Friday, August 22, 2014

On gender, race and sexism in comics.

It's really difficult to figure out where to begin with the topic(s) of sexism and diversity in comics (they go together).

Why is it so difficult?

Because I'm a white male who created a white male character at a time when the culture is calling for diversity in ethnicity, gender and even sexual orientation.

Let's just get this part out of the way, when I look at people, I don't see "ethnicity." I just don't. It's not how I was raised; it's not how I am wired. I look at people and I see different cultures, I see different religions, but I see one common and undeniable trait in all of us: We are all human.

We all have different experiences that shape us and mold us, but at the end of the day we are human. That's why I don't see racial lines. We are all equal in my eyes. Some of us are more fortunate, some of us are less fortunate, some of us are in the middle. But at the end of the day, I see us all as human.

Unfortunately, and as evidenced by Ferguson and the response, the racial divide is still a major issue in America. And that's sad. It's depressingly sad.

And that’s also what sparks the debate in our comics and our movies based on comics. Most recently, it was Guardians of the Galaxy. There was some uproar over the fact that Star-Lord was a white male, and that all of the Marvel movies (in particular) are populated and led by white males. That is very true. And it’s also true that Star-Lord, created by Steve Englehart and Steve Gan in 1976’s Marvel Preview #4, is a white male. He’s also half Spartoi (in the comics) and something else in the movies. Could he have been a different ethnicity? Sure. But there does exist a contingent of fandom that would cry foul at changing that aspect of the character. Does it really matter? No, it doesn’t in this case. But Chris Pratt was beyond perfect for the role.

In fact, the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe has been perfectly cast. And the second Marvel casts a non-white actor in a role that is based on a white character the “diversity for the sake of diversity” argument erupts.

There are two obvious changes in a character's ethnicity in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. First is Nick Fury. In the comics, an older white guy who ages slowly thanks to the Infinity Formula (or as recently retconned – endless Life Model Decoys). In Mark Millar’s The Ultimates, artist Bryan Hitch modeled his Nick Fury as a younger black man modeled after Sam Jackson. This change was well-received by fans and has mostly translated across all media. It worked and continues to work because everyone could and can picture Jackson as Fury.

The second is Heimdall. Played by Idris Elba in Thor and Thor 2, some fans did cry foul that a black man was cast as a white, hulking, Norse being. But here’s the thing about Idris Elba. He’s electric. He has so much gravitas and ability that he mystifies and steals every one of his scenes in both Thor and Thor 2. You want Heimdall to do that. He sees everything. He feels the weight of the nine realms, and Elba crushes that role.

Kind of a side note, but speaking of Elba, there’s this brilliant interview he did about playing James Bond and why he doesn’t want to do it. And he’s not wrong.
For example, let's say Moon Knight, one of my all-time favorite characters, is cast and it's not me. Let's say a black actor, or a latino actor or whoever is cast as Marc Spector. Do I care? No. I don't care. What I care about it said actor's talent. Is said actor going to do the character justice? That's what matters. That's really what should matter.

Of course, the real talk – and I think what people really want – are a Black Panther, Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers) and Black Widow solo film. I personally believe the Black Widow movie will happen after the lovely lady that portrays the character has her child and is ready to go. And I also think that adapting the two story-arcs by Greg Rucka and Devin Grayson – the one where the other Black Widow tries to kill the one we love – would be the perfect story. It needs to happen and soon, and I’ll be there when it does.

In terms of both Black Panther and Captain Marvel, a character I adore, I’m more inclined to let Marvel’s plan play out. I think Age of Ultron will be the bridge to Wakanda and Black Panther, and I believe Agents of SHIELD and Guardians of the Galaxy is the bridge to Captain Marvel. Both have been set up, and I’m really hoping there’s a huge payoff for both of them.  But Marvel has had a deliberate plan in their cinematic universe and it has yet to fail me.

And I have heard “you're a white male well-represented in those movies!” And I don’t like that, because that’s a) not why I see the movies and b) no, I actually enjoy the movies to see my favorite characters brought to life. I’m a big Captain America fan. And Cap has been done pretty well on the big screen. As I've said, I don’t care who plays who or whatever, if the movie is good and the character is true to who they are, I’m in.

Something like this upcoming Fantastic Four movie, there’s a lot of uproar because the characters won’t be true to their roots and that “diversity for the sake of diversity” is at play. Michael B. Jordan, a fine actor, was cast as Human Torch. Kate Mara, a fine actress, was cast as Sue Storm. The problem people have with the casting? One is white and one is black. In the comics, Johnny and Sue Storm are brother and sister, it adds to the dynamic and family aspect of the Fantastic Four. Apparently in this new film, they are adopted. I’ll admit, it does take away from the dynamic of the Fantastic Four a little bit. Why not just make them both black? Seriously? Meagan Good would be a solid Sue Storm.

Is it diversity for the sake of diversity? To use the controversy as PR? I don’t know maybe, but the same thing happens in comics.

There was some uproar over Thor becoming a lady and Falcon becoming Cap. To which I simply said, “Well, if you’ve been reading either title, this is pretty much the direction they’ve been going in for a couple years.” Both provide for interesting stories. Of course, my only argument against Falcon becoming Cap is the same as it was when Bucky became Cap. The mantle of Captain America doesn’t work without Steve Rogers. It’s that whole greatest generation thing… and this isn’t the first time Falcon has assumed the shield. I also don’t want it to take away from Falcon, who is a great character with his own identity. But nevertheless, as much as I am not a huge fan of Rick Remender’s Cap run, I’m interested to see where it goes and the Batman Beyond-ish dynamic they’ve set up.

Speaking of Remender's run... I'm not even going to get into the #FireRickRemender nonsense. Because that's what it was... nonsense.

Now, there’s still a continued push for comics to be more inclusive. For more female creators like Gail Simone and Kelly Sue DeConnick, both of whom are amongst my “oh she’s the writer, I’ll give it a try.”  And I am 100% for that. Not everything Simone and DeConnick do are my cup of tea – as with every writer — but, frankly, if the story is good, if the characters are developed well and all that… then who cares if the writer or creative team is white, black, male, female, gay, straight… who cares. I want stories that are engaging, in service to the character and their evolution, and don’t feel like a chore to read before I drop the titles. I wish more fans shared that sentiment and that this was the norm in the industry.

There have been major improvements on the female characters in comics front. Batwoman, Ms. Marvel becoming Captain Marvel, the NEW Ms. Marvel, the new look Batgirl that everyone loved… we need to see more of it sure. Hell, I want more Captain Marvel merch aimed at girls so that my daughter can A) have a really awesome superhero to follow and b) so I can dress her up as Captain Marvel to match her twin brother dressed up as Captain America.

The way Kelly Sue DeConnick has been going with the character, I may not have to wait much longer. And it's not because DeConnick is a female creator that makes Captain Marvel such an enjoyable read, it's because she's a hell of a good writer.

Need a classic example of a female creator being a hell of a writer and creating really enjoyable stories? Look no further than Louise Simonson. Especially her work on Superman.

My point is, yes PLEASE hire more female creators. We might get another Johns or Bendis. We may even get another Chuck Austen. Comics isn't just a man's game. Comics are for everyone.

But of course, things can get rather ugly.

I'm not going to really go into that Milo Manara cover of Spider-Woman all that much. Should editorial maybe been a little more mindful of the cover given the current state and scrutiny of the comics industry? Maybe, sure. But a best-selling and valuable variant cover has just been born. And let's be honest, the bloggers and commentors going off about how "Milo Manara can't draw" obviously have no idea what they are talking about. Manara is a very specific type of artist who has been around for years and has drawn many a Marvel covers. After all, at the end of the day if you don't like the cover, you don't have to buy it.

What warrants real mention, however, is treatment of women in the culture. When I first starting making comics and doing shows, I would set up a table, usually with my friend and editor Keith Dallas and we'd just chat about comics, sell our comics, get annoyed with other sellers around us, take turns walking the floor and just take it all in. Recently, I did my first show in a long time. It was my first show with Patriot-1 and my first con being a dad. It wasn't a great convention - bad venue, non-buying crowd - and as much as I felt back in my element... I just wanted to go home to my wife and kids. I mean I'm at these cons to do business. I'll mingle, network and make/see friends in the industry... but at the end of the day, I'm there to sell my books.
Now I like conventions. I love cosplayers. I love when guys and gals put a ton of thought into their outfits. Whether authentic, gory, homemade, sexy or whatever... I love it. What I don't love is the way some dudes act.

At this show, the table next to us had a "booth babe" for lack of a better term, one of the days. Nice girl, making some money being there... attracting customers to table. Now she had a pair of short, short tights on that showed off a little bit of her backside. Okay, fine, whatever. Good for you. Confident women are the best. What isn't the best is the real creepers that wouldn't just take pictures WITH her, they would take pictures of her. You know, when she's not looking, when they are behind her and with their cameras blatantly pointed at her ass. 

I face-palmed a few times. I felt gross. As a man, I just felt dirty. I mean I hear all these stories about sexual harassment of cosplayers and women at these cons and I just get grossed out. And when you see it first-hand like that... I mean it's like you are witnessing the creepy neighbor videotape the girl across the street without her knowledge. Whenever I caught someone in front of my table doing it (quite a few times they were on the other side of the aisle or walking away) I would try and distract them by going into my sales pitch. It worked a few times, other times it worked in the sense that these guys didn't want to be sold anything so they ran.

I don't feel like some kind of upstanding citizen or anything. I just like to think I'm a decent man and human being. I've done dumb shit my life like everyone else, but as a 30-year old father of three and a man who loves the comics industry and culture, I'm just not going to put up with it.

And I come home, and then the Yale Stewart thing erupts. I just... my mind was blown. But sadly, given the general idiocy of some men today, I wasn't totally surprised.

In a nutshell, Yale Stewart is an acclaimed creator of the JL8 webcomic and works on some DC Kids books. Eisner-nominated. He does stuff aimed at kids.

Except one thing in particular. He got into a public spat with artist Ulises Farinas, who was upset that every time there was a national tragedy or incident, Stewart was quick to make charity wallpapers and such. Farinas was basically accusing Stewart of being an ambulance chaser.

Then came the real bombshell. That "one thing in particular" I mentioned. Yale Stewart has a real thing for sending pictures of his genitalia to women in the comics industry.


Like... dude. You are now, as Rich Johnston called you, the Anthony Wiener of comics. 

It's just mind-numbing. And this isn't just Yale Stewart. It's everyone... every man. Don't take dick pics. Ladies... don't text nude photos. They do nothing but cause trouble. Seriously. Even if they are welcome... they might bite you in the ass. Plus, the NSA gets them too. And that's fun.

But what's worse is Yale Stewart's "apologies" and all the idiots that have come to his defense. My favorite comics blogger Valerie D'Orazio has a nice collection of comments in defense of Stewart here:

I read these and I cringe. I literally feel sick. You people that come out in defense of this ass clown are the reason the industry has these issues. I mean come on. 

Since when do "mixed signals" mean you get a dick pic? I mean I was never that great at reading women - most guys aren't - but really? You're not sure if she's interested so you just... ugh. 

And you do kids books. And charity work. You sir, are an asshole. Because of you we take a nice big step backwards.

Maybe I'm just lucky. I've been with my wife for almost 10 years, married for 4 and I've never looked at another woman. We've been together since college - before I got into the comics industry. My wife is funny, beautiful, smart, a fantastic mom... and the best part, she could care less about comics and this culture I'm part of. That really might be the best thing ever. She supports me and everything I do... but she doesn't have any interest in it and every time I hear one of these stories, I'm glad she's not a part of this nonsense. 

I guess what this all stems from is where I fall in the industry and a weird feeling that somehow I'm the bad guy.

I'm white. I'm a male and I'm currently hocking Patriot-1 starring a white, male lead. I love comics, I want to change the industry, I want to be a big part of the industry and leave a mark on the culture and maybe make humanity a little better in the process.

Yet with all the talk and need for diversity, respect for women, uproar over slight changes, big changes and no changes, what did I do? I created and put out to the market, a white male hero wearing an American patriotic costume. (The American angle is best suited for another post).

So, Should I feel bad? Does all of this suddenly devalue my book? Am I considered “part of the problem” because of my creation?

I hope not because it’s got a really diverse cast. And every character that appears in the book was created a long time ago. It’s got a really strong female lead who is one of my favorite characters of the one’s I’ve created mostly because she’s tough, smart and thoughtful. I actually named her and kind of modeled her after real-life super-spy badass Valerie Plame.

But why is my main character a white male as opposed to a black male? Or a female? I want to answer this question. Not because I feel like I have to, but because I want to. The answer is because the main character’s look is sort of modeled after me. Remember I mentioned someone "other than me" being cast as Moon Knight?

Many moons ago, before I focused on writing, I wanted to be an actor. I still kind of do, I just don't have the time. I have zero real acting experience, but the kid in me only ever wanted to play a superhero in the movies or TV and leave my mark on the culture that way. It's good to have the big romantic dreams... even today.

So yeah, Patriot-1 with his brown hair and blue eyes, like a couple other characters I've created in the past, is kind of designed that way. Though today I have much less hair.

But the truth is, Patriot-1 is a great story. Really. And when it comes to comics and the movies based on them and the culture surrounding us, that's what we need to focus on. Good stories. I want to see a Black Widow movie. I sure as hell want to see Carol Danvers in the movies. I want to see Black Panther. And most importantly I want to enjoy the hell out of those movies like I have  just about every other Marvel movie.

I also want Wonder Woman done right. Not this Batman v. Superman loose Dark Knight Returns adaptation nonsense.

As an industry and a culture, we need diversity to get there. We need writers and creators with different experiences and interests to get us there. We need a broader range of characters at the forefront of the culture without compromising their own identities.

As creators we need to focus more on telling, selling and spreading great stories, not becoming the story.

I love comics and I love being a part of the industry and I will fight for it to be equal for everyone. I will fight for "Comics are for Everyone" for as long as I can.

This is what we do. And we can do better.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

It's been busy...

It's been a busy, crazy, roller coaster month and a half since I launched the Patriot-1 Kickstarter on July 1.

Thankfully, the Patriot-1 Kickstarter was successful. That's only the beginning of the work... what comes next is trying to organize rewards, it took me a week just to get the files in the right size and format to the printer, but now it's all good things are moving along and after 7 years, Patriot-1 is real. I've held it in my hands... I've read it like 5 times... I carry a copy in my bag to work.

It's all exciting stuff, I did a convention and sold a few copies, but the convention itself wasn't great, but Baltimore is on the horizon and I can't wait. I hate, HATE being away from my wife and my kids... but you gotta do what you gotta do.

Kickstarter was a roller coaster, and I will have a post on the experience soon.

But what's really been eating at me this week is the news. The stuff in Ferguson, the horrid state of racial relationships in America, and delving back into comics, the rampant sexism that is currently fueling raging debates among friends and professionals.

It's all a bit crazy, really. And something I feel like talking about.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Patriot-1 is coming to Kickstarter

Creating comics is not an easy task. When you are the writer, creator and publisher rolled into one, it’s that much more difficult.

Why you ask? Because after crafting your script or idea, you have to find an artist. You have to find one that is affordable, understands the pitfalls and tiny budgets of creator-owned books and is also reliable. You also have to find additional artists if you need an inker or colorist. They have to be flexible and unless they are published by a major company, they have to be available. They also can't expect a fortune. Even with all of that, you have to make sure the art fits your story.

And while you are paying the artist(s), you are likely making nothing. Zero.

It's a tough road, an expensive hobby. But if you are like me, there are just stories you want to tell. 

And to think, my skill set includes pre-press, graphic design and lettering. But it's all self-costs I eat.

Patriot-1 is a character that has existed in some form or another for as long as I can remember. His name has changed, his look has changed and even the universe in which he exists has changed.

But he took on his current form in 2007. I’ve spent years researching and following the U.S. Military and World History and I’ve always had a fascination with Special Forces. With Patriot-1, I wanted to create something authentic and realistic without forgetting that it was a comic book. I'll be the first to admit I didn't have the stones to serve, but I'll be damned if I haven't learned anything I can. 

I've always been enamored with the real-life superheroes of special operations forces. I think of myself as a bit of an amateur historian on the subject. After all, I own and have read just about every book and watched every documentary there is on Operation Neptune Spear (and that's just one of many).

I graduated from Ithaca College with a degree in film with a screenwriting concentration. I love movies and comics, but over the past 7 years, I sacrificed a lot of time to craft this story into its current form because it is the story I’ve wanted to tell.

In that time, there have been a few insanely talented people that have come and gone. Whether it was delays, long development times or they just got better paying gigs; I eventually found the perfect team in Dexter Wee and Donna Gregory.

Originally intended to be a five issue series, I eventually let the story take the helm and it naturally found its way to a 176 page graphic novel. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past five years that I have created comics, it’s that having the entire story available for readers is insanely important.

For examples, Mack Turner: Slayer of the Dead and Steel Creek are two projects that have been halted for a couple of years because the artists got better paying gigs and I shifted focus a bit. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s that much harder to gain an audience when they are waiting for the next installments.

Thus it was very important to me that Patriot-1 be a complete story. After an earlier version was rejected by a publisher, I rewrote the entire thing and it became something else entirely. The core concepts were still the same, but it is undoubtedly the best thing I have ever written.  It’s exciting, the characters are deep and the action is non-stop.

Putting the book (finally) into production was a must. I wanted a completed project and now that I have it, the debate over how to release it took off.

Submit it to more publishers? Take out a loan? Print on-demand? Digital only? Release as a webcomic?

The possibilities seemed endless, the questions mounted.

But so-called “traditional” routes of publishing are becoming a thing of the past. In 2007, I was trying to figure out ways for Patriot-1 (Or U.S.Avenger as he was then) to be incorporated into a publisher’s plan or universe.

In 2007, Kickstarter wasn’t a thing. By the end of 2013, crowd-funding (Kickstarter and Indiegogo) made up 2 percent of the comics market. Considering Marvel consistently owns 40 percent of it… that 2 percent is massive.

I’ve contributed to a number of Kickstarters. As long as they are successful and the people behind them are passionate, Kickstarter is perhaps the single greatest outlet for creator-owned and small press comics.

Why? Because you can directly connect with your readers. You can offer cool incentives that a backer would otherwise be unable to obtain.

With all of this in mind, and after years of watching the growth of comics on Kickstarter, it only makes sense that it becomes the outlet for Patriot-1.

But here’s the beautiful part of it. Patriot-1 is complete. There are many projects that hinge on Kickstarter success before they even start production – but Patriot-1 is complete. I am not turning to Kickstarter to fund the project; I’m turning to Kickstarter to fund the print run.

Ideally, I’d like to offer a 200-page hardcover graphic novel. Complete with an alternate cover gallery and concept art, I’m looking to raise enough money to provide the book for backers and self-distribute to other outlets such as Amazon.

There will be incentives like prints, commissions, a custom cover and maybe even a collectible… but the book will be available at a (roughly) $25 level. That’s a 200-page, full color book for $25 (plus shipping).


I’m aiming to launch the Kickstarter on July 1 or before. So stay tuned.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

How X-Men Days of Future Past restored my faith in X-Men as a whole.

Like any child of the 1990s... X-Men is a HUGE part of my childhood. The 1990s cartoon was and is a masterpiece and glued many a young elementary and middle school students to Fox Kids every Saturday morning. I know people who have been profoundly influenced by that show... that's how great it was.

And although Blade is the film that kickstarted the current comic book movie craze, X-Men is the one that proved the mainstream heroes can be done in a smart, modern, and realistic way.

I loved X-Men. I'm one of those few who is also a HUGE Cyclops fan and quite frankly, what he has become in the comics is deliciously captivating. Actually, for the most part, the X-books have been consistently strong since around 2003.

I really, really loved X-Men. In the days before DVR, Cartoon Network used to play X-Men Evolution every night in the summers when I was in college. I would videotape every episode I could while I was at work so I could come home and watch them. It was really great.

And next to Superman/Lois Lane, Cyclops/Jean Grey is my favorite comic book couple. So there's that too.

So imagine my excitement during my college internship. I interned at Marvel Studios in LA back in 2004... shortly before they became the behemoth they are now... and what film did I have the opportunity to do some pre-production work that Marvel the licensor does for Fox? X-Men 3.

Mind you, this was before X-Men 3 became The Last Stand. This was after Singer but before Ratner. This was when X-Men 3 was intended to be completely awesome.

This was also when Grant Morrison's epic New X-Men ended (which to me, that whole run was Morrison's finest work), and the Joss Whedon fueled Astonishing X-Men began. The movies were good, the comics were good, being an X-fan was great.

Then of course, chips fells, X-Men 3 turned into The Last Stand and the rest is history. I was appalled by X3. The horrid adaptation of Dark Phoenix and Whedon's cure arc, the depowering of everyone. And of course, the unceremonious death of Cyclops. He was a bit flat in the first 2 films, but it seemed as though X2 was setting up a HUGE Cyclops/Jean story for the third.

But that did not come to pass.

It was bad. Really bad. X-Men Origins: Wolverine made things that much worse. That's what you did to Deadpool? My complaints about that movie are abundant. And, frankly, I've never been a huge Wolverine fan.

With the exception of the comics (which again, were really good). I kind of lost interest in X-Men. The movies really soured my overall feelings toward the franchise.

When X-Men: First Class came, I really enjoyed it, but I did not really care for the use of Emma Frost and Havok. The continuity errors notwithstanding, it was a solid movie, but it's prequel status did little to quell my fears.

Not to mention that fact that the Marvel Cinematic Universe was in full force and The Avengers was coming and I want any movie based on a Marvel character to be done by Marvel.

For X-Men, I didn't see much of a future film-wise. The comics continued to be solid, but The Wolverine left me relatively underwhelmed.

Comics-wise, I enjoy All-New X-Men because I LOVE the original.five. Granted it's a bit muddy and they are from another universe notwithstanding, it's good stuff.

I literally had no desire to see X-Men Days of Future Past. The Marvel machine is in full swing and Captain America: The Winter Solider is one of the best movies I have ever seen.

So I had no desire to see X-Men. But a couple good bros wanted to go and I tagged along as we tended to do for these things.

Well color me surprised. Not only is Days of Future Past a fantastic adaptation of the source material,  it's a hell of a movie and it completely restored my faith, love and interest in X-Men.

But it wasn't simply the well-done adaptation or the "Star Trekking" of the timeline. There are still massive continuity issues, X3, Wolverine and The Wolverine have ceased to exist and X-Men and X2 are in some altered form.

No, no. The one thing that restored my faith in the entire X-Men franchise as a whole was the (spoilers) revelation that Scott Summers and Jean Grey are still alive in the movie-verse. That was it. That was all I needed.

Since then, I have rekindled a love of X-Men. I've purchased and upgraded my editions of Dark Phoenix, God Loves, Man Kills, Days of Future Past and more.

X-Men Days of Future Past is not perfect, and there are more questions about how they take the franchise than there are answers. Apocalypse? Fine. Set in the 1980s? Ehhh... not sure about that. You won't be able to keeps the original movie X-Men and have it make too much sense. The 1990s? Sure. Or time jump between the "Near Future" and the 90s? Sure. It will be interesting nonetheless.

So all it took was a good movie - a fairly faithful adaptation -the erasing of X3 and the return of Cyclops and Jean Grey in movie form and all my faith was restored.