Sunday, January 28, 2007

Looking To The Stars - The Devilish Jennie Breeden - An Interview

I first noticed the work of this week’s guest several months ago when I first stumbled across her web comic through a link from one of my other favorite web comics. She then became an epidemic in my gaming group after a number of our members returned from Dragon Con enraptured in her work.

She is one of the most talented writer/artists in the business today and, as I found out when I accidentally ran into her at Wizard World Texas, a fun person to talk to in real life. It gives me great pleasure to present the woman behind the arguably unholy, definitely not pornographic but most assuredly hilarious The Devil’s Panties - Jennie Breeden!

Starman: Where are you from originally?

Jennie: I grew up in Virginia, went to college in Savannah (because it was warm, pretty, and had comics as a major) and then moved to Atlanta for the opportunities.

Starman: Tell us, as much as you are comfortable, about your early life.

Jennie: (laughs) It wasn't until college that I realized that my early life wasn't "normal". I thought everyone had totem pole stone sculptures, cemented stained glass and concrete sculptures in their front yard.

We were kinda hippies. My mom did stained glass (until she got to her third kid and had to put it aside until about 15 years later) and my dad sculpts soap stone. His studio started in the garage and, as we got older, it grew out from there until it was the same size as the house.

There were five kids in the house and you couldn't keep shoes (or in the summer, clothes) on us. I thought sun bathing was putting one of my dads plastic tubs he used for fountains in the front yard and fill it with water and then bathe in the sun. (Yeah, I'm special). We painted the car with birds and horses (or in my brother’s case skulls and bloody roses) instead of fixing the damage from a car accident.

The only odd thing about all of us becoming artists is like a banker having all his kids become bankers. The only way to rebel in my family was to wear suits and marry a Republican. Good God, my sister brought a Republican home for dinner once. It was like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

Starman: Sounds like you have art in your blood. Did you ever consider anything apart from being an artist? Was is just pretty much an instant "mom and dad do this and I want to do this" or was there a "Maybe I'll be a veterinarian" or some-such phase?

Jennie: I wanted to be a professional dancer. Though the dancing dropped of mid high-school, I got about 10 years of dance class in. On the SAT’s, where it asked about what you want to go to college for, I think I put dancer and artist. Not much else.

I had always doodled in my sketchbook and made up stories. I'd think the stories up during English class or walking down our driveway from the bus (half-a-mile of gravel) and then draw scenes out. No panels or anything - just snippets from the story in my head, then I'd write it out on the computer.

When my mom said I had to go to college I started looking at the college flyers that came in backed on my answers on the SAT. I saw the big book sent by SCAD and all the pretty pictures and squealed when I saw a couple pages from the Sequential Department.

My mom and dad and I went to visit Savannah for my birthday. My B-day is in January, when our home in Virginia is usually under snow. We stripped down to shirts and jeans when we hit Savannah and I looked at my mom and said "I want to go here."

I liked my classes and comic books but didn't really know what I was going to do with it until third year. My roommate showed me his web comic. Even then, I saw it as mostly as a way to draw every day so my skill didn't fade. It wasn't until three years later that I realized I could make a meager living out of it.

Starman: How were you introduced to comics?

Jennie: In first grade, I met a girl who introduced me to comics and I started raiding my brother’s comic boxes. Every Christmas my oldest brother still rags on me for using his Conan book as a coloring book.

Starman: Why Conan out of everything else in the box?

Jennie: Conan is printed black and white on newsprint. Exactly what coloring books are on. Nice texture on the page to grip the crayon and it's not glossy so it hold color better. And it is magazine sized for more space, making the images not so small that an 8 year old can't stay inside the lines.

Starman:And that helped you learn to read and eventually to start making your own comics?

I learned how to read using my brothers Elf Quest books. I read all their DP7, Conan, and Next Men. My best friend introduced me to Asterix and Obelix, TinTin, Pogo and X-Men.

It's a natural progression from making up stories and drawing them to comic book artist. I got a flyer for The Savannah College of Art and Design with a section on Sequential Art and I knew that's what I wanted to do.

Starman: So you have some professional training as an artist?

Jennie: Degree in Sequential Art from from SCAD. It was fun but I think I've learned more from just drawing for a couple hours every day for 5 years.

Starman: What made you decided to create your own comic?

Jennie: In college, instead of a journal, I'd draw about what funny things happened. Later, a roommate showed me his web comic. (The roommate in question is Chris Daily, author of another Keenspot hosted comic; Striptease.) When he said the word "fan mail", then I knew I wanted to do one too.

Starman: What superheroes did you like growing up? Do you have a favorite?

Jennie: Wonder woman and She-Ra. I'd punch the bottoms out of Dixie Cups and wear them as arm bands, knocking away invisible bullets and riding away on my flying pink horse. My sisters and I even got Wonder Woman red undershirts with the yellow eagle and blue undies with white stars on them. That's all I wore for a week. The things that a six-year old can get away with.

Starman: Having spent most of my sixth year insisting that I had to be wearing my Batman Underoos with the Batman shirt and cape whenever I watched Challenge of The Superfriends, I can agree. Quite honestly, I was expecting your answer to be Batman given Jennie in the comic wears a Batman shirt most of the time. Do you have any favorite male heroes?

Jennie: I like the IDEA of Batman but I don't read his comics because he's a dick. I like that he can take on Superman and he doesn't have any powers (except unlimited money). And he came about at about the same time as Superman and yet he's this anti-hero, kinda, and really dark.

Favorite male heroes though? I'm not big on spandex. I like Invincible but beyond that it's all Constantine and Sandman - both assholes. My comic pull list is all Castle Waiting and Strangers in Paradise, Fables and (anything) that Jill Thompson does. None (of those) really have any defined male heroes.

David's hella cute though. And the pirate prince in Polly and the Pirates is super hot. Yes, my first crush was on Strongbow in ElfQuest. Oh, and Gambit. Though I don't think lust counts as favorite male superhero material.

Starman: I think it does. Otherwise, my first crush on Barbara Gordon would just be creepy and weird. As long as we’re talking comics, who are your favorite comic book writers and artists and why?

Jennie: Neil Gaiman, because he writes for adults and pays attention to detail. Terry Moore (Strangers In Paradise), because he puts every-day details in his art, like a character picking tobacco off of her tongue after lighting up a cigarette. Jill Thompson, particularly Scary Godmother for her use of watercolor. And Amanda Conner (The Pro, Power Girl, Two Step) because the woman can tell whole stories with her background art.

Starman: What are your favorite comics right now (web-based and print)?

Jennie: Invincible, Fables, Y The Last Man, Castle Waiting, Strangers in Paradise, Bite Me and Wapsi Square.

Starman: You are offered a chance to guest-write any pre-existing comic created by another person. Which one would you choose and why?

Jennie: Common Grounds by Troy Hickman

Starman: Now that’s a surprise given how few people I know who have never even heard of Common Grounds. Why that particular title?

Jennie: It looks at the hero universe from a TOTALY different angle. It features stories about overweight heroes, homeless used-to-be heroes and a story about a superhero saving a guy by sitting down and talking to him and ASKING him what's wrong (and just generally) showing us that you can be a hero by just helping someone.

Invincible does that sometimes. His mom can't remember if it's hot or cold water to wash his spandex suit in - A guy he's carrying while flying points out that it's uncomfortable to be held under the arms. And one of the teachers uses their real names when confronted by the heroes. When asked how he knew who they were, he said something like "Oh come on! You're not even wearing a mask and YOU only have your eyes covered."

Starman: Let’s move on to some personal questions. What are your favorite colors?

Jennie: Blue and purple. Mostly blue. I do paintings of people for Sunday art sometimes on my webcomic and blue is so versatile. you can do an entire painting in just blue and get so many different shades.

Starman: What and who inspire you?

Jennie: Wendy Pini (Elf Quest), Terry Moore (Strangers in Paradise), David Mack (Kabuki), Rodin, Paul Taylor (Wapsi square), and my parents. Dad for doing what he loved no matter what and Mom for never letting anything get in her way.

Starman: What do you think are your biggest strengths as a person?

Jennie: I'm a little weird. It keeps me sane.

Starman: What do you think are your biggest weaknesses as a person?

Jennie: I'm a little weird.

Starman: What is the oddest experience you've ever had, not necessarily relating to comics?

Jennie: It had to do with pirates and a "finger" puppet. That's all I have to say about that.

Starman: And that's all I have to ask about THAT. What are some of your favorite things?

Jennie: Popcorn. Anything with flames on it. CSI at the moment. And the writer Tamora Pierce.

Starman:Have you read the new White Tiger series she is writing for Marvel Comics?

Jennie: WHAAAAAA?? Is it out? How many issues? How far are they going with it?

Starman: In order, yes, three issues so far and it’s a six issue mini-series. Going to the other end of the spectrum, what are some of your least favorite things?

Jennie: People who think that conforming is the only way to be happy. Retail. And Cheesecake. Sorry.

Starman: Cheesecake the food or Cheescake the art? And don't say sorry if you mean the art - I'm not a fan of the pin-up either. I still get angry mail from Frank Cho fans for a review I wrote four years ago, for crying out loud...

Jennie: People who like cheescake are rabid and I might lose some fans for saying it, but I'd rather give my cheesecake food to my boyfriend who appreciates it.

And Frank Cho's anatomy art is breathtaking. It's just a shame that he only draws one girl.

Starman: You know, that was pretty much what I said that caused the Cho fans to declare Jihad? But this isn’t about me, so getting back to you...What special talents do you have (that we can discuss in print) apart from your art?

Jennie: I can remember the story of any TV show or movie, but I can never remember the name or the name of the people- welcome to my dyslexia. I make kick-ass pancakes and French toast but I burn everything else that I try and cook.

Starman: What is your best story involving the craziness of working in a comic book shop that never made it into the comic?

Jennie: I post anything I think of to the comic. Even if I think it's bad or stupid, someone seems to like it. On the other hand, I post things I think are brilliant and people don't seem interested in them.

No, if I thought it was crazy, it's in the comic. The strangest thing was a guy with handlebar mustache and a big white boy fro and yellow patrol officer sun glasses asked me if we had books on hypnotists. I put that in the comic.

Starman:Well, I ask because my favorite cartoon of yours features a little girl with her mom and brother in a comic shop asking her mom if she can get a book and being told "No, comics are for boys." Was this a common problem at your store?

Jennie: That comic is word for word from life. This wealthy blond family comes in and the little boy in an alligator shirt goes for the Yu-Gi-Oh cards. The little blond girl with bows in her hair and patent leather Mary Jane shoes looks down at the free comic box and asks her mom if she can have one. The mom said "no honey, comics are for boys" and I was too stunned to say anything. And there were four women behind the counter that day.

Starman: Given that, what do you think can be done to get more women interested in comics?

Jennie: Fables and Y The Last Man are just good comics. Everyone who reads them love them (well, Fables maybe. Y is a bit gruesome). Though I do see Manga getting kids and a lot of girls into comics.

Starman: One question comes to mind given those titles - and note that I ask this with a little bit of irony as I turned my girlfriend into a collector by buying her the first Fables trade because she’s such a wannabe fairy-tale princess.

Isn't it a little sexist to declare one book as "the thing to get a woman into comics"? I remember a few years ago when the "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" comic was considered to be "the book to get your girl into comics" among a certain set of male comic fan. (Not me, for the record...)

Jennie: It's not that Fables or Y are geared towards girls. They're not! They're just two of the best written books out there. They're universal. They're not just something that gets girls into comics. Give Fables to ANYONE. your mom, your roommate, your uncle Joe. They're just good books that anyone will enjoy.

Starman: Agreed. And that comic with the mom is my favorite because I saw that sort of thing ALL THE TIME at the comic store I worked at. I did try to correct the misconception of course. That being said, do you think this attitude is dangerous as it encourages conformity and perhaps, in an indirect fashion, discourages girls from reading at all?

Jennie: (Laughs) Quite the opposite. Any time a kid is forbidden to do something, even if they don't care, that's enough incentive to get them to do it. My brothers never let me play D&D with them, so I hunted it out and started playing. If they had let me play, I'd probably have gotten bored with it.

Starman: Getting back to your comic, were you expecting the positive response you have seen to
your work over the past few years?

Jennie: Nope. I thought my comic was too "in joke" and personal for anyone to get or identify with. I was shocked to get letters from men and women all over the world who accused me of stalking them, my stuff was so identical to their life. Stuff I thought that I was the only one weird enough to do.

Starman: Is the readership of The Devil's Panties predominantly male, female or fairly balanced?

Jennie: Based on the map results on Frapper, it's really close considering the comic industry is almost all males. Though I have seen female fans double in the past couple of years. But it looks like 60/40 on Frapper. More guys than girls but not by much.

I'm also surprised by the range of age. At the Boston Convention, I had two green haired teenage girls, a big biker guy, a mother of two, a jock boy and two 48 year old women all say that they totally identified with my comic and it reminded them of themselves. I'm still awestruck by the diversity.

Starman: Say you get a call from Cartoon Network about creating a Devil's Panties cartoon. Who would you want to voice the characters?

Jennie: The devil would be Antonio Banderas. Will might be John Cusack. Jesus might be the guy who played Lebowski in Big Lebowski (Jeff Bridges). I have no idea, but now that I think about it.

I think the angel devil girls might be British. Angel would be the upper class British and the Devil girl would be the kind of British that you have no idea what they're saying.

The character Jen might be the voice actress who does Buttercup (from PowerPuff Girls) who was in Pee Wee's Big Adventure (Elizabeth Daily). It's hard to think about the embodiment of your own voice.

Starman: Have you gotten any odd and/or creepy request from your fans?

Jennie: I have no idea if he was a fan but back when I offered comic commissions for $20 (too much work and don't have time anymore) someone asked for a 24-page comic book and paid me the $20. He sent me a script for a fully illustrated porn. I tried to explain to him that the $20 was for 4 panels maximum, not 24 pages.

Starman: You have some of the most interesting tie-in merchandise I’ve seen anywhere – I have to ask what prompted the creation of the "Kilts with Leaf-Blowers" calendar? Was it a counter to the infamous Chainmail Bikini Girl Calendar?

Jennie: Honestly, I can't really remember. It was at the time that the Pink Dreadlock Girl Pirate and I were playing the pirate drinking game. If you see a guy in a kilt or a pirate, you take a drink. 1 out of 4 people at DragonCon is in one or the other and there's 30,000 people there. You get drunk in under 5 minutes whoever you are. I think she mentioned it but the drinking may be why I can't remember.

Starman: What advice would you have for anyone who wants to go into the comic business?

Jennie: Get a versatile portfolio. Not just fight scenes or car chases. Show you can also make a card game interesting and maybe show different styles of work, cartoony and realistic. Know who you're pitching to and decide what goes in your portfolio based on that. Don't send Walking Dead art to a Disney publishing house.

Find a writer and illustrate his/her story as an example of your work and dedication. A lot of publishers will go with the ON-TIME artist more than a very talented, but late, artist. (Not that I’m saying you all are not talented)

Mostly, keep trying. It may take many many years. Listen to what the portfolio review guys tell you at Cons. My mom would say "you need a stack of rejections two inches high before you start getting the acceptance letters."

Starman: What's on your schedule? Any Con appearances coming soon?

Jennie: Yes. Lots. I'm hitting MegaCon in Orland next and doing some in Canada, England, Texas and New York. I just hope I have time to sleep at some point. There's 17 conventions on my list for this year so far.

Starman: Finally, what can we expect in the future from you? Any big special projects I can get the scoop on? ;)

Jennie: There’s a graphic novel based on the first six comic books, but that will be another couple months. We still have to edit the 288 pages down, change the page numbers and send it to print overseas. I've also started on a new deck of cards.

I’d like to thank Jennie Breeden once again for her time and patience and wish her the best of fortune. For more of Jennie’s wit and wisdom, point your browser to

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Looking To The Stars - The Week In Reviews for 1/22

HEROES returns tonight! I am a happy little fanboy. So while I am busy cuing up every recording device I have and strapping myself down to the couch lest I be washed away in the waves of pure awesomeness that are sure to follow, why don’t you read some reviews?

52 Week #22
Company Name: DC Comics
Writers: Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka and Mark Waid
Art: Various

The cover gives the secret away, but it appears that we have finally learned who Supernova really is. And it appears, also, that the death of a big-name character last issue was naught but a red-herring. But what really sold this issue for me was a brief, two-page scene between Black Canary and Green Arrow that is everything their relationship should be. I’m not sure if the rumors of an impending wedding in 2007 are true – but if they are, I’d say this scene with an Ollie who wonders aloud about how it is possible to love a woman enough to let go of her is a fine way to start moving toward that end.

Grade: A

Birds of Prey #102
Company Name: DC Comics
Writers: Gail Simone
Art: Nicola Scott and Doug Hazlewood

Okay, if you’re a Manhunter fan – buy this book. It will help ease the withdrawal symptoms as your favorite character sinks into oblivion until the next time they try and reinvigorate the franchise. There’s a lot for the rest of us to enjoy as well, including a battle of wits between Lois Lane and Barbara Gordon and Big Barda teaching the lesson of why it is always important to be sensitive about a woman’s figure even if she isn’t capable of shot-putting an SUV. The one downside? The new Judomaster is still very much a cipher and I sill miss Black Canary’s presence on this book.

Grade: B

Conan #36
Company Name: Dark Horse Comics
Writer: Timothy Truman
Artist: Paul Lee

A sequel of sorts to the very first published Conan story, The Phoenix On The Sword, this two-part “flash-forward” story tells us a tale from Conan’s days of the King of Aquilonia as he fights a threat to his kingdom. While I have been rather looking forward to the next chapter of the adapted chronology of the Conan history (Rogues in the House is my favorite Conan story of all time) and was a little upset at this digression, I cannot fault this story for not being worth the time of telling. Truman continues to wield Busiek’s sword and matches him for style and quality. And the artwork, by Conan and the Demons of Khitai artist Lee is a most worthy temporary replacement for Cary Nord.

Grade: B

Fantastic Four #542
Company Name: Marvel Comics
Writers: Dwayne McDuffie
Artist: Mike McKone, Andy Lanning and Cam Smith

I used to think there was no more thankless task for the writer of a regular comic-book series than having to shift your entire story-line around a big company event. I now think there is one worse thing – having to start your run on a regular comic-book series while shifting your stories around a big company event.

Thankfully, Dwayne McDuffie (the genius behind Static and most of the best episodes of Justice League and Justice League Unlimited) not only proves capable of hitting the ground running - he sets the world record for the 100 yard dash.

In this 90% talking-heads issue, McDuffie takes some of the more ludicrous attempts to justify some very out-of-character behavior during Civil War and turns them on their head. Perhaps the best example of this is Johnny Storm calling Reed Richards on his bullshit speech about “the importance of following the law, even if you don’t agree with it” by pointing out that the adventure that created the Fantastic Four began with Reed stealing a spaceship and wondering just how many times Reed has violated international law by interfering with the affairs of state in other nations. We also get a much more in-character motivation for Reed going along with the Pro-Registration side that he didn’t think anyone would understand or believe.

Note to Joe Quesada: Do not make the same mistake DC Comics did. Give McDuffie more work. Give him as many titles as possible. I don’t think any one writer can single-handedly pull you out of the pit that you’ve gotten the company into... but McDuffie can be the first to start pulling you up.

Grade: A

Green Lantern #16
Company Name: DC Comics
Writers: Geoff Johns
Art: Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert

Judging by the Comics Nexus Forums, I am one of the few who is enjoying this title. And yet, even as a die-hard Green Lantern who is pleased to see Hal Jordan back, even I think there is way too much going on in this book right now. Between the formation of a Sinestro Corps to counter the Green Lanterns, the return of the Manhunters under the command of the Cyborg Superman, the resurrection of a now legal Arissa, John Stewart being off “on a mission undercover somewhere”, intergalactic bounty hunters looking for Hal Jordan, the POW subplot, Hal’s crush on fellow pilot Cowgirl, the reformation of The Rocket Reds, a new branch of the Global Guardians harassing Hal in the wake of some treaty that forbids superheroes from operating outside their country of origin and the upcoming creation of an all new Star Sapphire – it is too much.

Even though some of this does get put on the path to resolution this issue, with Geoff Johns finally doing something with a villain who had perhaps the most inspired idea as well as the worst execution during the Kyle Rayner years, it still seems like there is enough drama here for a whole Corps of Green Lanterns much less the one Green Lantern of Earth. Still, you can’t say that Johns does not try to do justice to all these stories or that he indeed fails. I just wish we could actually go somewhere with one group of villains before he introduces another one.

Grade: C

Red Sonja Annual #1
Company Name: Dynamite Entertainment
Writer: Michael Avon Oeming
Art: Stephen Sadowski

I refuse to believe that the Michael Avon Oeming who wrote this issue can be the same Michael Avon Omeing who writes the regular Red Sonja series. Because the story in this annual, I’m sorry to say, is several sorry steps down in quality from his usual stellar work. The plot, in brief, involves a buxom 40-something barmaid who is inspired by the legends of Red Sonja to free herself and the girls in the brothel/inn her husband runs from their virtual enslavement.

Now this, in of itself, is a great idea for a story. After all, some of the best stories in comics are those in which we see the positive changes a hero brings about through their inspiration, not direct action. But the action in this issue defies belief, with a woman killing her husband and a few other men, burning an inn to the ground and then waking up, along with the girls, unharmed in the smoldering wreckage the next morning.

How did they survive- divine intervention? And where was the city watch in all this? Even by the lax standards of your average lawless Hyborian town, you’d expect at least one guard to show up and make sure the fire didn’t spread. And when Sonja herself shows up to give her nod of approval to the whole venture, it’s as cloyingly sweet as the ending of your average Mr. T cartoon. And no, that’s not a compliment.

Still, all silliness of the story aside, this issue does have to factors that redeem it. First, the artwork by Stepehen Sadowski is excellent, resembling a less-posed and more realistic Joseph Linsner. Secondly, the back half of this annual is taken up by a complete chronology of all of Red Sonja’s appearances – in her own titles, Conan and the Savage Sword of Conan magazine - complete with annotations, notes of continuity conflicts and exact issue numbers making this issue a must-have for any Sonja fan who has wished to collect her past adventures without having to buy up entire runs of comics.

Grade: C overall. A for the chronology, B for the artwork and F for the actual story.

Xena Warrior Princess Annual #1
Company Name: Dynamite Entertainment
Writer: Keith Champagne
Artists: Noah Salonga

If this is the kind of work we can expect from Keith Champenge in the upcoming World War III books from DC, I think I’ll pass on the storyline, thanks.

Perhaps it is wrong to expect a serious attention to detail from a book as silly and self-mocking as Xena. Then again, when a casual fan of the show like myself can spot continuity errors - such as Gabrielle swearing by The Prophet Jebus - I mean Eli, despite the fact that her costume is that of the earlier-seasons Gabrielle before that storyline ever took place – I doubt it will please the die-hard fans of the Warrior Princess.

Still, ignoring all issues of show history and where this story would fall into it, this issue is still a real mess. The story, which introduces aliens into the world of Xena, destroys the thin veneer of seriousness that makes Xena work as a concept. Yes, some of the characters are goofy and yes the action is over the top. But in a world full of magic and gods who are actively screwing with the cosmos, it makes an odd sort of sense. Bringing in creatures from outside this world – literally, in this case – breaks the fourth wall that makes the entire concept work.

It doesn’t help matters much that the art, good as it is in portraying the characters from the show, makes the aliens Xena fights here resemble Predator – adding an unintentional comic aspect to the whole story of Xena mercy-killing a shipwreck survivor as he tries to tell her that he’ll be fine once its’ mate, a medic, returns and said mate going on a rampage to avenge the death of its’ loved one.

Grade: D

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Looking To The Stars - Religion, Politics and Chuck Dixon

It is no secret to you, my regular readers, that I am not a big fan of Judd Winick’s work – particularly his run on Green Arrow. However, a recent controversy in the comic book world has led me to a realization about exactly why I do not like Judd Winick’s work.

I’m not going to waste a lot of words on this because I’ve already said enough on the hows and whys in the past. Nevertheless this argument, already well covered by many other writers on the blogesphere - including our own Tim Stevens - has allowed me to reach a personal revelation.

Recently, writer Chuck Dixon was announced as the writer of an upcoming Grifter/Midnighter team-up book. This upset many fans of The Midnighter, whom had concerns about how Dixon – an outspoken conservative who has made statements against portraying homosexual characters in superhero comics in the past – would portray The Midnighter, an openly gay superhero.

Dixon was interviewed about the controversy earlier this week by Newsarama and was given a chance to explain his past statements, including what some perceived as personal attacks on writers Ron Zimmerman and Judd Winick.

Now I admire Dixon as a writer. Nobody today, for my money, can write a good simple action story like Chuck. That being said, while I agree with a lot of what Chuck has to say and think he is very reasonable in how he says it, I still think that there’s a wee bit of hypocrisy in Chuck Dixon being the messenger in the case of some of these messages.

Let us go down the interview, point by point.

1. Regarding his past comments and openly gay comic characters

”I was critical of Marvel’s presentation of Rawhide Kid as a homosexual. I thought that the limited series was done as a stunt and wound up demeaning both the Kid (a childhood favorite of mine) and the homosexual community. I committed some unforgivable sin by suggesting that perhaps a Howard Stern staff writer would not the ideal candidate for a sensitive portrayal of a gay western hero and that it was a mistake to retro-fit an established character rather than create a new one.”

“The Perpetually Outraged instantly labeled me as a homophobe and the label became permanent when I weighed in on Judd Winick’s introduction of an openly gay character in Green Lantern. My suggestion was that superhero comics are, whether die-hard fans like it or not, ostensibly children’s comics and perhaps not the forum to be informing children of homosexuality, heterosexuality, or sexually transmitted diseases. I think I incensed some people by saying that I didn’t want my kids receiving their sex ed from Judd Winick in the pages of a superhero comic book. I still don’t... And the introduction and retro-fitting of gay characters into established series has become an instant cliché. It’s done in a cynical manner strictly for marketing purposes in a way that should offend everyone...”

Now, here’s a little something that may shock all of you, who well know that your kindly Unca Starman is that rarest of all creatures; a fightin’ Texan Liberal.

I agree with 75% of what Chuck Dixon just said.

I agree that Rawhide Kid was an insult to the homosexual community and was as stereotypically offensive to gay men as Stepin Fetchit films are to those of African heritage. (Those who haven’t seen it already can read my original thoughts here.)

I agree it probably would have been better to tell the story used in Rawhide Kid with a new character instead of using an established name, not because I am against the idea of revamping a dead property but simply because the manner in which it was done smacks of cheap sensationalism.

And speaking of sensationalism, I agree that the introduction of gay characters to most recent comic titles has, for the most part, been handled in a less than graceful manner and is usually done more for the purposes of publicity than an honest attempt at inclusion. I point to the outing of Freedom Ring in the pages of Marvel Team-Up as ‘Exhibit A’.

And I certainly don’t want Judd Winick teaching a sex-education class if his portrayal of how he did so in Pedro And Me is at all accurate.

This begs the question of why Chuck chose to single out Judd Winick in particular. After all, Judd isn’t the first writer to introduce a gay character into the pages of Green Lantern. Ron Marz, whom Dixon co-wrote a number of stories with, holds that honor for introducing lesbian couple Lee and Li into the book as Kyle’s neighbors. And James Robinson retro-fitted Mikhal Thomas (aka Starman III) into a homosexual relationship with relatively little fuss as did Greg Rucka when he outted Rene Montoya in Gotham Central.

Perhaps it is because Winick seems to want to make a statement more than he wants to tell a story. As such, he makes himself a target because of his activist approach to writing. Winick specifically created Terry Berg to make a statement. He wrote Pedro and Me to make a statement. And he gave Mia Dearden HIV to make a statement. The problem is that if you keep giving the same speech over and over, people will get sick of it and stop listening.

Okay. I understand. Gay people are people too. Now what?

Of course Dixon’s main concern in all of this seems to be books aimed at younger readers. And with the exception of Marz’s Green Lantern, all these books were aimed at mature audiences. But ignoring all issues on whether or not comic books are still a children’s medium for the moment, I must take issue with the idea that a superhero comic would not be a good medium with which to teach pre-teens about sex, drugs and the other nasty things that we try and protect the innocent from until they become too big for us to pull along behind us.

Why do you think Stan Lee stumbled his way through the now infamous anti-drug issue of Amazing Spider-Man in defiance of The Comics Code Authority? Because someone at the Department of Health, Education and Welfare asked him to do so. And that was such a big hit, that it led to the entire industry following suit in an effort to discuss real issues in the funny books so the kids might learn something.

This begs another question; just what are the kids learning?

2. Regarding the portrayal of sex in comics...

“I’m no more in favor of a frank sexual discussion between Reed and Sue or Lois and Clark than I would be were it Gay Character A and his partner.”

“When I was writing Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon’s romance I stayed away from stating that they were in any kind of sexual relationship. You could absolutely imply it. But you could just as easily tell yourself they were saving it for marriage. Is this method naïve? In movies made before the 60s it was the norm to present characters as romantically involved and then leave clear indicators that they were getting it on between scenes. Clark Gable and Jon Crawford go into a hot kiss and we fade to black. Cut to next morning and she’s making him breakfast and dressed in a different nightgown.”

“Now they could have kissed one and then played Monopoly until dawn. The audience was left to choose what they wanted to believe and there was no need to explain the facts of life to the kids after a Cary Grant movie. We used to call them “air force” scenes. Whoosh! Right over the kid's heads.”

“So Clark and Lois can be seen kissing and being affectionate and there’s no need to explain it. The sexual aspect of their relationship doesn’t have to be explored. But if Wonder Woman and Supergirl are seen kissing then that does call for an explanation. The sexual aspect of a relationship like that will call forth questions from the kiddies.”

“…There are a million different ways that the issue of sexuality of any kind can be introduced to children. But why can’t some comic creators resist the urge to do so in the pages of a superhero comic? It’s a genre where people wear capes and masks and have magic rings and lift buildings up over their heads. And no matter how much you wish the genre could grow old with you, these are still characters for children. They’re on pajamas and backpacks. They’re Legos, for God’s sake…”

Again, Dixon references children and wanting to protect them from what he sees as something that is not appropriate for young eyes. Now, this is a noble goal and one I know a little bit about from my current and previous positions as a comic book salesman and as a librarian.

Back when I was a comic shop guy, I had a responsibility to let parents know that Spawn was probably not appropriate for their five-year-old. In my current position as a librarian, I have the responsibility of making sure that children’s reading material is age-appropriate – i.e. making sure that Sin City is not filed in the children’s section, despite being an illustrated book. That said Dixon’s point here presumes two things that I know not to be true from personal experience.

First, Dixon seems to think that children are in serious danger of reading Green Lantern or Green Arrow. While Chuck’s concern for children speaks well of him he’s a day late and a dollar short. The new generation has very little use for $3 funny books. Much to my dismay, I can tell you that the number of children who came into my old store looking for something besides Yu-Gi-Oh cards was few and far between. Those few who were there for comics limited their reading material to kiddie-specific fare like Sonic the Hedgehog or the Marvel Adventures or Johnny DC lines. The average comic fan and target market these days is a lot closer to my age than that of Little Billy.

Secondly, Chuck seems to think that without parental guidance, children will be unable to comprehend the idea of boys or girls kissing one another. Now this is a major hornet’s nest and I’m a fool to even go near it. But for one moment, let us put aside all spiritual and religious considerations regarding homosexuality.

Given that, is it truly that more difficult to say "sometimes two people who love each other will kiss one another like that" instead of saying "sometimes a man and a woman who love each other will kiss like that"? To my mind, it isn’t.

To tell another story, I have a friend who has two children from two marriages. The first is almost twenty. The second has just turned seven. The first is a pre-op transsexual. The second is a young girl.

The second has no problem understanding that she used to have a brother but her brother had decided she’s really a sister. To the second one, this is not strange or complicated simply because everything seems strange or complicated at that age and most things adults do don’t make sense to you anyway. All of the younger children I work with are the same way.

Of course it is well within the parents’ rights to decide when such questions are answered and how such questions are answered for their child. This harkens back to Dixon’s earlier comments about not wanting Judd Winick teaching his children sex-ed.

And while I disagree with Dixon on how it is more complicated to explain two people of the same gender kissing or holding hands to young children than it is to explain a man and a woman kissing, I do agree I do not want to hear Reed Richards graphically explaining how he uses his powers to keep his wife happy nor do I want Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex to ever come into discussion in an actual Superman comic.

That said, I have to wonder – is Chuck’s issue really with all sexual content and politics in the funny books? Or just sex that he himself finds offensive and politics beyond his own?

3. Regarding politics in comics...

“I’ve never backed away from my disdain for agenda-driven comics in what should be the medium’s primary escapist, mass appeal genre. Stand on your soap box all day long. But don’t stand on the shoulders of household-name icons. Write the characters in character and don’t write your world-view through them…”

“…Will the inclusion of gay characters in mainstream comics make homosexuality more acceptable? I haven’t seen a mainstream comic story yet with a gay character that wasn’t loaded with stereotypes and clichés. A wise editor I used to work with cautioned his writers, “don’t write about human relationships unless you’ve had one.” Most of what I’ve seen of the conscious-raising variety of comics on this subject has been dismal and pandering. Loaded with mock outrage and received wisdom and very little honest human interaction. It’s dealt with an in-your-face issue rather than a story.”

I believe most people do not want to be preached to and will resist any attempt to be told what to do out of general contrariness. I know people who voted for a political candidate simply because the opposition had an annoying advertisement. I’ve joked that many anti-smoking advertisements have made me consider taking the habit up as a form of protest. And I agree with Chuck that nobody wants to hear someone channeling their political opinions through a comic book in a ham-fisted manner.

Of course, Chuck Dixon would never do such a thing himself. Would he?

Birds of Prey #10

Birds of Prey #17

Ah. Well, apparently when he would when creating the circumstances for a story that allows him a chance to make a Democrat president look weak-willed and dependent on his wife.

Incidentally, I did some research and I could not find anything on ex-President Jimmy Carter (the peanut farmer in question) agreeing to a weakening of the ABM Treaty much less the addition of the specific, and I must say rather contrived rules, that Dixon refers to in the above panel. If anyone can provide me with proof that the United States is part of an international treaty of some sort that states that cruisers at sea are forbidden radio contact with one another during the time of a missile attack and how Jimmy Carter is responsible for it, I would appreciate it.

In reading some of the other articles about Dixon and his past work in the last week, I’ve seen quite a few stories I read in the past in a new light. I never thought about adult content in the issue of Green Arrow where Connor Hawke lost his virginity to a ghost - at least not in terms of how suggestive the artwork was. I never before thought about how the Planned Parenthood worker Stephanie Brown spoke to while she was pregnant seemed to be trying to push Stephanie toward having an abortion in a comically exaggerated manner much less how Chuck Dixon was tackling the issue of Teen Pregnancy. And thinking on all of this is what led me, ultimately, to my revelation.

This is what has, in the back of my head, made me so angry about Judd Winick. Ultimately, it has nothing to do with continuity or characterization. It is the fact that Winick is so backward as to what a liberal should be and that in turn influences how he writes Green Arrow.

Back in the Dennis O’Neil days, for all of his loud-mouth and reactionary ways, Oliver Queen did one thing that he does not do very well under Winick’s pen. He listened to the other guy and let him speak before letting him have a verbal sucker-punch. How did most of the fights with Hawkman start? The two were discussing politics and Ollie the hothead would start spouting off against “the feathered fascist”. But he always let Hawkman get a chance to say something before throwing out the accusations of how ignorant he was and saying he should be “Caveman” instead of Hawkman.

Not so with Judd Winick’s Green Arrow. Here, there is no room for discussion. Oliver Queen delivers his messages from behind a podium or to a sycophant in his employ with no reaction from the other side of the aisle. The conservative pundit on a talk show is silenced by a shouting liberal and we cut back to the action before any rebuttal can be given, leaving the liberal (and Winick by proxy) with the final word.

As a liberal, this behavior infuriates me even more than conservatives who consider that just because I identify myself as a liberal, that I must believe everything they consider to be a liberal cause. They never think that I might be in favor of the death penalty or that I think PETA goes too far because those aren’t things liberals are supposed to believe in, to their minds. They presume that because there is one liberal like this, than that is what we all must be like.

It’s a sad thing. And liberals do this with conservatives too. I’ve seen quite a few people I know to be of a liberal persuasion dismiss Chuck Dixon’s comments out of hand while banding about words like “Nazi”. They don’t stop to think that, hypocritical though he may be, he might have a few good points.

This happens on both sides of the political fence. It happens with the Bill O’Reillys who tell their liberal guests to shut up and turn their microphones off. It happens with the Al Frankens who would rather tell jokes about George W. Bush stuttering than talk to an intelligent conservative about real issues.

It happens with the Chuck Dixons who write Planned Parenthood counselors indulging in behavior that would get a real counselor fired. It happens with the Judd Winicks who make all their conservative characters cops on the take or amoral C.E.O.s.

And for all of us, if we’re going to solve these problems someplace outside of the funny books, it needs to stop now.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Looking To The Stars: The Fifth Annual Starry Awards

The Golden Globes. Mr. Blackwell’s Best & Worst Dressed List. And now (once again), it is time for The Starry Awards. Because it’s just not the start of a new year, without us yammering about the best and worst of last year.

In any case, welcome to what has become a yearly staple of the Comics Nexus: The Starry Awards for Excellence and Disgrace in Comics Writing.

Hey everyone. Tim Stevens here, once again. I just wanted to remind you all that, apart from making sure this wasn’t one big libelous rant about why Judd Winick is the Anti-Christ, the editorial team of Comics Nexus had nothing whatsoever to do with these awards.

As such, we do not endorse or believe in “Starman” Matt Morrison or anything he writes. In fact, we’re not sure just how his work keeps getting published here. So, we apologize in advance for… everything.

Of course it has been pointed out that the comic industry already has the Eisners, the Harveys, the Eagles and the Wizard Awards. Why on Earth 2 then, these alleged people ask, do we need another damned award?

Because it was this or a follow-up interview with Monkey Woman?

The Starry Awards were started so that I, the ever humble author of this column, might dispense awards to those I felt were most worthy of praise or damnation based on their works in the past year.

Which would be great except, and Mathan asked me to point this out, he hasn’t actually read any comics from the last year.

The Starries name ten stories in total. Stories, for the purpose of this award, can be single or multiple issues of one book or multiple books relating to one plot-line. The Starries are based solely upon the personal opinions of Matt “Starman” Morrison and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of anyone else.

That’s the truth, for once! Send all complaints to We don’t want to hear it!

Five Staries are awarded to stories which, more than any other stories this year, made me stand up and cheer, burst into tears or just stopped me in the middle of reading to say “This is damn good stuff.” Five Staries are awarded (if you can call it that) to stories that, for some reason, I found disappointing. Stories that left me feeling that a mark had been missed and missed badly. Some of them are stories that, in fact, I think are just plain terrible.

That said: Here are the winners and losers!

The Best of 2006

Best Moment All Year: The Thin Green Line
(As taken from Infinite Crisis #7)

Infinite Crisis offered a lot for the die-hard DC Comics fan to be excited about. There were many “geek-out” moments – things that happen that just make you pause and think about how sometimes, a comic book can do something cool that just wouldn’t work in any other media. And when you get right down to it, that’s what Infinite Crisis ultimately was – a love letter to the genre in all of its’ goofy coolness.

But for my money, nothing matched the sheer coolness of the sight of all 7200 (give or take a few) Green Lanterns, under the command of Guy Gardner, making a green wall hundreds of miles thick in order to slow down the out of control Superboy Prime and the ensuing battle as three Supermen of three generations dog fight through a Kryptonite asteroid belt before plunging into the heart of a red sun before falling onto Mogo, The Living Planet.

Perhaps some filmmaker could replicate that image, but I doubt it.

Funniest Read All Year:The Thing #1

I may have to start giving this book to whichever book Dan Slott is writing on any given year, because a trend does seem to be establishing itself in these awards. Regardless, no one can argue that whatever else can be said about this far-too short-lived series, is that it always delivered the laughs.

Case in point; in the very first issue, we are given the summary of where Ben Grimm’s life stands through the oldest of clichés – a man reading the newspaper out-loud. We are told of how, thanks to the events in Fantastic Four, Ben has wound up becoming filthy, stinking rich, has his own penthouse apartment and is dating a supermodel/actress.

And who is it that is telling us this? Peter Parker, reading the newspaper and mumbling about how unbelievable it is that a common man – an ordinary guy like Ben Grimm - should be living in an ivory tower with a gorgeous woman attached to him...

... as Mary Jane asks him what’s wrong with supermodel/actresses and Jarvis – Iron Man’s butler (for Peter and family were living with Tony Stark at this time) - asks Master Parker if breakfast is satisfactory.

In that moment, Slott lets we the fans know that he is one of us and that he is well aware of the silliness of not just his book, but of Marvel Comics itself. And that as much as the likes of Warren Ellis and Mark Millar may preen about serious art and making a statement, it’s all about having fun. At least, it should be.

Best Team-Up:Green Arrow/Green Lantern

2005 saw the return of Hal Jordan to the DC Universe. And, not surprisingly, 2006 saw the return of the original Emerald Allies to active duty alongside one another.

While there was no major storyline or mini-series that united these two old comrades, apart from a two-part story in Green Lantern where the two joined forces to fight Mongul and thwart his plot to harvest enough of the dreaded Black Mercy planet to disable all of Earth’s superheroes, they still managed to pair up quite a few times.

As the universe teetered on the brink of destruction in Infinite Crisis, the two quipped about the upcoming baseball season and made plans for the next week – so confident were they that this wasn’t really ‘The End of The World’.

As One Year Later opened, the two met – now mayor and ex-POW respectively, to talk of how the world had changed and themselves with it.

In 52 they teamed with their other allies to take on a strange cult obsessed with the resurrection of dead superheroes.

And in Justice League of America, a torch was passed as Hal and Ollie met briefly... as Hal came to pick up his semi-nephew Roy Harper for a mission while leaving his best friend at home to babysit in a moment that was both comedic and touching.

Of course none of their pairings came close to equaling their original glorious team-up, back in the olden days of the O’Neil/Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow book. But then again, what could? It was still a treat, however briefly, to see two best friends united again in fighting the good fight across several titles..

Best Make Over: The Green Lantern Corps.

I came into comics at a time not too long after The Corps had died, but I still remembered, vaguely of one comic book – one of the few my mother had ever allowed me to have – that we bought while in the middle of moving when I was five. It was a Green Lantern book – and I got to see all of these weird and unusual alien Lanterns. And while I couldn’t make out all the words, I still thought the sight of all those creatures was very cool.

This year saw The Green Lantern Corps restored after a decade of absence in the DC Universe. They had a successful mini-series, followed by the start of their own title and numerous cameos both in the Hal Jordan centered Green Lantern title as well as the mini-series Ion and Guy Gardner: Collateral Damage, to say nothing of their universe-shaking appearance in Infinite Crisis. I am glad to note that time has not hurt the concept at all, and while most of these new Lanterns are rookies, the concept is still just as cool to me as when I was the five-year old boy who still thought Green Lantern was just some smiling guy with brown curly hair.

Best Retro Tale: Doctor Strange: Blood Oath

There have been very few stories coming out of Marvel Comics of late that haven’t been tied in, in some fashion, to their big Civil War storyline. There are fewer still that evoke the classic Marvel feel and have not required an encyclopedic amount of knowledge regarding some fairly obscure characters.

Trust Brian K. Vaughn to write a series that manages the neat trick of being both a wonderful introduction and a treat for the seasoned Marvel Comics aficionado. Though incomplete at the time of this writing, Blood Oath has been a splendid, no-fuss introduction to a Dr. Strange; a character who, despite a number of recent cameos, seems little used in the modern Marvel Universe. It has also been a masterful Doctor Strange tale in and of itself and proof that a regular and engaging Dr. Strange series is not only possible, but necessary.

The Worst of 2006

Most Likely To Cause Continuity Robots Heads To Explode:Civil War and All Its’ Tie-Ins

I haven’t followed ever single book that is a part of Civil War but it would be inaccurate to say that creating a timeline of the events of Civil War is difficult. It is in fact, impossible.

I’m sure the boys over at Marvel News and Views could give you a complete list, but my personal “What the-“ moment came when I realized that we have two different incidents that show Sue Richards leaving her husband under entirely different circumstances.

In Civil War, we see her quietly leaving in the middle of the night after fulfilling her wifely duties (i.e cooking a big dinner and giving her husband a good shagging). In Fantastic Four, she leaves in an explosion of psychokinetic force-field power after trying and failing to talk with her husband about her concerns with his plans and effectively saying “Screw this. Screw you. I’m gone.”

Now, I don’t think that either of these portrayals really fits the character of Sue Richards. I think it’s unlikely that under any circumstance, much less the two depicted in the comics, that she would leave her children in the care of the man that she is leaving for being, to quote Eddie Izzard, “a fascist dickhead”. Regardless, I think it can be agreed that this kind of continuity conflict would not happen were the editorial team not asleep at the wheel. Or at the very least making sure that stories make sense instead of delivering edicts about how this story is Important Art on The Colbert Report.

The “What The Hell Just Happened?” Award: New Avengers

I tried to keep reading this book. Really, I did. But sometime during the end of the Sentry reintroduction and sometimes before they brought in Warbird it just became harder to keep track of what was going on. Or, at the very least, it became harder for me to care what was going on.

The “I Waited For This?!?!” Award:Civil War

I was going to give this award to All-Star Batman and Robin until I realized that they didn’t actually have an issue come out in the last year, making it ineligible.

So instead, we dishonor Civil War, whose delays slowed not only its’ own story, but the entire Marvel Comics line as they refused to release certain books – which might otherwise have spoiled the Civil War story-line – in a timely manner.

Worst Makeover of the Year: Spider-Man

This award is not just for the much-hated Iron Spider costume, but for the general change in Peter Parker’s character in the last year. Once he was one of the smartest and most independent of heroes in the Marvel Universe. But Peter was transformed into a jabbering idiot line-walker in the wake of Civil War, with his new suit apparently also suppressing his common sense.

Does it seem at all likely to anyone out there that Peter Parker – the man who has, because of his powers, endured more pain, suffering and general aggravation from the general public because of who he is and what he does would ever willingly reveal his identity on national television?

Given how much his life has been screwed with by the few villains who DO know who he really is, does anyone really think Peter would out himself to the public knowing that now he’d have to worry about every single punk in a costume with a grudge or something to prove going after his family?

Do you really think that Peter would honestly NOT think about the consequences and worry himself to the point of developing another ulcer about it?

Do you really think that Peter would ever go along with the crowd and become a yes-man for Tony Stark for as long as he did? The same man who eschewed numerous team memberships over the years for the simple reason that he worried about being tied down to a group and not being able to pick and choose his battles?

Do you really think that Peter, even after getting smacked down by Iron Man, could be taken out by the likes of Jester and Jack O’Lantern?

Like Mark Millar’s 12-part Spider-Man series from a few years ago, the character of Peter Parker as depicted in Civil War only works if you accept that Peter Parker is - at best - incompetent and overly naive or - at worst – stupid but incredibly lucky.

This portrayal of the character flies in the face of years or character development and tradition. And while this kind of paradigm shift can, at times, create a compelling and interesting story, all this has managed to create is one big unreadable mess.

The Worst Comic Of the Year Award: How to Make Money Like a Porn Star

Pornography seemed to be on the mind of many an irate comics fan this year. But while feminist and conservative comic-fans alike groused over Alan Moore’s attempt at intellectual pornography with his book Lost Girls, this book seems to have fallen under the radar of many comic book critics. Thank Heaven for small favors.

Having read this book at my local Barnes and Noble (my local comic book shop refused to carry it), I find myself reluctant to give it any press - even bad press. Still, I can say in all honest that this was not only the worst book I have read this year – it is the worst comic I have ever read.

To call this graphic novel terrible is to deny myself the chance to use words such as “misogynistic”, “putrid” and “unfunny”. It is, to quote Dorothy Parker, “not a book to be set aside lightly… It should be thrown with great force.”

Written by Neil Strauss, who is perhaps best known for assisting rock stars such as Tommy Lee and Marilyn Manson in penning their autobiographies, How to Make Money Like a Porn Star is reportedly meant to be a satire. Specifically, it is a satire of Strauss’ recent work with Jenna Jameson - How to Make Love Like A Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale.

Now, I have not read any of Strauss’ previous work but two things are apparent to me regarding Strauss’s training as a writer. First, he was never told that self-parody is not something attempted lightly. Secondly, he was never taught that satire is meant to be funny.

The story as told here is depicted in far too cartoonish a manner to be taken seriously as an indictment of the porn industry and is far too violent to be taken as a dark comedy. While there is probably a very funny, twisted story to be told about the dark side of the porn industry, this is not that story. So take Unca Starman’s advice – do not give in to curiosity and allow yourself to read this book. Because unlike your average Jenna Jameson video, this book has nothing of interest and no educational value whatsoever.

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt website.