Ignorance is bliss.

“There’s some people who they don’t even need to kick out because they’re never going to let them in the front door of the mainstream anyway.”J. A. Micheline

“Nobody owes you a job.”Standard Internet Response

After listening to the Ignorant Bliss podcast I participated in I just wanted to elaborate on a point that I brought up during the discussion. Comics—storytelling—is a rough and insular business. And it is that way for every novice writer regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender—a fact that is brought up frequently when individuals attempt to discuss anti-blackness within the industry. Anyone with even a superficial understanding of the industry would not dare refute that, for rejection is ubiquitous within any entertainment field. You try repeatedly and hope for the best, but sometimes—often times—things just don’t pan out.

Black writers are not demanding jobs “owed” to us, but are requesting the opportunity to apply for jobs—to pitch. The industry does not accept blind submissions. You must be invited to pitch by an editor. I have received one invitation to pitch. And luckily, my pitch was accepted and resulted in an 8-page story. I cannot begin to impress upon you how rare that opportunity is for black women. And I am honored and humbled to have received it.

Because the application process in comics is not blind and uniform but is dependent on an editor taking notice of you and wishing to establish a rapport with you, it is deeply impacted by a large number of societal factors that have nothing to do with one’s skill level. And yes, race is one of those factors.

Black individuals are not in the social circles of those in the position to hire creators. This means that black writers are denied the opportunity to “work our way up through the ranks.” To be frank, editors only briefly consider black writers when there is a story about a black character that is deeply defined by one’s racial or ethnic identity. At the moment, there are two characters who fit that description—Black Panther and Luke Cage. And given that both are A-list characters, they cannot and should not be handed to novice writers or writers without large fan followings. And so books featuring these characters are understandably handed to older established black writers (of which there are only two men—Walker and Priest) or black celebrities from television, film, music or non-comics publishing circles. I can’t find fault with this process when men like Coates and Hudlin are the result.

But the sad reality is that to have a career in comics as a black writer or to even be considered for the opportunity to apply for a job you must first become famous somewhere else. It is a rule that applies solely to black individuals. How insane and arbitrary it is that in order to write an 8-page story, one-shot, or miniseries about a D-list character I must first establish a career as a journalist, screenwriter, producer, rapper, academic, politician, or poet—one long and fruitful enough for an editor to consider my social status a desirable asset. But it is what it is.

The purpose of this post is not to effect change amongst editors and publishers. I honestly don’t believe that is possible any longer. But it is my hope that it results in a change in how fans and non-black creators respond to black writers who discuss the matter. Because we are often met with anger and are accused of demanding handouts when all we desire is equal access to be considered—to be treated like everyone else.


Doomsday clocks in.

Can you think of another creator who is as adept at strip-mining the works of Alan Moore for mass-market appeal? Is there another who could take a half-formed idea buried in the detritus of 30 years of continuity and polish it into a brass (power) ring for retailers to grasp? Morrison perhaps. Waid maybe. But none with the company loyalty and love that Johns has for DC. None so wholeheartedly drenched in Americana and the superheroic as Johns. He is the best man for the job.Cheryl Lynn Eaton

doomsday clockOh, I do so love being right.

So, Doomsday Clock! Will it be critically acclaimed? That I do not know, but I do believe that it will be commercially successful. Of course, there are those who still rightfully blanch at the treatment that Alan Moore and his Watchmen characters have received, but those people are not the direct market faithful being courted with this work. Abandoning the Watchmen property and reestablishing a relationship with Alan Moore—a nearly impossible task that I would not recommend DC pursue at this point—would not have brought those disgruntled (again, rightfully) critics in as regular DC Comics customers. Those individuals drew their line in the sand during the days of Before Watchmen. They will not cross it for loveable frat boy Geoff Johns.

They will for Tom King, perhaps.

To follow along the tangent I’ve just created, the mercenary marketer in me believes that DC should do its level best in the aftermath of Doomsday Clock to pull itself out from beneath the long shadow of Alan Moore. I believe reinvesting in Kirby’s work and placing it in the hands of critically acclaimed creators will work wonders. Direct market darlings and bookstore bros have done battle from Portland to New York to London, but Kirby’s work is our great uniter. There are three unspoken guidelines determining what American audiences deem to be “high art”—it must be old, it must be white, and it must be foreign. However, stellar craftsmanship and a monumental body of work such as Kirby’s often allow one safe passage into that exclusive realm. And in that realm Kirby is now king.

We are in an age where mass market elitism is now the goal. I swear that is not an oxymoron and is an achievable aim with the correct creative team and publicists in place! Because DC deals in archetypes—in simplistic symbols nearly a century old—it is the company in the best position to achieve said goal. Its creations have a level of flexibility not found at Marvel and the universal recognition creations at Image have yet to achieve. Although the criticism lobbed at Secret Empire (some fair and necessary, some unwarranted) has many creators wary of even mentioning controversial issues or politics, it is very easy to use DC’s characters to tell a poignant and topical story. More importantly, to tell one that is commercially viable and taken seriously by critics. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. Neither medium nor genre have the power they once did to dictate a work’s reception.

Which brings us back to Doomsday Clock and Geoff Johns. I like Johns a lot. We definitely don’t agree on the direction of Hal Jordan and Cyborg, but I think he provides exceptional soap and “shock and awe.” And y’all already know how I feel about that! He is a commercially successful and talented writer, but unlike a Moore or a Morrison, Johns does not have the reputation required to tackle the characters of Watchmen without raising quite a few eyebrows of critics. But that’s them.

My Body Is Ready

And that’s me. I love the work of Alan Moore but have absolutely no reverence for Watchmen. The stance that the “high art” of Watchmen should not be sullied by the “commercial shlock” of the DC universe is odd to me. Both worlds were birthed from a common starting point—a shared genre. And I am fascinated by what a creator as steeped in Americana as Johns will have to say via Doomsday Clock about the Anglophilic nature of the comics climate over the past decades. To be honest, as a black American reader I feel like a coolly detached observer regarding the situation. For though comics clamored for the presence of a counterculture willing to explore darker themes and corruption, it has been fairly adamant in regards to its hiring practices that it did not want the individuals exploring those themes to be black. The British invasion in comics mimicked the musical one in both its best and worst ways.

And now there is no counterculture. For those rebellious men grew up and grew in—accepted and embraced. And there is only a piecemeal mainstream culture as the industry spent decades carving particular groups out of it. Groups that I am a part of though distinctly and painfully American I be.

That said, DC did Moore dirty. DC has been doing Moore dirty for so long that there are people working at DC who have only known a world where DC was doing Moore dirty. We have had generational turnover. We are now at the “I never owned slaves so why should I have to pay reparations with my taxes?” level of doing Moore dirty.

And Moore isn’t the only person. And DC isn’t the only company.

Of course, you can’t change prior mistakes of others, only learn from them and do right going forward. You can bring fair contracts to the table. You can be inclusive and respectful. But other than that? It is what it is what it is.

Doomsday Clock seems like it will be the second part of a call and response. I do not believe it will be a sequel to Watchmen, but a sequel in spirit to Multiversity. This is what the superheroic genre was, what it is now, and what it has the potential to be. We have heard that message from one side of the pond with Morrison. And perhaps soon we will hear it from the other with Johns.


“Keep your politics out of my comics!”

Comic books have always been political. Comic books have always made a cultural statement. Much like a fish is not aware of the water surrounding it until the creature has been removed from a lake or an ocean, readers are often not aware of the political statements and cultural agendas promoted in the work they consume until those agendas no longer adhere to the ones they hold dear. A slow-witted Mammy in a Tom & Jerry cartoon was deemed benign by non-black audiences prior to a shift in American attitudes about African Americans. Captain America punching Hitler was deemed acceptable for generations until a resurgence of white nationalists grew increasingly distressed that such depictions were encouraging people to (rightfully) respond to their bigoted desires for genocide and the revocation of civil rights with violence.

While I believe that work that champions the hatred and denigration of a group for whom they inherently are has no place in the art we consume, to remove politics (or in layman’s terms, to remove propaganda or a cultural agenda) from one’s work is wholly impossible. Even something as innocuous as a 1980s sitcom such as Growing Pains championed the traditional nuclear American family. And so long as there is room for other families to be depicted, what is wrong with that?

Absolutely nothing.

I find that there are two distinct groups clamoring for an imaginary era when comics were not political. The first group is comprised of reactionary individuals deeply angered by the presence of subcultures that are not their own in the work they consume. They are your typical racists, homophobes, anti-Semites, misogynists, etc.  However, there is another group that I believe does not wish to whitewash or censor an industry, but is having difficulty expressing what it really wants, which is a curtailing of ham-fisted depictions of current events or thinly veiled lectures disguised as story arcs.

Sadly, I believe the second group is much smaller than the first. However, it exists and its grievance is a valid one. I’ve enjoyed the work of creators possessing cultural viewpoints and political agendas that differ wildly from my own—and it certainly wasn’t because men like Frank Miller and Chuck Dixon are somehow adept at not letting their agendas and viewpoints bleed through their work. In fact they are absolutely terrible at it! But as long as one is not terrible at crafting a good story, one can enjoy work like Team 7 or Sin City: Hell and Back as much as one enjoys Bitch Planet or Empowered.

And I do.


The critic and the comics industry.

The comics industry is amazing and awful at once. Because of glaring issues with bigotry and harassment—issues found in every entertainment industry—we tend to focus on the infamous and incorrigible. And the quality work of the meeker amongst us goes unappreciated.

My own journal leans heavily on work from the mainstream. Comics from Marvel and DC provide a common thread I share with my peers. I also focus on Marvel and DC because they are the largest platforms in the industry. The inequality found there has a much larger negative impact on various social groups than an independent publisher running with the assistance of a skeleton crew. And while there is importance and value in the “make your own” argument, it is also vital that our major institutions—including mainstream entertainment companies—are held responsible for the current state of the industry. We cannot root out institutionalized bigotry without critiquing our oldest and most powerful institutions.

Yet we must not simply focus on the negative. Positive reinforcement works—for animals, for humans, and for corporations! So I want to use this journal to spotlight works that move me. And not just works of art, but marketing strategies as well.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course, so what I find pleasing will not please everyone. But it is just as important to share what is good with the world as it is to warn folks away from what is bad.


Wisdom and earth.

A lot can happen in a month!

First and foremost is that I and artist Maria Frölich will have a short story appearing in an upcoming issue of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s and Val De Landro’s Bitch Planet. I’m honored to have been allowed to contribute to the amazing world that Kelly Sue and Val have created, to work with an artist of Maria’s caliber, and to learn from an editor as skilled as Lauren Sankovitch. All opportunities are a gift, but this one came at an exceptionally trying time in my life and gave me a bit of hope in a year where happy moments have been few and far between.

2016 has made the world of Bitch Planet more ominous than satirical—a world that could easily enter into our reality via the randomness of an election or a major catastrophe (or perhaps one in the same). I am a massive fan of fictional dystopian futures and equally a fan of making sure they never come to fruition!

With the publication of this story I find myself in a small, but powerful and growing league of black women writers in comics. And I could not be more pleased about it. Black women have always been here and have always been creating. What is new is the recognition—the realization that to have an organization where images of black female bodies are a source of income but black women are not invited to speak is parasitic and harmful. That realization, and the reaching back of a small handful of white women and black men who have secured a foothold in the industry, has finally resulted in a space for black women to write in the mainstream. However, it is important to note that black women created their own lucrative space outside of the mainstream long before we had become a consideration to those we championed as they pushed through glass ceilings. As I’ve said, we’ve been here.

And now we’re there. With the addition of powerful writers such as Roxane Gay, Vita Ayala, and Yona Harvey at DC and Marvel, black women are no longer voiceless in the mainstream. Flesh-and-blood black women are receiving compensation for their creativity. There is now reciprocity at these companies—black women are consumers, black female characters are profitable commodities, and black women are highly sought (and fairly paid) artistic laborers. I cannot support companies that take from black communities—black women—and give nothing in return. Thankfully, I no longer have to count Marvel and DC among said companies. And while it’s frustrating that we had to wait until 2009 and 2016 for that to come about, the fact that it has come about should be positively noted. And I hope we do not once again see a regression for nearly a decade should these women decide to return to their original creative mediums.

We are together, but unequal. While I am absolutely elated to have women such as Roxane Gay in this industry and in the mainstream it is very important to note that their presence is a clear example of “twice as good for half as much.” For only black writers must reach the pinnacle of fame in other creative industries in order to be deemed acceptable to pen a mid-list mainstream comic book. A white man or woman? Well, he or she would merely need to have written an independent comic that an editor took a liking to in order to receive an invitation to pitch. The doors are now open to everyone, but only black people have a very long and winding staircase they must climb in order to reach them. It’s okay though, we’re used to having to be twice as good to get in, only now we’re going to be damn sure to remind you of it once we get there.

As for me? I’m going to work on stepping my game up to reach that elusive 200 percent! Sadly, I can’t talk about my next step now—God, I’ve become one of those people—but poke me about it in a few months!


Diversity and Goliath redeux!

I’m thinking about this in conjunction with DC’s new talent programs and Ronald Wimberly’s comments on spec.

There are many creators of color and female creators who are at (and beyond) the talent level we see in the mainstream. And in the process of integrating the mainstream, they are being judged not by their work, but by their outward appearance. And it’s insulting. Would you ask a woman who has produced multiple books independently to join a training program? A black man with a résumé outside of the cape books that’s longer than a highway for unpaid spec work? C’mon now. We’re talking vast portfolios here.

Editors are stumbling upon the names of popular creators from marginalized groups—creators with followings and established brands—and treating them like college students who just rolled out of bed with a degree in art or English. It’s dismissive and stems from bigotry. It’s the same as the white A&R rep or label owner who rolled up to established musicians in black communities with garbage deals like they were doing an amateur a favor. Nah, son. You’re a visitor in a spot where people know what they are doing. If you have any respect and you’re serious about your company and diversity? You approach as an equal. Do the necessary research before you sit down.

Frankly, these numbers are abysmal because those in power don’t know where to look or how to act once they get there. Frat boy and good ol’ boy behavior is driving off and angering (or scaring) the very folks these companies need to be better.

So? So you step your game up and do some work. You can’t post up in a bar and wait for creators to buy you drinks at cons. Well, you can, but you’re only going to get talented white dudes that way and that’s only one element of the mosaic you need. You’ll have to go to different places and behave in new ways. And if you can’t do that? Get you some editors who can, b. Or a creator to be your ambassador. (Although since most of these creators bring up folks who look just like them—Morrisons beget Ways—you’ll need to vet those ambassadors.) And let me tell you, the last thing you want to do is go out and hire you a whole bunch of Timberlakes and Whedons and think you’ve done something in regards to diversity. You’ve done nothing but boost the voices of white men. And if you try to present it as anything else? I’m coming for your neck in the messiest of ways. (Do continue to hire them because their work is nice, but you best watch your marketing.)

Also, don’t Buzzfeed the very people you should be hiring. Biting cultures at best and actual specific marginalized creators at worst is going to bite you in the ass because those folks have a direct line to the people you want to sell to. And you’ll end up having to hire folks from those groups anyway to do immediate damage control and drown out the voices of those you originally stole from.

Don’t be afraid to roll up to someone and say you like what they do and want to build with them if you have building blocks on deck. “Let’s build” has become a massive joke amongst black creators, but because folks come to them with nothing. But if you have something? Shoot your shot.

ETA: This post was taken word for word from my Twitter account because I have got to stop bombarding my poor followers with tweet streams of this length! Journal entries over tweets!


NYCC here.

NYCC was surprisingly short on groundbreaking announcements this year—which I find to be a shame. While SDCC has clearly been overtaken by Hollywood (announcements regarding film and television projects in the science-fiction and fantasy realm are often reserved for the event), NYCC had been able to increase in size (and importance) while remaining largely about publishing. It’s where major series were once publicized, new companies and imprints were revealed, and contracts with celebrity creators were made known. This year, however, presented little to the public beyond an event logo or two and the revelation of a few new minor titles. NYCC’s loss of exclusive announcements removes what made the convention unique. It is now a grand spectacle and a boon for networking opportunities—phenomenal for professionals, but fans who are not locals have no need to attend. NYCC, like all major conventions, will only grow larger or stabilize, but the nearby hotels that once benefitted from gouging throngs of attendees may find only a limited number of professionals occupying rooms as fans simply get in their cars—be they automobile or subway—and go home. For me, NYCC (along with SDCC, ECCC, and DragonCon) has been scratched off the list of conventions to attend, but I’d advise any fan from Manhattan or Brooklyn to buy tickets for 2015 as soon as possible.

That said, NYCC did have a revelation or two. Let’s take a look!

Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple

Many fans will wonder why Dawson did not go for a meatier role such as Elektra, Misty Knight, or Kirsten McDuffie. Honestly, given Marvel’s propensity for making certain that all of its heroines of color pass Hollywood’s paper bag test, I’m relieved that Dawson is not playing Knight. However, while the role of Claire Temple is not a substantial role in Matt Murdock’s life; it is an enormous role in the life of Luke Cage and Goliath. Temple was the first love of both Cage and Goliath, and was a major component of two long-running love triangles in Marvel comics (Cage-Temple-Foster and Temple-Cage-Young). By selecting the role of Claire Temple, Dawson can now be inserted in four Marvel television shows (Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Jessica Jones) and one Marvel motion picture (Ant-Man). Wise choice. Dawson may not be playing a superheroine, but Claire Temple is a role that guarantees her a great deal of screen time and dramatic material. Get money, Rosario.

The Battle for Independents

There are a few independent comic companies nipping at Image’s heels by producing comics that are similar in tone to the work put out by Image. What these companies fail to recognize is that you cannot topple a thriving organization by imitating it. Image was able to best Vertigo by excelling where Vertigo had grown weak. It provides a home base for popular “counter-culture” creators who feel constrained by Marvel and DC and wish to broaden their creative horizons and perhaps cement a financial future by working on properties that they themselves own. Yes, this can be done at other companies or via self-publishing, but Image has name recognition and conjures up notions of literary celebrity and alt-glamour. Point blank, if you are a white male in your late twenties to early forties who occasionally eschews the mainstream and has an established fan following? You need to be at Image. And if you are not at Image? It is likely because another company foolishly thinks it can become Image by throwing substantial amounts of money in the direction of you and your peers. No. Image has a brand, a clear voice, and a steadfast determination to not repeat the mistakes of its forerunner. One can survive feeding from their leftovers, but one cannot thrive or build a brand of one’s own.

What an independent company (or alternative imprint such as Vertigo or Icon) needs to flourish is a unique voice that serves a specific mission or caters to a specific audience. And if said company cannot create one? Cribbing one from a company that clearly does not have its ducks in a row works just as well. Yet fledgling companies continue to crib from Image, which is neatly aligned from beak to tail.

Some, however, have moved in a new direction. BOOM! has created a welcoming space for female creators that has yet to be replicated elsewhere (though other companies should note that said creators could likely be wooed away with adequate monetary compensation). Dynamite and Zenescope have embraced and improved the bad girl trope popular in the nineties, and serve an audience that has drifted from companies no longer as focused on providing “cheeky” fantasy material. Moreover, Dynamite (along with IDW) has wisely picked up popular licenses that fall outside the superhero realm, and will benefit from the boost nostalgia provides without having to compete with the behemoth that is the “big two.” And finally, Archie Comics continues to aim for the irreverent to capitalize on past success. In order to make headway in these times a company must ask three important questions: whose stories aren’t being told? What popular genres are not being properly explored by the comics medium? Which companies have dissatisfied creators?

Ladies First

The rise in the number of female creators and female characters was considerable—and quite frankly, necessary. Not only did talented mainstream staples like Gail Simone and Kelly Sue DeConnick announce new projects to compliment their work at Marvel and DC, but Marvel and DC also relied on established methods of finding and developing talent to bring in female creators from other arenas, double the workload of existing female talent, and increase the number of titles starring female characters. While I’m a bit wary of the ability of the characters selected to find an audience (I would have asked the creative teams on Silk and “Spider-Gwen” to lend their talents to Spider-Girl and Jubilee), the fact that Marvel and DC are willing to work to recapture the success of Ms. Marvel and Batgirl is encouraging.

Yet the inroads made by Marvel and DC are miniscule compared to the presence of women in the world of self-publishing and small press. I was elated to see the immense line for Regine Sawyer’s Women of Color in Comics panel and women were also well-represented in Prism’s Women in Queer Comics.

Back to the Future

I am curious to see what the future holds for NYCC. As large as the convention is, the event still seems to center around comics—in marked contrast to SDCC. Will this change when Marvel is the only large publisher located in the Northeast? After all, it will be much easier for a convention like WonderCon to assume the mantle of the largest comic convention about comics given its location. Moreover, should DragonCon take great care in cultivating its comics track and unite with Atlanta’s SCAD division, it could possibly lure exhibitors away from NYCC. It provides legions of fans, promising new talent, celebrities, and tourist traps at a cheaper price point than New York City. Then again, the DragonCon showrunners do not know how to successfully embed the culture of Atlanta within geek realms in the same way that Reed is able to infuse geek markets with the flavor of New York City. Missed opportunities for one and a blessing for the other.

Next year, as I did this year, I will happily watch the events of NYCC unfold from the comforts of an easy chair—scrolling through interesting links on a tablet. May 2015 be even more successful than the last!


Black and bled.

The “Blood on the Tracks: Where Are the New Black Comics Writers?” thread at Bleeding Cool, uniquely disturbing and depressing, hits all of the major beats: allusions to black inferiority as the reason for the absence of black writers (“I’d rather have quality writers,” “Perhaps there weren’t any black writers good enough”); demands for one to prove the comics industry has been impacted by institutionalized racism (“Name me one instance where a black writer has been blackballed,” “Numbers don’t mean anything,” “That’s anecdotal”); off-topic demands for African Americans to explain elements of American culture the poster finds distasteful (“Why do you call yourself African Americans? You’re the descendants of slaves!” “Why aren’t you fighting the lack of white people in rap music? Isn’t that racism?”); the admonishment of black writers for not continuing to try to find work at companies where they’ve historically had a radically limited presence; the declaration that there are no black writers available; and finally, claims that black people simply aren’t interested in the storytelling medium that is sequential art.

The mainstream comics community (consumers, creators, editors, and management) does not wish to see its status quo change—and I no longer see a reason to incite ire by forcing my way into a community to question why it will not. It is exhausting and pointless for me to do so. Nor do I see any reason for talented writers who share my race to wait by doors that will not open when there are crowdfunding sites and smaller independent companies available that are amenable to them. A black writer no longer has to leave the comics industry to find work. A consumer can develop her own discussion group upon finding herself unwelcome in the mainstream comics community—or she can join one of the existing comics communities not only hospitable to women, but dominated by them. Kickstarter has provided the opportunity for talented black women to share their stories and Twitter and Tumblr allow us all the opportunity to talk about it.

The mainstream comics community has not changed for black writers. But there are welcoming communities that have flourished around it—communities with editors that invite black writers to pitch, with sales representatives that promote the work of all their creators equally, and with enthusiastic fans who wish to hear stories from a wide variety of cultural viewpoints. (Hi! I am one of those fans!) To dismiss these arenas—arenas where talented black writers are sought after, appreciated, and are currently working—due to the lack of a recognizable logo is madness.

I do not wish to silence anyone fighting for major comic companies to consider black writers for employment. But I believe it is vital for black writers to know that there places outside the mainstream where they are wanted and would not be alone.


Commerce, you are.

It is astounding to me that more creators aren’t talking about the partnership between writer Jonathan Safran Foer and Chipotle CEO Steve Ellis to add the works of famous authors to Chipotle packaging. It’s a brilliant merger between art and commerce, the kind once largely enjoyed by the world of comics. With the swift disappearance of the comic strip from newspapers, much like the removal of cartoon shorts before movies, we’ve created an environment where comics must be sought out in specialty shops by diehard fans. We’ve dismissed the casual reader and the curious bystander.

Of course, readers have abandoned newspapers almost as swiftly as newspapers in turn abandoned comics. To fight for a return of the comic strip to the daily newspaper is to seek shelter in a condemned house. Art must be brought to the masses—and the masses are dining on fast food, downloading apps, and utilizing social media to engage with others. It might seem as if our fast-paced world has simply outgrown the comic. This is false. In fact we have been primed for it, more than ever used to taking in information through an alloy of written and visual content. And that is exactly what comics are.

Of course the Technicolor exploits of the superhero can’t be replicated on a Chipotle bag. And it would be odd to package sequential-art sagas with the latest digital magazine. But one can certainly enjoy a one-page comic by Rashida Jones and Josh Cochran upon downloading the recent issue of Glamour. And it would be fairly easy to add a comic such as xkcd to a store’s packaging.

Yet a creator’s reach will only be as broad as his willingness to reach out to others. Sadly there is a xenophobic streak that runs through the comic industry that inhibits the ability to embrace novel ideas—and people. The world of webcomics does appear to be more welcoming than the neighboring realm of print, and perhaps that is where new unions between art and commerce will be found.


Punch bowl.

In comedy there is a rule that one shouldn’t “punch down,” that one should not attack one who is in a weaker position and who is of no threat. It is an unnecessary cruelty that should not be engaged in if one wishes to be the “better man.”

In marketing? You punch everywhere. Should another company have a weakness, said weakness should be exploited. Should another company have an asset left unprotected, said asset should be obtained. Should another company have a market left unsatisfied, said market should be quickly wooed. Companies are not men. They do not deserve empathy or consideration nor do they provide it to others. Compassion should be reserved for those able to bleed more than just revenue.

In comics, spectators have amused themselves for decades watching the battle between the “big two”—Marvel Comics and its distinguished competition, DC Entertainment. Despite a good showing by DC, Marvel can easily be declared the winner at this juncture, regaining the number one spot in the market and a position as America’s premiere comics publisher in the eyes of the public. DC has had great difficulty shaking its image as an out-of-touch underdog, despite pulling from the same talent pool as Marvel and producing similar work. If DC wishes to rid itself of its “Dad’s Comics” public persona, it will need to carefully examine where its corporate culture diverges from Marvel’s and decide if changes need to be made. However, a silver medal is still a medal. DC might just be content with the status quo.

Marvel, comfortably settled in first place, has never had a problem “punching” in any direction it deemed fit, be it a well-timed barb lobbed at DC during a panel—“We don’t publish books weekly; we publish them strongly”—or delivering a blow to Dark Horse via a partnership with Lucasfilm to produce Star Wars comics, declaring years of Star Wars canon carefully crafted by the indie publisher to be irrelevant.

Wayward

Dark Horse, though producing great work, is in danger of becoming the indie market’s DC, due to Image’s rising star and increased bravado and a very short window provided to establish a unique brand in a changing market. Much like DC, its positive moves tend to result in tepid responses, though thankfully the company is not at all prone to the public relations disasters endured by DC.

A recent Image press release, however, is a bit of a concern. After spending the past few months “punching up”—repeatedly pointing out DC’s and Marvel’s weaknesses in speeches and interviews—Image has now clearly “punched down,” using advertising not only to promote upcoming work, but to suggest that the work of its competitor has grown stale, introducing Wayward as “the perfect new series for wayward Buffy fans.”

75. Buffy TVS (Dark Horse)

  • 03/2008: Buffy TVS #12 – 88,930
  • 03/2009: Buffy TVS #23 – 64,108
  • 03/2010: Buffy TVS #33 – 46,568
  • 03/2012: Buffy TVS Season 9 #7 – 29,908
  • 03/2013: Buffy TVS Season 9 #19 – 22,424

I would have done the same. Wayward looks fabulous and will cater to the same audience—and who can resist a great pun? Dark Horse has the option to take it on the chin, or respond via advertising to let all know that Buffy is doing just fine and that Queen B will not be relinquishing her crown any time soon! The latter would allow for the initiation of a friendly rivalry akin to Marvel and DC, but one more evenly matched.

I would love to see a Dark Horse that is more vocal about its success! It produces the best superhero book on the market, but buzz surrounding Empowered is almost nil. (Truthfully, I’ve wondered if a defection to Image would bolster recognition.) It draws superstar talent but does not aggressively link said talent to Dark Horse in the eyes of the public. (Consider Marvel’s “architects” and “young guns” or Image’s Experience Creativity campaign.) I’d also enjoy seeing a Dark Horse that once again reaches beyond the realm of comics, pushing back into movie theaters and onto our television screens. Who wouldn’t love a survival horror game set in the Hellboy universe?

Everyone loves a winner—but I find an underdog with the potential to be a winner much more alluring. The puzzle of how to properly groom a usurper for the top spot brings out the Olivia Pope in me I suppose!


Read, white, and blue.

I no longer read Marvel and DC comics. That statement should not be considered an insult. The snippets made available to me in previews certainly look to be of great quality and both companies have hired fantastic creators who produce work outside of the superhero realm that I continue to enjoy.

Simply put, I am not the target audience for either line. While there are a handful of works intended to draw in different types of readers, both lines overall are clearly designed to bring in an audience in its mid-twenties to mid-thirties that is overwhelmingly white, male, and flush with disposable income. It is an audience that is shrinking in number, but is still more than willing to fork over substantial amounts of cash for a weekly diet of superheroic exploits.

And so, amusingly, its universes are skewed to appeal to that demographic. Those with even loose ties to the comics industry are well aware of editor Janelle Asselin’s astute critique of the cover to Teen Titans #1. What Asselin didn’t touch upon—a key factor I immediately noticed and mentioned to friends—is the complete lack of black culture both in the image and in Marvel’s and DC’s lines in general. Given the irritating obsession American youth have with black American subcultures (fashion, language, music, etc.) it is surprising to see it stripped from material geared towards teens. However, it is surprising only if one does not take into account two basic facts: the lack of black writers and editors at Marvel and DC; and that the majority of “teen” books are created for older white men who wish to read superheroic coming-of-age stories about the characters they loved as adolescents. And it shows.

As a detached observer, I can certainly see why DC and Marvel wish to completely drain their current resource before fully committing to the laborious task of recreating lines that appeal to multiple audiences. At this point, the demographic they cater to—though shrinking—is still the greatest in number with the greatest amount of disposable income. It is far easier to simply raise prices and change the race, gender, or sexual orientation of a tertiary character than to seek new talent and alter one’s brand.

It would be far easier for DC and Marvel to reach new audiences if their current audience was not so abhorrent to change. And so changes are made on the outskirts—in alternate universes, in solo series set apart from the main event, and in B- and C-list characters. It is a very smart move given the volatile nature of current readers—though I would certainly advise both companies to take a more aggressive stance in creating works that appeal to women. It is a market that is simply growing too fast and has too much money to ignore—especially when smaller comic companies are already taking great care to cater to it.

What I simply fail to understand is DC’s and Marvel’s refusal to band together to wring as much profit as possible from their current audience! I have said—repeatedly, to anyone who will listen—that given the similarities found in both lines, Marvel and DC should release separate but simultaneous “Crisis” events that dovetail into a Marvel vs. DC crossover, the climax of which would launch a short-term Amalgam universe, which would then fold as the DC and Marvel universes are rebooted—just in time to coincide with Avengers and JLA blockbusters in movie theaters. If one’s golden goose is dying, it’s best to feed it with as much grain as possible so those last eggs are glorious.

What would rise from the ashes? A new Marvel and DC featuring universes with a diverse selection of characters and stories—with decidedly lower prices and weekly releases to lure in a larger number of readers.


Enter the dragon.

Sexual harassmentI must shamefully admit that some of the responses quoted in the second panel of Jim Hines’ comic once mirrored my own. I could barely contain my irritation when an individual would come forward to discuss his or her personal experience with racism or sexism in the entertainment industry (publishing, film, gaming, etc.) and yet refuse to name the individual who participated in the harassment or discrimination. How could one allow a bigot to stay in power and thwart the career of another black creator or prey upon another woman? As a victim, how could one willingly condone the cycle of abuse when the mere utterance of a name could “slay the dragon”?

I was so focused on winning the public war that I overlooked the private battle. These men and women have families to support, a desire to create that consumes them, and a reputation to uphold. To be marked as one who “named names,” one who made the company look bad—as opposed to the one actually engaging in the unsavory behavior—would jeopardize one’s career by alienating those in power. Coming forward, yet remaining vague regarding details, would allow the company in question to quietly rectify the situation while still alerting fans to the bigotry that continues to plague the industry.

Sometimes, often, the dragon is simply too powerful to be slain. But sometimes, often, individuals come forward privately, not publically. A female creator is told confidentially why it would be best for her to avoid a particular colleague or limit time alone with him; a black creator is quietly informed as to why certain individuals will not be receptive to his work. These hushed anecdotes act as precious guides, allowing creators to tiptoe past the dragon and navigate his lair successfully—or simply to find treasure and glory in a less guarded lair.

This is not to say that those who have named names have not chosen the proper path. As a reader (or player, or moviegoer), it can be quite satisfying to hear one acknowledge the source of a problem that, quite honestly, is evident in the work produced. Female fans and consumers of color are often dismissed as delusional when discussing institutionalized sexism and racism within the industry. When an actual creator comes forward and names names, there is a moment of vindication that is generally lost when a vague accusation is brought forth. For when a vague accusation is brought forth, reactionary fans will often label the whistleblower coming forward as a liar or bitter incompetent.

It is so difficult to make one’s way as a woman or a person of color in the entertainment industry that I would rather an individual do what is best for one’s career and the careers of one’s peers than to consider the wishes or comfort of a fan such as myself. The industry can only improve if these men and women are able to remain within it. If a quieter form of resistance is required, so be it.


Image is everything.

The title of this post is a bit of a misnomer since I plan to touch upon comic companies directly competing with Image, but good headlines are hard to come by! I’ve been thinking a bit about my previous posts concerning the fate of Vertigo (of which there were many). I had come to the conclusion that Image would usurp Vertigo’s grip on the publication of cutting-edge titles from superstar creators and talent on the cusp of notoriety. Looking at Image’s line-up, I can certainly say that I was right. I had also assumed that Vertigo would then conquer IDW’s domain, bringing quality cult classics from other arenas to the world of comics. My belief was that IDW would simply roll over, unable to compete with DC’s monetary resources. Those predictions were wrong. IDW has in fact strengthened its position: securing work from creators Jeff Parker, Steve Niles, and Duane Swierczynski; luring away former DC editor Sarah Gaydos (who can boast of her work on Vertigo’s Django Unchained); and expanding its list of titles. Clearly realizing that there is strength in numbers, Dark Horse and Dynamite have entered into a partnership. While the partnership concerns only digital works, there are still many more months of announcements and a long stretch of convention season still ahead of us.

Where does this leave Vertigo? Stripped of its power and glory—seemingly embedded in its former executive editor, Karen Berger—it must begin once more as a fledgling imprint, laying the groundwork necessary to rebuild its talent pool and brand. At first glance, it seems to be doing a superb job, publishing work such as Prince of Cats and Django Unchained. Though the works listed are of a higher quality than the fare once found on UPN and the WB, I can’t help but recall how the struggling stations bolstered their ratings by reaching out to talent of color—and wonder if DC has attempted the same with projects from writers such as Mat Johnson and Ronald Wimberly (as well as the earlier acquisition of Milestone’s characters). That Prince of Cats does not boast an i in its upper left-hand-corner should honestly be of great embarrassment to Image. That Mat Johnson has made Vertigo his home in the four-color realm should be unsettling as well. Why is Image unable to “seal the deal” with creators such as these?

But will Vertigo possess the ability to do so much longer given the absence of Berger and her protégés?

“I wrote a scene where Juliet is smoking weed with her homegirls in the bathroom. I started thinking about NY in the late ’70s and ’80s, [so] I put that in there. Karen liked it. Karen was real supportive. It was important to me that Karen dug the characters. I broke down the whole book.

“I guess here’s where things got difficult. I got lost in the bureaucracy. They switched editors twice on ‘PoC,’ and in the end, I lost that game of musical chairs, and badly. I had to nag to get things looked at and approved. Because I wanted certain control over things like color and design, the process was held up further. The fact that I’m a bit mercurial didn’t help.”Ronald Wimberly

The empire has clearly fallen, and I think this remaining dominion of Vertigo will be conquered by organizations such as Dark Horse, Oni, Top Shelf, Drawn & Quarterly, and—of course—Kickstarter. As for Vertigo, I wonder if it will simply become an imprint for quirky off-brand works featuring existing DC properties.

I (and many others) have jokingly referred to Image as the new Vertigo, but can Image become the new DC?

“Image will increasingly shift from creator-owned to in-house properties. These ‘in-house’ properties may themselves be partially creator-owned, but the focus will be far more on developing their own brands (in the style of ‘The Walking Dead’) than launching those of independent entities. Of course, a big part of this has to do with TV/movie options, etc.”Valerie D’Orazio

A shift in Image from creator-owned to in-house properties? Sounds ludicrous, no? For those paying attention to interviews with Stephenson, it shouldn’t seem too farfetched.

“One of the things we’ve been working on this year, with our What’s Next campaign is to focus more attention on continuing series, through both ads and retail posters, because it is important for people to be aware of those books. We’re also working on a variety of retail incentives to make it as easier for retailers to support a title at literally any point in its run, whether it’s on issue one or 100.”Eric Stephenson

I don’t think Image will ever abandon its focus on creator-owned properties, but I think there will be greater emphasis placed on promoting books featuring characters owned by the Image partners. After all, charity begins at home.

Can Image become the new DC? DC is an engine that runs on the fuel of its beloved icons; Image is a young company and possesses no icons. However, with twenty years beneath its belt, Image can certainly use nostalgia to its advantage. Just as it was successfully achieved with the Extreme titles, Image can reinvigorate interest by (1) relaunching earlier works with new visions by popular creators and (2) providing longstanding Image titles with consistent material by their original creators, cosmetic revisions for struggling works, and new “jumping on” points for all.

In regards to diversity, DC simply takes a consumer’s approach, using its vast resources in an attempt to acquire what it has difficultly cultivating in house—popular characters of color and a diverse writing staff. Image appears content to be pursued by talent, which generally results in homogeneity in regards to race and gender. Earlier, I was discussing with a friend how I felt that talented black writers mainly tended to eschew the mainstream, convinced in the belief they are not welcome. Now, it seems there is even an avoidance of smaller companies, with Kickstarter reaping the benefits—leaving slim pickings for actual publishing companies.

“No one likes to say this out loud, but for the most part, the submissions publishers receive are not very good. By and large, the art is so bad that even the proudest parent in the world wouldn’t put it on the fridge if their kid brought it home from school. There are endless pitches that are either re-hashed versions of stories that have already been told, or even worse, completely incoherent. Most of the time, looking through the submissions pile is pretty depressing.”
Eric Stephenson

If a racially diverse selection of writers is a goal—and to be honest, it seemingly isn’t a goal for the industry, nor a concern outside of Black History Month—both DC and Image will have to select representatives who can act as talent scouts and impress upon the populace that diversity is a concern. Image will need to woo established writers of color (Liu, Bernardin, etc.) from other comic companies and arenas; DC—hit with a wave of bad press that has made many established writers wary—may have to settle for grooming novice writers with potential.

“Don’t know if [Milestone] would fit at Image. They’re kind of about that solo pioneer spirit. And imprints revolve around one creator’s properties.”
—Cheryl Lynn Eaton

The above quote is one from a debate I had on Twitter on whether Image could succeed with an imprint akin to Milestone where DC had clearly failed. Though Image excels at world-building across multiple titles (as most comic companies excel), those worlds clearly spring from one writer’s creative vision—generally, one lone white guy (Kirkman, Silvestri, etc.). What was so wonderful about Milestone was that men and women from a large variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds came together to create quality comics featuring a world that was equally as diverse. Image cannot provide that. DC cannot provide that. I cannot think of one company that possesses the diversity, the level of talent, and the financial stability required to recreate such an operation. All three are required for it to work.

All in all, I’m interested to see how things unfold—for Vertigo, for Image, and for the industry as a whole. Even Milestone, which celebrates its twentieth anniversary this year, may have surprises in store.


Let off some steam, Bennett.

DC is rightfully lambasted for what the company gets wrong in regards to representation. However, diversity initiatives launched by the company to correct existing problems are often ignored by fandom.

The above is a perfect example of DC getting it right. Outside of the realm of self-publishing, the comics industry’s writing pool is overwhelmingly homogenous—white, American, and male. I’ve often stated that the best way to diversify the talent pool is to hire writers from outside the field of comics and allow said writers to hone their skills by (1) pairing them up with established professional comics writers on ongoing titles or (2) allowing novice writers to create short back-up stories in existing popular works. And though disgruntled reactionary fans would like to accuse Marguerite Bennett of simply being a quota hire, she is an individual with the talent and determination necessary to improve DC’s status quo. In addition, many white male writers launched their careers in comics in the exact same manner as she (sans the added stress of bigots combing through their credentials with a fine-toothed comb). Luckily, for Bennett—and for DC, for that matter—gender was of no importance to Snyder in picking his protégés. And, equally as important, Snyder’s profession as a teacher allows him access to a diverse (and novel) selection of writers in regards to race, religion, and gender—something his peers cannot take advantage of given the industry’s overwhelmingly white and male pool of writers and apprentices. In Snyder, DC has a tutor, recruitment center, and diversity outreach program in one—and is clearly taking advantage of that fact.

David Brothers, who beat me to the punch, discussed Bennett’s recent hire, networking, and the dearth of writers of color in the comics industry. David suggested, and I agree, that the lack of writers of color in the comics industry may be linked to the lack of creators of color in the social circles of those in a position to hire new creators. Networking in any creative industry is key. Without the ability to network, aspiring writers are relegated to talent contests, cold pitches at conventions, and unsolicited submissions. As indicated in Nancy DiTomaso’s piece for the New York Times, opportunities for success are frighteningly slim.

“Help is not given to just anyone, nor is it available from everyone. Inequality reproduces itself because help is typically reserved for people who are ‘like me’ … Because we still live largely segregated lives, such networking fosters categorical inequality.”Nancy DiTomaso

I am lucky in that my social network is absurdly diverse. There are many I adore who are “like me,” yet there are clear differences in race, gender, nationality, and age. There are cultural bonds upon which friendships have been formed that bridge all differences. Still, diverse social and professional networks sans the power to employ individuals are useless in changing an industry’s landscape. The industry will change only when those in a position of power to generate change feel the need to expand their existing networks, or younger individuals with diverse networks assume positions of power. Waiting for the industry to “age out” of its racial and gender inequality is frustrating, but given the mainstream’s disdain for other outreach methods and its current industry monopoly, I don’t see change occurring any other way.

Finally, I apologize for the title of this blog post. Actually, no. No, I don’t. It is glorious.


Quick edits.

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

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

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