“The superhero is Western culture’s last-gasp attempt to say there’s a future for us.”

April 26th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

If Morrison’s personal history includes magic, wild experiments with consciousness-tweaking substances and reported alien visitations, why does he keep writing about square-jawed guys with capes? “We’re running out of visions of the future except dystopias,” Morrison says. “The superhero is Western culture’s last-gasp attempt to say there’s a future for us.” Sitting in his drafty house overlooking Loch Long, an hour outside his hometown of Glasgow, the 52-year-old writer smiles. “The creators of superheroes were all freaks,” he says. “People forget that—they were all outcasts, on the margins of society.” And then, inevitably, he shifts from the third person to the first. “We’re people who don’t fit into normal society.”

–Grant Morrison, Playboy, 2012

One minor point: it’s sort of weird to say that the creators of superheroes were freaks when that is pretty much factually not true. It’s the same line of thinking that suggests that “sex-starved geeks,” so described by IGN, created all the sexy ladies in comics. I’m not sure what your measure for freaks is, but I’d guess that Morrison’s is so low as to be meaningless. Here’s a quick sample that I used to debunk IGN:

Sue Storm: created by Stan Lee (married since 1947) and Jack Kirby (married since 1942)
Mystique: created by Dave Cockrum (married)
Jean Grey: created by Stan Lee (married since 1947) and Jack Kirby (married since 1942)
Mary Jane: created by Stan Lee (married since 1947) and John Romita Sr (his son JRjr was born 08/1956)
Elektra: created by Frank Miller (married to Lynn Varley in the ’80s, divorced now)
Rogue: created by Chris Claremont (has a wife and kids) and Michael Golden (can’t find any info on him)
Storm: created by Len Wein (married twice) and Dave Cockrum (married)

Siegel was married, and I can’t find anything on Shuster. Bob Kane was married. Jack Kirby was married, had kids, and served in the military.

And I mean, a lot of these guys were Jewish, and a handful of them probably drew porn comics at some point, but I think freaks is a bit much. Anti-semitic prejudice definitely factored into their lives, but a lot of people deal with prejudice without being turned into freaks. These were regular dudes who had lives and families, not freaks. Freaks makes for a good narrative (Superheroes as outsider comics! The freaks will lead the way!) but all of these dudes fit into normal society in just about every way, other than the (at the time) less-than-distinguished job of drawing funnybooks. I mean, if you called Robert Crumb a freak, sure, okay. But like… Jerry Siegel? Jack Kirby? Freaks? Ehhh.

Anyway, my bigger point (which is rougher than I’d like) regards my thoughts on this:

“The superhero is Western culture’s last-gasp attempt to say there’s a future for us.”

Me and Morrison differ pretty drastically on the subject of the superhero. From my perspective as a dude who grew up on capes under the shadow of Reagan and later Bush, I don’t see much difference between, say, westerns, cape comics, crime movies, and those dystopias that Morrison thinks are a cynical depiction of the future.

There are a few things that I feel like are an integral part of American (pop?) culture. We prize the individual who chooses to go his own way, at least up to a point or within certain accepted standards. America is built on a mistrust of authority, whether we’re talking about the Revolutionary War or the pervasive paranoia that infested films noir. We prize violent solutions not because we are bloodthirsty, but because they are permanent, and there is safety in permanence. There’s a certain beauty and honor in being an outlaw, and while we dislike when outlaws enter our life, there’s a vicarious thrill in watching them work.

I once tried to describe film noir to a lady I know as “the most American of genres” for a lot of these reasons. She thought I was being jingoistic, but I mean it in as genuine a way as it gets. That distrust of authority, wresting control of your life from those who control it, and having a driving need to uncover the truth even if it destroys you… There’s sort of a siege mentality there, like you have to protect yourself and repel the invaders at all costs, because you’re the last righteous/honest man, no matter your sordid past. Redemption and destruction, over and over again, shifting shape a little each time.

This is a story that has repeated itself throughout American culture, whether it’s Malcolm X transforming himself from a street hustler into a truth speaker or corporate whistleblowers or film noir or westerns or crime flicks. It’s all about being your own man and making your own way.

Dystopias are just another way for us to exercise our will. The dystopias are usually not the fault of the main character, but that main character is often the last of the righteous, or at least one of the last willing to stand up and fight back against the darkness. I really liked The Book of Eli, with Denzel Washington, for those reasons. In the world of the lawless, one last man holds tight to the law and lives his life accordingly. Or the Punisher — in the ’80s, he was explicitly a ripped from the headlines revenge fantasy. He went after fake versions of Norieaga, the dude who was poisoning medicine, gangsters… he fought against our fears on his own, because no one was strong enough to shoulder that burden but him. We excuse Rambo’s violence because he’s getting things done. We celebrate Ripley because she’s a problem solver, and John McClane because he knows how to not just get things done, but be charming and relatable while he does it. I mean, “Do you really think you have a chance against us, Mr. Cowboy?” and “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker” isn’t just a cool one-liner.

(I think it was Dennis Culver who pointed out that Hans is a form of John, which shifted that movie a little bit for me, thematically. I haven’t quite quantified how, yet, but it’s something that’s going to run through my mind next time I watch Die Hard.)

So I think Morrison is wrong when he says that capes are the last-gasp at a future. I think that’s extremely myopic. We have a future. That future is that there will always be some rugged individualist willing to stand up and say, “No” or “Not in my name” before blowing the head off whatever scientist or priest or politician or cop put us in such a terrible condition. It doesn’t matter whether that future is dusty and barren or colorful and filled with costumes. It’s rap music and Scarface and rock music and The Godfather and Blade Runner and all the rest.

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Frank Miller on Jack Kirby & Creators’ Rights, 1994

April 18th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

The earliest point in time I can remember hearing about Jack Kirby’s legacy and how the comics industry treats its creators didn’t come from the Marvel comics I’d save or trade for. It came in the first adult comic I ever read, Frank Miller’s Sin City: The Big Fat Kill #5. As a kid, I was much more interested in the nudity, blood, violence, language, and art. As an adult, and after putting a lot of thought into this subject over the past couple years, I can appreciate Miller stumping for Kirby a little better.

I didn’t see this anywhere online, and I’m pretty sure that you can’t actually buy this issue new any more, so here it is: “Keynote Speech By Frank Miller To Diamond Comic Distributors Retailers Seminar, June 12th, 1994”. I’ve pasted the images and OCR’d text below. If you’re gonna quote it, please check against the images. I used Adobe Acrobat’s OCR function to get this done, and may have missed an error or two.

I’ve gotten a lot of requests from readers who heard about what follows and would like to see it. The speech kicked up quite a ruckus- and inspired some wild exaggeration, and at least a few lies by people who didn’t like it. This transcript includes all of my many, many ad-libs and is only lightly edited to remove redundant phrases.

Allow me to set the stage. The hall was gigantic. Somewhere around 3,000 comic-book professionals were there, predominantly retailers, but including representatives of nearly every major publisher, as well as dozens of writers and artists. Following a very generous introduction by Diamond boss Steve Geppi, I stepped up to the podium, stomach lodged squarely in throat…

Let me get started by asking you all to join me in honoring two good men we recently lost. I’m corny enough to ask you to stand up for this part. A round of applause, please, for as dear a friend as comics ever had: Mr. Don Thompson. And another round — let’s make this an even bigger one; I want the walls to shake this time — for the greatest artist in the history of comics, Mr. Jack Kirby.

Well, it’s a pretty big room, but I think you did it. The walls had to shake for Jack, just like they would have on one of his pages.

An age passes with Jack Kirby. Us comics folks, we’re all fond of naming “ages” of comics. We’ve come up with a halfdozen names for them in the last half — dozen years. But a very big age of comics is coming to an end now, and, I’ve got to say, I can’t call it the Marvel Age of Comics, because I don’t believe in rewarding thievery. I call it the Jack Kirby Age of Comics.

By saying this, I mean no disrespect to the outstanding and remarkable works of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and many others. We are in their debt as well. But it was Jack Kirby who defined the style and method of every comics artist who followed him. There is before Kirby, and after Kirby. One age does not resemble the other.

The King is dead. There is no successor to that title. We will never see his like again.

There are many others we should honor tonight. Too many, far too many. Comics have been around long enough for us to lose the generation that gave us the art form and the industry we celebrate tonight. They leave us with their example of the best thing about our weird little corner of art and commerce: their love, their love of comics.

For most of you and me here, I know that love has been lifelong. And to our families, schoolmates, and acquaintances, it’s seemed a little unnatural, hasn’t it? It’s always seemed a little weird, hasn’t it? Bear with me while I tell you about Frankie Markham, and how I fell in love with comics.

I was a skinny kid in grade school. The gangly kind of kid who grows tall too fast and falls down too much playing softball. Frankie Markham was my nemesis. Frankie Markham was mean and ugly and a number of years older than me, a tough-ass farm boy, a bully. He must’ve been all of twelve years old. You know what I mean. A grown-up.

Me, I started out wanting to be Superboy. My mom was kind enough to sew me a Superboy suit, and I often wore it under my school clothes. Only to a crowd like this would I admit that.

There came the day when I had to stop being Superboy. That was the day Frankie Markham slapped me around and punched out my buddy Craig. He punched him so hard it dislodged his braces. Craig was a bloody mess, and I was bawling like a baby. It was all could do, bawl like a baby.

The fantasy was shattered. Superboy would’ve flattened Frankie Markham, or at least used his heat vision. I knew that I couldn’t be Superboy anymore. It was time for this third grader to grow up, so I did. With a new, pragmatic world view, I did the realistic thing. The mature thing. The grown-up thing: I decided I was Spider-Man.

Spider-Man had trouble with bullies, too. They embarrassed him in front of girls. They called him names. But he put up with it, concealing the secret of his awesome power. He put up with it and put up with it, just like me, he put up with it and put up with it, until —

And now my story moves towards its sense-shattering climax. At least I wish it did. I’d love to say that I kicked Frankie Markham’s ass from Vermont to Wisconsin, but I never did that. I never had a fight with Frankie Markham, and I’d have lost it if I had. But I did learn to fight back against the bullies, with my fists and my wits, and Spider-Man helped. I gained courage, I learned to control my arms and legs, and I fought back. Somewhere along the way I even earned Frankie Markham’s respect.

And Spider-Man helped.

It was years later, the last time I saw Frankie Markham. I was driving then, so I must have been about 17 years old. I was driving down some back road of Vermont, and there he was standing by the road, hitchhiking. I pulled over and picked him up and drove him over to some other back road. On the way, he told me that he’d heard I was moving to New York City, and that I was going to become a comic-book artist. He thought that was really cool.

I let him off. I watched him lumber off. I watched Frankie Markham lumber off, down that back road. My old nemesis. All of a sudden he seemed small and sad. Not very often at all, I wonder about what happened to Frankie Markham.

Comics have always been desperately important to me. As a refuge. As inspiration. As a vehicle for my fantasies. As a career. I know I’m not alone, not in this room, in loving what comics are and what they can do. It’s that love that built this industry.

Jack Kirby was the biggest and brightest of a generation that brought so much love to the page that our entire industry is built upon it. It was an amazing generation. An epic generation. When you think about what they did … They clawed their way out of the Great Depression. Just this month, we were celebrating how they stormed the beaches of Normandy, beat Hitler, and quite literally saved the world. And along the way, they, in their generosity, gave us the comic book.

And now I’m lucky enough to be enough of a player in this field to be invited to speak to you all about the future of comics. And I will. But there’s no way to talk about the future of comics without addressing its past. There’s no way to properly understand where we are now and where we are going without looking at where we have been — and our history is so clouded by misconceptions and outright lies that I have to dispel a few of them just to help us all think straight.

Too often our villains have written our history. It’s very important that we keep in mind that up until very recently everything that’s been any damn good about comics has been done in spite of the rules of the game, not because of them. Men like Jack Kirby and Joe [Shuster] and Jerry Siegel and Wallace Wood and Steve Ditko — they brought such generous love to the page, and such joy to our lives, and so much money to our bank accounts, that it is easy to forget, way too easy to forget, that they were treated disgracefully.

Ours is a sad, sorry history. We have to keep that in mind while we’re in this room enjoying this. It’s a story of broken lives. Of suicides. Of brilliant talents treated like galley slaves. Talents denied the legal authorship of what they created with their own hands and minds. Ignored or treated as nuisances while their creations went on to make millions and millions of dollars.

An industry kept alive by love, in spite of all this. The love they gave the page. It’s a powerful thing. We must honor our dead, and we must understand our history. We cannot move forward without looking very clearly at where we have been.

Misconceptions. Outright lies.

Misconceptions. Here’s a whopper. One that has cost us dearly. The dreaded 1950s. Fredric Wertham. The outside world. It seems a week doesn’t go by where I don’t sit down with my Comics Buyer’s Guide and read about somebody, somewhere, fretting about the almighty outside world and how it is bound to notice our adventures are getting more adventurous. Nobody’s come after us in any big way, but there’s a little bit of the stink of censorship in the air, isn’t there? There’s all this noise about Janet Reno and Paul Simon and Beavis & Butt-Head, isn’t there? And we all know what happened last time, don’t we? In the fifties, with Frederic Wertham and the Senate hearings. They shut us down, didn’t they?

The outside world went and noticed us. The United States Senate held hearings and decided comic books caused juvenile delinquency, right? So we had to institute the Comics Code, right? Our backs were against the wall, right?

Wrong. Dead wrong. They didn’t. The Senate vindicated us. Frederic Wertham failed.

This is how screwy our sense of our own history is. Most people in comics don’t realize that the Senate vindicated us. After due consideration, the United States Senate decided comic books were not a cause of juvenile delinquency. We were vindicated.

Why, then, the Comics Code? Abject cowardice, maybe? Maybe, partly, but not entirely.

We were vindicated. Why did the comics industry go and adopt a code of self-censorship far stricter than any in entertainment? Why would a healthy, vital industry selling comics by the truckload — hell, by the trainload — and castrate itself? Why?

The answer may just make you all a little sick to your stomachs. You see, comics publishers in the 1950s had a problem. This problem had a name. Its name was William Gaines.

William M. Gaines was the rarest of creatures, a brilliant publisher. His EC Comics outsold everybody else’s comics by a long shot because they were better than anybody else’s comics. By a long shot. The other publishers couldn’t compete with him. Not fairly, anyway. So they used the free-floating fear of the time to shut him down. If you read the Comics Code — and I have — you’ll see that it was written with no purpose more noble than driving EC Comics out of business. That was its purpose, and it succeeded at it [waving a copy of Americana in Four Colors, a booklet published by the Comics Code].

I can back this up. I’ve got a copy of the Comics Code right here [ripping the cover off the booklet].

Excuse me, but I’m having some trouble opening it. Here are a couple of examples of the Comics Code. General Standards, Part A, Paragraph 11: “The letters of the word ‘crime’ should never be greater appreciably in dimension than other words contained on a cover. The word ‘crime’ should never appear alone on a cover.” See ya, Johnny Craig [ripping pages from the booklet, throwing them away].

And here is General Standards, Part B, Paragraph A: “No comic magazine shall use the word ‘horror’ or ‘terror’ in its title.”

A noble effort, folks.

That’s why we had that damn stupid Comics Code for all these years. Not to protect children. Not to satisfy the United States Senate. Not to mollify Frederic Wertham. We were stuck with the Comics Code for all those dumb decades because a pack of lousy comics publishers in the ’50s wanted to shut down Bill Gaines.

Misconceptions. That one continues to haunt us. Because of something that never happened, our industry cringes like a battered child every time there’s a hint of a threat from the outside world. Every few years, the fear talk starts again. Every few years, the producers of stories about heroes who never give up start whimpering that we should fold up our tents and surrender to an enemy who hasn’t even shown up.

These days, the fashionable form of self-censorship is a rating system, so that’s what people suggest. Cover advisories are waved like a magic wand that will chase away the censors. Cover advisories. Little apologies printed on the corner of covers. Nobody will bother us if we apologize … if the storm troopers come after us, we’ll be safe if we say we’re sorry …

Come on! What kind of self-delusion is that? Did cover advisories help Omaha the Cat Dancer or Yummy Fur or any of the other comics seized in busts? No! It pointed them out, if anything. That’s the first reason why cover advisories are a bad idea: they simply don’t work. All they do is save the censors a little time.

Please understand: I believe you should know what you’re ordering. Solicitation forms should tell you if a given comic might be trouble, so you can make your informed choice in your shop in your community as to how you want to handle the comic — or if you want to carry it at all. That’s your decision. And it’s my duty to put together my comic so that the format, the price point, and the cover honestly represent the contents.

It’s a matter of choices, yours and mine, and whether or not we’ll be left free to make our own.

I know I’m not out there on the front lines like you all are. Nobody’s going to storm into my studio and take my brushes and pens and paper away. But we are in this together, and when you lose, I lose.

That’s why I’m happy to report that I’ve been given at least some opportunity to help. Denis Kitchen broke the cowardly tradition of comics history by creating the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the first organization designed to fight censorship rather than surrender to it. Denis invited me to join its board of directors, and, not giving them a chance to come to their senses, I accepted the post.

We have to be brave, when and if the censors come. We have to stand up and stand together and give the bully a bloody nose. Apologies will only encourage the Frankie Markhams out there to come back for more.

There’s another reason, more serious and more subtle, why cover advisories are the first step toward disaster in our future. We are not part of the electronic media. We don’t play the same game with the censors that Hollywood does. We’re part of a smaller, better industry: publishing.

Bookstores don’t apologize for selling books for adults. Writers of prose don’t submit their works to a pack of rating system bureaucrats, or sit down with their notepad or computer when they get a good idea and think “are we talking about an ‘R’ here?” Book publishers use the First Amendment of the United States Constitution as a shield against censorship.

Cover advisories have a corrosive effect. I’ll be bold enough to say that every time a publisher uses one — every time an artist allows a cover advisory on his work — he is, in a small way, cutting away at the tether that connects us to the book industry and its First Amendment protection. Every cover advisory is a signal to lazy parents and opportunistic politicians that we are theirs for the taking.

We’re better than that. We’ve got too much love for that. We won’t let misconceptions about our own history ruin our own future. We’re better than that.

Misconceptions. Outright lies. Too often our history has been written by its villains.

Lies. Here’s a string of them, and all about the same man: Neal Adams is crazy. Neal Adams just didn’t like to work. Neal Adams was just being a troublemaker.

I can testify, as a firsthand witness: if there’s ever an accurate history of comics written, Neal Adams will be recognized not just as a brilliant and influential artist, but as a visionary, as a pioneer. As one of the heroes of the field. And if our future is as bright as I believe it can be, Neal Adams will be appreciated as the man who helped us turn a crucial corner toward that future.

I was there. I can testify. Neal Adams recognized that the talent was treated disgracefully. As much as he loved the doing of comics — l’ve never seen anybody work harder! Anybody who saw him can testify to this. Even the flu didn’t stop this guy — as much as he loved the doing, Neal was willing to sacrifice hours and days that amounted to years of a brilliant career, all to gain some measure of justice for Siegel and [Shuster] and others.

These days, cartoonists negotiate over how high a royalty is to be paid, not whether or not any will be paid at all. Neal came into a field where royalties were unheard of. A field where publishers routinely allowed original artwork to be stolen or shredded — did you know that at least one major publisher used to routinely shred the original artwork?

Picture something from the Golden Age. Something by your favorite artist. Joe Kubert, whoever, Carmine Infantino. Back then the originals were bigger [gesturing to indicate page size]. Now imagine taking this Joe Kubert page, and shoving it into a shredder and watching the little fingers come out the other end [miming action described]. I’ve just described to you the first work that one publisher gave to several comic book writers I know.

Neal was one of the very few people who helped change all this — and along the way, he taught a younger generation, my generation, that our work was worthy of respect. That our efforts deserved to be rewarded. That our families need not go hungry while our creations went on to make millions.

He taught me. He showed me that company loyalty at that time was an oxymoron that only a moron could believe. He had to be very patient. We don’t really learn until it happens to us, do we? And there’s always that little voice that says, “That was a long time ago, what they did to Siegel and [Shuster] and Kirby and Ditko… ”

So it’s no wonder that a lot of us were surprised when we learned that seventeen years of loyal service and spectacular sales didn’t buy Chris Claremont one whit of loyalty from Marvel Comics.

That was just one of many lessons learned by my generation, and now that we’ve learned them, it’s astounding to find out how many allies Neal Adams had — and how well they disguised themselves. A few months ago, I read a release from Defiant Comics and found out that Jim Shooter has spent his whole career fighting for creators’ rights. You could have knocked me over with a feather.

I knew Shooter was talented and accomplished. I knew he had something to do with the Legion of Super-Heroes. I had no idea he was Duo Damsel.

Misconceptions. Lies.

Here’s one lie you can almost forgive, given the current condition of its source. Marvel Comics is trying to sell you all on the notion that the characters are the only important component in comics. As if nobody ever had to create those characters. As if the audience is so brain-dead it can’t tell a good job from a bad one. You can almost forgive them this, since their characters aren’t leaving them in droves like the talent is.

For me, it’s a bit of a relief to finally see Marvel’s old work-made-for-hire, talent-don’t-matter mentality put to the test. We’ve all seen the results. They aren’t even rearranging the deck chairs.

And the way Marvel’s treating you all — the things I’ve been hearing about… I’d half expect that if I snuck past Terry Stewart’s secretary and through his office and into the board room and saw who the real boss is at Marvel, I might just find out what happened to Frankie Markham after all!

Marvel Comics has been caught flat-footed and dumbstruck by a sea change in our industry. They are paying the price for separating the talent from the characters. As if one is worth a damn without the other. They’re showing why creator ownership is so important, not just to me — that’s obvious — but to you as well.

Work-made-for-hire isn’t just bad for artists. It’s bad for business. Your business.

When I’m out on the road at conventions or store signings, there’s one question I get asked just about every time. Comics fans are generally a very polite bunch, but some anger usually shows when they ask this question:

“How come people don’t stay on books?”

“We loved your Batman. Why didn’t you stay? We loved your Daredevil. Why didn’t you stay?”

There’s a whole pile of answers to that one. You run out of steam. You have a fight with your collaborator. Blah, blah, blah. Things happen. But the main reason a lot of us leave best-selling titles for work-made-for-hire publishers is simple: You get sick of feeling like a schmuck.

Don’t get me wrong, here. Like everybody else of my generation, I knew the score coming in. I knew that I was playing with the company’s toys. I knew that any characters I created would be turned into cannon fodder for other people. I knew that when I was promised that nobody else would be allowed to write Elektra, I knew that promise would be kept right up until the moment it was convenient for them to break it, which is exactly what they did. I knew all my efforts wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans if some editor wanted my job. or had a buddy who did, and fired me. No matter how well the book was selling.

Don’t take my word for that one. Ask Chris Claremont. Ask Louise Simonson. Ask Jo Duffy.

Yeah, I knew all that. And I knew that I was strip-mining the past instead of building the future. That was the game, and I knew it, and I played it, and I had a ball. But after a while I did start feeling like a schmuck. So I took the risk and broke away and signed on with a younger publisher, Dark Horse, one of many new publishers who has come along to offer better terms. Publishers not trapped in the old grab-it-all, keep-it-all ways.

And I’m happier now than I’ve ever been. I own Sin City. Nothing can be done with Sin City without my permission. I can’t keep my hands off Sin City. I love Sin City. The love we give the page. It’s a powerful thing.

And now I can finally give that angry fan an answer he might like. An answer I could never have given him before.

If it’s Sin City, I write it. If it’s Sin City, I draw it. That’s a promise. No exceptions. No fill-in issues. That’s a promise. It’s a promise I can make only because I own Sin City.

The creator bound to his creation. The creator in charge of his creation. It’s better for me, and it’s better for you. Things are on their way to getting a whole lot better for both of us. But, still, the old, fearful mindset persists. The old self-contempt. And never has it been more shamelessly displayed than in the resentment and hatred that’s been aimed at Image Comics.

For decades, rotten business practices caused a steady, slow brain drain, driving talent away one by one. One by one. Each individual artist or writer, more or less replaceable. There were always new kids to come along and feed the machine.

Then along came ringmaster Todd McFarlane and his amazing friends. Instant millionaires, I’m told. Their popularity at a fever pitch. They had it made. They had money. They had fame. They had no reason to leave — except that they were smart enough to realize that the best you can get under work-made-for-hire is the status of a well-paid servant.

So they left. Brilliantly, they left all at once.

Consider this: Todd McFarlane and his pals turned their back on guaranteed wealth. Guaranteed fame. They risked all of that on something that had never been tried before — an imprint that represented a group of artists rather than a bankroll.

And it was a gamble. It never seems that way when a gamble works out, but I am sure Todd and Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld each had long nights, when they wondered if they’d made the biggest mistake of their lives.

They gambled and won. They shattered the work-made-for-hire mentality, showing how unnecessary it is. Even more surprisingly, they broke Marvel’s stranglehold on the marketplace. The kids went with them.

And people hate them for it.

Consider this: The best-selling comic book in the country is creator-owned. And artists aren’t celebrating. Too many of us are acting like galley slaves complaining that the boat is leaking.

Consider this: I wrote an issue of Spawn and was called a sellout — but nobody called me a sellout when I did Dark Knight and made more money from Batman than Bill Finger, Jerry Robinson, and Dick Sprang ever made combined.

Consider this: Because of Image Comics, artists enjoy new opportunities and are paid better, even at Marvel Comics.

And nobody’s said “thank you.”

Let me be the first, then. Gentlemen. Thank you.

And, speaking as one of us who was out in the trenches a few years earlier, you’re welcome, too.

And now Image has inspired Legend and Bravura and, I’m sure, other talent-based imprints to come. We are headed for better times and better comics.

There are new self-publishers, and new publishers ready to offer fair and honorable terms. New homes for new creations — in a field that has been starving for something new and fresh. The future of comics.

I know this has been a scary time for many of you, maybe all of you. The Marvel Age of superhero universes, the Jack Kirby Age of Comics, is coming to an end. It’s gone supernova and burned itself out and begun its slow, steady collapse into a black hole.

We couldn’t feed off the genius of Jack Kirby forever. The King is dead, and he has no successor. We will never see his like again. No single artist will replace him. No art form can expect to be gifted with more than one talent as brilliant as his. The rest of us, we will build upon what he gave us. We’ll bring our best efforts, our own quirky, mischievous, and rude efforts. We’ll screw up, we’ll get lucky, we’ll do right, we’ll do wrong. We’ll make comics that are diverse and wild. We’ll take chances.

We’ll need you to take chances, too. When you hear about next week’s new work-made-for-hire superhero universe, please don’t stifle that yawn. Take a chance on the new comics. Look for the ones where the creator has every reason to stay and can’t be fired because he owns it, because it is his, and it is him.

It’s a scary time because change is always scary. But all the pieces are in place for a new, proud era, a new age of comics. And nothing’s standing in our way, nothing too awfully big. Nothing except some old, bad habits and our own fears. We won’t let them stop us. We’ll drop them off on some back road, like I did with Frankie Markham. We won’t wonder what happened to them. Not very often, we won’t. We won’t let them stop us.

I don’t post this to pretend like it’s Miller’s opinion today (though I figure it probably is still pretty close) or that it’s something I believe in 100%. I do think it’s fascinating that most of what he says still applies to the industry today. Even the Image stuff has kinda come around back to this point, with Image being new and exciting and Marvel feeling like yesterday’s toast a little too often.

It’s sort of depressing, actually. Legend and Bravura are no more, though a few of those guys are still making new work. We didn’t really enter a new age, as near as I can tell, as let the Jack Kirby Age limp on and on while the real world caught up to comics. Comics was forced into a new age, instead of pioneering a new one. Manga, webcomics, the internet as a discussion and delivery system, archival projects, book publishers taking notice… I don’t think Miller, or anyone, saw any of that coming, and Miller even had a hand in trying to get manga mainstream over here.

I’m maybe being unfair when I say it was forced into a new age, though. I thought of Image publisher Eric Stephenson’s post about the past twenty years in new comics while I was editing this, both as counterpoint and complement, and I realized that we’ve got a wealth of great comics now and an incredible comics culture. Maybe The Jack Kirby Age went away and now we’re in… I don’t know, I hesitate to name it because it’s so formless and open. The Chaotic Age of Comics.

Anything goes. I’ve spent the past couple weeks obsessing over Leiji Matsumoto (who has skipped in and out of the conversations I’ve been having online), reading One Piece and Toriko a couple weeks after they’re published in Japan, plotting the best way to binge on these three Peanuts hardcovers I have without burning myself out (I think burnout is impossible, but anything can happen), gawking at art books by Katsuhiro Otomo and Katsuya Terada, checking out the Extreme relaunch (which is introducing me to new artists), buying old Frank Miller/Bill Sienkiewicz comics used off the internet, reading Moebius and Jodorowsky’s The Incal for the first time ever, stocking up on 2000 AD, and more besides. I know the specifics of what I’ve been consuming are pretty idiosyncratic, but I don’t think my habits (the fact that I’m pulling from then and now and here and there simultaneously) are that weird, are they? Maybe that’s selection bias, but most people I know take in all types of comics from various periods of time. Even the cape lifers mix it up.

I think what I’m trying to say is that in this new, post-Kirby age, is that all, or at least a significant portion, of comics history is at my beck and call, and that the various types of comics — Japanese, European, newspaper strip, tights and fights, crime, romance — exist on basically the same plane. When I reach out to my shelf or look to my Amazon wish list, there’s this incredible spread of stuff for me to read, all of it different from its neighbors. I just went and looked at my list and like… there’s a short story manga collection, there’s a Wolverine comic I’m not gonna buy, there’s a manga about The Lourve drawn by Hirohiko Araki, a manga about geisha, a Sergio Aragones hardcover… there’s a level of choice in what’s out there for me to read that I never felt growing up. It’s spread across genre and style and country of origin, and even books that share three out of three might be totally different from each other in execution. That feels good. That feels like the epitome of what Stephenson is talking about.

But at this point, I’m rambling and Sandman Sims is on the way to rush me offstage. I hope you found Miller’s speech interesting or enlightening, and I’m curious what you think this age of comics is defined by. For me, it’s the embarrassment of riches. Is it something else for you?

As a sidebar, this essay actually warped my understanding of exploitation in comics as I grew up. Miller’s mostly on point here, and 100% on point from an emotional/justice standpoint, I think. He’s not quite right about a few of the specifics, though, and Chris Eckert has the much-needed corrections over here and more besides. It doesn’t dilute Miller’s overall point by much, though, but it’s worth mentioning if only to keep the conversation about this basically fact-based.

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“Don’t worry if I write rhymes. I write checks.”

April 15th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

Y’all have probably seen this clip from The Wire before. I think Matt Maxwell tossed it on Twitter a few weeks back, and I know I put it on tumblr shortly after. It’s about chicken nuggets and being rewarded for innovation. I’d embed it, but HBO hates the internet, so here’s a transcript:

Wallace: Yo, D, you want some nuggets?
D’Angelo: Nah, g’head, man.
Wallace: Man, whoever invented these, yo, he off the hook.
Poot: What?
Wallace: Mm! Motherfucker got the bone all the way out the damn chicken. ’til he came along, niggas been chewin’ on drumsticks and shit, gettin’ they fingers all greasy. He said later for the bone, let’s nugget that meat up and make some real money.
Poot: You think the man got paid?
Wallace: Who?
Poot: The man who invented these.
Wallace: Shit, he richer than a motherfucker.
D’Angelo: Why? You think he get a percentage?
Wallace: Why not?
D’Angelo: Nigga please. The man who invented them things just some sad-ass down at the basement of McDonald’s, thinkin’ up some shit to make some money for the real players.
Poot: Naw, man, that ain’t right.
D’Angelo: Fuck “right.” It ain’t about right, it’s about money. Now you think Ronald McDonald gonna go down in that basement and say, “Hey, Mr. Nugget, you the bomb. We sellin’ chicken faster than you can tear the bone out. So I’m gonna write my clowny-ass name on this fat-ass check for you”?
Wallace: Shit.
D’Angelo: Man, the nigga who invented them things still workin’ in the basement for regular wage, thinkin’ up some shit to make the fries taste better or some shit like that. Believe.
Wallace: He still had the idea though.

edit: Whoops, found an embeddable:

What sucks about this is how it shows both how the comics industry isn’t special — down here we all float, baby — and how… poisonous and mercenary and amoral this sort of thinking is. You can argue justice til you’re blue in the face, but that’s not what matters. When you’re a business, right isn’t even part of the equation. You’re only responsible for making sure that the money you make this year is more than what you made last year within the letter of the law. If the law doesn’t explicitly say you should treat your people well, then hey. Guess what: you don’t have to do it. You can strip mine a man’s ideas and give him the boot when you’re bored.

Did y’all know Frank Miller used to get a “created by” credit for Elektra? You can see it in that borderline unreadable Elektra: Root of Evil book that DG Chichester and Scott McDaniel produced in ’95. Part of his deal with Marvel was a promise, I dunno if it was written or verbal, that they wouldn’t bring Elektra back to life after she died. He left, and they brought her back to life. At first, they gave him a creator credit. Then they stopped. And just like that, the guy who made Elektra matter was stitched out of the narrative. She’s intellectual property now.

What’s so bothersome about McDonald’s vs Mr Nugget is that it doesn’t have to be that way. Common sense tells you that if you reward invention, you’re much more likely to get more of it. When a toddler poops in the toilet for the first time, you laugh and cheer and smile to show him he did good. (This analogy is terrible.) That encourages his behavior and makes him more likely to keep it up. We put kids on the honor roll to show them that there’s a reward for getting good grades, a certain level of prestige. You buy your old lady a wedding ring because she’s better than all the others out there, and it is important to you to maintain that relationship forever. (That’s what we call love, kiddo. You’ll understand when you’re older.) It’s gratitude and support, yeah?

Work-for-hire is fine. That’s not the problem. You can work on other people’s property and do a great job and create something with artistic merit or just really great drawings of bathtubs or whatever. It’s the culture around work-for-hire that’s the problem, where innovators are just cogs in the machine to be spun until they wear out. It’s where Batman is bigger than the people who make him.

Look at it like this. Alan Moore put his name on the map with Swamp Thing, Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and Miracleman, right? There were others, but I feel like those are the biggest milestones. DC published three out of those four, along with other books like Batman: The Killing Joke and that one Green Lantern story about sound. He gave DC a lot, especially since you can basically draw a line from Swamp Thing to the birth of Vertigo, but contract disputes and a foolhardy ratings system chased him out in the late ’80s.

Outside of DC, but still in a similar vein, he worked on books like 1963, Supreme, WildCATs, Youngblood, and more. He eventually launched his own cape-y line with America’s Best Comics, at which point DC promptly bought ABC’s parent company Wildstorm and began publishing Moore comics again. When Moore left again, the ABC comics were tainted and faded away.

Now imagine if DC had bent just a little and done some work to keep Moore under their wings. It takes a minimal amount of work to see how any of his cape-oriented ’90s work could easily be transplanted to the DC Universe. I mean, Supreme was “He’s Superman, But A Dick” and Moore switched him up to be more Silver Age. Imagine if Moore had been around when Vertigo kicked off, and DC would’ve been more open to works like From Hell. They probably wouldn’t have published Lost Girls, but if they’d thought “right” before “profit” just once, they could’ve reaped the rewards of having one of comics’ best writers in their stable for the next twenty years.

But, nah, that’s all hypothetical. It’s very easy to sit around and make things up about what could have/should have/would have happened. If we’re dealing with the real, then we’re dealing with Before Watchmen, a prequel to a twenty-six year old comic. We’re dealing with Swamp Thing being stuck in a cycle that keeps coming back around to shed further light on “The Anatomy Lesson” because the shadow Moore cast on that book is so large.

I’m not saying that the Big Two have gotta give up all rights to the characters and content. But throw some incentives at the creators, give them greater input into how these characters and stories are gonna shake out, push the creators as hard as you push the characters, give them a bonus if something blows up huge… do something to keep them happy. You’d gain so much goodwill from your creative staff, you’d have a lot more property to exploit, you’d have people getting even more invested in the work they do for you even if they don’t own it because they know you’ll take care of them.

It’s such a no-brainer. It’s so obvious that it can’t possibly be true. Marvel having Icon lets them keep Matt Fraction and Brian Bendis on lock even while they write Marvel’s marquee IP. Why not expand that?

My favorite part of that scene is when Wallace goes “He still had the idea though.” ’cause in the end, behind all the business and exploitation and sadness… these people had some amazing ideas. The Black Racer, John Constantine, Elektra, Howard the Duck… Marvel and DC can’t claim creativity, no matter how many crappy contracts they’ve churned out and creators they’ve burned. That belongs to Jack Kirby, Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Steve Gerber, and dozens more.

I don’t have a new or profound point here, I guess. I just wanted to talk this out, while I’m figuring out where I stand and where I should be standing.

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I Got So Much Culture On My Mind 01: Wolves Off the Leash

April 11th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

Here’s some stuff I think you should throw money at or read or hear or kiss that I haven’t had a chance to write about in detail just yet but probably will in the future:

Jack Kirby: Here’s a Jack Kirby youtube I liked:

I never thought of the Silver Surfer as a fallen angel before, but that’s good. I like that a lot.

Carbon Grey: The Carbon Grey kickstarter is still going. I wrote about it here, and here’s the direct link. They need 40k, and they’re currently sitting at 32.5. Help out if you can!

The Zaucer of Zilk: I haven’t gotten a chance to go and pick up my comics in over a month because of reasons, but I’m really, really looking forward to this. It starts (started?) in 2000 AD prog 1775, but CBR has posted the entire first chapter. It’s everything I expected it to be. Brendan McCarthy is great, and I love how he manages to make the drab psychedelic and the psychedelic into, I dunno, psychedelic plus? Just look at the thumbnails on the CBR page. They build to a fever pitch, like a dam breaking in slow motion except WHOOPS the dam was holding back a rainbow. I like Al Ewing, too. I haven’t read a lot of his work, but he did this nuts Judge Dredd choose your own adventure thing in prog 2012 that took me like three entire days to read, and I appreciate that in a writer. He created Zombo with Henry Flint, too, so he’s definitely got that mean sense of humor I like to see in my comics. My only expectations for Zaucer of Zilk is that it’s gonna be like nothing else in comics. Judging by the preview, I think they’re on the right track.

Actually, I just looked at my pull list or whatever, and I should have progs 1765, 1767, 1768, 1769, 1771, and 1770 (in that order) waiting for me. Who in the world is in charge of shipping those comics? And why are they like a full month behind in the US? Confusing. You may not be able to buy this yet, but if you can, do so. Comics!

-This video for Odd Future’s “Oldie” is fantastic, the most rappity-rapping thing I’ve seen in ages.

There’s something so pure about this video. It’s a bunch of friends having fun, and there’s always gonna be something magical about a gang of rappers spitting directly to the camera without any speedboats or video chicks gyrating. Also Frank Ocean has got that understated cool that works so well for him.

“Bumping oldies on my cellular phone” is so good, and so is Earl’s line about “crunchy black cats in a taxi,” but Tyler kills it with this:

This is for the niggas in the suburbs
And the white kids with nigga friends who say the n-word
And the ones that got called weird, fag, bitch, nerd
’cause you was into jazz, kitty cats, and Steven Spielberg
They say we ain’t actin’ right
Always try to turn our fuckin’ color into black and white
But they’ll never change ’em, never understand ’em
Radical’s my anthem, turn my fucking amps up!
So instead of critiquing and bitchin’, bein’ mad as fuck
Just admit, not only are we talented, we’re rad as fuck

The Of Tape Vol. 2, and I’m digging it. Mellowhype’s “50” is the crunkest song since whenever the last Waka Flocka banger dropped, and makes me want that Numbers album even more. Hodgy and Domo are all over the album, and Mike G gets it in, too. Hodgy is still probably my favorite lyricist in the crew, and he shows some nice range. Domo’s Under the Influence mixtape is extra dope, so you should cop that, too. Lotta OFWGKTA bangers out there now. Golf Wang.

Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo: I wrote a thing about Stan Sakai’s lettering for ComicsAlliance and he showed up in the comments to thank me. That was pretty cool.

-Oh yeah, I took a month off from CA because… I don’t know, but I did. I’m writing there again, so y’all can resubscribe. I know you missed me.

Alabaster: Wolves: This comic by Caitlín R Kiernan, Steve Lieber, and Rachelle Rosenberg is pretty dope. I wrote about the dialogue and art for CA. I like it. It’s on Dark Horse digital.

Heart: I don’t think I ever mentioned it except in passing, but I was a big fan of Blair Butler, Kevin Mellon, and Crank!’s Heart. Sports comics are all too rare, and this is a good example of how they should work. The team stuck the landing. I wanted to throw this out there in case I get distracted again. It’ll cost you like eight bucks right now for the digital copies.

Alpha Princess Garou Shoujo: My shoujo broujo Sloane made a comic about a wolfgirl. It’s pretty good. You should read it. “100% tooth & nail comix by sloane.” Magical Girl Wolf Pack Cute Them All, bang bang bang

Esperanza Spalding: I really, really like Esperanza Spalding. Her Radio Music Society is a really good album. Very easy to listen to, catchy, intelligent, and plenty of other adjectives that all basically mean “I like this, you should listen to it.” I liked Chamber Music Society, too, but I think Radio Music Society is legitimately a step forward. Different, but very good. Here’s “Radio Song”:

I Am Not David Bowie, But We Have The Same Initials: I’ve been listening to Ziggy Stardust, Diamond Dogs, and Station to Station. I’m pretty sure those three are my favorite (no rank) Bowie records. I’ve been fiending for some Bowie karaoke (Bowieoke?) but I’m hilariously broke so it’ll have to wait.

Sourpuss Blvd: This is cute, and congrats to the winners, but I can’t help but feel some type of way since the artists here are making more money off the back of the Avengers movie than Jack Kirby’s family will ever see. Maybe that’s an obnoxious thing to say and now I’m That Guy, the sophomore who just discovered social injustice or philosophy or something and won’t shut up about it, but whatever. I don’t care. Marvel has screwed a lot of people, and I think that once we’re talking about billion dollar box offices or whatever, it’s worth pointing out that they could do much, much better than they do. “Hey Jack, we’ll dedicate comics to you all day, everyday, but when it comes to actually giving you what you deserve… haha, sorry bro, the lawyers won’t let us. It’s the Mouse. You know how it is. King!”

Anyway. Comics!

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Neal Kirby on Jack Kirby.

April 10th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

Neal Kirby, Jack Kirby’s son, wrote a remembrance of his father for the LA Times Hero Complex blog. It’s not a big to-do or anything like that, some type of wide-ranging biography. It’s just a guy talking about his dad through the lens of the early 1960s. It’s a touching portrait, and humanizing, too. We all hear about Jack “King” Kirby, father to everyone’s style and one of the greatest comics artists to ever do it. We rarely hear about Jack the dad, Jack the husband, or Jack the man. This is valuable reading. I loved this bit:

I wonder if Michelangelo had a kid watching him paint? Was there a little Luigi watching the ceiling from a quiet corner of the Sistine Chapel? Extreme example, maybe, but the emotion would have been the same that I experienced watching my father at the drawing board. I had to stand on his left, looking over his shoulder. Starting with a clean piece of Bristol board, he would first draw his panel lines with an old wood and plastic T-square. Then the page would start to come alive. He told me that once he had the story framed in his mind, he would start drawing at the middle, then go back to the beginning, and then finish it up. Everything seemed to come naturally; he didn’t even needed a compass to draw a perfect circle. He worked fast but smooth, too, no wasted movement or hesitation.

There’s something about watching someone work that’s magical, whether it’s bringing down a tree with precision or throwing lines on a page.

And I guess the punchline to all of this is that Marvel’s going to make a billion dollars off the back of the Avengers movie and Kirby’s estate gets nothing for it. That’s comics, I guess.

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Best Example of Industry Rule 4080, 2011: The Jack Kirby Lawsuit

February 3rd, 2012 Posted by david brothers

The Jack Kirby case broke me, in a way. This is as good a round-up as you’ll find online. You should read it, because Tom Spurgeon is very good at his job. The short version is basically that, according to the law, Jack Kirby created all those characters and drew all those pages for Marvel under a work-for-hire contract, and therefore has no stake in the ownership of the characters he co-created or created wholesale.

Reading up on this case made me realize that a significant portion of the comics industry is built on exploitation. The law agrees with Marvel, but Marvel is the company that put language on their paychecks that forced you to relinquish ownership before you could get paid. Your choice, after completing the job, was either play ball or starve, which isn’t really a choice at all, near as I can tell. They’re the company that claimed ownership over the original art their artists created, preventing them from selling that art on the secondary market to supplement their income. (I’d heard that they lost a significant amount of that original art in a flood in the ’80s, and several of my smarter friends have, but I couldn’t find corroboration online, so maybe it’s fake, I dunno.) They’re the company that stitched Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby out and penciled in “Stan Lee Presents.” Kirby might have signed a bad contract or whatever, but he was working with snakes.

I believe that Kirby deserves the ownership he was cheated out of, and his heirs deserve his cut of what he should have earned. I feel like if you do a job for me, and you help make me a success, I owe you. I owe you big, and I should do my level best to reward you for that. Maybe that’s how I was raised. But I think that’s a healthier way to do business than leaving scorched earth behind every interaction you have with your talent.

I think Marvel should have made a deal for profit-sharing or whatever a long time ago. I think that right now, Marvel has the prestige and cash to make that happen, but the law is on their side and the accountants would never allow it, no matter how much the men and women who do the actual work at Marvel might want to. Maybe that’s irony, I dunno.

This story, and the story of the Siegel & Shuster lawsuits against DC Comics/Time Warner, rubbed me the wrong way. It makes the ugliness beneath the spandex plain. It draws all of these shadows that I was comfortable ignoring into the light. It forces me to make a choice: how strong are my morals? How much do I believe in right and wrong?

I still don’t have an answer. The hardline, no compromises side of morality says that I should wash my hands of both companies behind their history. I’ve done it in minor ways. I’m not reading Action Comics because I think it’s gross that Grant Morrison didn’t live up to the picture he painted of himself that I bought into. He went from counter-culture icon speaking at Disinfo to the guy mocking Sandman fans and just saying that Siegel and Shuster signed a contract. I’m not reading any of Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four or FF, either. I get the reasoning behind the little dedications to Stan & Jack in each issue, but that’s just a reminder that, hey, Marvel wouldn’t exist without this guy (or Romita or Ditko or Buscema or Lee) and they refuse to credit him with that fact. But if the comics were better, if it were the Grant Morrison who blew my mind with Flex Mentallo instead of whoever it is writing Action Comics, would I stick to the courage of my convictions?

I like the Hulk. He’s a Lee/Kirby co-creation. Jeff Parker’s Hulk is one of Marvel’s best comics, month-in, month-out. I buy it month-in, month-out. Does that make me a hypocrite? It probably does, depending on how generous you’re feeling at the moment. But at the same time… Parker and the rest of the creative team didn’t do anything wrong. Their only crime is having good ideas and being good at their job. It’s Marvel that’s the villain. Is that how I rationalize my purchases to myself?

There’s also the matter of, if Kirby is responsible for so much of Marvel’s output, and Siegel & Shuster for DC’s, then both companies are rotten from the inside out and should be shunned on that basis. The United States and its history of oppression and genocide is next on the list, I figure.

I struggle. Sometimes I come down on the side of “I buy this because I like it, and the past is the past and hopefully the people in charge aren’t complete douchebags now.” On some days, it’s the other thing. I don’t have an answer, and probably never will. I take things as they come. It’s… probably not consistent, but it is what it is. I’m still figuring out this whole “living” thing.

One thing I hate, and I mean hate with the burning fire of a thousand screaming suns, is how my fellow comics fans look at ownership. We wouldn’t have comics if not for these people, and it’s absurd that the companies and their fans are so okay with screwing these people over time and time again.

I’m trying to do better, in large part because the Kirby lawsuit opened my eyes. I’m a tremendous fan of his work and his influence on comics. It’s harder to look away after something has been made plain. “Comics will break your heart,” right?

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Fourcast! 93: Capcast

August 1st, 2011 Posted by david brothers

-Esther and I saw Captain America
-We figured that spending an hour talking about and around the movie and the character would be neat
-Good movie, wasn’t it?
-6th Sense’s 4a.m. Instrumental for the theme music.
-Here comes a new challenger!
-See you, space cowboy!

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Captain America #200: Jack Kirby Doin’ Work

March 1st, 2011 Posted by david brothers

Here’s some panels I liked from Jack Kirby’s Captain America 200:

No deep thoughts, no examinations… I just liked the way they looked and wanted to share them.

Related: here are some people at HiLoBrow talking about several more Kirby panels. It’s a fun read.

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Black History Month 2011: Marvel Interlude

February 19th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

I had something pretty cool planned for this one, but those plans fell through for whatever (wack) reason. That’s given me a chance to hook up something else I’m doing this month that you might have missed–two Black History posts on Marvel.com. Here’s the first, which goes from Gabe Jones to Storm.

A couple guys at Marvel asked me to pitch something, so I gave it some thought, got distracted, and started looking at a Black History timeline. I see the Tuskeegee Experiments ended/were revealed in 1972… the same year Luke Cage was created. Cage, of course, is the product of (probably unethical) experiments on black men in jail, which is at least a slight parallel. It stuck with me, so I spot-checked a few other days for significant or interesting comics/life links. I found some good ones, and that sent me thinking, and bam, I had a pitch.

Marvel’s had such success with its black characters, over and beyond what DC has managed, for a few reasons. One, they had people who were willing to be like, “Yeah, dude is black, whatcha gonna do about it?” (I imagine that Stan Lee was the dude saying this, while Jack Kirby stood behind him with his arms crossed, cigar in his mouth, and a scowl on his face at whoever was giving them grief). Two, they had a bunch of black dudes who weren’t just sidekicks and knock-offs wearing somebody else’s costume. And three, they managed to tap into the mood of the day, sometimes unintentionally, sometimes intentionally but with results they couldn’t have possibly intended, so actual black people could look at these cats and relate.

Give it a read, tell me what you think. There’s one more coming, which will bring us from the ’80s into the modern day. Look for that on Friday.

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Black Future Month ’10: The Stereotype

February 9th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

What do Black Panther, Black Lightning, John Stewart, Black Goliath, Luke Cage, John Henry Irons, Sam “Falcon” Wilson, and Martha Washington have in common? Easy: they were created in whole or in part by white (or Jewish) dudes.

Your boy John Shaft? His origin lies in a novel written by Ernest Tidyman, a white guy from Cleveland. Foxy Brown, the meanest chick in town, was written and directed by Jack Hill, another white guy. Are there any black pop culture figures that have been homaged, swagger-jacked, referenced, and emulated more than Shaft and Foxy? Maybe, maybe James Brown or Muhammad Ali?

Consider the importance of Gordon Parks as director of Shaft. Shaft‘s New York City is grimy, dirty, vibrant, black, and beautiful. We see opulence and poverty, violence and peace, and in the midst of all of this is Richard Roundtree as John Shaft, head held high and in control of the situation. Shaft presented black characters who didn’t feel inauthentic and a world that had depth. It’s fair to say that having a black director, and an actor as talented as Roundtree, served Shaft well. Parks got it.

I love Jack Kirby and I dig his Black Panther, but it took Christopher Priest to make me a believer. I found Reggie Hudlin’s take on Black Panther to be fascinating, at least in part because it pushed a very specific, relatable version of Panther. The two of them brought an aesthetic, or mindset, to the book that hadn’t been there before, and it worked. The character clicked for me for the first time.

Let’s talk about diversity.
Read the rest of this entry �

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