquitous nature of it is.

We need our rituals and our well-worn tales. They provide comfort, instruct children as to how to make their way in society, and honor those who have come before. In comics, many creators choose to pay homage to the elders they admire through mimicry and the utilization of classic characters. Wonderful stories in many genres have been created via this method. The stories are akin to “party joints,” songs where a rapper raps over an existing beat ripped from an older song. Puffy (Puff Daddy, P. Diddy, Diddy, Sean Combs) was notorious for this. The result is fun and fanciful, but it brings absolutely nothing new to the table. The creative effort involved in such a project is negligible. These works are needed to pay tribute—to enact a ritual—but if they are all that a society produces? Said society is no longer moving forward artistically. It has become stagnant.

The comics industry has become so bound by its nostalgia that it has nearly ground to a halt. Rigid adherence to what has come before is only useful and enjoyable in small doses. The majority of the artistic works produced must be innovative. What is created throughout the ages must change as our society changes. Like a closed commune, the comic industry primarily watches society change from afar and makes no changes within.

After I made the comments posted above on Twitter, Brandon Graham asked me what comics I would consider “Public Enemy comics.” I wanted to say Prophet, but I am completely ignorant of the Extreme universe prior to the recent relaunch. However, having read enough Conan, I can safely say that Prophet could be placed within that category.

At the time of the group’s debut, Public Enemy’s sound was completely novel. It was nothing like what had come before. What was fantastic about the music produced was that it lovingly paid tribute to the founders of modern black music and yet honored the new community it was creating for simultaneously. And one does not have to actually sample older works to achieve this. Frank Ocean inspires vague remembrances of the Dramatics and Prince, but his work is wholly his own.

I wish to see this method adopted by comics. I want to see love letters written to Kirby and the world that we live in now. To survive as an industry? Comics must embrace the past and the present at once.


Where are you, Keezy?

I cannot be the only individual desperate to know Karen Berger’s next step professionally! Not only is Berger an amazing editor, but more vital to any publisher looking to add to his or her creative arsenal, the woman is a walking Rolodex. Her connections and her ability to develop an easy rapport with some of the industry’s most notoriously eccentric—though talented—personalities, makes her a key asset. The comic industry needs women like Karen Berger.

Unfortunately, Berger does not require the comics industry to thrive professionally. Her knowledge regarding the publishing industry extends far beyond the smaller world of comics publishing. She could easily set up shop with a publisher of trade books. She would be missed, but should she wish to forego the many glass ceilings of comics, it would be understandable. Even as enviable as her position at Vertigo was, she deserved more.

Given Image’s shrewd repositioning as a modern-day Vertigo, one has to question if Berger will move to the independent publisher once the dust has settled regarding her departure from DC. I jokingly stated on Twitter that as Image has become the new Vertigo, now Vertigo must become an avant-garde IDW, selecting edgy licensed properties to develop given the ensuing difficulty it will soon have in obtaining new works. Sans Berger and a creator-friendly outlook, convincing writers that their creations will be safe at Vertigo will require a level of finesse DC may no longer possess. However, DC does possess the strength and financial backing of Time Warner, which may provide it with the funding necessary to simply buy the rights to the trendy IPs it will need to remain competitive.


Crossing the streams.

I’ve been thinking about my previous post concerning Eric Stephenson’s recent interview. If one has read any of my older posts regarding the comics industry and diversity, I know it must sound as if I’ve contradicted myself. I often state that writers can express themselves creatively and reach others even while eschewing the mainstream. I believe that. But, for me, there is the black individual and the black collective. There is the impulse to create and the need for a community to be heard and to provide for itself.

The comics industry is closed to me. I understand that now and I accept this fact because it has absolutely no impact on my ability to either create new works or share those works with others. Any individual with working vocal cords or access to a library can create and distribute a story. Yes, the scale is certainly limited and there is no monetary compensation, but the need to create and to share one’s creation with another can easily be fulfilled. WordPress journals are free; a vanity press will allow for one’s book to be published. For me, this is enough.

However, the mainstream comics community is also closed to professional black writers. An entire racial group has been shut out, their stories barred from the one arena that garners the most money and the most attention. I do not understand this and refuse to accept it. Black men and women with decades of experience as writers, fame and fan followings, and widely distributed works have been denied access. Unlike their peers, they are not sought to provide pitches nor are they considered for work unless there is a rare book featuring a black lead (and more often than not, white men are chosen to write those books as well).

I cannot accept this because I have the need to see black people and hear their voices when I consume mainstream entertainment. No, I do not expect black people to helm every project or star in every vehicle, but I do expect them to have a clearly heard voice in every creative industry.  The comics industry as it currently stands is unable to meet those expectations. It is for this reason that I am no longer a consumer. I’ve simply walked away from the mainstream. For the industry, this abandonment is no great loss. Eight dollars less a month certainly will not cause any major comic company to crumble. Being one reader short will not result in a book being cancelled.

However, I am not the only one to walk away. Many black men and women who once created comics have been lured away by film, television, animation, books, and magazines—industries where their contributions are desired. The impact is glaring. An entire component of American culture has been severed from the industry. Given America’s obsession with its black subculture and the comic industry’s mad scramble to create projects that will appeal to an increasingly diverse audience, this seems blatantly stupid.

For the most part, I attempt to remain quiet. (Really, I do!) These are topics that should be addressed by men and women working in the industry, not outsiders, but their overwhelming silence often causes me to blurt out impatiently.

I promise to try to do better. Instead of using this blog to focus on what and how mainstream comic companies must change, I’ll use this blog to champion the creators I enjoy. A little positivity never hurt anyone!


Cycles.

“RE: The Stephenson interview. The Image method is meaningless when it comes to creators of color, so I wish that Eric Stephenson wouldn’t push it as the method of finding talent. All of the creators he named as new finds were white. I don’t see Jimmie Robinson being offered a slew of Marvel and DC books. (Note: it’d be nice!) The only way new writers of color can break in comics and receive regular mainstream work is if they’ve achieved success in another arena. And Image is not searching for creators of color in other arenas to lure them to Image. That is what DC and Marvel have been doing. I could not care less how we get new writers of color. If we need to steal famous people from other mediums, that’s great! But that whole ‘rising through the ranks of Image’? Son, that doesn’t work for you if you are black. Can we just be honest about that? The Image grooming process works fabulously for white people though. Still, it’s not gonna get me a Hudlin or Liu.”

—Cheryl Lynn Eaton

My comments on Twitter, shown above, grew out of a discussion of Heidi MacDonald’s interview with Image’s publisher, Eric Stephenson. It also grew out of the acknowledgment of the dearth of black writers in mainstream comics and the lack of upwards mobility for black writers within the comics industry. For talented white men with aspirations of working in mainstream comics or gaining widespread notoriety, the “Image to Big Two” cycle awaits: embark upon your career with an Image miniseries; get offered work on mid-tier Marvel or DC comics; develop a cult following; get offered work on a major Marvel or DC ongoing series; develop a need to branch out creatively and own one’s own intellectual property; return to Image with huge fanfare; bounce back and forth between corporate and creator-owned work until mainstream fans grow tired of your industry dominance and Marvel or DC will no longer offer projects.

This route is sealed for black writers. Jimmie Robinson has not been tapped for a Marvel miniseries. Enrique Carrion isn’t registering on DC’s radar. I’m baffled as to why. Marvel and DC rifle through Image as a kid skips through a candy store, gobbling up all the jellybeans save the black ones. (To be fair, black jellybeans are awful, but black writers—like all writers—run the gamut when it comes to talent.)

DC and Marvel do occasionally notice the need for diversity within the talent pool and actively seek out writers of color. However, instead of seeking these men and women at Image, they scout for popular writers in other arenas—film, animation, television, video games, music, prose. It seems the only way a black writer can garner mainstream success in comics is if he or she has already achieved mainstream success outside of it.

I don’t know why the route to mainstream success for black writers has become so narrow, warped, and difficult to navigate. All I know is that there thankfully is a route and I want to see black writers with the fame and talent needed to manage the journey traveling it. I want black people to have a voice in comics that is able to be heard by mainstream audiences. We are not a niche. We are not a tiny subculture to be denied larger access. We deserve to tell our stores, not in a quiet corner, but in front of a microphone.

Yes, black writers can thrive outside the mainstream, just as a musician can earn a living foregoing radio play and an actor can make a living never appearing in a major motion picture or national television show. However, when an entire group composed of multiple ethnicities is denied access to the mainstream? The industry is woefully incomplete. Imagine if one could only hear black musical acts via college radio stations. Imagine if Lucy Liu’s available roles were limited solely to those in plays. Imagine if the four women writers currently at Marvel and DC had their books cancelled, were not offered new projects, and fandom said not one word regarding their disappearance. (Note: the latter actually happened in regards to black writers.)

What do I want? I want exactly what I’ve been getting in drips and drabs, successful black writers from other arenas being offered work. However, I want this occurring in much greater abundance and at mainstream Marvel and DC (as well as at smaller imprints and independent comic companies). I also want something I haven’t been getting as well—talented black writers with years of industry experience (Priest, Burrell, Benardin, Trotman, etc.) being tapped to write series.

It’s 2013. Let’s make some changes.


Vertigo a go-go!

The writing is on the wall in regards to Vertigo. Thankfully, the message written is a positive one. With the promotion of Shelly Bond to executive editor, it appears evident that DC plans to pursue the same avant-garde material it had been known for publishing during the reign of Karen Berger. However, with the promotion of Hank Kanalz—known for his work at Wildstorm, an imprint that dealt heavily with movie and film tie-ins—it is also clear that creating commercial successes is also a key factor. Vertigo will likely become a R&D farm for cult classics, creating comics that in time will mature into a strong backlist of graphic novels to be cherished for decades. The strength of the Vertigo brand will hopefully also improve DC’s reputation in regards to creative freedom. In layman’s terms, Vertigo will be expected to create an army of Watchmen and a legion of Snyders to hold down the fort.

In the future, how can Vertigo cater to demands for commercial success while continuing to create quality material that veers off the beaten path? Perhaps a Frankenstein’s monster of an imprint is in order, merging parts of Vertigo, Wildstorm, and Milestone to create a new imprint that usurps the dominion of all three.

Like Wildstorm, Vertigo should aggressively pursue cult classics in film, television, and video games in order to create tie-in works. It is important to seek works that have made an impact in American culture: the Grand Theft Auto series; Django Unchained, etc. However, I think it is important that the imprint bring something new to the table in order to create a lasting desire for its graphic novels. New stories must be told. For example, the adaptation of Django Unchained was a fabulous idea, but it is odd to me that no editor at Vertigo made an attempt to also produce a graphic novel featuring all-new material set in the Django universe. Imagine an anthology featuring Priest, Hama, Vachss, Hudlin, Miller, etc. With the inclusion of an introduction by Tarantino its status as a backlist tent pole would likely be a given. Why was an editor not assigned the task of sweet-talking Tarantino in order to bring such a work to fruition?

The list of creators I compiled featured individuals from a variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds. It is an arena in which Vertigo can take its cue from Milestone. Not limited to the narrow selection of mainly white male creators adored by mainstream fans, Vertigo can—like Milestone—reach out to underrepresented groups in the industry and provide them with a voice. Milestone was always labeled as a black imprint providing black books to black readers. While there is nothing wrong with said goal, it is not what Milestone was about. Milestone was multi-ethnic in all forms: creators, characters, and consumer base. Vertigo should be as well. Vertigo should be an imprint that reaches out to groups that mainstream DC has been unable to grasp. Imagine a miniseries penned by Junot Diaz and drawn by Ming Doyle, or a Scandal one-shot written by Shonda Rhimes and drawn by Amanda Conner. I’ve listed popular writers from other fields because I feel that it is the best way to add diversity to the talent pool while maintaining or improving the quality of work submitted. Look at Marvel’s success with Marjorie Liu. Vertigo must replicate it.

Finally, Vertigo must maintain the status quo in regards to the creative freedom offered to its talent. It must find a way to wrest its title back from Image as a place where an artist is provided free rein to share his vision. Perhaps it can also become an arena where a creator is able to maintain some semblance of control over her creation; this will be important if the imprint wishes to foster good will and lure creators away from independent companies.


Got to give the people what they want.

“As a female fan I’m wary about talking about Amazing Spider-Man #700. It feels like the plot was designed for the purpose of baiting fangirls for publicity. So, yes, the scene with MJ and Doctor Octopus was distasteful, but manipulating female fans is as well. Marvel saw the attention received when the same damn plot unfolded with the Chameleon just a few months back. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. However, this time Marvel knows better—and, hopefully, so do the fans. Doctor Octopus will never sleep with MJ, but there will be several close calls. The end. I hate the fact that something righteous—irritation with the way the industry deals with gender—has been twisted into ‘cheap heat.’ Marvel’s stance: get them focused on something inconsequential that can benefit us instead of actually addressing gender inequality.”

—Cheryl Lynn Eaton

I broke my own rule on Twitter. I think what frustrates me even more is that, as an editor, I would have certainly supported the story and allowed it to be pushed through. Why? The press would be phenomenal and the fans, though temporarily irate, would happily flock back in droves to see the return of the real Peter Parker as he steps in just in time to save MJ from the clutches of his nemesis (or, depending on the writer’s choice, aids in the redemption of Doctor Octopus). Fiction allows for the suspension of belief. Serial drama generates a deep emotional investment. A combination of the two makes for ease in audience manipulation. And books must be sold.

I’m a woman. I’m an editor. I’m a fan. A woman needs to know that her concerns have been heard and that she is respected. An editor craves that perfect, popular tale. A fan desires the ultimate tease and release. I hope that at the culmination of this story everyone will be able to walk away happy. However, I’m not certain that will happen. Marvel, skilled at teasing fans and stirring up their emotions, often takes far too long to follow through (or in some cases, simply refuses to). People will only entertain a tease for so long before they walk away flustered and befuddled.

Anyway, just my “smart mark” comments on the matter! However, one last thing, MJ saving the day by rescuing Peter and facilitating another body switch would certainly be a happy ending warmly received by all fans. Hopefully it won’t be one that comes too late.

I swear there were no puns in the preceding paragraph—not one.


Backing black.

In the wake of the largest New York Comic Con to date, there have been important discussions taking place concerning the representation of women and minorities in comics. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will admit that I submitted an application to the NYCC showrunners to host a panel showcasing black creators in comics. The panel was rejected. Though I was initially frustrated by the rejection of the panel, I was truly happy to learn of the existence of a Hip-Hop and Comics: Cultures Combining panel featuring creators Ron Wimberly and Eric Orr.

Yet, I am still frustrated. Black youth culture gave birth to hip-hop, but black people are merely one facet of hip-hop as hip-hop is simply one facet of what is black. And one lone panel tangentially focused upon race/ethnicity designed to showcase black creators seems woefully inadequate. Diversity is about the inclusion of all—in all spaces.

Yet, do we really need a Women in Comics panel? Blacks in Comics? Gays in Comics? What is desperately needed is a panel featuring key comic creators and editors discussing the topic of sexism in comics. Panels focusing on how racism impacts the comic community’s output and how homophobia shapes the treatment of comic icons should be standard. Imagine a panel dedicated to a frank discussion on racism featuring Hama, Priest, Bendis, Simone, and Stephenson. Honestly, I think that’d be the only panel to convince me to lift my current ban on attending conventions.


Foursquare.

Hey, remember when you asked me to give you my thoughts on the basic construction of the DC and Marvel universes? Oh, that never happened? Well, too bad. You’re getting my breakdowns anyway.

The Marvel universe doesn’t take much time to explain. It’s a beautiful mosaic. And though the irregular, jagged pieces of history do pull together to make an interesting and comprehensible whole when one steps back and views the full line in its entirety, the majority of a reader’s fun is derived from zooming in to follow intricate curves and plot twists. The joy is found in the messiness of it—the dangling plot threads, lost trails, and minutiae. I can see why the Marvel editorial staff is so wary of a reboot given how readers read Marvel comics. The focus is placed upon relationships—how characters interact given their history. Should you remove the history, what is left? I suppose that is why the Marvel staff has opted for a careful simplification of Marvel history rather than tossing decades of carefully constructed relationships into the dustbin. While new readers will be able to “jump on,” older readers will not feel slighted by drastic changes.

DC, however, was able to weather its recent relaunch due to the fact that DC generally deals in archetypes. Moreover, its universe is not a mosaic, but a simple square and two strings. Sounds dull, no? Surprisingly, it makes for a universe equally as interesting as Marvel’s. Allow me to explain.

The DC Universe

Again, two strings. Two tug-of-wars between four houses—justice versus injustice and order versus chaos—it’s as simple as that. The excitement comes from watching the knot in the center, the symbol for power and control in the DC universe, veer uncontrollably from side to side as strategic moves are made by different players in each kingdom or house.

Justice:
Batman (king); Wonder Woman (queen); Superman (knight)
Injustice:
Lex Luthor (king); Gorgeous (queen); Catwoman (knight)

Order:
Steve Trevor (king); Amanda Waller (queen)
Chaos:
The Joker (knight)

The brief list I’ve provided above is woefully incomplete due to the fact that I do not believe all of the major players are currently on the stage. After all, it has merely been a year. Also, the roles of king and queen are not assigned via one’s romantic relationship, but according to tactical value and importance. Note that injustice and order, defined by commerce and government, are decidedly human. Justice and chaos, defined by heroes, villains, aliens, and gods—or in more generic terms, science and religion—are predominately otherworldly. For those wondering who Gorgeous is, she is an old Stormwatch: PHD character I feel would be a solid addition to the DC universe given her skill set and personality.

There are other minor details to take into account. Chaos and order are neither good nor evil. What brings order does not always bring justice; a chaotic individual may actually wish to improve the lives of others with his or her actions. Romances, friendships, and family ties that cross houses also muddy the waters considerably (ex: Bruce and Selina, Steve and Diana, Lex and Amanda).

The simplicity of the DC design makes things rather difficult for the DC staff. One needs a stable creative team in place or there is the danger of editors making creative decisions in place of the talent. Also, constant communication between creative teams is required. This can result in a constant barrage of email.

Anyway, this is what I think about while waiting for my food to cook, folks. Hence, I am a pretty boring date.


Bastard children.

Comics inhabit an unusual place. A comic is the product of the marriage between pictures and words—between the literary and the visual. So, it is not surprising that the comics industry inhabits a strange place as well. It’s as if the industry is the bastard child of the film and publishing industries, inheriting the best and worst from both—massive economic disparity within the talent pool, amazing feats of brilliant storytelling, a passionate commitment to the project at hand, the change of direction on a whim, empathy for one’s peers in troubling times, sexism, racism, etc.

The level of professionalism shown within the industry is also a reflection of its status. As with publishing, there is certainly no fear of hard work; deadlines must be met. There is also reverence for the process of telling a story. These men and women have studied their craft. Sit down with an artist or writer and watch his or her expression as one asks for an explanation of a creative choice. See his eyes light up. Hear the excitement creep into her voice. It’s infectious.

But creators are not only storytellers. Like their peers in film, they are also showmen—hucksters in a “good ol’ boys” club where they are extremely comfortable in their environment. The presence of a filter is occasionally lacking.

When you show up to the party in a hovercraft, you don’t have to worry about the burning bridges behind you when you leave.

The behavior exhibited by Rob Liefeld (among others) is unacceptable and unprofessional—for publishing. An editor at Candlewick Press would not comment upon a dispute between an author and Chronicle Books. A writer would not hurl personal insults at the editorial team attempting to improve his product. Issues are handled privately, and if they cannot be handled privately, they are handled publicly with decorum and respect. There are certain standards to be held.

However, for visual entertainment industries such as film and television? This behavior is commonplace and beneficial. It is rewarded with publicity and new opportunities. Does anyone truly believe that there is no place for Liefeld at Marvel given the buzz he has now created? Brevoort’s words mean nothing, for we have seen Liefeld zip from company to company (Marvel included) based on his ability to draw eyes. And, akin to celebrities such as Charlie Sheen or Kanye West, he has reached such a status in his field that he is able to say anything sans repercussion (save for public giggling or grumbling, which again provides free publicity).

Mind you, DC Entertainment also benefits as well—though I am sure the editorial teams in place do not feel as if they do at the moment. Liefeld’s wild nature draws attention away from the accusations of micromanaging at DC. No longer does it become a litany of professional artists walking away from the company for legitimate reasons, it’s just another war story about Uncle Rob acting crazy.

Hopefully, both sides play it so that they both win. Rob continues to prod DC employees, who respond as shocked, innocent victims of Rob’s bullying and draw sympathy from the public. Liefeld takes his bad-boy persona and heaps of publicity back to Image, where he triumphantly returns to a position as the editor of the Extreme line, in order to show everyone how a “good editor does it.” The line is already a critical darling due to the work of the creative teams in place, but Rob can easily claim credit. And I think Liefeld might actually be a benefit to the line as an editor.

We’ll see.


The illustrated interview.

I had a series of tweets about this idea months ago, but I’m not sure if I’ve blogged about it until now. I’m hoping that a comics publisher will pick up the ball and run with it.

I’d love to have an illustrated graphic novel containing interviews with some of the comic industry’s most illustrious personalities. Allow me to explain. Each section of the graphic novel would feature a short interview with a famous creator such as Frank Miller. The interview would then be set into a script, as if the creator and the interviewer are simply two characters in a comic, and illustrated. All interviews would appear to take place in the actual comics the creators worked on: Gaiman would observe Morpheus’ funeral as he discussed how he created the Endless; Lee would watch a brawl between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin from the Brooklyn Bridge.

The work could be a yearly series as more creators agreed to interviews. Just a thought.


Hope and change.

The San Diego Comic Convention has come and gone. Many have taken the time in the days following the convention to reflect on the current state of the industry and ponder what the future holds. I was thrilled by some accounts and disheartened by others, but I still see a future for the industry that is strong and sustainable, and one where women and people of color play a part in it.

No, I am not sacrificing realism for optimism. I am aware of Marvel’s “leaking” of hints of a Black Panther movie that shows no signs of coming to fruition—leaks that conveniently occurred after fan grumbling over the marketing of minority characters (a choice example being the debut of sneakers paying tribute to Marvel’s famed Nazi villain the Red Skull and Z-list X-Man Chamber, while characters such as Luke Cage, Shang Chi, and White Tiger are denied any type of product placement). I am aware of claims from Marvel representatives who discuss the difficulty of translating Wakanda to film, and yet indicated no difficulty in bringing Asgard to the silver screen. Yet I am also aware that these representatives do the best they can, wading through red tape and battling bigoted executives, to make even minor changes in how we tell stories and shape worlds. Tied hands can only do so much. White lies are given so that consumers do not bear the brunt of the brutal racism these men and women encounter in the boardroom.

Luckily, there are a slew of individuals with hands no longer bound. And we are at a point where the industry is at its most fluid. The line between creator and consumer has blurred—no longer visible. At Davis’ Black Panel a woman lamented a lack of characters reflecting her life and world. Just as Davis indicated, she has the power to change that. She can write. She can sponsor projects that intrigue her via Kickstarter. She can search for existing books that are simply waiting for her eyes to light upon them. We can have the comics that tell our stories. No, they may not come brandished with a recognizable logo on the cover, but why is a logo so important? Logos can no longer buy the security of a built-in audience; a list of recently cancelled titles provides evidence of that. And while the backing of a major company can help in regards to marketing and access to consumers, there are alternatives available to self-publishers.

At the last convention I attended, the New York Comic Convention, I was thrilled by the diversity I found. There were individuals of all backgrounds creating comics, bringing their unique perspectives to the medium. And the collection of consumers was equally diverse. Rich Johnston indicated in his post-convention review that this has carried over to San Diego’s festivities, and I certainly do not doubt his account. However, I keenly remember at NYCC that the diversity I found behind the table was located away from the main exhibitions in areas such as Artist Alley. Moreover, the credits in mainstream comics recently produced have shown no indication of change. If larger publishers are hiring black individuals in greater numbers, those men and women certainly are not determining who Black Panther shall battle next month, who Spider-Man shall kiss, or whether Luke Cage will lead his team to victory. We are not hired to shape worlds. Should a black writer at a mainstream publisher be found—one that is not currently on a book hurtling towards cancellation—I will gladly withdraw my statement.

In the past this would have concerned me greatly. Today, mainstream publishers no longer provide benefits unavailable elsewhere. The number of exclusive contracts has dwindled. There is no health insurance to enjoy. Creative freedom has given way to editorial edicts. So why not hone one’s skill via self-publishing through Kickstarter or use a smaller, alternative publisher to build one’s name?

I am aware of the importance of mainstream visibility—for men and women of all backgrounds to be seen as heroes and have their stories told. But given the success of individuals such as Tyler Perry and Shonda Rhimes, I have to wonder if established channels are the route to achieving said visibility—especially when we are clearly not considered part of the establishment. No matter what the medium, there are other options available waiting to be chosen.

Choose.