Why did Tom King shame Jae Lee?

Tom King is writing DC’s new Rorschach maxi-series which is yet another example of them milking Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons Watchmen for everything it can. Of course Moore famously wants nothing to do with DC or what they’re doing to work he doesn’t fully own himself, or with co-creators, plus the idea of making Rorschach even the anti-hero of his own series would probably leave a bit of sick in his mouth.

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There is a massive issue here of the creator’s rights. Moore has been stripped bare by DC over the years, not to mention this sends out the message that if DC Comics can fuck over Alan Moore, they can fuck anyone over. Of course, they can’t do it without the aid of creators which brings us to Tom King doing this off the back of the dreadful Doomsday Clock semi-sequel. King’s participation in this has already caused controversy outwith the creator’s rights issue, and frankly, the blurb does not fill one with confidence.

“This is a very political work.” he said in a statement. “It’s an angry work. We’re so angry all the time now. We have to do something with that anger. It’s called ‘Rorschach’ not because of the character Rorschach, but because what you see in these characters tells you more about yourself than about them.”

But this is how DC and Marvel operate these days. Things won’t change, especially in a Covid world. So last weekend during the virtual San Diego Comic Con, King Tweeted this.

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The hate group King refers to is Comicsgate, who are indeed full of hateful racists and misogynists, but they run crowd-funding campaigns for their comics which end up raising their goals. They’re awful, but this is still a tiny part of comics even if they are painfully vocal, especially with their daft wee boycotts. The variant cover King is talking about is this one.

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Lee was then promptly canceled. Boycotts were organised, and fans pushed for Lee never to get work at DC, all the usual stuff you’d expect when there’s an online swirl of shaming and canceling going on. Problem is Lee wasn’t asked by King his version of the story until the damage was well and truly done, but of course this wouldn’t have attracted any attention.  Lee was busy dealing with the death of his dog and isn’t on Twitter, nor does he know what Comicsgate is. It appears he did the cover because he drew a Cyberfrog cover back in the 90s, plus as a freelance artist it was a job.

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Which has seen people further point out the fact why didn’t King do this in the first place? Was it really so urgent that it’d not have waited a couple of days til Lee had made clear his side of things. But no, people want blood, and if he’s innocent of anything then they still want blood. For example.

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Lee was not fine. Lee will probably lose work over this. He’ll forever have the labels of racist and bigot hanging over him. People will want Lee to ‘learn’ now he’s been so publicly shamed, but Lee did nothing more than do one cover for someone. He’s not a Comicsgater, nor does he seem to want to do anything but make art, but King has used his position of power to taint Lee which means people aren’t talking about King’s next project in the light of creator’s rights, or any other criticism prior to this weekend.

In most companies, King would be facing possible dismissal. At least he’d be disciplined for what he did to a colleague. I would hope DC’s H.R department move on this and bollock the living hell out of King because we live in a time where cancel culture is real, and people know they can weaponise it against someone, or use it to get likes or detract from anything rattling in their cupboard and an ex CIA operative will have many a skeleton rattling away, and one can only imagine how Alan Moore feels about a former CIA man working on his creations when Moore’s written a comic about the CIA’s bloody history.

So we have here an example of the horror of living in the 21st century. Public shaming is fine as long as you discuss facts after the shaming is done, and if the damage lives with someone for a lifetime well they’ve learned a lesson haven’t they? This is the weird bizarro world we now live in and how amazingly toxic it has become. If I were Lee I’d be crowdfunding for legal action, and I’m guessing the reason King has backed off is he’s now fully aware he’s open to be sued, and I hope Lee does because if this is the way to stop people leaping to cancel then so be it. There’s no point asking for kindness because many of the people holding up pitchforks are those who consider themselves ‘kind’ or progressive, but are happy to destroy lives for shits and giggles because it isn’t just the right doing this, but the supposed left.

And what’s going to make this worse is that the horde will move onto their next victim probably as I type this…

 

 

 

How well is a virtual San Diego Comic Con going?

We’re well into Comic Con at Home, the online event to replace the actual event which was canceled this year due to Covid-19. It is as good as you’ll expect it to be though there’s only so much joy you can get from glorified Zoom meetings, with much of it the sort of stuff you get at the mega-conventions so you’ve got your Star Trek, and other big media ‘franchises’ (a despicable word that reduces art and culture to nothing more than a Big Mac) through to actual talk about comics at a comic convention.

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Some of it is painfully tedious. This thing for proclaiming their pronouns in introductions is complete bullshit and instantly makes the thing tedious, as are moderators who don’t know when to shut up however there’s a lot of stuff coming out for everyone even if there’s an awkwardness about it all which is of course understandable.

However SDCC could learn a few things from this. For one the on-floor exclusives in future could easily be done online, so you screen out those who’ll come for a few hours, grab their stuff before going home to bang it on eBay, or to be locked away .  Some of the huge panels could have pay per view functions to again reduce the amount of people sitting in queues to get a glimpse of Robert Downey Jnr. from 200 meters away. There’s a lot they can learn from this weekend which can open the event up, and maybe even free up tickets for people who want the weekend to explore the con rather than just follow film and TV announcements.

Or they could learn nothing and just plug on as they have been. We shall see.

How we need Superman more than ever

There’s a push for Superman to be black to make him ‘relevant to a modern audience’ and although there’s a few good arguments out there for that, the argument hinges upon making Superman hip and relevant,  which means basically we end up moving away from the idea of Superman to something different.

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Alternate versions of Superman are fine, but they work best when they contrast with Superman himself, but the problem is people have lost just what Superman is and why he’s never stopped being relevant, and in the world we’re in today he’s even more relevant.

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Why?

He’s an alien refugee who can’t go back home as that’s destroyed, but was found by two kind, decent people who taught him how to be a good person and uphold the ideas that make the American Dream something admirable. For him, a little girls cat stuck up a tree is as important as stopping Brainiac from invading Earth. It’s all about giving something to make people’s lives better. He’s about finding people’s problems and solving them be it a lost cat or a deadly alien invasion.

And remember, when Superman started he was beating up slum landlords, speeding drivers and people who lived in the Depression-era who made readers lives more hellish than it already was. Superman’s working class, near socialist roots are perfect to update to the 2020’s, and his message of hope is what is needed in a world living with everything we are just now. In fact, there’s a hell of a lot of similarities between the 2020’s and the 1930s. We need a hero now who isn’t corruptible, and isn’t some edgelord’s idea of what he should be in 20202, so no neck-breaking, glum, grimness but someone who celebrates life and people.

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Superman right now is in a rut. The comics are poor and Henry Cavill is signing on to play Superman in cameo appearances for now as Warners have no idea how to treat the character because all superheroes have to be ‘edgy’ in some way but there’s room for honesty, decency and redefining the ‘American Way’ through the eyes of a refugee So what if he’s ‘old fashioned’. Maybe we need that in the age of Trump and Brexit?

 

 

35 years of Live Aid

Today, 35 years ago Live Aid happened featuring two huge open-air concerts in London and Philadelphia and global hunger was wiped out overnight making the world an almost utopia. Except it didn’t. So let’s be blunt from the off; as an event to help people Live Aid’s reach was limited, and although aid did get to people, it also got in the hands of warlords who bought guns and other weapons who then proceeded to murder tens of thousands of people. Bob Geldof’s successor to Live Aid, Live 8, ended up siding with Western governments allowing them a shield to back off doing anything real to wipe out Third World debt.

Of course, people giving money in 1985 didn’t know this. I bought a copy of Do They Know its Christmas? like millions of others thinking my few quid that I’d spent on a frankly shite record (which has long, long been sold off) would actually do something. I’d dabbled with the idea of getting a ticket and going down with some friends but I bluntly, shat myself about going down to London myself, spending a day in Wembley, then heading back to Victoria in the wee hours to wait for the bus back. A few years later I wouldn’t have blinked about it, but it is a regret as we had people who’d come into the shop I worked in who could have easily gotten tickets.

In those pre-internet days knowledge that Live Aid was not doing what it set out to do was in circulation, though hard to get but journalists were at least aware on both sides of the Atlantic there were problems. The problem was the narrative was written in stone. Bob Geldof was a saint, and his free-market vision of aid relief might involve giving millions direct to a butcher but let’s skim over that so we can feel good after all, it’s better to be kind than pick Geldof and Live Aid apart because they did help people?

And here we are 35 years later still being fed the same narrative. Yet for all my moral outrage at what Live Aid, and especially Geldof, is actually responsible for, I’ve been constantly drawn to the Live Aid concert itself as possibly one of those moments which helped shape the next 35 years for me in selling me the idea of large open-air festivals such as Glastonbury.

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As for me on that day, I remember having to pop into work to help deal with a delivery but managed to get away so I was home by midday to watch the start of it which then saw me stuck in front of the TV for the next 14 hours or so. I witnessed poor Adam Ant single-handedly destroy his career to Queen dragging theirs out of the gutter. Watching it back today little of it stands up musically, nor do many of these acts know how to play to a crowd of 100k. Queen was one of those exceptions as was David Bowie who was going through his megastar phase before making the horrible mistake which was his career from 86 to the early 90s. I still shudder at Tin Machine which reminds me I must tell my Tin Machine story one day…

But that day was about spectacle, not to mention the actual technical marvel of putting the thing on, and the BBC showing it to the UK in those early days of satellites. A lot of what was done that day pushed technology on so that just a few years later satellite TV became a thing and you’d see dishes go up on the sides of houses of the few who could afford it back then.  It was amazing to see things flit from the UK to US and back again. Who cares that many of the performances were poor, it was the spectacle which mattered and looking at the continuity back then it’s clear that was how it was affecting people who were there.

Of course there were some things which did happen. Most of the acts saw their careers either blow up like U2 or Madonna or come back from the dead like Queen and Status Quo. Others saw careers prolonged for a year or two longer than they should have been with Adam Ant being an exception.  Live Aid also saw how music changed for the latter half of the 80s so that these big acts dominated to the point where chart music stagnated. No wonder the breakthrough of rave and Indie music in 89 was lapped up as we’d struggled with that post Live Aid bubble.

35 years later the legacy of that day beyond the memories people have of it as a glorious spectacle is complex. Geldof has clearly profited in terms of relevance since then as in 1985 his 15 minutes of fame was well and truly up, but his move into international politics is going to either make him a saint or hang like a set of chains depending on how you’ve informed yourself. Most people though see him, and Live Aid/8 (I remember Geldof appearing at Glastonbury in 2005 being welcomed uncritically on the main stages, but elsewhere you’d be able to find opposing voices to what he was doing, not to mention that both concerts are lacking in black acts) are purely noble causes and not the complex mess it really is.

Still, musically if you’re an act looking to play a big festival you can do worse than using Live Aid as a guide as to how to do it. Queen and U2 are your guides.

 

Return to Glastonbury 1999

The end of the millennium was a strange time. The 90’s had been relatively stable since the end of the Cold War, minus the odd bit of genocide and war and we were all looking forward to the 21st century as after all, it could only be a next stage in the evolution of humankind?

Sadly, this was not to be the case but there was a shiny new optimism in 1999, Y2K panic aside of course. That year’s Glastonbury Festival is something I’ve written in detail about previously, was a bit of a mixture as in 1999, Britpop had breathed its last though bands still vainly plugged on for that last big hit, and although Big Beat was a thing music and youth culture was a bit over the place in these pre mass internet days. So the festival’s lineup that year felt like that with no major strand of music one could pull out of it.

 

 

Also the weather played a part. 1997 was muddy but it’d remained dry most of the weekend so was hard work, but still fun. 1998 was just wet, miserable and muddy all weekend, plus the lineup was poor, or acts you looked forward to were shite. It was a terrible year so 1999 was hoped to be dry just so we could have more options than rain and mud.

 

 

Fortunately, it was dry and in fact, on the run-up to the festival it even seemed it could be a ridiculously hot year which it wasn’t. It ended up being a perfect weekend weatherwise. Warm, dry with a wee bit of rain on Saturday to keep the dust down. Getting between stages wasn’t an issue as it was busy, but not rammed as people had clearly been put off coming down without a ticket due to the weather in the previous couple of years.

 

 

I liked 1999’s festival a lot. At the time it felt like a reward for those of us who suffered especialy in 98 which overall, still stands as one of the worst festival I’ve ever been to in 30 years, and the great thing about watching this video footage is just how many great acts played that year. Hole for example were fucking brilliant, and REM still pulled off one of the best headline sets I’ve seen. Watching tens of thousands of people bouncing at the Fun Loving Criminals was awesome in the truest sense of the word, but there was so many dreadful acts milking out a last few rays in the sun.

 

 

So 1999 felt like an end. We’d survived Britpop and the 20th century with a whole fresh new one just six months away, so of course, the festival closed the final one of the millennium with the general averageness of Skunk Anansie.

 

 

Glastonbury 1999 didn’t end with a massive climax, but just sort of faded away. 1999 itself didn’t end with the apocalypse but a lot of hangovers, and maybe a few computers which glitched a bit. 2000 was going to be a great year, and the 21st century was going to be so much more different than the 20th century.

Well, that’s right for sure. I do however miss 1999’s festival. It was fun, and it was a year where the best stuff happened away from the main stages in a lovely disorganised mess and the future looked good. Fast forward two decades and we’re living with far-right lunatics in charge of the UK, and we’re in the middle of a lethal pandemic which has seen me quarantined since March.

Sigh

Bring back 1999…

 

 

The best comics channels on YouTube

Go onto YouTube and you’ll find channels for everything, but comics have been served very, very poorly as a medium there with many channels being unwatchable rubbish with the presenter/s showing little or no knowledge of what they’re talking about, or being of the opinion comics are purely superhero comics from America, or are endlessly bleating on about speculator value or are just plain shite.

Recently though things are improving. Over the last year or two, there have been channels providing some great material or some channels have improved vastly. Now there are thousands of channels out there, with about a dozen or so being ones I check on at least once a month.  Here’s what I think are the top three out there that you should be watching if you’re a fan of the medium.

Starting from number three…

3/ Strange Brain Parts

This channel is a solid channel dealing with mainly non-superheroic comics, but it does cover a wide selection of genres. These are archiving comics which for various reasons have fallen through the cracks in history, and never show up in the usual history of comics you tend to see or read. A good example of this is American Flagg! which should be more acclaimed than it is.

 

2/ Comic Tropes

This channel was initially nothing to write home about. It was talking about mainstream comics in a way which wasn’t especially interesting, but then it started getting better and better so although it talks about superheroes, there’s a joy behind it rather than using comics as a way to get to talking about film or TV adaptations. Plus anyone introducing classic comics to an audience probably unaware of what’s being spoken about is a plus.

As an example here’s the film on the works of Bernie Krigstein.

 

1/ Cartoonist Kayfabe

If there’s a reason why many channels have made the step up then it can be put down purely at the feet of this channel run by creators Jim Rugg and Ed Piskor. Both men aren’t just creators but they have a love of the medium which may sound off to point out but you’d be amazed how many creators don’t especially love the medium, just a genre.

Piskor and Rugg’s tastes vary from proper grown-up work from the likes of Dan Clowes, through to 80’s black and white indies and early Image Comics, so we get a varied mix of what they love which comes over in their videos. Also their work in logging the history of comics via their history of Wizard magazine sounds initially a futile task but seeing it all play out with hindsight you can see just how it manipulated the market for the worst.

Then there’s the lengthy interviews with creators which aren’t just dribbling nonsense, but detailed and informed. Basically if you have any love for comics as entertainment, and as an art form then this is an essential channel. As an example here’s a couple of examples. First up is their interview with Todd McFarlane which should be essential viewing for anyone trying to break into the industry.

Next is their two and a half hour review of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight, which for someone like me who’s read it literally hundreds of times was still informative as it showed me things I’d missed in previous readings.

I’d recommend suscribing to all three channels to keep up to date with their output which is weekly at least with Cartoonist Kayfabe putting out almost daily videos.

RIP Max Von Sydow

As a child, my image of Max Von Sydow was from staring at pictures from The Exorcist, as at that point I was too young to watch it and it’d be at least 15 years before I did see it. I saw him as an old, frailish man.

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Yet when I saw him in Flash Gordon he was a relatively young man in all that film’s hot campy glory.

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Of course, it was a mix of Von Sydow’s wonderful acting and Dick Smith’s still astonishing makeup, and so for a while Max Von Sydow was my favourite actor. I’d eat up all his films when they landed on TV in those pre-digital, even pre VHS days so everything from The Seventh Seal to his still remarkable Jesus Christ (there’s something alien about his version of Christ I’ve never seen since) in The Greatest Story Ever Told, my favourite of the biblical epics with Ben Hur.

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There’s a ton of lost gems in Von Sydow’s C.V including the gloriously bizarre adaptation of Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf which simply has to be seen, preferably while off your face on MDMA.

1980 and 1981 saw him in some of my favourite films, including the mental Escape to Victory and Death Watch, a great SF film filmed here in a post-industrial, but pre recovery Glasgow. It’s a film I’m always recommending because it simply is a lost gem.

If I sat down and wrote a list of my favourite films, Max Von Sydow’s name would pop up over and over and over again in the credits, from Dune, to Dreamscape, to Hannah and Her Sisters, to Until the End of the World, to What Dreams Will Come, and fuck, even Judge Dredd has some moments.

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A great actor not afraid to play in genre film as well as mainstream film, and one who was such a talent he made it look effortless, but it really wasn’t. Another one who’ll be missed.

RIP Andrew Weatherall

DJ, producer, writer, performer and musician Andrew Weatherall has died aged 56, which is far too young. Most folk will know him through his production of Primal Scream’s Loaded in 1990 but he wrote my life’s soundtrack for the early 90’s. I’ve touched upon this briefly before here.

I broke a tape replaying the first Sabres of Paradise album, Sabresonic, so much. The second one, Haunted Dancehall was the soundtrack to 1994 and of course Raise by Bocca Juniors in clubs in Bristol and London back in the day.

A Weatherall remix could earn you money, chart places and critical acclaim but for me the Weatherall project that welded itself to me was One Dove, their only album Morning Dove White and the song One Love.

I listen to that and I’m 20something walking into a club in Bristol hearing this shouting ‘WHO THE FUCK IS THIS?’ to a mate, who found out who it was, and that sparked me out in my mind as this was the sound in my head. Dot Allison’s vocals made everything perfect, while Weatherall’s guitar mix (he really was a great guitarist) is still a fucking tune and a half.

Weatherall mixed everything it seemed together to create glorious sounds, which as said, sometimes sounds exactly like what’s going on in my head. I could fill up pages and pages of his work but I’ll wrap up with a tune from Fuck Buttons, Surf Solar, which bizarrely ended up being used at the London Olympics in 2012. All those years dancing on the outskirts and suddenly his sounds are in the middle of one of the most establishment events out there.

Nobody will replace him. 56 is far too young and dear god, how badly will I miss his tunes…

Cancel culture and Contrapoints

This is going to involve a lot of backstory, so start at the top.

Cancel culture is a thing. To shorten it as much as possible, it’s described on Wikipedia as this;

cancel culture, describes a form of boycott in which someone (usually a celebrity) who has shared a questionable or unpopular opinion, or has had behavior in their past that is perceived to be either offensive or problematic called out on social media is “canceled“; they are completely boycotted

This has been around basically forever but in the age of social media where people live within their echo chambers where one has to be 100% pure ‘canceling’ someone can be weaponised to people even within their own community who’ve done incredible amount of work to make things better, or to make the case for these people. It’s one thing to say, cancel Harvey Weinstein and ostracise him, but it’s another to ‘cancel’ someone with a different opinion or opposing view. That’s where it becomes controlling, censorious and even cultish as the political and moral point being made is that a voice/opinion challenges their worldview so much the person must not just be expelled, but they, and even their friends, must be destroyed.

Which brings me to Contrapoints.

Contrapoints is a YouTube channel run by Natalie Wynn. It’s partly about her transition which has been very public, but it’s one of the few interesting leftish American YouTube channels as Wynn throws around ideas, and yes, sometimes finds the American left somewhat lacking. She also has spent most of her time online tacking the far right who have been attacking her pretty much constantly so she’s used to being attacked online, the pile-ons and all the usual crap one expects from the far right.

As her videos rack up millions of views, Wynn makes a good amount of money from them. Not enough to retire, but enough to do what she wants so ‘canceling’ her hits her directly in the pocket, which is what the far-right have tried to do, but what would prompt those supposedly of the left to attack her, and attack her friends in a manner so viciously that she was driven off social media.

And this is where you need to go watch Wynn’s last video and watch til the end…

There’s a lot to take in there. The main facts are that Wynn said something which upset a section of supposed ‘progresives’, she apologised where appropiate but made their case because views aren’t illegal because you disagree with them. I disagree with a chunk of what Wynn says but at the same time I’ve learned from them because unless you’re an out and out Nazi you don’t get your opinions silenced because it might upset people.

And what’s remarkable is at the end of the video Wynn outlines what the reaction to her feature length essay will be almost perfectly. The reaction was vicious and to repeat, didn’t just target Wynn, but her friends but this is not uncommon as this happens to someone it seems daily at least as they’ve committed some thought-crime against a section of people who will not budge. We live in an age where everyone is policing someone, and acting as judge, jury and supposed executioner as some of the threats Wynn and people like her get are terrifying.

It is as David Baddiel says:

There are many types of trolls, but they fall into two basic (and much overlapping) types: those who hate from a position of hate and those who hate from a position of self-assumed goodness. We tend to think of them, in the caricature, mainly as the former, as basement-dwelling incels angrily spattering the internet with abuse for lolz, but it is actually the latter who are far more prevalent and significant. No one has ever been cancelled by the former; you can’t be erased and destroyed by punks, but you very much can by furies, mobilising to take you down in the name of right.

What happens is people pick a tribe, and rather try to seek solidarity with others or find commong ground by listening to others we have an urge for purity that’d scare anyone. Overwhelmingly it is women being subjected to this, though men and transwomen like Wynn suffer huge levels of abuse, doxing and worse thanks to how social media has weaponised politics, identity and culture in a way the days of the early internet where we interacted on moderated message boards. Now with nothing to stop us there’s unrestricted blind hate being spat out all the time at people followed by ‘cancelling’ people which means destroying as much of someone’s life as you can legally.

We live on a ‘planet of cops‘ in a world Orwell warned us about. Where someone can be ostracised partly by people within the same community as them but without any understanding of their positon or show of solidarity. It must be purity and if there’s no purity then people must be cleansed until there’s nobody left because the thing is with these people they will find ‘fault’ anywhere because one doesn’t find reason when we’re in a witchunt.

I have no idea where this ends but it won’t end well if we end up being ruled by people on hairtriggers policing your entire life online reducing privacy, free speech and debate to nothing. Because if they can come after someone like Natalie Wynn, they can come after anyone.

End of the decade

We’re nearly at the end of a decade many of us are glad to see the end of. It’s often said the second decade of a century marks how the rest of that century more or less goes, and if the last one is anything to go by then we won’t hit the end of this century, but after the relatively quiet 90’s and troubled 00’s we hit the decade where things start to solidify which means we’re in the middle of a dystopia what with Brexit, Trump, climate change, the destruction of modern culture, the death of facts and critical thinking and many, many more.

Take my pet topic, comics. A decade ago the comics industry in the UK was suffering thanks to the recession. The annual big convention in Bristol, London or anywhere had died and things looked bleak. The Marvel films kicked it all into overdrive though so that now a decade later the UK can’t move for ‘comic conventions’, which sadly most have nothing to do with comics.

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Yet comics are in a position of cultural dominance like never before as the culture of 2019 shows compared to 2009 where frankly, most of us were thinking mainly of keeping our jobs. Today we’re entering something new for a generation who’ve spent the last decade knowing things were the norm, but having lived through many a recession what comes next endangers every industry.

What I’m talking about is Brexit. We’re about to face what it’s like to be a small country outwith of all the planet’s huge trading blocs and hey, 99% of the world think we’re utterly fucking insane. We live in the era of the liar, the cheat,the strongman who never backs down even though they are horrifyingly wrong because they don’t want to look weak. Propelled by the internet which a decade ago was still mainly a curated space but is now open war encouraged by a handful of massive corporations who have turned our lives into tradeable commodities to sell to other massive corporations. Assuming the planet doesn’t fry or freeze we have no idea where the next decade ends but for many of us it’ll end badly.

Of course things might improve but not before something awful happens on a massive scale until then let’s raise a glass to the decade which set up the horrors of the forthcoming one and hope there’s something good coming at us…