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.


Supremely prophetic visions.

A month ago, if one had asked me if I would be interested in reading a handful of comics concerning a hypercompetent white man who saves the world through his sheer strength and determination, the withering gaze that would have served as my response could have silenced the most effusive of fanboys. And yet here we are to discuss Prophet and Supreme, and how much I’ve enjoyed both.

Prophet

When I discovered that Brandon Graham would be taking the reins of Rob Liefeld’s Prophet series, my initial feelings were bittersweet. I was pleased that a creator I had always admired was being recognized for his incredible talent, however, I felt said talent was wasted on a character clearly unworthy of it. I was adamant that, similar to other titles such as Batgirl, placing a creator I adored on a book featuring a character I despised would only result in increased resentment for the character in question. More importantly, it would most certainly not result in a sale.

Brandon Graham proved me wrong. Brandon Graham gave me Conan in space.

Truth be told, I don’t have a penchant for tales of Alpha males—men who have assumed a position of dominance in their community. Even the most congenial of characters, such as Superman, leaves me cold. They are fine, even charming, when they appear in a panel or two, but an entire comic focused on their activities? I am simply not the audience for it. However, there are paths around my wall of indifference. The path Graham chose was to rip John Prophet once again from his community, this time placing him in an arena where his dominance is far from assured. A former Alpha male completely off balance in a new world? It is a concept that envelops me completely, drawing me in deeper the weirder the world gets and the harder the antagonists become.

And Graham likes it extra hard and really weird. The sanitized sci-fi scapes that the majority of us are used to are of no use to Graham. Instead, he draws his influences from myriad places, pooling them into a world that becomes dirtier and more off-putting due to the severe juxtaposition—a landfill full of different dreams of our futures. Bubblegum bodysuits, giant mechs, organic cargo trains that run on excrement, primitive hunters—all share the same terrain. Of course, Roy and Dalrymple deserve credit as well for the skill they exhibit in folding Graham’s conflicting visions into a world one can visually navigate. However, the road is a bumpy one, all the better to keep things interesting. John’s opponents and occasional compatriot are as perplexing as the land they hail from. Each character is a puzzle in appearance as well as deed, preventing the reader from simply assuming a passive role in his entertainment. As John represents the last of humanity, his fate becomes our concern, forcing us to question the motives of all who stand in his path. The tactic works. I care about John Prophet. See if you do too.

Supreme

The world presented in Supreme, once helmed—as recently as last month—by the talented Alan Moore and now in the hands of creator Erik Larsen, is one that is soothingly common to any individual familiar with the superhero genre. It is our world, albeit one that has been tweaked slightly to accommodate for men who can fly and women who shoot beams of energy from their eyes. We have been a part of this world for over half a century, and have adored every minute of it. However, like a grain of sand in an oyster, Larsen has injected an irritating element into this escapist’s world that many find comfort in. Surprisingly, it is the lead character himself.

Neither a benevolent god nor a humble everyman made good, Supreme is a belligerent bully in the guise of a superhero, one who has made his debut as a perverse pastiche of the icon of excellence we all hold dear. And though there are many twisted depictions of Superman, very few of these depictions are presented as the lead protagonist. Generally, they are the adversaries of the characters we truly cherish.

What turns this grain of sand into a pearl is Larsen’s humor and his stubborn refusal to avoid themes many others have shied away from in an attempt to present the superhero as a serious subject. The superhero is delightful and extravagant and violent and ridiculous, and Larsen embraces every element of it, throwing him into our familiar world and enjoying the mayhem that ensues.

Armed with the power of a deity and the emotional maturity of a child, Supreme is a bull in a china shop, or perhaps deer in a bar. The wreckage he leaves in his wake is awesome and, like the clip above, quite frankly, hilarious. We have seen the physical destruction clearly with Larsen’s debut issue, beheadings and disemboweling occurring mere panels after the character’s reappearance. I am curious as to when we will bear witness to chaos of the emotional variety. The world of the superhero has changed as our world has changed, and often caresses, cajoling, and compromises are required where pulling and punching once sufficed. For twenty years this character has been isolated, and now he has been dropped into a world he can physically dominate but is emotionally unable to navigate—a situation ripe for comeuppance. And who doesn’t want to see the bully get what’s coming to him?


Last hired, first fired.

Today I learned of the cancellations of Mr. Terrific, Static Shock, and Black Panther: The Most Dangerous Man Alive (late to the party, I know), and the departures of Marc Bernardin and Eric Wallace from DC’s staff of writers. I jokingly referred to it as “Official Black People Pink Slip Day” in comics along with providing a couple of mildly snarky comments about the timing of the news.

“We wanted to make sure we got rid of all the black writers and solo titles before February. That would have been sooooooo awkward.”Cheryl Lynn Eaton

I’m not as angry as I would have been in the past because we’ve been around this block before. But I am disappointed. I’m disappointed that DC didn’t take the careful time and planning needed to create a successful launch of these books and characters from jump. I’m disappointed that Green Arrow is rewarded with Ann Nocenti after performing poorly and Mr. Terrific gets a pink slip instead of Priest. It shows a lack of faith and a lack of concern. And the constant fumbling of what should be clear and easy decisions regarding launches, sales, and marketing is just frustrating.

“And the fact that DC has cancelled Static Shock and will push a Ravagers book instead of Gen 13 is just such a boneheaded move. Static and Blue Beetle should have never started out in solo titles. They should have been part of a group book from jump to build a base. And that base should have been Gen 13, which still has name recognition a decade later. To be fair, I would have cancelled all of those books but Mr. Terrific and Men of War or Blackhawks. The two I kept would be retooled. The four books I would have added to the DC lineup would have been Gen 13, Huntress (w/Cass as the Nu52 Huntress), Lobo…and Wildcats. I don’t give a damn. I love Wildcats and I’m armchair editor here, damn it.”Cheryl Lynn Eaton

Brandon Graham and I went on to develop the best Gen 13 series you’ll never get to read on Twitter this morning. Brandon and Adam Warren switch off writing duties, Emma Rios draws it, and I edit. It’s amazing and it will never exist. Sorry about that, folks. And I’ve changed my mind about the Huntress book now that I’ve realized that The Ray isn’t an ongoing—and clearly should be. Plus, the Huntress is in my imaginary Gen 13 book, which—again—is amazing.

But I’m being silly. And I shouldn’t—not completely. Because in regards to black writers receiving paid work in comics, the industry is actually regressing. A degradation is occurring as opposed to simple stagnation. And this concerns me far more than the loss of solo titles featuring black characters, especially when those characters will receive major panel time in popular team books. (If Black Panther doesn’t take a leading role in an Avengers title, I will be extremely surprised.)

If not for the wonder of self-publishing, we’d be looking at the slow silencing of the voice of an entire group. I believe we are currently down to one black writer receiving paid work in the industry, though I would be positively ecstatic to be proven wrong. Please drop me an email, if so. If not? Tread carefully, Mr. Hinds. Our thoughts and prayers are with you. With the loss of McDuffie, I cannot think of one black person in a position of power in this industry. Yes, we all have power over our own creations, but that is not akin to the type of power held by those who can launch successful lines and create multiple jobs, or who can influence large numbers within multiple industries. Do comic companies even realize how many talented black men and women are slipping through their fingers? How many are simply drifting to advertising, television, music, etc.? Do they even care? Eh, not likely.

Given the option of self-publishing, I wouldn’t care either, but many black creators simply do not have the funds to take that route (nor the option to become Kickstarter successes in an industry filled with fans that can be…difficult in regards to certain projects).

There is no way one can point to low sales as the reason for the lack of diversity in regards to black writers. An Avengers title written by Priest would sell. Detective Comics is being written by a Latino guy right now! You know how well that book is selling? Insanely well. And Batgirl certainly hasn’t suffered from Gail Simone’s estrogen levels. That book is snagging accolades left and right. So why the dearth of black writers? What’s the problem? Seriously, why is this still a problem? And why is the problem getting worse?