Your friendly neighborhood Anansi.

I recently polished off Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and Anansi Boys—and enjoyed both immensely. As a humorous side note, I’ve also come to find myself troubled by spiders. Each day since finishing the last page of Anansi Boys, I have encountered one of the eight-legged fiends. I am sure each experience has been as unpleasant for the arachnid as it has been for me. The first encounter was too intimate to share and, frankly, too hilarious not to. Dropping my shorts at my feet to take a shower, I noticed an odd skittering back and forth beneath folds of cloth. I screamed and leapt across the width of the bathroom. (Don’t bother marveling at my athleticism. It’s a tiny bathroom.) Sure enough, a medium-sized brown spider darted out from the terry cloth and high-tailed it for the radiator. I was horrified. The occasional spider in the bathroom isn’t a catastrophe—but what if he had been carried from my bed? Needless to say, I ceded the bathroom to the arthropod and sheets were immediately stripped. Thankfully, no bites. Having endured a spider bite right on the small of my back, I can accurately state that they are (1) painful as hell and (2) do not bless one with Spidey sense. Or even common sense.

The second spider came a day later, hovering in the middle of the hallway at work, diligently spinning a web as if a check would be collected upon its completion. Huge. Black. Dare I say it? Muscular. He looked at me. I looked at him. Coolly, he pulled himself up to the ceiling and settled in the crevice of a light fixture. We both decided to pretend the moment never happened.

By day three it had come to be an expected annoyance. Nestled in a notch in my bathroom door frame was a tiny, almost translucent spider. Too small to cause fear and too remote to reach, I allowed him his rent-free existence.

Annoyance morphed to anger on day four when a thin, tan spider dropped down right before my face, and arrogantly plopped down on my computer screen. By this time, I had taken their appearances as some sort of sign. I roughly nudged him with a piece of paper, hoping he would hop on so I could carry him to the hallway. He refused. While I warned him not to make me kill him, he was slain by a coworker. Oh, well. I had given him options. If I’m being sent a sign from a higher power, I’d prefer one of the non-arachnid variety. In the meantime, let’s talk books, shall we?

American Gods is fantastic, though emotionally draining. I love the casual, easy way Gaiman builds worlds and Gaiman’s ability to play with various shades of gray—both in terms of color and in terms of varying degrees of good and evil. I found myself charmed and repelled by both black hats and white. Sympathies were extended to chief villains; heroes were occasionally off-putting. However, I think that my favorite aspect of the book is its ability to pull American readers away from America, forcing us to look at this bizarre and glorious circus we call a country from an outsider’s perspective. The title’s lead character, Shadow Moon, receives his first metaphorical death early on in the novel, as he is stripped of both the life he knew as well as the life he expected. His circumstances making him a blank slate and his grief leaving him completely numb, he is able to view the country’s quirks and rituals sans preconceived notions, something no American is able to do. Shadow simply accepts this country—the hate, the adoration, the violence, the customs—for what it is, refusing to edit what he sees to create the America that “should be.” It makes for an America that is chaotic and horrible, disjointed and extraordinary.

I followed Shadow as he recovered from a devastating loss; at the same time, I dealt with a personal loss of my own. Like grieving, it made the reading of American Gods a difficult, but essential experience. However, Anansi Boys is light-hearted and cathartic—a return to joy after a great deal of pain. Set in the springtime, both literal and metaphorical, of the world established in American Gods, Anansi Boys presents a world that is comfortable and familiar. Though Fat Charlie and Spider are beset by consistent bumbling, as a reader I never felt out of step with the world presented. With American Gods I had to relearn. Nothing could be taken at face value. The visible world was an egg shell and one false step could pull the main character and the reader down into a quagmire of yolk—a world beyond the world. The world of Anansi Boys is solid, comfortable. Perhaps it is because, unlike Shadow, the lead character is such a known figure. A black, hyphen-American with a pink collar job, struggling to make ends meet and saddled with a legion of older relatives who seem ancient and magical and completely ridiculous? It is as familiar as the reflection in the mirror—a foundation in which one can be sure.

However, just because it is familiar does not mean that it is mundane. There are stories and there are songs; some of them are true and some of them are not. In our world, a world without magic, we simply accept that and continue to enjoy the tales told. For Fat Charlie, this is not the case. Fat Charlie’s world is magical, and that means all of his songs are true. Everything is as it seems. A man can be a spider and a god, and still be a man—just as we’ve been told by our fairytales and folksongs. All Charlie must do is accept this—and keep singing. And yet, that is not as easy as it sounds. But that’s what makes the tale all the more fun.

How can I explain myself?

I wrote the following posts many moons ago and revisiting them it is easy to see that the primary emotions driving each are anger and disappointment. And though I still commit the cardinal sin of refusing to organize or edit my blog entries, I have become more adept at restraining my emotions via the written word. So it is not without a bit of amusement that I reread my former manifestos. How sarcastic! How indignant! I was ready to say goodbye to the comics community then, but I clearly did not. For though I, as a black person and as a woman, felt neglected, ridiculed, manipulated, I knew—wholeheartedly—that black women deserved a seat at the table. I knew that black women deserved to be seen and heard as they actually are sans parodies, sans whitewashing, sans strawmen for authors with axes to grind. And I was determined to be the most belligerent and obstinate of thorns until that happened. And if it didn’t happen? Well, I would walk away, burning and salting everything behind me.

In my posts I painted the comics community as an abusive suitor, taking funds, time, love, and providing only insults and neglect in return. And to be fair, I was not that far from the mark. Within the panels we were relegated to bystanders, and should we have by some sheer luck gained the admiration of the audience, our blackness was stripped from us to make us more palatable to white men or our femininity was taken to make us less threatening to female fandom. Behind the scenes we were occasionally seen but never heard, finishing pages for more prominent artists, eking out a modest living via card sets and pinups. I was irate that black creators had more agency in the 1940s via Negro newspapers and that black women were better represented artistically in the 1970s. With each decade that progressed we regressed, and something had to be done about it.

And something was done about it. We spoke, we posted, we wrote, we drew. And by we, I do not just mean the we of my sisters—though that contribution was vital—I mean the we of the entire comics community.

Things changed. In short time the abusive suitor became an attentive one. Varied depictions of black women flourished. Established black creators gained more notoriety and new creators arrived on the scene. Yes, it is far from perfect, Marvel employs no black writers and DC has only Selwyn Hinds to call its own, but things are improving considerably. It can be seen with each new Kickstarter, new creator, and new character.

Like a good lover, the community now gives and takes. It is no longer the wayward suitor of my previous posts. But sadly, I am no longer the woman who once wrote it. A community merits what it provides. When it provided derision and scorn, it received the same in kind from many via scathing blog posts and the occasional boycott. And now that it woos with a plethora of depictions, a platform, and employment? It is only fair that affections are returned via purchases, donations, contributions, and consideration. It is only right. And it is with shame and sadness that I admit that I do not have the funds, the time, or the skill to be one of the women this community demands and deserves.

In the days when the subset of black women in the comics community was miniscule, it was easy to corral each recurring character and creator in order to present them to potential audiences. A small number of purchases, a handful of emails, and one or two perusals of comic news sites was all that was necessary to amass the material required to post. Today, our depictions have developed far beyond what my wallet can contain and I alone can catalogue. I do not complain. This is a blessing. But it is a blessing that has highlighted my inadequacies. As I neglected the community to attend to personal matters, emails piled up. Comics sat on racks unpurchased. Posts to showcase fabulous creators and characters languished in queue—a matter that will be attended to very shortly. I became what I had once admonished, an inattentive lover, a harridan highlighting only faults. My suitor has outgrown me—and it is glorious to see. He has become worldly and eloquent, popular and prosperous. And worthy of one who can honor him, contribute to his success, and support him in his time of need. And so, with the most potent bittersweetness and the fiercest of pride—I let him go.

And we’re back.

I spend entirely too much time discussing comics on Twitter. I tend to cycle between different forms of communication—texting, tweeting, blogging, writing letters, posting on message boards—depending on what form gives me access to the largest amount of acquaintances at a certain time. Twitter definitely wins out more often than not. And sadly, the blog withers.

But not today! Today, The Beat made the announcement that DC will be offering ten-page back-up stories in certain books. These books will feature a higher price tag of $3.99. Jaded fan that I am, I immediately recalled WildStorm’s price hike to $2.50 after adding eight-page back-up features in certain issues. The features soon disappeared; the price remained.

In the case of DC’s new venture, these features will not showcase new creators or new characters and will deal with material that ties directly to the current story. Why can’t this new material simply be part of the central story arc? Did page length and price really need to be altered? Is this simply a slight of hand to bump up cover prices down the line and shine a spotlight on Marvel’s more expensive prices ($3.99 for 32 pages) for a momentary marketing boon? I hope not. Still, I must admit that such tactics have worked before in the past and will likely work again in the future. Ease fans into the idea of the back-ups by using creators they are already fond of; make sure to mention that the deal being offered provides more content than the nearest competitor provides; and finally, make fans feel that the back-ups are truly central to the main story.

Once fans have become accustomed to the idea? Start making changes. Introduce new creative teams that you hope to build your new hit properties from. Once fans warm to your new tribe of creators, change the subject matter. Use back-ups to launch new characters or inject lifeblood into older properties. After all, a blood transfusion from Batman can go a long way.

But I’m being a bit mercenary, aren’t I? Looking at a small number of my Twitter comments from today, I’d say so:

“Anyway, since I’m all about the underdog, I’m more concerned with how Dark Horse and Image can compete on DC and Marvel’s level. And before anyone gets snippy, I’m not talking about quality; I’m talking about being able to sell ‘The Fandom Experience.’ DC and Marvel aren’t just selling books, they’re selling communities. How can Image and Dark Horse build a community and culture—especially when these are things that are supposed to develop naturally and cannot be created by companies?

“I suppose Image and Dark Horse could get those communities quickly in the short term by stealing from developed ones in other genres. But, (very important) you have to have a community that likes to read. You do a comic about a fratboy shooter and it’s not going to help you. Questions to ask: Have multiple communities with different flavors developed around this brand? Is fanfiction being created? Does the brand already have material that would directly compete with a comic line (paperback novels)? Yes, yes, no? Then you’re good.”Cheryl Lynn Eaton

Dark Horse has followed this model successfully utilizing its Buffy franchise. It also has the wonder that is Hellboy, but seems to care not one whit about developing a community around this brand. How sad. Much like a rental property, these communities can be life-sustaining for a brand during lean times financially and creatively. And Dark Horse has open access to the superhero communities that have built themselves around DC/Marvel, and yet leaves Empowered, an amazing series, out to drift with minimal marketing. This is criminal.

Image has The Walking Dead, but that is merely one book compared to the multiple series and miniseries in the ever-expanding Buffy universe. In regards to The Walking Dead, I don’t think diluting the brand with multiple books is a good idea. If Kirkman has another powerful ongoing story to tell in that world, then that’s fine. Until then, leave that strong workhorse alone.

The Top Cow and Extreme universes, however, can and should be mucked about with. I love the talent being poured into the Extreme universe and wish some of it could be reserved for the Top Cow universe—which could use fresh blood, a good jumping on point, and a large helping of diversity. And I love the way that Top Cow employees are dedicated to developing a universe that fans can feel a part of, and are also concerned with nurturing a community built around its brand and watching it grow. And that’s what Extreme needs. Fans want more than just a comic—especially for $2.99-$3.50. Where can I ask the creator a question? Where can I discuss the plot with other fans? Where can I see takes on these characters by others? These are questions that need answers. The company does not need to provide answers, but if no one is? The comic in question is not likely to sell well.

Still, it’s a new year. Let’s see what the big five decide to do with it.


Dwayne McDuffie was the first person in comics to treat me like a person. He was the first person in comics to treat me as if my opinion mattered. It didn’t matter that I was younger, darker, and in possession of more estrogen than anyone else at the table. I loved and cared about comics and I loved and cared about black people. And that was enough. Because he did too.

Words cannot express how kind and how smart and how important this man was (and will continue to be) to the world of entertainment and to me. And I am very sorry he is gone.

Drive-by Blogging! Again!

Stick with this. Please note that my boy Jamar Nicholas has been doing the damn thing. Don’t believe me? Check out the first chapter of Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence over at Beacon. Yes, Beacon. Life is more than just spandex and the big two, people. Still, I wouldn’t mind seeing Jamar on a Spider-Man joint (versus Hypno Hustler, of course). Think about it, Marvel!

Sans San Diego. I can’t afford SDCC, so NYCC has become my Nerd Prom. It’s a perfectly acceptable substitute! Actually it’s better than SDCC since there’s a complete lack of Hollywood types clogging up the aisles. If you live in the tri-state area, you cannot let this con pass you by. Trust me on this one.

The meh phase.

After reading David’s blog post over at 4th Letter, I’ve realized something. I just can’t hang with shared universes any longer. The inconsistency bothers me. I don’t pick up Marvel and DC books to follow artists or writers; I do it because I’m fond of a certain character. If the character’s look and personality varies wildly from appearance to appearance—what’s the point? There’s no real character there to follow, is there? And when your favorite character is a second stringer, you can pretty much expect drastic changes to fit the story at hand. No one is interested in building a consistent brand with the B-list sidekick. I can’t blame them. Who is going to buy a Power Girl or Daughters of the Dragon t-shirt? Well, me. But will anyone else?

On the flipside, I don’t want to read an Empowered story written by anyone else but Adam Warren. And if there’s a new Dawn miniseries, I’d better find art by Linsner inside when I pry open those pages. Hmm, I guess I do follow creators. I’ve picked up Warren and Linsner’s Marvel and DC stuff too. Lord knows I’d never have any Iron Man or Black Cat of my shelf if not for those two.

Maybe that’s my real modus operandi—fall in love with a creator in the indies and follow that creator anywhere? Well, unless there’s a character I really hate. I love Canepa, but I wouldn’t buy an Emma Frost series even if Canepa’s name was on it. And Chiang on Batgirl wouldn’t get me to reach for my wallet. Unless it starred Cass, of course. I guess I’m just trying to figure out my buying habits. Aside from ordering Empowered and picking up Hellboy trades at conventions, I haven’t really been interested in buying anything. Even worse, I haven’t read one issue of the Shadowland crossover. I was really excited about that crossover too!
I guess I’m trying to figure out why I’ve lost interest in Marvel and DC. I’m not really trying to fix the problem, since it is saving me a lot of money, but I am interested in the reason. It certainly isn’t a decline in quality. I have friends enjoying the hell out of these books. It’s not the price. One, I happily spent $3.99 on an Empowered one-shot, and two, I could easily rifle through my friends’ stacks for free. Not enough diversity? Eh, maybe at DC, but that’s just the nature of their universe. Also, they seem to be trying to fix that.

I don’t know what’s wrong, but there are more posts about General Hospital here than there are about comic books. And while General Hospital is hilariously (and unintentionally) entertaining, that’s kind of sad.

Lighter things.

Upon first reading this Salon article, I wanted to crawl through my computer screen and shake the woman who had written it. Not in anger, but just to wake her up. Why was she looking to white men to make her feel feminine? Why was she looking to white men for sexual validation? Why was she bothering with white men in any romantic capacity at all? Did she not have any clue as to how “Excuse me, miss? Can I talk to you for a minute?” coming from a black man can make a damn day? How a wink from a Filipino dude over a cup of hot chocolate can make you blush? How the simple syllable ma coming from a Puerto Rican guy could make you weak in the knees? And Lord, don’t get me started on Samoans.

I rarely get hit on by white dudes—so rarely that I just stopped expecting any kind of romantic overture from them at all. I expect them to see me the same way that they would see a man. Because they do. And honestly? The same goes for all Asian dudes who aren’t Pacific Islanders as well. I remember this moment back when I used to wear my hair pin straight. I got hit on by this South Asian dude and the sheer horror that overtook his face when I started speaking and he realized that I was black was hilarious. And I must admit that I was looking at him pretty strangely once he approached me too. How does this fool not know I’m black? I am so obviously black! What the hell is this fool trying to talk to me for?

Over time, I became John Mayer’s counterpart. His comments about black women didn’t even bother me. Who cares what white men think about black women romantically? How is that in any way important? I was too busy being pissed about how he had the nerve to declare he had a hood pass and felt comfortable enough to let racial slurs slip past his lips! That was the problem that needed to be addressed. Immediately.

But then I read the Tooles editorial a second time without being so quick to judge. And I understood how she felt. The isolation and invisibility can be heartbreaking. I happily solved the problem by just spending time around non-white men. But maybe that’s not an option for her. Maybe she wants all men to treat her like a lady. She has every right to want that. Because she is a lady, damn it!

And sadly, white men not viewing black women as women, as ladies, as individuals worth flirting with, or dating, or holding doors open for is a problem. Because it results in this. And this. It shapes how the media presents black women to the world. Because white men have one hell of a steel grip on the media. And that grip on the media distorts how people view black women. And results in this. And this. And this. Not good. How do you solve the problem? I’m not sure. Perhaps by loosening the grip? By letting a variety of people get that chance in front of the microphone or camera? By letting a variety of people present their words to the masses? Because that way, men like Mayer are drowned out by men of all races who love all beautiful women. And by the women who love themselves.

The Rec List: 10/02/09 (3)

Fantastic Four #571Earlier in the week, I agreed to read and review two comics that were kindly (and not so kindly) recommended to me. During the first half of my review, I discussed what I expected from each book and the role I felt that each book had in the marketplace. Next up? It’s time to crack open some comics!

The artwork in Fantastic Four #571 is simply lovely and is wholeheartedly dedicated to telling Hickman’s story. I only had one minor issue with Eaglesham’s pencils, so let’s get it out of way first. Due to Eaglesham’s preference for a bulkier and more muscular Reed Richards, it took me a couple of pages to figure out that the Reed Richards who is the main protagonist in the story is actually the Reed Richards from the 616 universe. Multiple universes thrown at me right off the bat? I’m no stranger to superhero comics. I can handle that. A Reed Richards without a slender swimmer’s build? Well, that I’m not used to. But a few panels in and I could figure out who was who just fine. And Eaglesham’s choice didn’t stop me from understanding the story. It just made me blurt out “Oh, that’s our Reed!” about a third of the way into it. I’m not the type to pay much attention to recap pages.

The depictions of the Fantastic Four’s home help to illustrate the idea that the Richards are a normal family that happen to do extraordinary things. There are no never-ending lushly carpeted halls as in the Avengers’ Mansion or wildly-colored space-age furniture. Save for a few robots petering around in the background, everything about the Fantastic Four’s family life is decidedly average and middle-class. The furniture would look right at home in an Ethan Allen catalogue. Rooms are tightly packed and cluttered with household items. Eaglesham does a fantastic job depicting the image of the classic American family that has been consistently reinforced from the days of Leave it to Beaver to the days of Malcolm in the Middle.

And as with any good Fantastic Four artist, Eaglesham seems as comfortable with the colorful and cosmic as he is with the average and American.

Ah, I have one more possible issue with Eaglesham’s pencils! Everyone appears to be related! While this is wonderful in a book like Fantastic Four, I have to wonder if Eaglesham would run into problems with guest appearances from other Marvel characters. Everyone seems to have a square shaped face and a cleft chin.

Mounts’s colors are great. I love the fact that everything good in Reed’s life—his family, his ability to help people—is depicted in warm hues. The pinks, browns, and yellows make it seem as if the positive aspects of Reed’s life are awash in sunlight. And when Reed is upset or conflicted, blue or purple dominates the scene. Whether done on purpose or not, it’s a nice touch.

Unfortunately, Hickman’s story did not reel me in as much as the art did. And I’m frustrated by this because I have no idea why it didn’t! Hickman is a talented writer who provided me with everything I would expect from a good Fantastic Four story. He hit every possible beat. Exploration of the self? Check. Exploration of the family? Check. Exploration of the cosmos? Check!

I do believe the problem is not with Hickman or his work, but with me. Six decades in and America still isn’t tired of examining and discussing the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant middle-class nuclear family. But I? Am very tired of it. However, that certainly doesn’t mean that America should stop examining and discussing it. It shouldn’t. Because it’s an important aspect of American society. It just means that I’m going to stop listening in when it’s done. Because it is extremely boring.

Set them in the ’60s? I don’t care. Give them superpowers? I don’t care. It has been done so many times that there is no way a writer can bring anything new or novel to the table with the subject. But what a writer can do with it is serve up a very solid and satisfying chunk of nostalgia for his readers to enjoy. The problem is that I’m not nostalgic for it.

I do believe that the same goes for superhero tales as well. Unless the classic superhero story is distorted through humor (ex: Empowered) or violence (Ex: Blackest Night), or deals with a character that I have a longstanding affection for (ex: Wolverine), I’m just not interested.

How do you fix this? You don’t. Because it’s not a problem. Fantastic Four comics sell well. Fantastic Four movies do well at the box office. Many people have a longstanding affection for these characters. I’m just not one of them.

One last thing, can I just say that putting a quote from the interior of the comic on the cover is a brilliant idea? Because I really think it is!

The Rec List: 10/02/09 (2)

Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose #58Earlier in the week, I agreed to read and review two comics that were kindly (and not so kindly) recommended to me. During the first half of my review, I discussed what I expected from each book and the role I felt that each book had in the marketplace. Next up? It’s time to crack open some comics!

I’m not sure how to judge the artwork in Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose #58. There are two goals that Balent seems to have in mind when drawing—and those goals occasionally compete with one another. One goal is to service the story; the other goal is to service the sexual desires of his readers. The second goal clearly takes precedence over the first. Though I am not sexually attracted to women, I do believe that Balent achieves his secondary objective of titillation. Balent’s female characters possess the same characteristics of mainstream celebrities in the adult entertainment industry. Tarot and her sister Raven have large, disproportionate breasts similar to those found on modern pinup girls or video vixens. Couple that with long flowing hair and pseudo-gothic outfits that barely cover their plump nether regions, and Tarot and Raven would fit right in at a strip club, the Rock of Love bus, or on the set of a pornography film. Distasteful? Not according to the many men who spend their hard earned money to look at women of this…caliber? Yeah, we’ll go with caliber.

While the art doesn’t arouse me, one can’t deny the sheer joy that leaps off each page. Balent and Golightly simply seem enthralled by what they do. And while what they do is rather amusing at first, one must give credit to an artistic team willing to take such time and care in depicting something as mundane as a breast or vulva. When it comes to titillation? It’s all in the details.

However, when it comes to telling the story, those details make the art look amateurish and can confuse the reader. For example, I had no clue what was taking place on the final page of the comic until the last sentence of the third panel. Balent is more intent on depicting a sexy scene instead of one that makes sense. And that’s detrimental to the tale. The art in an action scene should be able to explain what is going on without the need for words. And it doesn’t. And the final page was not the only point where I had to sift through exposition to figure out what was taking place on the page. What would be delightful to any straight man or lesbian picking up a pin-up book was completely frustrating to a straight woman who just wanted to read a story.

Also, while I’m sure the creative team saves money by having Balent and Golightly take on multiple jobs, the book could really use the touch of a professional letterer. The lovely care that Golightly puts into coloring the series is not seen at all in her lettering. Sentences are often off-center and crammed into balloons that are too small. Then again, I’m sure that anyone picking up this book doesn’t give a damn about the lettering. It’s clearly legible, which is what matters most. My OCD is probably just kicking in!

The story was simple, fairly straightforward, self-contained, and gave a few hints as to possible plotlines to come. The issue would be a good jumping on point for individuals charmed by the art. It pretty much reads like any mid-tier action series. Sans cheesecake, it could easily be a one-shot or filler issue featuring Raven or Magik. The writing is serviceable.

What impressed me was the sense of community that Balent and Golightly manage to build within the pages of the book. Features such as the BroadSword Girl page, which shows a photo of a fan in a cosplay costume, allow the reader to actually become a part of each issue. And no, delightfully enough, arousal is not the objective of the feature. The woman shown in the issue reviewed was covered in cloth and chainmail from head to toe. The book also provides a page for Wiccans to share spells with one another. And again we are presented with another page that is titillation-free. Balent and Golightly seem to treat their fans with a great deal of respect and attention, which probably helps when building a loyal base. While I haven’t become a Tarot fan, I can definitely see that there is an audience for this material.

The Rec List: 10/02/09 (1)

This Monday, in an attempt to broaden my horizons, I asked people to recommend me a couple of comics recently released. I wanted to read and review books that I normally wouldn’t pick up on my own volition. Ragnell of Written World, who is probably off somewhere snickering right now, pointed me towards the infamous Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose #58 and David Uzumeri of Funnybook Babylon fame advised me to pick up Fantastic Four #571. Done. And done.

Now, with all due respect to the illustrious Stones, there’s no such thing as a virgin read where comics are concerned. Even if an individual has never picked up a comic book, it’s likely that he or she has already packed a steamer trunk full of preconceived notions about comics and/or superheroes. We all come with cultural baggage and comics are a large part of America’s history. You can avoid comics, but you can’t avoid the impact they’ve had on American citizens. Our language and our thoughts are shaped by capes, spandex, and four-color buffoons. So, let’s pop open this steamer trunk and see how I feel about the books selected before even cracking one of ’em open, huh?

Judging a book by its cover. I could probably count the number of Fantastic Four stories I’ve read on one hand. Yet, I have a clear image of what to expect from a Fantastic Four comic. A Fantastic Four comic series should be about three types of exploration. First and foremost, is exploration of the cosmos. This is where the action is—dodging solar flares; fending off alien invasions. This is the stuff of grand adventure, folks! Next up is exploration of the family. How do you make a marriage work? What makes a good father? Am I my brother’s keeper? This is where one can find drama and conflict between team members. And last, but not least, is exploration of the self. How can I reach the peak of my abilities? What is man’s greatest accomplishment? Are there things that should rightfully be beyond man’s reach? This is where opportunities for character development take place.

Now, while the Fantastic Four are part of the Marvel stable, where the building blocks for tasteless and sexist Wizard jokes are routinely produced, I expect the characters to engage in PG-rated fare. I’m assuming there are no crotch shots of the Invisible Woman and that the only sexual activity taking place on panel occurs between the married Susan and Reed Richards. Of course, I could be wrong. However, these are my expectations or preconceived notions about the series. I’m guessing I’ll receive an adventure story nestled somewhere comfortably between the Incredibles and the Impossibles. We’ll see if I was right next post!

And now for Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose. Hrm. I was made aware of the series through the hilarious reviews of Chris Sims over at the ISB. I also have a friend who loudly inquires as to who would buy such garbage each time he happens to come across a comic from the series. I give him the same answer each time. “R.N.W.” R.N.W. stands for Real Name Withheld for the purposes of this blog. He’s an acquaintance my friend and I went to school with. Imagine the lovechild of Comic Book Guy and Nathan Explosion.

Stop laughing. I mean it. He’s the guy who orders the Ultimate Rock Ballads collection from Time Life. He’s the guy who wears the Three Wolf Moon T-shirt unironically. He’s the guy who had Lady Death spray-painted on the tire cover of his jeep. And I’d bet good money that there’s an issue of Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose sitting somewhere in his house right now.

The thing is, R.N.W. is actually a pretty sweet guy. He just has certain tastes when it comes to his books, his music, and his women. And a comic like Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose caters to those tastes. Yes, we all know that there’s porn for free on the internet. But that doesn’t help people who have very specific needs. It’s like telling a man who is only turned on by women in stilettos stepping into banana cream pies to go lurk around Nine West. That isn’t going to satisfy him. And Playboy isn’t going to satisfy a man who wants both the salacious side of burlesque and the supernatural.Tarot is.

So what am I expecting from Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose #58? I’ll be brutally honest. I’m expecting terrible writing and carefully crafted art which caters to men who find the combination of pornography and horror sexually arousing. Have I guessed correctly? We’ll find out soon enough. In the meantime, I have a comic shop to get to.

Uh, Roman Polanski supporters?

Uh, you do realize you’re all nuts, right? Dude committed a crime and then decided to bounce. And decades later he was caught. And he should now serve time for his criminal act. I don’t see how this could be any simpler, folks. Listen, I understand that you guys really like the movies he directed. After all, Chinatown was fantastic. But, hell, 12 Play was great too. Doesn’t mean that R. Kelly doesn’t deserve some time in a cell because I like to sing “Sex Me (Part II)” in the shower. Suck it up.

I see, Hal.

This is a panel from Justice League: Cry For Justice #1:

And this is why I could never ever be Superman:

Generation gap.

The United Church of Canada: JointsWell, now I know why my mother accused me of being a pothead. Let me back up. My mother came to visit me a while back. Upon the first phone call I received when she returned home, she accused me of smoking pot. I, of course, was horrified. I’ve never smoked pot in my life! How dare she accuse me? Well, my mother was adamant that she had seen several joints in my garbage can. Since she didn’t want to embarrass me then and there, so she simply covered them with a tissue. Anyway, she didn’t believe me when I told her I was drug-free. She gave me a long lecture about drugs and then told me she loved me unconditionally.

Oh, was I pissed. The first thing I did once I got off the phone was spend an hour sifting though disgusting garbage and calling friends to see who the hell had the nerve to bring pot into my apartment. Did I find any joints? Of course not. Had anyone brought marijuana to my place? Nope.

Months later, I see this ad and it hits me. My mother thought the rolled up tissues in my garbage can were joints! When I’m nervous, I have a tendency to roll things—candy wrappers, tissue paper, plastic labels, etc. Here’s where the title of the post comes in. I have never in my life seen marijuana rolled that way. Who the hell smokes joints that look like that? Old people? Rich people? That looks ridiculous! Wouldn’t that burn away in like three seconds? How could you even get high?

Now, I’ve never smoked pot, but I sure as hell have seen it being smoked. And it has always looked like this:

I can’t wait until I have kids so I can accuse them of doing coke because they haven’t dusted their mirrors regularly.

Power up.

Empowered, vol. 4 back cover

Empowered, vol. 5 back cover

See a difference in Sistah Spooky? I do. Believe me, I adore this series and I came up with all sorts of reasons for the difference. It’s because she is being highlighted by Emp’s power signature. It’s a printing error. She’s not that much lighter. I hate the character anyway. It’s a bad scan. Her change in looks is due to an alien-spawned body image conspiracy. I grasped at any possibility to keep me from dropping this series. I don’t want to drop this series. I love this series. I supported this series. Hard.

But each time I ventured over to Amazon to order the latest volume, I’d look at that cover and feel a mild queasiness in the pit of my stomach. It’s the same feeling I got back when I was buying Immortal Iron Fist. It’s the feeling that I’m paying to be disrespected. I’m handing my money over to someone who thinks that my skin color is a problem to be quietly eliminated from the canvas or screen. It’s the feeling that I’m selling myself short. I’ve got to go with that feeling.

It’s not about calling for a boycott. I wish Warren and Dark Horse nothing but success. It’s about me not wanting to buy something that makes me feel bad. I can feel bad for free. I know David is a fan of Warren’s and a fan of Empowered, so I’ll probably use him as a scout to see if one of the possible explanations I told myself when I was contemplating buying this volume of the series is the actual truth. In fact, I’m crossing my fingers hard and desperately hoping for this to be the case. But until then? I just can’t.

Random thoughts.

No longer is it possible to successfully target a community for financial gain without making some sort of investment in that community. You may become emotionally invested the longer you do research. You may have to invest your money in hiring a liaison from that community. Either way, the parasite method of doing business is done. It’s a wrap, son.