Author Archive

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Help Kids Learn and Become Superheroes With 826NYC

August 21st, 2014 Posted by david brothers

My friend Chris Eckert, also known as Kenny Bloggins and of Funnybook Babylon fame, volunteers at 826NYC. I’ve talked to him more days than not over the past however long we’ve known each other, and that means I’ve heard anecdotes like the one below here and there. They’re always hilarious and heart-warming, Kids Say The Darnedest Things-type material, but genuinely funny.

He’s raising money for 826, and I’m a believer. He shared this story, which you can reblog on tumblr by clicking his name, to sweeten the pot and jedi mind trick you into donating. It worked on me, and I hope it’ll work on you.

ihopeyourehappyinternet:

Hello Internet Friends and Acquaintances!

If we’ve spoken for more than ten minutes over the past decade, I’ve probably mentioned 826NYC and/or the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. They’re celebrating their tenth year of providing free educational programs and cape testing to folks in the five boroughs, and I’ve volunteered for them for very close to that entire time. You can check out our site for more information about all of the programs: drop-in homework help, creative writing workshops, field trips and publishing projects produced in conjunction with local schools, and even an annual student-made film festival (on August 26th, naturally) where kids get to see their efforts on the big screen at BAM. All of these programs are 100% free for the students and their families, which means that periodically we have to bust out the proverbial-or-literal donation bucket. I’ve never pushed this on my friends and acquaintances because come on, I am a product of public schools and state universities, and I don’t think I’ve even met a hedge fund manager. But this year they’re trying out something called $826 for 826 and how could I turn down participating in something with such a symmetrical hook?

Beyond all of the great stuff 826 does that I listed above — and it is great stuff, I’ve worked on all of it — I thought I would share one of the most incredible things I’ve ever witnessed in the confines of volunteering at 826NYC. 

It was after drop-in tutoring  and two kids around ten years old hadn’t yet been fetched by their parents. One was an 826 lifer who’s been involved with countless workshops and projects. The other was dragged in sporadically by his parents for maybe a year before his sullen eye-rolling brought an end to the experiment. Maybe it’s not important which was which.

The first kid mentions his hopes of getting a dog for his birthday. Or maybe a cat. Definitely a pet. He would LOVE a pet and turns to the second to ask if he has any pets. Second Kid says no, and when pressed on the issue explains because his mother is allergic to dogs.

The first kid is gobstruck. “WHAT? She’s allergic to DOGS? I’m sorry, but that is STUPID. Dogs are awesome. What kind of messed up person would be ALLERGIC to something so awesome? I don’t know man, your mom is DUMB.”

Second kid has absolutely no response to this, and looks at me pleadingly. I attempt to intervene: “Look First Kid, being allergic to dogs has nothing to do with liking dogs. My mother loves all animals, but she’s allergic to cats and a lot of dogs. She can’t help it, it’s just something that happens.”

First kid is deep in thought. “So like you’re born with allergies?”

“Exactly!”

First kid pauses, and busts out an incredible turn of phrase: “Look, what I am about to say MAY BE CONSIDERED CONTROVERSIAL. But I should NOT GET IN TROUBLE FOR IT.” The exact phrasing has obviously stuck with me to this day, and given the gesticulation accompanying I imagine he picked this up from a comedian or something. I still don’t know. For the first time I’m somewhat concerned about being left alone with minors, but I let him continue.

“There are people in our community who are… I don’t want to say the word… it’s like when a boy likes a boy or a girl likes a girl.”

“You mean people who are gay?”

“YES! Now… I know that being G-A-Y isn’t a big deal, it’s just how some people are born, and it’s not weird, and no one should ever make fun of them for it. I shouldn’t get in trouble for saying this!”

“You haven’t said anything that will get you in trouble, First Kid. And if you’re just stating a fact it’s okay to say gay.”

“I don’t want to get in trouble. But like… Second Kid’s mom was just BORN allergic to dogs?”

“Right.”

“Okay, so being allergic to dogs is the same thing as being gay?”

“I mean… yes?”

“Second Kid, I’m sorry I made fun of your Mom for being allergic to dogs. It’s just like she’s gay or something, she’s not stupid.”

Second kid begrudgingly accepted the apology, and seconds later his mother came in to pick him up. First kid felt a little bad for being prejudiced against allergic people, but I told him he’s fine. And he is.

Beyond watching sullen eight year olds who hate homework growing into high-achieving teenagers who will patiently walk a second grader they barely know through multiplication even if it interrupts their own studies, beyond watching kids discover their hidden love of acting, poetry, claymation, or fashion design, beyond even getting to walk through A SECRET PASSAGE HIDDEN BEHIND A BOOKSHELF multiple times a week, this is why I volunteer at 826NYC and want it to continue to flourish. It’s a safe space for people to ask questions, explore topics, and learn tolerance for people with dog allergies. 

If you can, please donate whatever amount you feel appropriate to support 826NYC. And regardless, if you are ever in the need of a cape and are in Brooklyn, I can hook you up.

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Ghost in the Shell: an interrogation

August 13th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

I’m really enjoying Claire Napier’s ongoing interrogation of Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell property. There are three entries in Napier’s “Ghost in the Shell: The Major’s Body” thus far. The first focuses on the first film, the second on Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, and the third on Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, a television series. Napier’s doing a kind of writing I like a lot, where she takes a close look at what the work is saying and figures out where she stands in relation to it. The subtext, the themes, the shots the animators choose to create versus how we perceive them…this is good stuff and well worth looking over.

Napier’s posts are extra-interesting to me, as a lapsed Ghost in the Shell fan. I remember watching the movie for the first time on VHS with a few family members, and I watched all of Stand Alone Complex, but it’s been years since I really dove into the franchise, if I ever did at all. Everything I consume now gets passed through a critical lens that I wasn’t capable of back then, so this works as both a trip down memory lane and the revelation of new data.

She asks a lot of questions or points out a lot of things I’d never thought about, like the subtext of the Major often being nude while her male coworkers are clothed. The thing I like the most, something that’s sprinkled throughout the posts so far, is the way she discovers meaning in small things. We all do it, and sometimes it’s derived from subtext (Yes, Superman IS the perfect dad you never had!) and sometimes it’s pure conjecture based on our own experiences intersecting with the text in different ways.

I really appreciate that kind of writing. When I was doing comics journalism/criticism on the reg, a lot of it was boiled down to The Work and The Work alone, thanks to deadline and market pressures. There’s not a lot of outlets that’d pay for those weird, personal, noodly projects and an even smaller audience is interested in reading them. But I cherish posts like that, because it’s like getting a shot directly from someone else’s brain. “This is what this means to me,” freed of any concern about explaining whether the subject is good or worth buying or whatever. It just is what it is.

“The Major’s Body” is particularly poignant for me, because I know Shirow’s work reasonably well, and like most of my friends, I’m disappointed that he’s descended fully into “galgrease” softcore pinups to appeal to otaku instead of the ground-breaking, thought-provoking, world-building comics he made his name on. Appleseed is amazing. A poster of a lady coated in baby oil embracing a dolphin? Much less amazing. So Napier’s thoughts on GitS and The Major join my thoughts on Shirow and galgrease, giving me more ammo to mull over and figure out.

That kind of enthusiasm and conversation is infectious. I watched the first part of Ghost in the Shell: Arise, a prequel series, the other night specifically because I saw these posts and wanted to brush up before reading them. I’m finally going to rewatch Stand Alone Complex now, just to see how it looks and feels with adult eyes.

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Good Reading On The Internet

August 7th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

Here’s what’s up:

-Everything We Love About Ultraviolence: I like the Strawberry Fields Whatever gang, and when Liz Barker goes “hey, wanna write about Lana Del Rey with me?” the only right answer is “yes, let’s do it.” So we did.

-Inkstuds on the Road – Part 12 Rob Liefeld: I loved Liefeld as a kid, hated on him as an adult, and now I’ve come back around to getting it. He’s a beast and this interview is pretty good. He talks a bit about his influences and how he works. He also talks about the influence Masamune Shirow’s Appleseed had on his work, proving yet again that Shirow is one of the best secret pass-phrases to find exciting people in comics.

-I got a tumblr question about nourishing future creators, and the short version of the answer is “Marvel and DC should be secondary or tertiary in that conversation at best.”

-The Garfunkel & Oates pilot is great:

-I only watched 9 movies in July, and only one of them was as good as Tranformers 4.

-Bauer Hour: the 24CAST.: I sit down with three of the best dudes in comics to talk about the best show on TV, the almighty 24, featuring Kiefer Sutherland, king of this counter-terror ish.

-Here’s Why Comic Con 2014 Was Actually Great For Comics: I donated 1300 words to io9 to talk about SDCC this year and why it was great. It’s bad business to donate anything to Gawker, but they’d run a pretty poor piece on the same subject and I got gassed up. It’s probably good reading, though. I like “That sounds like a Marvel & DC problem.” I might have to use that again.

-Diversity in Geekdom: I did an interview the Monday after SDCC about diversity and comics. I ended up getting cut for space reasons, but some of what I said are available as b-sides, sorta. Probably nothing you haven’t heard before, though!

More soon!

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#selfiegocomiccon 2014

July 29th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

Photo Jul 23, 20 28 09

I really enjoy looking at selfies, but I’m bad at them myself. I think it’s a confidence thing. I feel uncomfortable being in the spotlight and the center of attention. I had braces as a kid, then my gap grew back and a tooth came in crooked, so I smile with my mouth closed now. I’m not too into my smile, so looking at my photos always feels a little awkward. As a result, my instagram is mostly pictures of things and other people.

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This is something I think about a lot, because selfies remind me of running around with a disposable camera as a kid, a toy that usually didn’t get developed for years at a time. I like selfies because it feels very carefree and positive and confident on behalf of the selfie-taker. I respect that a lot, that ability to just put yourself out there, but I balk when it comes to doing it myself.

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I talk with a few friends about fear a lot. Being afraid to do something new, afraid to finish something, afraid to make a decision. We haven’t talked about being afraid of selfies, but honestly? I think I’m afraid of selfies. My lack of confidence results in an inability to think I can take worthwhile pictures of myself. Fear was a big running theme as a kid at church, too. “God did not give me a spirit of fear,” “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” these were mantras that were meant to keep you confident and honest. It was a signifier that fear was an outside imposition, and that we are bigger than fear. Fear is an impediment.

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Cue #selfiegocomiccon.

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I went into San Diego Comic-Con with one thought in mind: I can do this. I had to do my day job of proofing and approving books at the printer, and I had to do my con job, which was running or being on seven panels, assisting on signings, and general troubleshooting. It made my schedule very, very tight. I spent maybe half an hour walking the show to see things each day, spread out into five or ten minute increments, before rubber-banding back to the booth or to a panel. My day job had to get done, too, so I was up early and in bed late almost every day of the show to get things done. If I’m behind on my job, my coworkers get behind on their job, so I made sure they had what they needed before the gig opened for business each day.

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It was tough, and I knew it would be tough. My plan was to balance that toughness with tactical hangouts, maximizing my enjoyment and seeing people I see rarely or whose company I enjoy a whole lot. It worked. I had a great time.

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My friend Dennis “Edison Rex” Culver, pictured above in a third-person selfie taken by a mutual friend, coined #selfiegocomiccon. I was at a dinner with him and some very good friends, we were all dressed up, and I don’t even remember how it came up, but we needed to record it not for posterity, but for us, because we’re beautiful people who do dope things. So after dinner, in a nearly empty restaurant, we did a round-robin photoshoot, where everybody got photos with each other and we took photos in various groups. We tagged it #selfiegocomiccon, and sometimes #selfiegocomicon.

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I’d already planned to instagram each outfit I wore each day, which would be selfies, but I decided to directly address my fear by going all in on #selfiegocomiccon. I took a bunch of selfies with my wonderful friends, but I also reached out to strangers. I reached out to cosplayers and also one statue at the 2000AD booth.

I respect cosplayers. I don’t have the confidence to put myself out there like that. I don’t have the patience to carefully put together a costume, either. I recognize the hustle and I respect it. So I wanted to demonstrate it a little. I make it a point to talk to cosplayers at the show and hook them up at signings or give them some of my time if they want it. This year, I stepped toward ultra-casual cosplay. I put together a couple outfits that were directly inspired by things I liked, but not necessarily 100%. I love Monkey Punch’s Lupin the 3rd and Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira, so I attended the show in clothes reminiscent of Lupin and Kaneda (specifically the pink polo & white pants), but with modifications made for comfort and style.

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I figured I could draft off their enthusiasm and confidence and steal some for myself, even as I figured out the mechanical aspects of taking selfies (I have long arms, which helps, but you know. There’s angles to this ish.) and learning to if not appreciate, at least accept, my smile. And I did a lot of smiling. I mean, I smile all the time, I feel like, but now there’s a record of me actively smiling. That’s appreciably different. Doing it vs knowing you’re doing it/doing it intentionally. Also I could take pictures of people dressed like cartoon characters I like a lot.

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That was a big part of another decision I made at the show, which was breaking comfort zones. I’m comfortable, but I’m in a rut. I’m not branching out enough. So I made a bunch of decisions I normally wouldn’t, up to and including wearing a bunch of colors I usually don’t. White pants and white shirt? Whooof…okay. Yellow shirt? Cripes, man. Fine. But I did it, and people dug it. Which was very nice.

What helped me out in a big way was something that happened on the first proper day of the show. I was wearing my Lupin getup, a black shirt over black pants and a powder blue tie. A Lupin cosplayer came into the booth to poke around, and it was like serendipity. I asked for a selfie, she was like “yeah!” and we were off at the races. It helped me out a lot, like a good omen or something. It felt good.

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If you’re afraid of something…just do it. I was at a basketball tourney over the 4th of July weekend and on the wall was the phrase “NO EXCUSE. JUST PRODUCE.” That’s real talk. No matter what the project is, no matter how daunting, one thing is always true: Ain’t nothing to it but to do it. For me, it was doing selfies until I got over myself and felt comfortable, and then good about it. The support of my friends and passion from cosplayers, who were very kind with their time as I figured out angles and whatnot, helped me over that hump.

As a bonus, here’s a song I like from Space Dandy and a picture of me and fellow Lumberjerk Chris Sims as Sailors Mars and Moon:

Photo Jul 27, 11 41 20

Selfie tips appreciated.

#selfiegocomiccon forever.

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“Diversity Marketing”

July 28th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

The other week I lost my temper and said some stuff about Marvel’s announcements of Captain America and Thor, who are replacing White Captain America and Dude Thor. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, mulling it over, because it’s been pretty inescapable.

I like Marvel’s characters. I think that much is obvious. I like the creators, too. I might quibble with some story details, but big whoop. That’s the smallest thing ever, “I don’t like this specific aspect of a comic that isn’t being written for me.” No me importa, basically. But it’s the marketing that’s killing me, and I think I figured out why.

Marvel’s making moves to increase the character diversity in their books, and drawing ire from the usual gang of idiots. Which I’m all for, even though I’m way more for creator diversity, and believe is a good thing. But the thing that’s grating is that instead of putting the work out on its own merits and marketing it about how great it is, a lot of the conversation around it has been about the basics that hate it.

I’ve been seeing Marvel folks, mostly white dudes but not entirely, retweet or address or bring up racists and scumbags and sexists while pushing their books, positioning themselves as taking a stand against these people talking trash.

They’re hijacking hate to a certain extent, in the Situationist sense, and are using it to market their comics. The new black Captain America, the new lady Thor, both of these announcements were followed, within minutes, by people talking about the people who are hating on the project. “Big ups to all my haters!” is such a soft position, because it positions you as good because these other people are worse.

On top of that, it also colors the reaction to the announcement. If you disagree with whatever for genuine reasons, but you phrase it as “I don’t like that the Falcon is Captain America,” the reaction to that is now tilted heavily toward “Oh, what’re you, racist?” instead of it being something more reasonable. By putting those people front and center, by tweeting about them and giving interviews about how you won’t change the project no matter the response because you believe in your stuff, you’re…it’s not ham-stringing criticism, but it’s definitely preempting it, in a way.

And I think that’s the gross part. I spend a lot of time consciously pushing back against the messages society tells me about being black. The unworthiness, the laziness, the dumbness…all of it’s fake. But I have to stay on the ball, I have to keep Black Is Beautiful in the front of my mind, because black IS beautiful, and it always has been, and it always will be.

But I remember being in kindergarten and getting called nigger on the playground. I remember fachas screwing with me and my friends in Spain. I remember getting followed around stores, people looking at me like I don’t belong, and getting ignored when trying to do my job because there’s a white dude next to me who people assume is the boss of me. This weekend I got confused for a few other black dudes in comics who I don’t even resemble, and it stings every time.

And I think it’s messed up to see somebody who doesn’t know that pain harness it to sell some comics. That’s what’s been grossing me out, that’s what I haven’t been able to properly articulate. It’s the corporate version of dudes crowing about how feminist they are, like being a decent human being means they deserve groupies. “One episode of The Wire, what you know about dope?” right? And I feel like Marvel gets it on a certain level, and they certainly employ people who get it, but they don’t get it yet.

Somebody calling you a nigger ain’t a badge of honor. You don’t show off your gunshot wounds. You don’t crow about how people hate you in the name of making yourself look good. You let the dead bury the dead and leave the garbage men in the rear view or in the ground. They should not matter to you or me not nary an inch.

That’s why it feels like diversity-as-marketing to me. The creative teams are killer, and I like that Marvel is putting the full weight of their machine behind these books. I respect the people creating the comics. But I can’t take seeing people be proud of getting hated on in a way that doesn’t hurt them but forces me to think about how crap and dangerous it is to be black (or anything else) and alive in America in 2014.

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The Seven Most Important Panels at SDCC 2014

July 23rd, 2014 Posted by david brothers

THURSDAY, 2:00, Room 23ABC: I IS FOR INFINITY, featuring Nick Dragotta, Rick Remender, Richard Starkings, Jason Latour, Stuart Moore, Ryan Burton, and a few special guests I can’t name yet! This is about the infinite genres comics can do.

THURSDAY, 7:00, Room 23ABC: Hip-Hop & Comics: Cultures Combining, featuring Murs, Mix Master Mike, Kenny Keil, and a few others. It’s about…it’s bout it bout it.

FRIDAY, 11:00, Room 23ABC: I IS FOR INCEPTION, featuring Fiona Staples, Matt Fraction, Chip Zdarsky, Kelly Sue DeConnick, John Layman, Steve Seagle, and a couple of special guests who do dope work. This one’s about collaboration, and there’s a cover reveal in here. Whose? SHOW UP.

SATURDAY, 1:00, Room 7AB: SAGA, featuring Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples. I’m not moderating this one, but I’ll probably be present or on A/V duty.

SATURDAY, 4:30, Room 6DE: I IS FOR IDEAS, featuring Scott Snyder, Josh Williamson, Kyle Higgins, Joe Kelly, Brian K Vaughan, and a few special guests. There’s a cool announcement at this one, so come through.

SATURDAY, 7:00, Room 23ABC: Best and Worst Manga of 2014, featuring Deb Aoki, Brigid Alverson, and Chris Butcher. I love this panel—I respect these folks so much. This is the one where I tell you your favorite manga sucks and my favorite manga rules.

SUNDAY, 2:00, Room 7AB: I IS FOR INNOVATION, featuring Amy Reeder, Chris Burnham, Tula Lotay, and some Expo guests who are particularly ferocious storytellers are on deck. This one’s about being an artist in comics, storytelling, and making some good comics.

When I’m not at these, I’ll be at booth 2729, putting out fires and busting heads.

For the Image panels—I brought some random #1s with me. Ask a question, get a free comic, probably of my choosing. I’ve got some Shaky Kanes in here, so stay woke. It’s a random selection of books, but you might get lucky. I’ll have digital codes for a free comic on imagecomics.com falling out my pockets, too. I’ll be the dressed up black dude. Come say hey.

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Beyond Outrage

July 14th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

Kanye West is a passionate dude.

The passion is what makes his art work. People connected to him because they can feel that passion. It’s visible through his work, whether it’s a banging beat or some deft observation about life. He has a habit of doing scheduled interludes at his concerts, where he talks about whatever’s on his mind. It’s the most direct way to view his passion, I think, because it feels relatively unfiltered—it isn’t, we know that, but it feels more raw than a song—and it’s not hidden behind layers of cleverness.

He’s talked about his struggle to gain traction in the fashion industry, despite his success with Nike. He’s talked about what he wants to be to society, who he respects, what he hates, and what he loves. It’s wide-ranging, but that makes sense, because West is self-admittedly a guy who is interested in a lot of things, from Margiela to Akira.

These interludes are almost always called “rants” by music journalists. Despite being planned, despite being a regular feature, they are “rants” because…Kanye West is a passionate dude, and sometimes he gets emotional when talking about things. You can see it when he goes in on Sway on Shade45 or when he got at George W Bush over Katrina.

By calling these interludes “rants,” the media is painting West with a very specific brush. The word rant implies that the thoughts are off-the-cuff, overly emotional, and therefore invalid. It’s “Look what this kooky guy said now!” instead of engaging with any of his points.

It happens to all of us, of course. We all have triggers that make us get weepy or excited in conversation, I know I have a lot of dumb ones, but that doesn’t make them invalid or malformed. It just means you care, right? And that your level of care exceeds your calm nature for a moment. The opinions you’re expressing aren’t invalid because you stumble over your words or have to pause to collect yourself.

Passion isn’t perfect. I think that’s pretty obvious. West isn’t 100% right about everything, but he has been 100% right about specific things. The presence of passion doesn’t mean that you have to believe everything someone says. It’s just a factor that will, or should, help you judge what they’re saying and where they’re coming from. By recognizing West’s passion, I can tell that he genuinely cares about the stuff he’s talking about, and that helps me evaluate how I feel about what he said and where he’s coming from.

But he’s not ranting. He’s speaking his mind.


Comics has an outrage problem.

I don’t mean people getting up in arms over things, either. That’s an issue unto itself, and like anything else, it could be better than it currently is in several different ways, but that’s not today’s conversation.

What I’m talking about is how we—the comics community—describe, talk about, and address the concerns of people who are upset about one thing or another. The way we talk about outrage fatigue, outrage-of-the-week, faux outrage, outrage-o-matic, misplaced outrage, another outrage, this outrage, that outrage, and why it’s gross and short-sighted. How we use “tumblr” as a pejorative but ignore the poison in our own forums and followers.

The way we use the word outrage suggests that the outrage in question is fake and irrational, on account of being poorly thought-out and overly emotional. It happens every time someone brings up a point to do with equality, sexism, racism, or justice. It’s the same tactic the music media uses to devalue Kanye’s rants. They’re invalid, an inconvenience, annoying, or fake because you can see the emotions driving it, and emotional reactions aren’t valid.

We use the presence of passion to first diminish and then dismiss arguments. The offended must play by the rules of the unoffended, or even worse, the offenders, in order to be heard. You have to tamp down that pain if you want to get help or fix it. You can see it when people say things like “Thank you for being civil” when arguing something heated with someone they disagree with. Civility is great, sure, but we’re forcing people who feel like they’re under attack to meet us on our own terms. In reality, passion shouldn’t be dismissed. Passion has a purpose.

The way we treat passionate reactions is unbalanced, too. We eat up gleeful reviews or tweets like they’re pudding and retweet them by the dozen. There are sites out there that have used the word “masterpiece” over ten thousand times. We promote fawning interviews and king-making, but never once question passionate praise the way we do passionate criticism.

Comics as a community tends to react to every new outrage with disbelief and scorn, lumping them in with “the crazy ones” or “tumblr” instead of looking at what they’re actually saying and figuring out what it means. Every once and a while we’ll band together like “Yeah! That IS bad!” when something is particularly egregious and “safe” to comment on, but a month later? We’re back to blindly propping up garbage men and ignoring people’s pain. The arc of the argument is the same, whether we’re talking sexual harassment or creators’ rights.

No matter how you feel about whichever issue is at hand, whether you agree or disagree or loathe both sides, you should think real hard before responding to anything. Think about what the person is saying and where they’re coming from. Think about why they’re saying it. Think about your position in society, our culture, or our dumb little hobby and think about the position of the person you’re about to put on blast. Think about what you’re about to bring to the conversation. Think about how your words will be received, even if—especially if—the originator didn’t.

That’s a bitter pill to swallow, the idea that you should take your lumps and do the work you think somebody else didn’t do. But life sucks, y’all, and if I have to choose between someone who doesn’t like somebody else’s tone or someone who doesn’t really know how to argue but has fascinating points about our culture, I’m going for the latter, even when I’m the one under the gun. One of those people has a lot to lose. The other is inconvenienced.

That power differential is important to keep in mind. Despite the petitions, despite the so-called outrage, fans have very little real control over the comics industry. As professionals, as journalists or creators or promoters or whoever we are, our voice generally has a much, much broader reach than the offended. The weight of our reactions when criticized often goes much, much farther. We have less to lose by virtue of being in a position of power by default, and that makes it exceedingly important to check yourself and your reactions.


A lot of people don’t feel welcome in the greater comics community. We created and create this environment with our words and actions. If it’s not people hassling you over taste or creeping on you at cons or making “funny” jokes about things you care about, it’s seeing how people respond to outrage. When you see a community consistently dis and dismiss people expressing their pain, you’re less likely to share your own pain when the time comes, because odds are good you’re gonna feel a lot worse when the usual suspects get ahold of your words and the blowback starts coming in.

The way we talk about outrage-in-the-abstract has a way of building further outrage in addition to diminishing other types. Where some people will shy away out of self-preservation, others will go even harder because they know you won’t listen. They know their words will be skimmed and stripped of context before being ignored and insulted. To have a point you care deeply about and then to be told that point is irrelevant and invalid—that warrants anger, doesn’t it?

I have friends who simply don’t talk about things or hold back because they know their words will fall on deaf ears or worse. My friends have been screwed with on a level that’s incredibly frustrating and continually disappointing. In watching how they’re treated and talking to them about it, in watching what happens to the men and women who would rather send out tough guy threats and harassment, I’ve learned that a lot of things don’t get said because the offended doesn’t have any real power but their words, and others with more power will eagerly leverage their power to crush the dissent in the name of “keeping the peace.”

But we talk and we share and we know who is receptive to our stories, who will pretend like they are to gain brownie points or satisfy their ego, and who’ll smile and nod and move along at their earliest convenience because they just don’t care. We pay attention to the reaction to the outrage because the odds are good we’ll be in those shoes one day, should we decide our stories are worth the cost of the telling.

We’re in a complex place right now, in terms of our culture and people who speak on it. Suddenly a lot of people who were limited by the hateful whims of our culture in the past—non-whites, women, trans persons, gay people, and more—are able to sign up for a platform to express their views and speak their truth in a way that the mainstream has largely never seen before and often doesn’t know how to react to.

As a result, we’re realizing the way we enable -isms and hate by simply going about our daily lives the way we always have. We’re seeing the anger and sadness and passion that has been tamped down and ignored for years bubble up, and the conversations are often fraught with tension thanks to both sides and every participant coming from different places and contexts. There are more moving parts in these conversations than in two Space Shuttles.

Case in point: I realized I had to put subtle disclaimers in this piece just so someone wouldn’t get at me on some “Well, I don’t think all outrage is valid like you do, and here’s why you’re dumb for thinking that.” I know for a fact that’ll happen if I don’t try to beat it, even though other adults are clearly capable of understanding that talking about a thing isn’t necessarily complete unquestioning support of that thing.

That’s what I mean about the reaction to outrage being enlightening. I know the countermoves, the derailing moves, and I have to spin my wheels trying to head off the “Why don’t you get mad about real things?” or “You’re just angry all the time” or “Oh great, more faux outrage” goons on an essay that is fundamentally about how everyone should think more, jeer less, and process things a little bit longer before they react.

It sucks right now. I get that, and I empathize, whether you’re talking about the hate for the social justice conversation or the deluge of complaints that you can’t control and wish would stop. But it’s not gonna get better by going out of your way to talk about outrage and the outraged as if they were basic children, full of fury and lacking in thought. It’s not gonna get better when we have more editorials decrying “outrage” in general than we do editorials actively discussing and dissecting the outrage itself.

It’s not gonna get better if we choose ego instead of empathy every single time we’re up at bat. It’s not gonna get better if we aren’t willing to at least appear to listen. It’s not gonna get better if we paint every passionate criticism as “outrage” and stick our tongues out at it. It won’t get better if we pre-reject what people have to say.

If we paint every outrage with scare quotes and pithy jokes about the internet churning up outrage for no good reason, regardless of the outrage in question, we’re blocking progress. We’re telling some people not to share their thoughts, and we’re telling others that we don’t deserve their respect and honesty. Both are embarrassing, frankly, and abhorrent.

We need to be more kind, and this brand of kindness takes conscious effort.

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Genius: Renegades, Never Slaves

July 11th, 2014 Posted by david brothers



Way back in the bad old days of 2008, I read a comic called Genius. It was part of Top Cow’s Pilot Season program, an initiative meant to bring new blood into the industry and to the company, and it was created by Marc Bernardin, Adam Freeman, and Afua Richardson. Now, it’s 2014, I work at Image Comics, and Genius is on the way back this August as a weekly miniseries.

The concept of Genius struck me first. There have been several incredible military leaders throughout the years, and the latest is Destiny Ajaye, a young woman from South Central. Rather than becoming a kingpin or joining the military, she takes another route: armed insurrection. She unites the gangs and goes to war against the LAPD.

I’m an ’80s baby whose life was changed by Spike Lee’s Malcolm X and has spent a lot of time writing about the intersection of black culture and comics. The concept alone spoke to me, it reminded me of conversations and boasts that felt familiar and real. Bernardin and Freeman’s dialogue was on point and natural, authentically “black” without tipping over into parody or offensiveness. Richardson’s art was the bomb, inventive and kinetic and off-beat in all the right ways.

Genius hit me in my heart. There aren’t a lot of comics coming out of mainstream houses aimed at people like me, much less specifically me, but this one? It’s a comic that’s tailor-made for me, it feels like. The concept, the art, the focus on a majority-black and brown cast…there is something about Genius that other mainstream comics are lacking. It’s something different, something outside of the usual Direct Market experience.

It’s a familiar story, a Hero versus the enemy with an army at her back, but the twist is in the character work and the artwork. The characters feel familiar and honest, and Richardson’s artwork ranges from staging natural moments in a surreal manner to perfectly-emotive conversations. The creative team clicks for me.

A side effect of my job at Image is that I got issues 1-4 early as part of the production process. It’s work, but I read them while I was on vacation instead of waiting until I got back. I read them because I believe in Genius and Bernardin and Richardson and Freeman and I’m excited for this comic.

Final Order Cut-off for the comic is Monday. It’s shipping weekly in August, with two issues hitting on the last Wednesday of the month. If you shop at comic shops, tell them you want it. The Diamond Code for #1 is JUN140478, if you need it. Pre-ordering helps comics a lot, and for a book like this that’s sitting left-of-center with what’s prevalent, you’re going to need a little extra legwork to get what you need. You don’t have to pre-order it, it’ll presumably be available in a digital edition, but if you’re the pre-ordering type and you trust my taste, please call your shop and hook it up. I’m a fan, and I hope you will be, too.

I wrote about Afua Richardson for Black History Month 2011 and about Genius for ComicsAlliance in 2010.

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Fort of Apocalypse: violence comix

July 2nd, 2014 Posted by david brothers

Fort of Apocalypse - Kazu Inabe - 03

Fort of Apocalypse, written by Yuu Kuraishi and drawn by Kazu Inabe, isn’t that great. It’s serialized on Crunchyroll, and the hook is that it’s a horror manga with a zombie twist, mostly set in and around a Japanese juvenile detention center. It stars a group of boys who have to fight to survive in the school before being forced to fight for their lives as the world goes to hell. The problem is that it jettisons the most interesting aspects of that concept in favor of…bland twists, basically. It opens with a Nietzsche quote about gazing into the abyss, a painfully obvious move, and most characters are either borderline psychopathic, deranged, or totally cool with people doing deranged things on a regular basis. “You must be new here,” Fort of Apocalypse says. “Let’s start from the beginning.”

It’s endlessly derivative—or, being generous and disingenuous, “reminiscent”—of other, better, more popular works. Deadman Wonderland and The Walking Dead are the two most obvious touchstones for me, but there’s a bit of Highschool of the Dead and Lord of the Flies peeking in around the edges, too. Fort of Apocalypse lacks the ultra-fetishized hyper-sexuality of HotD, which has a weirdo carnival appeal/anti-appeal of its own, and instead goes for broke in another direction.

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The art’s weird. It’s similar to a less stylish and stylized Dogs: Bullets & Carnage. It’s usually passable—not great, but good enough for a good panel here and there, and some good monster monster design and composition overall. Paired with the tone of the writing, Fort of Apocalypse feels seedy-but-familiar, a feel-bad comic that doesn’t actually make you feel bad at all but makes a big production out of going through the motions.

It’s not great, but it is lurid. One short scene:

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Immediately before this moment in time, a different man in an irrelevant location sits up on his autopsy table, his back arched and general body language definitively inhuman. It’s an old trick—show the thing, then cut away to build tension or emphasize the spread of a sickness. The apocalypse is not coming. It is here.

These characters are blanks, almost. Generic Husband and Generic Wife, unnamed and un-missed. They’re there to die, and while that isn’t remarkable (even the shot of the room to suggest unseen horrible violence is old and busted this time around), the next spread was:

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I was expecting a bunch of cuts away from the action to show the apocalypse rising, but I wasn’t being mean enough. A spread of the husband eating his probably-dismembered wife is bad enough, but what killed and grabbed me was the way the scene ends with a close-up of a family photo drawn by their kid, complete with an “I love you daddy!” inscription.

It’s one of those hilariously manipulative moves people pull sometimes, stacking up sad concepts like cordwood without putting in any work to make you believe in those concepts enough to feel bad about it. In better hands, this scene would be the ultimate betrayal. But Kuraishi and Inabe lean edgy, not poignant. I was struck by the meanness of that choice, the way it puts the idea in your head and then immediately moves on to the next one after your imagination fills in what happens next.

While the comic isn’t great, it’s got a mean edge that I enjoy. It’s sorta like the first season of The Following, the Kevin Bacon/James Purefoy serial killer cult thriller on FOX. That show is frequently trashy and incredibly poorly written. But it has a habit of going there that makes for good tv. Spearguns in diners, stabbings on subways, Edgar Allen Poe fetishists, and a conclave of serial killing English majors. A little “Can you believe this?” goes a long way. (Not that long, actually—season two doubled down on sad boring stubble dudes and I raced for the door before it was half-over.) It got me through a dozen volumes of Gantz, maybe even more. This isn’t Gantz on account of being nowhere near misanthropic and evil as that series, but it gets by.

Fort of Apocalypse is lurid, but doesn’t feel cruel, even when a zombie grabs a teen’s upper and lower jaws and yanks them in opposite directions. Mitsuhisa Kuji’s Wolfsmund is real. She wants you to feel it, and it feels cruel. Fort of Apocalypse isn’t that. They want to show you outrageous things so you can go “yo, gross!” and then turn the page for more, and it turns out the best way to do that is to fill your comic with damaged and broken people who adjust to the end of the world by losing their minds.

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I’m not sure how long I’ll last with Fort of Apocalypse, but it seems like once a volume, something outrageous enough to keep me interested happens. It goes there.

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Sample Sunday: Silly, wasn’t I?

June 29th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

Murs put out this song “Silly Girl,” featuring Joe Scudda, on his Murray’s Revenge album with 9th Wonder. It’s about relationships, specifically stupid dudes chasing silly girls. It’s funny, I think, especially when Murs goes “Wait, that’s not the point.” Murs is good at walking this line of dead-serious earnestness and goofy self-consciousness, and even the hook of this song is on that level. Breakup songs are always interesting to me, because they’re a long-form insult, almost. They can be funny or rugged, relatable or fake, or even about murder. Norah Jones’s “Miriam” is a stand-out break-up song. This one’s good.

C-Rayz Walz’s “86″ is a song I’ve liked for ages. He’s one of the few musicians I’ve seen live, on Aesop Rock’s Bazooka Tooth tour, and he tore it down. “86″ is from his Ravipops album, which is just straight spitting for 17 tracks. “The Lineup” is the posse cut, and it’s got Wordsworth, J-Treds, Thirstin Howl, Vast Aire, Breeze Brewin, and MF Doom, if you’re wondering where this sits in rap history. “86″ is dope, it’s another “rap is dope, it’s forever in my heart” joints, like Tupac’s “Old School.” It’s also about how rap is soft now, like “your rap was critical, or the crowd got rid of you.” This one sounds smoother than a lot of those throwback tracks, though. It’s less standoffish and more cool. You could vibe to this. It sounds like summertime music.

I found myself listening to old Madlib Medicine Show records the other day and tripped over this one from Madlib Medicine Show # 1: Before The Verdict. It’s “I Must Love You (OJ Simpson Remix)” and that’s Guilty Simpson on the feature. The Medicine Show albums are Madlib chopping up and reinterpreting older songs, forcing vocals and beats and melodies into new shapes. I’m into it, it’s pretty definitively My Thing, and this one’s off the first one, Before the Verdict. It’s got Guilty kicking break-up raps, and Madlib flipping the beat makes it sound like a perfect—lyrically, thematically—guest spot for “Silly Girl.” I like the contrast between the original J Dilla beat and the Madlib one. The Dilla beat is church-y, hymnal with a rap twist.

All three songs have Valerie Simpson’s “Silly, Wasn’t I” at their foundation. It’s about getting cheated on and leaving your man, which actually makes it a pretty great counterpoint to the Murs and Madlib/Guilty joints. “86″ moves away from the original meaning of “Silly, Wasn’t I,” instead just using a hot melody to make a hot track, but I always dig when songs with a sample actually play off the original.

Hearing “Silly, Wasn’t I” spin up makes me immediately flash to C-Rayz chanting “eighty-six, eighty-six.” I’ve probably heard that version more than any of the others, ’cause I got heavy into Ravipops when that came out.

I like the laugh on Simpson’s version the best. I like how it’s this rueful thing, a pointedly fake laugh to show that she’s so over him and can’t really believe she was ever into him. It’s remorseful, pinning blame to his chest and hers. It’s good writing, is what it is. She’s so personable that you’re totally on her side in the song, while Murs, Joe Scudda, and Guilty Simpson could kinda go either way, even when you laugh at their jokes.

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