Archive for October, 2013

Marvel In Whitewash

Monday, October 28th, 2013

(In Response To Mark Hale)

Mark: Thanks for checking back here and sorry to be gone so long. I have no idea what THE UNTOLD STORY is. I suppose, if I wasn’t interviewed, it’s still untold. 🙂 I presume I’ve been retconned out of Marvel history, which only makes my point. Now, maybe I’m being retconned for being (a) Shooter’s protĂ©gĂ©, (b) an a-hole (comes with being Shooter’s protĂ©gĂ©), but much like the liberal pundits wringing their hands speculating why the GOP so personally hates President Obama, there’s an obvious cause and effect for whatever presumed blind spots may present themselves in Marvels’ self-congratulatory published histories.

The fact their first black editorial hire didn’t occur until 1978 is and should be a source of some embarrassment. Pretending to be colorblind, “Oh, we never think of that, that shouldn’t matter, we call no attention to that,” just makes them idiots. The fact they never seem to mention the historic nature of Joe Quesada being, from what I can tell, the longest-serving EIC (call Guinness) AND the first Cuban American Marvel exec only makes the company seem racist, not post-racial. They seem like idiots to not trumpet the progressive nature of their hiring practices. Marie Severin was, to my knowledge, the first female art director. Where is she in their history? Jo Duffy wa a female writer/editor when I started there, and Louise (Weezie) Jones (ne-Simonson) was the very powerful editor of The Uncanny X-Men (well, she’d probably tell you she was not initially so powerful, but then the X-Men blew up). Were they the first female editors? Isn’t that worth noting?

I understand trying to seem above it all or somehow beyond it all. Marvel just continues to seem racist and sexist and for no perceptible reason. They hired a black guy, they hired a woman, they hired a Cuban American. These are things to be proud of, not to live in denial of. What should embarrass them is that they are a company led, creatively, by a Cuban American yet their footprint in the Latino American community remains microscopic as they continue to invest virtually all their energy in, no offense, white males. Marvel was, by no means, a beacon of diversity but , to my recollection, they seemed largely indifferent toward race or gender. And, like Mad Men, whose Season One set looked almost *exactly* like the 1970’s Marvel offices, Marvel was a place of scurrilous racist and sexist jokes–along with fat jokes, bald jokes, ethnic jokes and so forth. It was a creative place jammed with creative people. I have no earthly idea why every history I’ve read of the place–most especially every self-generated, self-congratulatory history–refuses to put these important industry milestones on the map.

The late Morrie Kuramoto openly mocked whites of all ethnicities and celebrated December 7th every year. Offensive? You bet. But hilarious. The Marvel I recall was a lot like the old sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati. Powerful women in charge of important stuff, a sprinkling of minorities and a diversity among white ethnicities. And every history I read seems to ignore this, which makes Marvel seem like DC, which it never was. Marvel should be proud of Morrie, of Marie, of Weezie, of Larry Hama, Jim Owsley, and, yes, Jim Shooter– Polish, who took a lot of ribbing for that. The historic nature of Joe Quesada’s epic run as EIC should be a source of pride.

As I said, I have no idea what The Untold Story is, but I wish somebody would write a history that does not embarrass Marvel by the repeated omission of the good Marvel (ne-Stan Lee, ne-Jim Shooter) did by creating opportunities for all persons, regardless of ethnicity, gender or sexual preference. The only caveat being, back in those days, you needed thick skin, regardless of what color it was. Nobody really cared much what color you were or what gender you preferred or if you had a full head of hair. But everything was fair game for ribald mockery.

It wasn’t perfect. 70’s-era racism fueled a lot of the challenges I encountered there. An honest history would include that as well. But, at the very least, the historic nature of first gender and ethnic hires is something Marvel should actually be proud of. I can’t imagine their motive for ignoring what are, in retrospect, very progressive choices in what appears to be an effort to project Marvel as some monolithic white superhero version of Disney. Who was the first black executive at Disney? Is he or she noted in their history? Why would a company deliberately omit or gloss over these kinds of things?

Oh, and just for the record: Stan Lee worked in the office my first year at Marvel. He was genuinely kind and engaged in teaching me as much as I wanted to learn. I, a high-school intern, could get in to see him. I never, not one time, heard a sexist or racist joke come from Stan. Ever. Or, for that matter, from Shooter who, as the butt of many jokes up there himself, never (in my presence, anyway) made disparaging remarks about all the Jewish and Italian guys running around up there. That was maybe because we figured Vinnie Colletta was mobbed up. 🙂

Marvel was way out in front on most of these issues, albeit likely by accident (I seriously doubt there was any progressive hiring initiative; we just stumbled through the door). DC, by contrast, didn’t hire their first black editor until 1990. It was me. And, at DC, after Dick Giordano made initiatives to move me to Group Editor, I was specifically told I’d never be promoted above editor. I’m confident this was most likely performance-based, but I knew my future there was limited. At Marvel I suspected my future had (at that time) limits; at DC I knew, for sure, I was sitting at the last desk I’d ever get. Marvel has absolutely no rational reason to keep ignoring this important part of their history.

Hind Site

Sunday, October 27th, 2013

People who actually build websites were certainly not surprised that the ACA site had bugs. People who build websites for institutions—religious, educational and, yes, government—are not surprised the thing was a disaster. Institutions are typically run by bureaucrats who know precious little about the things they are in charge of yet charge boldly ahead anyway for fear of losing face. Bureaucrats are invested more in self-protection than in whatever it is they are actually supposed to be doing, so they pretend to know things they actually don’t know. And, because they don’t know, they are in no position to adequately evaluate the merits of someone who writes code. Because they themselves do not write code and, therefore, cannot read it r evaluate its merits. All they know is these guys built a site for this other bureaucrat and came highly recommended. Also, because these people know nothing about building websites, it doesn’t register how complex these things are or that they need the full attention of the bureaucracy and plenty of lead time for testing and kicking the tires. Fundamentally changing how the site processes information at the ninth hour is suicidal. Absolutely none of the emerging revelations concerning the ACA site surprise me. Anybody who designs websites has encountered this—albeit on a much smaller and less public scale—many, many times. What surprises me is how the bureaucrats never learn. They’re running around promising the thing will work in 30 days, an extremely dangerous thing to do, especially for a build-out that is so fundamentally flawed. Fixing bad code is much harder than just scrapping it and starting over. You can’t start something like this over in 30 days, and you cannot guarantee all the various insurance companies will have accurate info ready to plug-in or that the infrastructure of many dozens of carriers will interface properly with this beast in 30 days. I am absolutely puzzled as to why they’d even make that promise.

It doesn’t surprise me that administration has had nearly four years to get this thing done and, instead, rolled out this shockingly disastrous camel build by somebody’s cousin Buzz. It should surprise me, but it doesn’t. It depresses the heck out of me, though.

The real disaster, though, is the Obama Administration—which has always been disastrously slow to respond to attack—has failed to stop the Republicans from successfully equating the Affordable Care Act itself with the government website. It’s as if the president keeps making the same mistake of over-estimating how well-informed or, frankly, how intelligent the American public are. So much so that the Republicans, who have served for decades now as the doomsayers of America, have effortlessly shaped the thinking of the average American to believe the new health care law is a website. The administration has done and continues to do a dismal job of educating America that the law is a *law*–a set of rights and protections that are now a part of our society. The website is just a website—a colossal failure on the part of the president himself. I mean, were I President Obama, had my place in history and the blood and tears of millions been invested in that website, I’d have checked that code every day myself. And I’d surely have seen this tactic coming—ObamaCare Is A Website, which efficiently links the credibility and effectiveness of the health care law itself to the workings of a website. It’s a stupid notion that treats Americans like they’re stupid, which is, essentially, the Republican modus operandi. Everything they do, every distortion of truth, every irrational act or act of cowardice in caving into the extremists among them, suggests their basic strategy is The American People Are Stupid and Gullible. They’re probably right. What troubles me deeply, though, is how the administration dropped the ball both on the website itself and in their messaging: how they did not see this ObamaCare Is A Website idea coming. They failed to the point of having the president on defense, Saturday, trying to un-ring that bell. “The Affordable Care Act is more than just a website,” an exasperate president told the nation.

Simply forcing him to actually have to say that is a huge win for the GOP. The administration is looking like monkeys. And, by the way, all that heavy demand for the ACA site? It’s mainly older and sicker people—yes, like me—anxious to find lower-cost solutions to health care. I seriously doubt a lot of 27-year olds have even bothered with it.

Still Not A Couple

Sunday, October 27th, 2013

Okay, I’ve managed to hack my way back into my WordPress appliance. 🙂 As I mention in my non-essay, I really don’t have a whole lot to say about the Quantum and Woody miniseries other than to confirm that, yes, MD Bright and I are actually doing it and that Valiant will schedule it for a 2014 release. As for the monthly: I’m seeing some comments here (sorry, again, for my vanishing act) inquiring about it. I actually haven’t read the monthly yet. I’ve seen some preview stuff which I really liked, but the monthly is obviously a new interpretation of the concept, which seems to be all the rage these days (new creator takes over Green Bunny, completely reinvents the wheel).

By the time Acclaim went under, Q&W was immersed in a complex multi-part storyline which would have actually changed Woody into a villain. I can’t actually remember much of the nuts and bolts of where that was going, but the cancellation was abrupt and could not have occurred at a worse time. The new Valiant choosing to go their own way is, I think, certainly a better idea than trying to make sense out of where we left off.

Ironically, I feel I’m finally almost back to the point where I can be a fan again, where I can simply enjoy comics for what they are without being irritated by the politics of why That Guy got that plum assignment and not me. I’m still not happy about the idiotic star system where the companies, run so long by fanboys, have now so destroyed the medium that Spider-Man is no longer nearly as important as Michael J. Wojieczk’s Spider-Man. 9-year olds have no earthly clue who Wojieczk is. But we’re no longer interested in recruiting 9-year olds, but prefer to sell less books to the shrinking pool of existing fans. Only fans care who Wojieczk is, and without a name” attached to the project, the project sits. 9-year olds, on the other hand, are invested in Spider-Man, the product Marvel used to sell before Marvel (publishing) became a shill for comics creators.

The companies should reboot everything with unknown talent and see if they can start selling the characters again.

This is obviously a new generation of talent and it’s their turn to be inventive and creative. This is their Quantum and Woody and Doc and I have an obvious investment in the success of the series and Acclaim as a company, so we’re rooting for them. I was certainly aware of the monthly, but I would not have wanted to return to Q&W as a monthly and, frankly, had to sort-of be talked into the mini, only signing on after Doc and I and Valiant discovered what I felt was a unique angle on the series so it’s not simply a companion book or in competition with the existing monthly. Once we figured out a reason for doing it, I was more interested in the project.

More on this later, gotta run.

Noise Reduxion

Sunday, October 27th, 2013

I’ve spent a lot of time updating the music section of this site, ostensibly for an audience of 12 people. Music being so subjective, I’ve learned long ago to never inflict my musical taste on others. While many musician friends of mine tend to pin me down and force me to listen to their latest tracks, I’ve always been of a mind to hand you a tape and leave the room. I’ve never been invested in the praise of others, and false praise—polite praise—is the absolute worst. As with most creative people, when I review my own work, all I see are the flaws and the missed opportunities, so listening to my own music tends to make me cringe. Listening to it in the company of others is simply unbearable, and I tend to get up and walk out.

I’d been wanting to clean up that code for a few years, but finally had a window of time in which to tackle it. I’m still in the process of remastering some of the clips there to make them sound a bit better (which doesn’t help my singing at all, but at least the awful singing will be clearer). I was inspired to do this by someone I refer to as Nancy The Terrible, who was, essentially, Lucy Van Pelt to my Charlie Brown back when she was 13 at the Word of Life summer camp in the Adirondack mountains of upstate New York. I’d said some fairly mean things about Nancy, as I’ve said about many people, especially in the older bowels of this site. I think I’ve always intended to be frank but not mean. I personally get bored reading obviously whitewashed histories or watching those DVD extras where the cast and crew all claim to have gotten along sublimely when you know, for certain, William Shatner had ego problems and Patrick Stewart was well-known for his on-set tantrums. I don’t think we need to bash each other but let’s at least be truthful: not all relationships were perfect. I myself spent a lot of time being a jerk—usually unintentionally, but a jerk nonetheless.

In any case, I went up there to edit the mean things I said about Ms. Terrible and just couldn’t stand looking at the abominable 1990’s code anymore, and, thus, an obsession was born. I caution everyone: the music section has precious little commercial value, and, other than a couple clips of MD “Doc” Bright playing bass on one of my songs, the section has absolutely nothing to do with comics. It has, an at best nostalgic value to those who participated in my music projects over those years, and hopefully the archive will serve as a reminder of what we shockingly now know were, in fact, the good ol’ days. Beyond that, it’s just me whining about ex-girlfriends. Your mileage may vary.