Sexual abuse and the comics industry

The Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse scandal continues to unfold to depressingly Savile-like proportions as the scale of sexual abuse in the film industry starts to unfold. The film industry is hardly unique. This is fairly common across most industries I’ve worked in, and I imagine most people have at some point seen something, or worse, been the victim of this sort of abuse. This is also true of the world of comics.

I’ve been in and out the industry since the early 80’s and you don’t hear the stories or rumours until you’re sitting there late at night at conventions when a few beers have opened mouths or just basically as part of the rumour mill all relatively enclosed industries have. So I’ve heard stories such as the one about the shop that shared premises with a pornographer that built a studio upstairs in the shop, or the one about the comic shop owner who would try to groom any young female customers he liked, or a whole load of stories of shop owners and con/mart organisers who were paedophiles and in some cases ended up convicted ones too. I personally saw one dealer at a convention try desperately to pay girls to sleep with him. In this case he was laughed out the convention, but this isn’t a one-off situation as I’ve heard other people doing the same crap over the years.

There’s lots of great wee stories about comic-related people that often verge into something horrible, but sometimes darkly funny. However there’s these stories which swirl round the scene and this is just in the UK but because the UK has such a small industry compared to the US the scale ramps up. Take example the stories that have circulated around Julie Schwartz. Schwartz was the man who shook up DC Comics in the 1960’s and 70’s by pushing what they did kicking and screaming into the modern age.

His position in comics is astonishing but those stories were from more than one person. Then there’s there’s what happened to writer/editor Janelle Asselin who has been a victim of threats and abuse in all her years in comics, especially when she spoke out. As she admits, the industry is a boy’s club…

Asselin also helped break the story about Dark Horse Comics editor Scott Allie, who was accused of assaulting women at conventions which is something that sadly doesn’t shock me one bit.

Things are getting better. More women are getting involved in comics but the old attitudes remain and while the big superhero publishers like Marvel and DC are essentially boy’s clubs this isn’t going away. The point is that when stories like Jimmy Savile or Harvey Weinstein breaks it should be an excuse for industries to be more open about what’s happened in the past and what is happening now, but there’s still a silence about this. Worse, there’s people who are victims being threatened or furthered abused mainly by fans of the person involved or of the publisher as they pile on the accuser.

Now I only know bits and bobs. I’ve not been full time in the industry for two decades, and I’m only sneaking back into it now, but there’s people out there who are allegedly ‘journalists’ who can help by trying to expose what’s going on but far too many of these people have one eye on themselves getting a job higher up the greasy pole, so will play along and help keep silent.

We’re hitting a potential watershed. This might be a chance to put the industry’s house in order and I hope people now come forward to ensure that abusers are exposed, even imprisoned for what they’ve done. It won’t be easy but this is a prime chance to change things and frankly, I don’t think we’ll get a better chance.

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DC’s Doomsday Clock shows how DC have ran out of ideas

DC Comics bring out a comic next month where Watchmen becomes part of the mainstream DC Universe. Written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Gary Frank, Doomsday Clock is a 12-issue series telling the story in all its gory detail.

1980’s nostalgia is all the rage, and seeing as DC have mined Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns to an inch of its life, the other other jewel it has left from that era it hasn’t mined is Watchmen. That for years was protected but after the disastrous Before Watchmen anything was on the table, or to be precise, dragging Moore and Gibbons creation kicking and screaming into the DC Universe was the last roll of the dice for DC. I say that because I imagine jobs are riding on this being a hit and having sat in marketing meetings I’m also aware of what it looks like when a company rolls that die for the last chance. Doomsday Clock is that last chance.

This weekend is New York Comic Con, and a preview of the first issue was released. I present it here as sort of evidence for the prosecution. First thing that strikes me is that Gary Frank really is a fine artist. Second thing is that Geoff Johns isn’t the writer he clearly thinks he is. Take this panel for example…

On the surface it seems fine. Except the book is set in the 1992 of Watchmen’s ‘universe’ so terms like ‘undeplorables’ and ‘echo chamber’ are a 21st century term, and one that came into common usage this century respectively. Basically from the off Johns makes the script too on the nose, too unsubtle about what he’s trying to do and we don’t get an idea of the moral and political grey porridge that was Watchmen, but we’re being informed to think in binary. I have no idea how we’re supposed to think about the return of one of the very dead characters from Watchmen.

Actually I do. Rorschach was the big fan-favourite so it makes sense for Johns to bring him back, because you just know he’s going to fight, then team up with Batman.He’s a character who Johns said is the most fun character he’s written. Moore makes it clear just what Rorschach is here…

Everything in these six pages points to a paucity of imagination, a lack of understanding of politics or ideologies beyond that of a typical American liberal, and the fact that as the last roll of the dice for DC, it has to bathe in the nostalgia of the 80’s in such a way it doesn’t give people another Watchmen, but what some people think Watchmen should be which is a superhero story.

Johns isn’t without talent. He can write but rather than forge his own original idea (And as a very, very senior figure in DC he can do whatever he likes) but instead we get this which looks to ignore the main thing that Watchmen was which was a satire/criticism on not just comics as a medium, but the industry. All the subtly dense discussion of humanity, morality and politics replaced by fan-fiction wankery and superheroes punching each other. DC are packaging nostalgia, but they’re not providing anything new, original or giving themselves new titles as good as Watchmen.

And who would create that for DC when they see what they’re doing to Watchmen anyhow?

Crisis on Earth X

DC’s Arrowverse television universe is vastly more entertaining and fun than the tiresome films (though Wonder Woman is actually a sign someone gets the idea of ‘entertainment’) with The Flash being my favourite as it manages to capture the character perfectly. There’s now four series, Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow. In November all four will be crossing over in a storyline called ‘Crisis on Earth X’, which is accompanied with this great Phil Jimenez poster.

Based upon the cover of JLA #207, this is a cracking wee bit of nostalgic fun.

The various TV series are doing a fine job of bringing a more comic-book based ideas and translating that for television, but this homage is something that cheers me up vastly. IT just looks so right

 

RIP Len Wein

Writer, editor and comics creator Len Wein has passed away at the age of 69, which is far too soon. He leave behind a massive amount of not just important creations (Swamp Thing with Berni Wrightson and Wolverine with Herb Trimpe and John Romita Snr to name the two big ones) but some truly great comics work. For me, my first exposure to Wein was Justice League of America #100 and this great Nick Cardy cover.

Wein wrote the JLA from this issue to #114, and these remain some of my favourite superhero comics ever not just because they’re enormous fun, but for me, these were the first superhero comics I read that even had a hint of doing something more than just stringing together fight scenes. It remains a vastly underrated run.

His Marvel work in the 70’s helped entertain me massively, especially the joy filled fun that was Marvel Team-Up.

A nice fun run on Amazing Spider-Man,

And a long run on The Incredible Hulk which is where Wolverine first made his début.

It’s worth noting that if Wein hadn’t brought Wolverine into the new X-Men in Giant Size X-Men #1, the revamped X-Men might never have gotten off the ground and failed and Wolverine would be a minor character that once popped up in a few issues of the Hulk’s title.

Instead though, Wein made the masterstroke of sticking Wolverine into the X-Men and unleashed a massive fan-favourite for decades to come.

As an editor he’s responsible for helping Alan Moore and Gave Gibbons Watchmen into the world.

Overall Wein gave comics more than he’s probably appreciated for. Without him DC may never have hired Alan Moore in the first place and all that British talent DC mined from the 80’s to today. Wein changed the mainstream comics industry in the US and UK massively and his passing is a loss. Yes, we can dwell upon shite like Before Watchmen and later work, but let’s not dwell there and choose instead to remember his work for helping kids like me have some entertainment over the decades…

Trying to understand the Twin Peaks finale

The return of Twin Peaks came to a conclusion this week and to say people are polarised is, well, a massive fucking understatement. Trawl the internet and you’ll find people praising it or decrying it in around equal numbers, but the agreement is that nobody actually knows what the series actually meant, but watching the final two episodes something clicked in my brain: A DC Comics series from 1985 has a hint as to how to understand what David Lynch and Mark Frost have done here.

From here on in lies spoilers. Be warned.

Crisis on Infinite Earths was a DC Comics mini-series designed to tidy up DC’s convoluted continuity that had built up over the decades, and to destroy all the multiple Earths into one. Central at the core is the idea of parallel Earths separated only by ”vibrational frequency”. These different realities all had an Earth where something is different, or history developed differently, or even history moved at a slower, or faster, rate than ‘our’ Earth. Basically the idea of parallel worlds is a tried and familiar concept in science fiction and Lynch and Frost are playing with these concepts so remember that what we’re seeing is a story being told. Sounds obvious but there’s a point where certain characters in season three become aware they’re in a story and I’ll get to that point in a minute.

In the Twin Peaks finale, Dale Cooper travelled back in time to the point where Laura Palmer was murdered and stopped it and in doing so created a parallel world where Laura never died.

Cooper creates a doppleganger Earth by his actions and remember, we’ve been told all series this is about doubles and duplicates, and not just that. From the opening shot it becomes clear we’re watching something that isn’t just not in chronological order, as this scene could easily slot into any of the final two episodes.

The series has always played with dopplegangers and played scenes that could be from any time in the character’s lives.

However the opening scene of season three sets out the road map. Whether one can interpret it to give us a clear road map is a matter of some debate, but the story of the finale shows Cooper saving Laura Palmer ensuring she’s never murdered and everything that comes after that event changes.

But ‘Judy’ is still around even though BOB is destroyed so Cooper’s job isn’t over so he and Diane travel to another world where they become Richard and Linda. Cooper changes to become a strange hybrid of himself, Dark Coop and Dougie Jones even though he’s still doing his mission which is to find Laura, something he eventually does except she’s not Laura, she’s ‘Carrie Page’, but even in this reality she’s corrupted (Laura was created in Episode 8 to be the opposite of BOB) by violence but she’s still alive.

By the time we get to the final shot it’s clear the evil of ‘Judy’ can never be escaped as ‘Carrie Page’ remembers who she is and what was done to her.

The reality Cooper and ‘Carrie’ are in could well be ours, or it could be a dream within a dream as alternate realities open up where Laura is brutally murdered, only to be saved by Cooper who is then thwarted by the ultimate evil, ‘Judy’ in an never ending cycle of evil defeating good as they move from one Earth through the frequencies forever. Cooper can never win. Laura will always die. Evil will always win but good (in the shape of Cooper) will always fight it.  The End.

Of course this is one theory and anyone with half a brain can work out a way for this to carry into a season 4, but if Lynch and Frost want to end on a grim, scary but oddly positive note (good will never give up fighting) then this is it. If they want to carry on there’s enough for them to come back and carry on telling their story, but part of me would like it to end now with the mysteries (and there’s enough to fill dozens of blogs) continued. Twin Peaks season 3 is a unique piece of television that challenged the very act of watching television and as such making more of it challenges the point of it so I’d like it to end with all these loose threads dangling forever.

Bad Comics Journalism: John Boyaga and the ‘Caribbean Dancer’.

Bleeding Cool is a website offering ‘Geek’ news, so comics, films, that sort of thing. Most of the time the comics stuff is fine as it follows the same breathless sort of line in comics ‘reporting’ that scars the industry like a Chelsea smile. Sometimes it happens to be very good, most of the time it’s just reporting press releases or posting about a trailer for a film, etc. Usual sort of stuff for a ‘Geek’ site. It also has a line in clickbait that makes me wince at best. Angrily swear at my laptop and feel annoyed at worse. Every now and then it posts something so shite, so inane and so representative of the utterly shoddy state of what passes for ‘journalism’ on these sites, that I feel the red haze but not enough to make a big deal about it as after all, this shite is everywhere.

Then I read this piece about actor John Boyaga dancing with a woman at the Notting Hill Carnival and felt like my soul had died a bit in the time it took to read. There’s a thing in journalism called the ‘some arsehole doctrine‘. Essentially when a ‘journalist’ is struggling for a piece they will call on what some arsehole said, spin a piece, pocket the cash (or in Bleeding Cool’s case the exposure and a packet of crisps) and in the process curl out a piece of clickbait which does its job of driving traffic to a site and winding up other arseholes in a sort of Human Centipede of arseholes where they all feed off each others rage at the original thing that Some Arsehole said.

Now let’s move on from the fact that everyone goes to carnival (be it Notting Hill, St Paul’s or wherever) to get wasted, listen to liver-shaking dub reggae, and grind. Even the Old Bill.

Now the problem isn’t the sort of joy-sapping outrage by some arsehole who can’t distinguish real life from fiction, but the fact that Bleeding Cool thought it was fit to publish rather than say, actually doing journalism rather than being a ‘Geek’ version of the Daily Mail.

If Boyaga and a woman want to grind then what the fuck business of anyone but those two people? If some arsehole wants to get outraged about it rather than feed their social disconnect just ignore them after you’ve called them an arse. If a website reports on it then we’re talking of barrel-scraping inanity in the never-ending fight for clicks.

But I’m not annoyed by all that. I’m annoyed by how little journalism matters in the ‘Geek’ world having been cast aside like a used condom as sites and contributors fight for ad revenue or the possibility that Marvel, DC or another company pick them up for a position.  Barring the odd example here and there there’s no such thing as comics journalism, and the position of Bleeding Cool as a sort of Private Eye for comics (a position the editor has quoted several times) is rubbing salt in the wound as Private Eye’s journalistic reputation stands proud after decades.

The problem is that Private Eye does work that changes things. Paul Foot’s work on the Lockerbie Bombing is just one example. Reporting whether an actor does something a bit rude only makes people think lower as they become polarised as their thoughts rattle around in whatever echo chamber they inhabit. It is, to be utterly blunt, fucking depressing, to think that critical thought and reporting in an industry not especially well known for these things is left to some arsehole to pick up what another arsehole said and make something from it.

So remember the next time you see faux outrage from a ‘Geek’ site about something it’s probably the Some Arsehole Doctrine in full force. The answer is don’t click on it. Ignore it. Walk away. It’ll help in a small way in making the world better and if enough of us do it then things might actually change, but I doubt it.

A century of Jack Kirby

On the 28th August this year comic artist/writer/creator Jack Kirby would have been 100 years old. I’ve spoken about his birthday in the past but this is a big event obviously and a celebration as at one point it seemed as if the Kirby family would never win Jack the recognition he deserved in life.

After all, Kirby helped shape modern pop culture in a way few people have but it is only in recent years he’s even got a snifter of the credit he should have got when he was alive.

Finally though at this centenary we see Kirby being paid tribute not just by friends, colleagues and a core of fans, but people outwith the ghetto of comics.

The man may no longer be with us but his powerful, astonishing, and glorious art and creations live on.

People flock to the latest Avengers film, or look forward to Justice League, or the new Star Wars, but no Kirby and no Avengers, no Darkseid to fight and no Doctor Doom who directly influenced Darth Vader so no post-1977 pop culture.

Happy anniversary Jack. It’s nice that more people appreciate you and that your creations thrill and delight a world, and as for your art, well, they’ll never be another like you. Cheers for everything..