Why don’t superheroes have daft sidekicks anymore?

Back in the day superheroes had daft sidekicks like this.

Or like this:

Or like this:

Those are the Martian Manhunter’s Zook, Captain Marvel’s Mr. Tawky Tawney, and Supergirl’s pet cat, Streaky. They were fun, stupid and silly. They reflected the fact readers were mainly young kids but they also realised that the concept of superheroes are essentially, daft, as if you can have a Superman why not then a Supercat?

It was fun, innocent times as the readership grew up and rather let this sillyness remain it was purged, so superheroes became dark, cats were no longer super-strong and sidekicks or groups like the Teen Titans became crammed full of murderers and psychopaths because of ‘darkness’.

The fact is when the main audience for superhero comics were late teens to 60 plus in age, the urge to read daft, simple things which are fun is lesser. Partly because of the urge to make a childish genre ‘dark and mature’ but mainly because these people don’t want to be seen as being kids and since the industry listens to these people more than they should we end up with grimness upon grimness. With one big exception, Squirrel Girl’s Tippy-Toe.

I miss the days where most superhero comics were silly, and I find the endless piss-coloured stream of grimdark superheroes tedious but I can dream of the days of flying cats and talking tigers thinking it to be better than grim, moody murderers.

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I’m suffering from Superhero film exhaustion

It’s New York Comic Con this weekend which means reams of stuff being pumped out by the major film and TV studios, lots of cosplay, some stuff about games and toys, plus more TV and film. Everything!! Even some comics at a comic convention! Shocking I know.

Anyhow, the new Aquaman trailer has dropped and it looks alright.

I’m not going to see it at the cinema because it’ll be a waste of time, and frankly, I’ll save my tenner and wait til it comes on the likes of Netflix. I don’t think it’s going to be a terrible film; in fact it’ll probably be fun but we’ve been here and frankly, it is bloody Aquaman, a character who’s been a running joke for much of his six plus decades since he first appeared in 1941.

There’s also a Venom film out this week which is getting dreadful reviews and indeed, trailers look appalling but again, I’ll catch it on Netflix because I’m bored with massive media companies milking their properties regardless of whether people actually want to see them, or they’ll be very good. Instead it’s a case of throwing product out (and this is indeed, product), having a big week or two then tailing off. Repeat and rinse.

But this is all becoming exhausting, and frankly, boring. We’ve got a new Batman film coming drawn probably from the works of Alan Moore and Frank Miller, plus a few Joker films also drawn from Miller and Moore. Of course film companies are going to milk a genre while its hot, but this is genuinely exhausting to muster up any joy anymore. There will of course be a time when the superhero film tails off as studios suffer diminishing returns and the taste of audiences change onto something else. We’ll still have superhero films just not as many, and not as many pointless ones telling stories we’ve kind of seen before.

Til then try to get excited about bloody Aquaman!

RIP Norm Breyfogle

The definitive Batman artists on the late 80’s and most of the 90’s, Norm Breyfogle, has sadly passed away at 58. Norm was one of those Batman artists who pop up every decade to redefine the character and indeed, if you’re around 30-40 and started reading comics as a kid then Breyfogle’s Batman is probably the first version you saw.

I loved Breyfogle’s work. It dropped at a time when DC Comics took risks, even with their prize cash cow Batman, who at that point in the late 80’s with the first Tim Burton Batman film was enjoying success like never before so dropping Breyfogle as the main artist in Detective Comics, DC’s secondary Batman title then written by Alan Grant and John Wagner was a comfortable mix of the old and new as Breyfogle took inspiration from the likes of Neal Adams, Carmine Infantino, Nick Cardy, and then newer artists like Alan Davis and Todd McFarlane, but quickly developed a style purely his.

Throughout the 90’s Breyfogle made Batman his own, and with Alan Grant they carved the last great version of Batman before the character turned into someone who could do anything, beat anyone and the idea of a detective fighting evil in his city slipped away.

With writer Alan Brennert he drew Batman: Holy Terror, an alternative version of the Batman myth where Bruce Wayne has been brought up within the church in a story which published today would probably cause merry hell. In fact I doubt with America swinging so far to the right that a company like DC would even commission this.

Breyfogle went to great heights in the 90’s and it’s forgotten he was one of Malibu’s Big Star Names when they launched the Ultraverse with his own title, Prime, being one of the flagship titles.

In the 2000’s things changed. DC sacked Alan Grant from the Batman titles while Breyfogle’s art didn’t fit a DC establishing a house style and a changing editorial structure which Grant in particular was a severe critic of. This left Breyfogle in some barren times before in 2014 he suffered a stroke and was left crushed upon the rocks of the American healthcare system.

After I had my own stroke I chatted with Norm a few times on social media and did my own wee thing to raise his plight but from conversations it was clear a mix of worry about finances and post-stroke pain (something that without painkillers leaves you in constant chronic pain when it hits) but there was always humour and a will to do better. Sadly he’s no longer around to spread his humour and at 58 left the world far, far too early. He leaves behind a body of work I hope is reappraised as be some of the very best superhero work of the last 25 years, and I hope that his death highlights the problems comics professionals have with working without a safety net, especially in a country like America. If anything that may mean no other professional has to struggle as Breyfogle did and that’s a good way to remember a man who gave so much to the industry.

Comicsgate supporters have no idea what they’re talking about

I’ve spoken about Comicsgate before, but it is one of things that isn’t going away so a bit like a fungal infection we’re going to have to deal with it, and one of the ways it seems we’re going to have to do it is by breaking things down as simply as possible as it is clear Comicsgaters have no idea what the fuck they’re on about.

If that sounds obvious then let me explain. The main goals of Comicsate that the creator Jamal Igle collated are as follows..

1. Hire people based on merit. Pay your dues and you eventually get your own title, Noone jumps the line because of race sex whatever

2. Retain people based on sales

3. Don’t attack the customers. in a word professionalism

4. Minimize politics in stories.

Sounds nearly reasonable til you look below the surface or have any sort of knowledge of the history of the American comic book industry because 1/ is nonsense as people have been hired because of past glories, or who they know for decades but they were white men, but it does seem to be only women or non-white people who they have issues with and the idea that  say, women have jumped the gun is utter bollocks is you’re aware of your history.

2/ is complex. I’ve seen Comicsgaters argue that ‘Person X’ shouldn’t be in comics because their titles doesn’t sell, but the fact is they may have a small print-run but all of it sells to the direct market rather than having overstocks sit with the publisher. Something like say, X-Men Gold, will have large amounts left over. Also if you have someone who’s been writing a title for years and it sells well, but as a publisher you feel the title needs a bit of a shake-up then sales don’t enter into it. Nobody, and I mean nobody in comics is safe from this. Again, there’s plenty of examples of this in history.

3/ is simple. The customer isn’t always right and frankly, if you’re being a wanker online to a creator then you’ll get it back. Customers should be listened to but any business needs to gain new customers, and if old ones don’t like it, then fuck off. It really isn’t even as brutal as that, but this is complex and can’t be reduced to simplistics.

4/ is bullshit. It can be argued the creation of the American superhero is in itself a political act as Superman was created by two Jewish-American immigrants to give a voice to the American working class, including America’s growing immigrant population. Superman was their protector in his early years before he became a propaganda figure in WW2.

And while watching one of the many threads on Twitter about this, I spotted this post.

I pointed something out which got a reaction…

Ethan van Sciver has indeed went right to the end-user and managed to get half a million bucks off them for this.

Now if people want to give their money to this is fine, but don’t think this is new. It isn’t. People like Dave Sim or the Pini’s were re-writing how the industry worked back in the 1970’s, and self-publishing was hardly a new concept then. The rise of crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter ensures that any creator can go direct to an audience and raise the capital needed to publish their work, so Van Sciver isn’t changing the world, regardless what his followers think.

No, the fact is Comicsgaters are being taken advantage of. They don’t have the knowledge of the history of comics, or indeed, how the industry works. They’re also seemingly universally youngish having been brought up on a diet on 90’s Image Comics, or your pretty stands Marvel/DC superhero fare. They don’t want ‘change’ because their voices have always been listened to & the idea they’re not the focus of attention means Van Sciver and others on the far right, sorry ”alt-right”, have zoomed in to fill people’s heads with nonsense. Essentially they’ve weaponised ignorance and that’s dangerous potentially as Comicsgate (like Gamergate before it) does have a large number of people involved in it and those at the top of the foodchain are perfectly aware they’ve got young, malleable, alienated men and boys to use as footsoldiers in this culture war they’re desperate to start.

Comicsgate isn’t going away but neither is it going to change the industry. What we have to do is ensure it doesn’t grow to suck up more people and we can do that by educating people. If people don’t want to listen then we have a problem but we have to fight the ignorance of Comicsgate.

RIP Marie Severin

When Russ Heath recently died I mentioned he was one of the last greats of American comics. Another of the last greats has sadly passed away with Marie Severin who died at the age of 89.

Severin for me isn’t just responsible for the version of the Hulk (working with the great Herb Trimpe)  I think of wherever I think of the character, and there’s been some great versions of the character over the decades. Her Hulk wasn’t a massive, musclebound monster but something elegant, brutal and tragic.

As for her Doctor Strange it’s not Ditko, but she took elements of Ditko to go on a different path helping create characters like the wonderful Living Tribunal.

But her role in the formative years of Marvel Comics is one often underplayed, or just plain ignored. She acted as art director, colourist, production editor or just anything to keep Marvel publishing comics on track and looking good just as she made EC Comics look good with her colouring in the 1950’s.

It’ll be her more cartoony, humour work she’ll be remembered by and some of it is just amazing.

There really isn’t too many greats left now, and Severin for years never got the acclaim she deserved because she’s a woman however her death has highlighted not just her talent but the fact that in the history of American comics, Marie Severin was one of the most important figures in its development for decades. She’ll be missed.

A word for Comicsgate supporters

I’ve mentioned Comicsgate and the frankly, fucked upness of the entire ‘movement’ (they believe there’s a conspiracy to enact ”forced diversification” upon the American comics industry) which is trying hard to become a ‘thing’ like gamersgate but keeps failing badly. That however doesn’t make it a pain or something that sees people involved in it doing their best to harass people (mainly women) in the industry or just interested in comics.Every now and then they do something so depressingly fucked up it makes you depressed. to be sharing the world with these people.

The latest blip goes like this. An old interview with the late Darwyn Cooke was posted, which prompted the poster to say that were Cooke still alive, then he’d support Comicsgate. This caused Cooke’s widow Marsha to come online to Twitter and put people straight.

You’d think people would have the intelligence, if not the decency to accept Marsha Cooke’s word as after all, she would have known if he husband was a homophobic, racist, misogynist with strong feelings of woeful self-pity. But no, that isn’t what happened. Instead Marsha was attacked by Comicsgate supporters, and you can see some of the replies here. You can also get a larger picture of what Cooke was dealing with in this Bleeding Cool piece. In that latter piece it’s clear that Ethan Van Scriver (one of the so-called creators of Comicsgate_ is doing his best to stoke things up while seeming ‘reasonable’ but a reasonable man wouldn’t carry on wittering about SJW’s while letting his followers pile on the widow of a man they’re trying to claim as ‘one of theirs’.

This for many was enough so a variety of creators have spoken out against the Comicsgate crowd who themselves say are just ‘criticising’ the industry. Putting aside the fact there’s little good in the way of comics criticism out there (a topic for another time) the idea that Comicsgate is about criticism is nonsense. They clearly want to return to some long gone time when it was only boys and men who bought American superhero comics (and we’re only talking about this particular genre) and women are reduced to bit roles at best.

These people are of course the same folk being Hoovered up by the ”alt-right” movement because out there in the world there’s a lot of sad, angry young men looking for easy reasons to blame what’s wrong in their life on others. Which is where people like Van Sciver come in to poke, and feed the issues these people are suffering with so that gay, lesbian, trans, black, Asian, or indeed anyone not a white American male is blamed for all the wrongs with comics and these people participating in comics is making the industry die. And here’s Van Sciver to make things perfect with his creation, Cyberfrog.

You might laugh at this (and feel free, it is shite after all) but it raised over half a million dollars in a crowdfunding effort. There’s a lot of people out there willing to pay for this so it has a market and I don’t deny it shouldn’t exist, but where the problem lies is in Comicsgate trying to make the entire American superhero comics industry the same.

The fact is these people want less diversity, less variation and they want to return to a time when they thought (or in some cases, are told because they’re too young to remember these days) comics were simple and for a huge audience of sweaty boys. Fact is we’re in an actual Golden Age of comics. Anyone can create comics and publish them online while the market for comics isn’t translating to sales for Marvel and DC (and there’s a blog in itself as to why this isn’t the case) there are more people from a more varied number of backgrounds interested and reading comics than at any time in the 35 years or so I’ve been in the industry in some shape or form.

People like Van Sciver keep his followers constantly angry, constantly locked as the victims unable to accept any responsibility for themselves and this alienates people from society. So for Comicsgate followers the ball is in your court. You can carry on like you are, or grow up and take some responsibility for your actions. Learn to be a better person and speak to people so you develop some empathy and you never know, maybe then you’re life will be better than harassing a dead man’s widow.

RIP Russ Heath

Russ Heath was one of the last surviving artists from a Golden Age of comics has died aged 91, and I guarantee you’ve all seen at least one piece of his art even if you’ve never read a comic in your life because thanks to Roy Lichtenstein’s theft of his work.

Heath worked for decades in an industry which may never have paid him well, but kept him in work which for many artists isn’t the case.  The fact he barely touched superheroes choosing to draw a wide variety of genres but it is the war comic he’ll be best known for.

But is Roy Lichtenstien’s use (And by ‘use’ I mean uncredited theft) of his work that means you’ve seen a Russ Heath piece of art but you have no idea who drew it. You probably thought it was Lichtenstein. As artist Dave Gibbons points out, Lichtenstein just did bad copies of more talented people’s work but it the marketing of, and the idea that Lichtenstein ‘elevated’ junk art into something else (when in fact all the stuff that makes Lichtenstein’s work art is there from the people he’s ripping off) which rankled Heath til well into his old age.

Heath is his later years addressed this in a one-page comic for The Hero Initiative; an organisation designed to help comic creators in need.

For me it’ll be his Sgt Rock material I remember him best for.

Heath was an original that should have died a millionaire, but didn’t. Losing him means we don’t have many of the greats that formed the language of modern American comics left. He’ll be missed.