Tuesday, December 29, 2015

We pay them in gold, for their pain, for their bodies...

Not prostitutes, no, but professional athletes get paid, and often, become injured and pay the cost for years, with their bodies, long after the gold has run out.  They are stars of culture, until their value is used up.  Some become legends we love, some lose everything, including wealth, family and memory.  Some spend the rest of their lives walking with canes or crutches.


I experienced 12 months of intense short term memory loss due to trauma following surgery for cancer.  Losing my memory was gravely worrisome for me, as I had watched my mother lose her mind to Alzheimer's and worried for my own future.  After taking dozens of tests, the diagnosis was that I had suffered PTSD during the surgeries and staph infection, and the trauma of the events basically erased my mind's ability to hold memories.  I mention this not saying I am a great athlete nor a great or famous person. I am simply say, I understand how traumatizing it is to lose parts of the life we have lived, because of our memory.

As a culture we lift up athletes as heroes, abandon them when they are finished, or we are finished with them, and the athletes are often left with minds that seem shattered.

We've celebrated boxing and fighting.  It is a sport that goes back thousands of years.  Every culture seems to do so.  I am not suggesting anything about the world or culture.  Boxing, UFC, Martial arts, Wrestling are all about combat in a ring.  But I want to point out, in the modern era, where people are so very sensitive and kind, and gentle and worried, we've begun to celebrate the UFC, or Mixed Martial Arts where almost anything goes, and shed blood is not thought to be unusual, it is rather part of the process.  We have begun to celebrate openly the blood sport.


In the past gladiatorial combat was almost certainly ended with death, if not grave injuries.  The consequences for the gladiators was not that he was well paid and retired, but often, he was a slave who made money for his master, and when he reached his last battles, retirement was simply an acknowledgement of truth, any further combat would end in death.  It wasn't kindness, it was that few wished to view a beloved figure of the arena die.


A movie has been released called Concussion featuring Will Smith, and it covers the discovery of the cycle of repeated injury to the brain and future loss of mental acuity.  The NFL has a stake in the concussion lawsuits, and information.  Will the NFL be seen as the beneficiary of athletes and their limited time on the field while creating a whole community and health concerns, or exploiters of people, and cold hearted assholes when the bright lights no longer shine on the athletes?

For our entertainment we watch men and now women collide at high speeds.  Their bodies are the canvas upon which the painting of tragedy and pain is told.  Should you care, as a spectator, how the figures upon the chess board are treated?  Are you exploiting others by paying to watch the display?

For the record I am very conflicted over this.  I love football, and am amazed by boxing and UFC for the sheer athleticism.  Hockey is great, fast and bloody.  Sports are moving, exciting, wild.  But when the battles are over, are we responsible for the consequences that the athletes pay?

Monday, December 28, 2015

Speculative Fiction Comic Books

A person I know has become very interested in the medium of comics, but she does not care, at all, about super heroes.  Since they are so prevalent in American comics, but not those of Europe or Japan, there is a temptation to look to those regions.  But she likes the writers and art styles of American comics.  So, I've been showing her Crime comics, Horror comics, Fantasy comics, and this current genre, SCIENCE FICTION.


There is one great aspect of SciFi Comics that trumps the movies.  You get similar stories and if you have a great artist, you get a movie on paper with a budget limited only to the imagination of the artist.  If he can think it, he can draw it.  So, that can be a very great thing.


Rather than super heroes, I believe that Scifi/fantasy comics are the best use of the medium.  Where else can we live in different worlds, different lives, and die thousands of times, without bodily harm to our selves?


Some of the best stories in the world of SciFi/Fantasy are first found in magazines, or self published works, or over seas magazines that have many different comics and ideas featured.  This isn't meant to sell anything, or tell veteran readers of comics to do something they haven't done.  I am just offering a look at works that are still exciting, and different, without the super hero costumes and self consumed continuities at the big ass companies, like DC and Marvel. 


Watch out, though.  Some of these works are only found by luck, in back issue bins, closets of no return, boxes of magazines that no one has touched for decades...  They might be worn and stink, but they still have gold between the covers.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Against the Code



 For a good half-century most of the comic books sold in the United States bore a special seal, an imprimatur like a tiny postage stamp certifying that they had been blessed by that mysterious custodian of comic book morality, the Comics Code Authority.
The Comics Code was established in 1954 by a group of comic book publishers for three purposes: to reassure worried parents that their books were wholesome and safe to buy for their wee tots, to forstall any federal legislation trying to regulate their industry, and to put Bill Gaines out of business.
William M. Gaines was the son of Max Gaines, the comics pioneer who was one of the founders of what became DC Comics, and who went on to start a company called Educational Comics, a company producing high-minded, edifying comic literature intended to improve the moral fiber of children. When Bill took over his father's company, he changed the name to Entertaining Comics, and changed its focus to crime fiction, suspense, science fiction and, most importantly, horror.
In the years following World War II, super-hero comics had declined in popularity, and publishers experimented with other genres, often going back to genres favored by the pulp magazines of a decade earlier. Bill Gaines was not the only publisher to do this, but by far his EC had the grittiest war comics, the most lurid crime comics and the goriest horror comics. They also sold well, and drew the most attention.
In the 1950s, one of the big social issues of the day, besides that of Communists under the bed and mushroom clouds in the sky, was Juvenile Delinquency. Television was still in its infancy and computer games hadn't been invented yet, so people had to blame something else for the decline in youth's morals. An enterprising psychologist named Frederick Wertham wrote a book titled SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT which placed the blame on violent comic books.
Wertham's big thing was literacy. He felt that comic books, being mostly pictures, hindered and degraded children's reading skills. The generation of kids a decade later who rushed to their dictionaries to decode Stan Lee's bombastic verbiage disproved this theory, but that came later; we'll be getting to Stan. Wertham actually approved of comic book fanzines, because the act of creating a 'zine and of writing about, reading about and arguing about even as trashy a subject as funnybooks exercised the reading skills he felt were important. He later even entered into amicable correspondence with fanzine editors.
In his book, though, Wertham's emphasis was on the more lurid aspects of comics and how they were creating a generation of depraved maniacs. A lot of the research he used to bolster his claims was highly slanted, when not outright fabricated. But he was a doctor, so people took his research seriously; especially when it told them what they wanted to hear.
In 1954, the US Senate convened a series of hearings to investigate Juvenile Delinquency, specifically the effect of extremely graphic horror and crime comics, and Bill Gaines was called upon to testify. Sadly, he put in a poor showing. Although eloquent in his defense of the First Amendment in his comic book editorials, before the Senate Subcommittee Gaines found himself cornered into trying to define the point at which a dismembered head becomes poor taste.
The rest of the comics publishers took alarm. After all, some of them weren't all that pure themselves regarding gory and sensationalistic comics. They faced the real possibility that the Government would impose regulations on the comic book industry. So they decided to regulate themselves.
The Comics Code was a set of self-imposed restrictions which would eliminate objectionable content from comic books. A panel chosen by the member companies would evaluate every book published by them. Those which did not violate the Code were granted the Seal of Approval: APPROVED BY THE COMICS CODE AUTHORITY.
Comics which did not bear the APPROVED stamp would not be carried by the newsstands, nor by the big distributors who supplied them. Nor, presumably, would they be purchased by responsible, God-fearing parents.
Some of the Code's prohibitions seemed specifically aimed at EC's comics, such as:
  • No comic magazine shall use the words "horror" or "terror" in its title.
  • All lurid, unsavory, gruesome illustrations shall be eliminated.
  • Scenes dealing with, or instruments associated with walking dead, torture, vampires and vampirism, ghouls, cannibalism, and werewolfism are prohibited.

Some of the rules seem reasonable enough as stated, but were highly restrictive as interpreted by the CCA. Gaines once wanted to reprint a pre-Code story by Al Feldstein and Joe Orlando titled "Judgement Day" in his comic INCREDIBLE SCIENCE FICTION. The Code administrator objected because in the last panel the main character turns out to be black -- the story was an allegory about racial prejudice -- and Gaines had to fight to get it published.
Gaines tried to adapt to the new Comics Code era, but the restrictions sucked all the blood out of his comics like one of the vampires he could no longer depict, leaving them pallid and anemic. The only book he published which survived was a parodic humor comic titled TALES CALCULATED TO DRIVE YOU MAD. Gaines switched the comic to a magazine format to retain its editor, Harvey Kurtzman, but a beneficial side effect of the format change was that it was no longer subject to the Comics Code. MAD MAGAZINE wound up saving the company.
The Code's restrictions pretty much killed the crime and horror comic genres, at least for a decade or two following it; but the Comics Code Era saw a revival of super-hero comics. I suspect that this was because the four-color fantasy of the super books were invulnerable to the strictures of the Code.
But there were other changes in the funnybook world. For one thing, the audience was growing older. The stereotype of the 8-year-old boy sitting on the back porch with a Grape Nehi and a copy of MORE FUN was no longer the typical reader. Perhaps it never was all that typical. The comic book audience was becoming increasingly dominated by high school and college age readers.
In the early '60s, Marvel put out an anthology comic book titled AMAZING ADULT FANTASY -- not "Adult" in the risque sense but rather, as the comic's tagline put it, "The Magazine That Respects Your Intelligence." With characters such as Spider-Man (debuting in AMAZING FANTASY #15) and the Fantastic Four, Stan Lee and his collaborating artists, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and others, tried to give their fantastic heroes realistic and believable character flaws and relatable emotional situations.
In 1971, Juvenile Delinquency was no longer as big a public concern, but Drug Addiction was. Stan Lee received a letter from the US Department of Health Education and Welfare, asking him to use the bully pulpit of his comic books to address this subject. This is how Stan tells it:
‘I got a letter from the Department of Health Education and Welfare.’ recalls Lee, ‘which said, in essence, that they recognized the great influence that Marvel Comics and Spider-Man have on young people. And they thought it would really be beneficial if we created a story warning kids about the dangerous effects of drug addiction. We were happy to help out. I wove the theme into the plot without preaching, because if kids think that you’re lecturing them, they won’t listen. You have to entertain them while you’re teaching.’ -- ("Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World’s Greatest Comics" by Les Daniels)
He did a story with Gil Kane and John Romita Sr. that ran in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #96-98 featuring an important sub-plot in which Peter Parker discovers that his best friend, Harry Osborn has started popping pills. He tried to get his message across without being too preachy and while delivering a solid, exciting story, and was pleased with the result. But when the story was submitted to the CCA, as all his comics were, the board rejected it, saying that comics were not permitted to mention drugs, even to promote an anti-drug message.

Curiously, the Comics Code as originally formulated never specifically mentions drugs. The decision was based on a section of the code prohibiting "All elements or techniques not specifically mentioned herin, but which are contrary to the spirit and intent of the code, and are considered violations of good taste or decency."
A few years earlier, an issue of STRANGE ADVENTURES, introducing the DC character Deadman, had the hero fighting opium dealers and was passed apparently without much comment. (Deadman does not count as "walking dead", I suppose, because he more sorta floats). So why did that story pass and Spidey's didn't?
Leonard Darvin, the administrator of the CCA at the time, reportedly was sick at the time the Spidey story was submitted, and Archie Comics publisher John L. Goldwater was filling in for him. It was Goldwater who made the decision to withhold the board's approval. It's been speculated that had Darvin made the call, there wouldn't have been any problem.
Stan went to his boss, publisher Martin Goodman, and argued that they should publish the story anyway. He felt the message was important; and, Stan pointed out, they had been asked to do it by the U.S. Government. "We would do more harm to the country by not running the story than by running it," Stan later recalled. Goodman agreed, and the story ran without the Comics Code Seal on the cover.
For years, the big stick of the CCA had been that no one would buy a comic without their Seal of Approval. But the lack of a seal did not hurt Spider-Man in the least. Far from it; Marvel received a lot of positive mail from parents, teachers and religious organizations for shining a light on this problem. Contrary to expectations, the Heavens did not fall.
But perhaps the altars reeled a bit. After the anti-drug storyline in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ended, Marvel resumed putting the Comics Code Seal on its cover; and the Comics Code Authority amended the Code to allow the presence of drugs in comics so long as they were not represented as anything but a vicious habit.
And I think this really was the beginning of the end for the CCA. Oh yes, the organization remained in existence for another forty years, but during that time it became less and less relevant. By it's final years, only a handful of companies were participating in the CCA. The decline of newsstand sales and the rise of the Direct Market made newsstand distributors less important. Comics publishers became more willing to test the boundries. Shortly after the Spider-Man storyline, DC published it's own anti-drug story in GREEN LANTERN / GREEN ARROW, in which Green Arrow discovers that his former sidekick, Speedy, has become a heroin addict. (Which was a big surprise, because everybody figured that Speedy would become hooked on amphetimines.) The '70s saw a brief revival of horror comics. They were less gruesome than the EC books of the '50s, to be sure, but they still would have been unthinkable during the height of the Code's power. New publishers entered the market, some of whom did not ask for the CCA's blessing, and both Marvel and DC established separate comics lines marketed towards a more adult audience without the seal.
The death blow came in 2011, when Archie Comics, which had long been a champion of the Code, announced that they were dropping it. By that time, Archie wasn't even bothering to submit their comics to the board, because the CCA administrators were just rubber-stamping everything they received without reading it. The remaining members, DC Comics and Bongo (publisher of the SIMPSONS comics), simply let their dues lapse. With no participating members, the Comics Code Authority dissolved.
Their logo, the APPROVED BY THE COMICS CODE AUTHORITY stamp, was acquired by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, a non-profit organization that supports the First Amendment rights of the comics medium and opposes censorship of comics. Bill Gaines did not live to see this happen, but I'm sure he would have appreciated the irony.
Some might say that comics were better when they were constrained by a moral code, but I don't think the Code was ever about morality; it was about externals, wholly divorced from the needs of the story, even from the needs of a moral. Stan was the first to point this out in a big way, and he caused the first cracks in the imposing edifice of the Comics Code.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Interviewing JOSH HOWARD with a special Announcement


Josh Howard is a talented person, and writes and draws, along with creates his own universes for his stories.  I've been onboard with his work since the beginning and he was kind enough to invite me to participate in one of his non-Dead@17 works.  So I definitely am a fan.  And a friend.  And a fan.


From his website: 

"Earlier this year, a live-action adaptation of DEAD@17 went before cameras as an official short film production from POPBOOM, a new YouTube channel launching in 2016 that will be home to both narrative and docu-style productions destined to feed the fanboy and fangirl appetite.

So now, without further ado, I am proud to debut the teaser trailer for DEAD@17: REBIRTH!"


Q1) For the readers who have not been aboard for the whole ride, could you give us all a thumbnail view of the series, now that it has ended, without spoilers?

A1) This has always been a very difficult question for me to answer, unfortunately. What Dead@17 started as is not how it ended up. If you were asking about what it was initially, the idea was basically taking the horror trope of the female victim and turning her into the hero. In a nutshell - a teenage girl is murdered, then resurrected, and is caught between two opposing forces battling over her soul. What starts as a pretty straightforward horror tale evolves over the course of 7 series to encompass faith, religion, political intrigue, and ultimately, the end of the world.

Q2) What has the response been to your work, in general, as it has been a long epic tale, but it has also been a moral tale at the same time,  in a world of heroics, but rarely moral discussions?

A2) The response over the years has varied between two camps - those that simply enjoy it for characters and the adventure, and those that get something from it on a deeper level - and it's those I find most satisfying. I put A LOT of work and thought into this series. So much consideration was given to the themes, theology, and what it is I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. But I never designed the series to present big moral discussions. Instead, my M.O. from day one was to present things "the way they are" - with Christianity and its theology & tenets as a given. Nara never converts to Christianity. She just is. My whole life I've observed how much of secular entertainment just presents its worldview "as is" with little no consideration given to an opposing view - or at least, an honest one. When Hollywood or any media isn't dogging Christianity, it's pretending it doesn't exist. And that sends a powerful message. So that's where I'm coming from - wanting to present a counter balance to that, but in an as honest and truthful way as I can.


Q3) Do you hope for any sort of works to add to the reader and critic perception of you as a writer and artist of deeper tales, or if you will, moral tales?


A3) I have many more stories to tell. And they'll probably all be better than Dead in every way - technically, narratively, structurally, etc. I learned a lot during the 12 years I worked on it. But I don't think that will necessarily make them "deeper" or "moral." And honestly, I don't care either way. All I care about is telling a good, engaging story while hopefully illuminating the truth in some way. 


Q4) When ending a tale, as this work has finally found its rightful and logical place of end, do you feel sorrow at its termination, or is it a relief?


A4) I'm not sure either emotion is wholly accurate. I mean, finishing that last 7 issue arc was a relief for sure - I've never done that many issues in a row - and they all came out on time, except for the last one which was a month late because it ran twice as long. So yeah, I was relieved to have pulled that off without killing myself. But on a whole, I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment. Dead@17 was never part of the long term plan when I got started in this business. I planned to do a couple and then move on to other stories. But as people fell in love with the characters, and as they and the world grew in my mind, I never quite got away from it. So I dug in and made it a goal to fully tell this story to its completion. And despite numerous obstacles and setbacks, I did just that. Sure, there are plenty of things I wish I could change or do differently, but I'm still very proud at how the whole thing turned out.


Monday, December 14, 2015

Holiday Season Ideas

People in this overly sensitive world get upset over words.  So I say Merry Christmas, I say Happy Hannukah, I say Festive Festivus.  I don't find it offensive to hear wishes from anyone, regardless of the season I am wished blessings for.  I offer similar wishes for you.  Whatever season you celebrate, bless your celebration.  And if you do not celebrate, have a good month, for no particular reason.

GIFT IDEAS FOR GEEKS WHO READ

STAR WARS

I'd be called a moron if I didn't reflect here upon the arrival of the newest entry into the Star Wars universe.  Since I am focusing on books, for the geek in your life who reads, why not pick up four Star Wars books written by, or in the first book, ghost written by, Alan Dean Foster.  He has been trusted with novelizations and original fiction in the universe, and has great track record for excellence.

MARVEL 1602

This will surprise some folks as I was late to the Sandman of Neil Gaiman and even much later to his other work.  But I love alternate history, and Marvel 1602 is a concept that presents that world with the characters we know, but with the tech, personages, and historical development to that point in history.  I like the Neil Gaiman volume best, but, these are all quite good for a series by many hands.


DC COMICS Green Arrow

I think Green Arrow is a hot commodity with the television show ARROW, but, for me the best version of Green Arrow happened with the series that followed Longbow Hunters, by Mike Grell.  The three tpbs here are written only, rather than working Grell's ass to death with art chore's as well, but Hannigan and Grell are really on target, and the stories are as mature as the comics of the day allowed.  I should also note, Mike Grell calls me his pain in the ass "little" brother, so I might be biased, but this work is an all time favorite for me.  It would be loved by any fan of the show ARROW. 

THE RED STAR

Imagine a world where the Soviet Union perhaps didn't collapse but is rather reimagined in a mythic sense.  The stories follow heroes facing grave crisis' within that different Soviet world.   The art, writing and overall story is amazing, and any fan of vivid art and heroic stories should find this a great gift. A small warning, the works are expensive at the same time as they are great.  But I believe they are very well worth it.


ALIEN/ALIENS/ALIEN3

The Alien movie franchise is dealing with prequels from the original director Ridley Scott, along with a new series to intersect the original works and change the works between Aliens and Alien3.  It is perhaps time to reread the movie novelizations.  Hey, wait a minute, it is by that Alan Dean Foster guy again.  No, I am not just suggesting his works, there is a point to it, Alien will become a hot subject again, and these books, rereleased with beauty covers are again worth buying.


STAR TREK

Another franchise that geeks love is Star Trek.  The kind people who published the Star Trek The Animated Series logs released the books, 1-10, with brand new covers.  The works being captured were the Star Trek Animated Series cartoon.  I've seen the cartoons, and read the logs.  The logs are far far superior.  They were written, by that guy Alan Dean Foster... seriously, he is just that good, not that I have an agenda.


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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Outrage caused by war, due to art


The Spanish Civil War was fought between the Socialist Spanish government, International brigades and Soviet "volunteers" vs Spanish "Nationalists", Fascists who received support from Italy, Germany and Portugal.  The war was won by the Nationalists, and was followed by a near 30 year dictatorship by Francisco Franco's government.  Many atrocities occurred, with executions, purges, and betrayals on both sides.  During the war Germany's Condor Legion bombed and strafed a city called Guernica. The Bombing of Guernica (26 April 1937) would have been ignored or lost amongst the horror of war, if not captured by Pablo Picasso in painting.  This blog tries to show how art translates life and life is translated by art.  This is a case of how the work in question perhaps did not stop the war, or change it directly, but the world opinion definitely changed, from modest interest or awareness, to outrage and horror.



"Before God and before History which must judge us all, I affirm that for three and one-half hours, German planes bombarded with unheard-of fury the defenceless civilian population of the historic city of Gernika, reducing it to ashes, chasing with machine-gun fire women and children who perished in great number, fleeing the stampede of others driven mad by panic." José Antonio Aguirre

"Aguirre is lying. We have respected Guernica, as we respect everything Spanish." Francisco Franco

Click to enlarge
 Guernica by Pablo Picasso copyright his estate


“It isn’t up to the painter to define the symbols,” said Pablo Picasso when asked to explain his celebrated mural, Guernica. “….The public who look at the picture must interpret the symbols as they understand them.”

Monday, December 7, 2015

Horror plus Pirates = Awesome.



 Sea of Red from IMAGE by Rick Remender, Keiron Dwyer, Salgood Sam and Paul Harmon and Rawbone from AVATAR by Jamie Delano feature pirates, of a most dark and dangerous kind.  As individuals they might have honor, but to those that cross them, or harm them, woe be to them.  These two works are favorites of mine, and for the fact that, people like happy pirates, which is probably not what the historical truth would show.

I am showing these books because pirates and horror demonstrate how crossing genres can be a perfect marriage.  Crime and horror works as well.  The quality of art and writing both are important, but in Sea of Red's case they add one interesting addition, the pages are published in a color that is not white, but rather, bone vellum.  They resemble paper that would accompany a pirate map or that of the time of the events found in the beginning of the story.



Both of these books are worthy of your time.