November 20, 2011

The Reading Went Well

Another year is blowing by, too fast for my liking. There doesn’t seem to be enough time for everything I want to do. There don’t seem to be enough hours in the day.
A common complaint for people in their 50s, 40s, 30s… common and familiar, I suppose for anyone trying to accomplish some as yet unfinished thing, or get closer to some life long goal. It’s a feeling that accelerates as the calendar’s pages diminish every year in the fall. It’s a quiet panic I feel on days when I’m already late for work, and the minute hand ticks past nine ever increasingly faster, for every minute I haven’t reached my desk, my phone and my responsibilities.

But at 43, it feels like “autumn” in my life too.

It has felt like one long “November” ever since I turned 28 years old. Every succeeding year, another filmmaker gives up, or another artist calls it quits, or another colleague tells me “It’s great that you’re still out there working.” It’s beginning to sound more and more like ingenuous condescension. It’s beginning to sound like they never believed they would get any farther than they did at the moment they quit.
I don’t like any of it, their quitting, their excuses, their rationalizations or blaming the outside world, finances or family for why they couldn’t or wouldn’t continue.
I didn’t make the choice to become an artist any more than I made the choice to become fat; the only choice I made was to work hard at it, to devote my life to the series of statements that have become my body of work, so far. Not being paid a living wage at it means I’m not a professional, but having a day job doesn’t make me an amateur.

Friday night, with what felt like a throat infection, I read and presented slides from my latest comic book story. Although this is only my 4th or 5th time doing these kinds of performances, it went off without a hitch. The crowd, mostly people familiar with my work for the past 20 years published in World War 3 Illustrated, seemed to genuinely enjoy the story, no forced art-house laughter from the bunch of them. The applause felt great. It served to remind me that although DC Comics, Vertigo and Karen Berger passed on my work yet again in 2009 (a great piece called Cabbie Baba and the 40 Thieves that I’ll get to someday) although several samples for graphic novels I have done for other writers have stalled or been outright rejected this year, although it seems that self publishing will be the only way to proceed as I feel no confidence in the current generation of editors and publishers, I have managed to create my own stories, on my own terms. In the place of a “deal” or an agent. I have no confidence in any of them anymore either after my last -first and only- agent suddenly expressed confused misgivings about my writing and abruptly quit the business. I have to remain focused on the road I’ve managed to pave without the help or support of institutions who have rejected my work.
Remaining largely anonymous, working whenever my “day job” ends, will have to suffice, and I will have to appreciate that opportunity even on the weeknights that take me long past my initial call to sleep as I toil at my drafting table on stories and images that I will have to distribute myself, if they are ever to be seen by the world they are intended to entertain and engage.

It’ll have to do.

I just wonder, -what will I tell myself when I turn 60?

October 30, 2011

DRAFTS: Release Party and Art Show for Issue WW3 #42

8"x11" poster

5.5"x4.25" 2-sided postcard

Poster versions:

11"x17" poster

October 11, 2011

Maybe Comic Books Need to Undergo a Periodic Death.

Technological advancements, the attendant euphoria that comes with a medium or a genre’s popularity all inspire far more mediocrity than they do genius, or even meaningful work.When the Polaroid put the power of instant photography in everyone’s hands, it also lowered the bar, capping what was possible for the sake of getting the public a baseline result: a repeatable, consistent result. That the ensuing generations of photographs were of muddied colors and a kind of generalized unmotivated focal plane was the apparent cost of averaging out and quickening the art of photography for the masses. -Just like instant coffee, there is a trade off in taste for the sudden rush and payoff at the press of a button. The same can be said of the camera as a whole (as a successor to the paintbrush.) This may have more to do with the fact that most people are just not thinking much when it comes to creating images or capturing moments in their lives; they allow the machinery to do the thinking as well, and we all know that machines don’t think.
Such seems to be the case with my beloved medium, the comic book. This weekend, thousands will crowd the Jacob Javitz convention center in New York City. This year as in the last 15 years, there will be an increase in the number of “independently” created comic books, as has been the case every preceding year. The vast majority of this “new” material, created by amateurs, some still in high school is unreadable shit. Even some of the entrepreneur based titles and many of the new launches by established house like DC and Marvel are thin examples of the medium’s potential.
The comedian Patton Oswalt (himself a fan of comics and science fiction,) remarked some years ago that comedy had died in the early 1990s, but he added that it needed to die because the comedians sucked, and the audiences sucked too. He insists the rebirth of the stand-up form in the 2000s would not have been possible without this artistic culling. That’s how I feel about the 2000s onward in the comics.
The plethora of licensed adaptations, rehashed concepts, and homogenous autobiographical works is not only depressing and embarrassing for me as a creative artist in the medium; it presents practical problems at the comic shop and digital newsstands. Every time someone like Ed Burns decides to do a Dock Walloper (with Respect to Jim Palmiotti,) he is necessarily crowding out something else by somebody else who isn’t just making a token visit to the comic book medium. Add to this the recurring problem that comics face as a “pop art” ghetto, where any idiot thinks he can write a comic book (Yes, you’re an idiot if you think you can just sit down and write one without knowing the medium as consumer, or as a devoted reader .) Years ago, I had someone tell me they thought teaching art was easy, to which I answered; “Maybe you’re not very good at it?” That guy hasn’t spoken to me since. I’m finding myself having to offer variants of that existential question to many people who say they want “to do a comic book” or “have an idea for a graphic novel.”

I have come to hate the word graphic novel. I only use it out of sheer convenience and custom. I hate the term graphic novel because it’s most often used by people who want to talk about comic books, but don’t know anything meaningful about them.

Today, printing is cheap. The internet is even cheaper as a distribution option. Scores of aspiring storytellers, or “idea” men (read: bullshit artists and opportunists) now no longer have stumbling blocks between themselves and a completion of a comic book, and that means there’s a lot of shit being made out there crowding out the stuff people could be reading instead. I’d put Walt Kelly’s Pogo over just about anything “new” this year, and that’s because whatever material of that caliber is getting produced is getting shoved out of the shelves by the latest celebrity penned graphic novel.
Before you ask someone like me to listen to your idea for a comic book, -ask yourself this:
Have you ever read Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli’s run on Daredevil (collected as the trade paperback, Born Again?) Have you ever read any of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts work prior to 1968? Do you know who Harvey Pekar was? Do you know who Kurt Busiek is? Do you know who Alex Toth was? Have you ever heard of a company called Charlton?
That’s my litmus test for keeping out the pretenders, and if you know anything at all about mainstream comics, you’ll know it’s not much of a test at all. If you can’t answer those asinine questions, I don’t care how many times you’ve read Watchmen or seen Batman Begins; -you’re a danger to our medium’s level of quality and you need to stay out until you know better. If you think you don’t need to know anything to write a comic book, -well that’s why you’ll suck at it. That’s why I won’t talk to you. I wouldn’t give a minute’s time to a young author out to write his first novel, -who didn’t know who Philip Roth was.
-Get it now?
I’d like to see the next series of over-budgeted Hollywood costume abortions implode their first weekends out. This way, perhaps this beacon of an easy buck or an easy book will stop drawing dilettantes to the world of comic books like mindless moths to a lamppost.

October 8, 2011

Yet Another Post About Steve Jobs...

I began the Random Robot blog with a post on Steve Jobs, or more specifically, the storied (in my opinion imaginary) dichotomy between the PC and the Apple as products and “cultures.” I ended that post with a sincere wish, which did not come true.

Steve Jobs died on Wednesday.

Although I’d heard for well over two months that he was nearing the end, it didn’t soften the blow much. I was still surprised, I was still very, very sad. Two friends at Oracle had told me that Jobs had stopped by their headquarters in early September, presumably attempting to say goodbye and farewell to friends, rivals, and in the cases of the various other Silicon Valley addresses he visited, -enemies as well. In that way perhaps Jobs was more fortunate than many people facing a terminal illness, he had the money and power to do what was possible to put all of his affairs in order. He at the very least bought himself some time, when his money and influence could no longer beat back the Pancreatic cancer that finally claimed him after years of fighting.
I ran this post past a colleague, who asked why I was going with such an old photo of Jobs (as if it’s possible to over idealize/idolize Jobs at this point.) I picked that photo among the thousands I saw because it’s the first one I remember seeing at all. It’s the image that as sophomore in High School offered me a glimpse at a mercurial figure, part innovator, part opportunist, and all “idealist” to the core. For those of us who are creative people in the arts or sciences of any stripe, Jobs presented us with the first “popular” heroic creative archetype since Einstein or Picasso. Jobs was an “intellect,” not an athlete, politician or a movie star, he was a man who was made by his own mind: a compelling idea for my generation, which grew up with a folksy actor in the White House. Some appraisal will have to made of Jobs as a kind of engineer, in so far as the title is often extended to his predecessors like Da Vinci and the Wright brothers. While I had other heroes in those years, like Rod Serling, Elvis Costello, David Cronenberg, Alfred Hitchcock, David Bowie, Bill Mantlo, John Byrne, Frank Miller, George Perez, Michael Golden, John Buscema, none of them (who were still alive at the time) were actively thinking about how to make a buck by making my life easier, or more productive.
Jobs’s sober counterpart in all this through the years was Bill Gates of course. Together, they were the young yin and yang of the tech sector before the financial world called it a sector at all. Both were visionaries who were in a race (often “stealing” from others and each other) to better serve, better anticipate the focus of those people in America who didn’t even know they needed a computer yet. Gates, respectably and understandably, left this race years ago, but Jobs couldn’t leave it alone, even after having made billions in the sale of Pixar. Therein Jobs was unique. Just think about it:

The GUI.
The mouse.
Drag and drop file transfer.

That last one is possibly my favorite.
For those of us who remember using computers before softwindows and windows, nothing was as annoying, and seemingly unavoidable as having to move a file by changing its directory address manually. The wrong series of keystrokes could send a file into a nameless irretrievable limbo. Steve Jobs did something about that, and it affects me everyday. It will affect the way I work and play forever. …just think about all Jobs had done before he decided on the iPod, before the iTunes store and all the various computers, devices, phones, pads that followed. …just think how much more this man still had left in him before cancer stopped him at 56.

No one is exaggerating when they say the death of Steve Jobs is a big loss: Few have thought as hard about how to make life easier, more productive or more fun than he did.

Steve Jobs repeatedly said that dropping acid was one of the most important experiences in his life, and that it may have in part been responsible for his posture toward problem solving and ultimately Apple’s philosophy. I have never had the balls to advocate the use of hallucinogenics to a single person. Then again, I don’t think I got all the expansion in perspective that Jobs got, -just some funny stories for the effort.
In this age of anti-Muslim hysteria, racism and conveniently selective xenophobia, I hope some acknowledgment of Jobs’s Syrian ancestry is made, if only to remind us that to be American is often to be from somewhere else, and to welcome people from somewhere else. Jobs and his products are perceived as American and as ubiquitous as McDonalds’s, but not as invasive, corrupting or destructive (largely because no one wants to talk about the off shore factories that build iPhones and iPads.) I can understand that Jobs’s reticence to ever discuss his ethnicity came not from any self-interest or paranoia but out of love for the only parents he knew, the only parents he recognized, the parents he loved, his parents: The Jobs family of Cupertino California who adopted him in San Francisco in 1955. We have to respect and understand Jobs’s anger at the words “adoptive parents.”
Much will be said in the coming years about Jobs. Many will cynically, if not justly, point out that Jobs’s products destroyed or off-shored more “jobs” than they created. Others will cite the largely fictional and convenient differentiation between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates: Each behaved as a hammer that saw every competitor, every other company, -and some times every business partner, as a nail.
Maybe his most lasting and (for me) meaningful legacy is not that he was the man-of-the-people-as-head-of-a-benevolent-technology-company (no part of that hyphenated statement is true except the word “technology”) but that he was a “man of the consumers.” Quote me on that one my friends.
That Jobs saw the consumers of America and the world as people who could be best served with humane design and increasing simplification, was perhaps his greatest gift. All this I can say of Steve Jobs, and yet I have never once bought an Apple computer: not a single dektop, laptop, iPod, or peripheral device… except for my Quick Time Pro license, a great software buy at $29.95.

Rest in peace Mr. Jobs.

I’m sure we will continue putting what you brought to us to good use, at work and play.

September 6, 2011

June 29, 2011

May 13, 2011

A Sad Day.

Harmon Killebrew, a notable giant in a game where eclipsed benchmarks are almost always forgotten, has announced that he will go into hospice care after what seems like an abrupt illness announced only yesterday; It was only December when it was made known that he was battling esophageal cancer.
The echoes of this man’s home runs rang long into my adolescence, when friends far more knowledgeable than me about the game, would throw his name into conversations about the greatest power hitters ever to menace the plate.
I didn’t know until this afternoon that he had made his start with the Senators. I also didn’t know that he had hit the most homeruns of any player in the 1960s.
Baseball players age much faster than the rest of us watching the game beyond the foul lines in some cruel Einsteinian wrinkle. Mr. Killebrew’s career was longer and more distinguished than the vast majority of players who somehow manage to play in the major leagues, but it still hurts me to hear of them passing on. Even in this era of astronomical paychecks and signing bonuses, and small time personas playing a big time game, baseball gives me something I could not put a price on, something not sold anywhere:

something to cheer for.

I was rooting for Mr. Kilibrew when I’d heard the initial diagnosis. I am rooting for him now in lieu of any thanks I cannot give him for all of the stories of his long, long, long home runs and the arguments his distinguished record inspired among my childhood friends.
Mr. Killebrew, it’s quite something to be 11th.
It really is.

March 31, 2011

An Appreciation of Some of My Favorite Actors

Jeff Bridges, Harry Dean Stanton, Christopher Walken and many other actors are finally getting their due, and they probably would've been on this list, but the 2000s and beyond have been largely a time of public and critical appreciation for these three actors in particular and for that I am very thankful as a fan of motion pictures.

When Frances McDormand won an Oscar for Fargo way back in 1996, I think many movie goers breathed a sigh of relief at the MPAA getting something right at least, where we the public often get it wrong. No one will ever wonder whether Tim Allen could have done more with the opportunities given him, no one will ever cite him and many, many others who grace the marquees, as unappreciated.

Some of the people on this list just didn’t live long enough to contribute according to the scale of their gifts and abilities. I felt I needed to recognize them too.

This isn't so much a list about actors who are just underrated in my opinion, so much as a look at certain talents in movies who just haven't, or didn't go as far as they could have. Thankfully for many, the shot clock is still running. Harrison Ford could easily have been on this list had he never been cast in Star Wars. Like Baseball's Cooperstown, so very little substance separates the deified icons of cinema from the remarkable talents who remain (for whatever reasons) outside the pantheon of lasting, inarguable superstardom. There is something heartbreaking for movie lovers about those actors who it is assumed are struggling to find work, or appearing in material beneath their prodigious talent, or have yet to reach their full potential... or tragically never will.

Everyone has their hall of underdogs past and present, and this is mine.


Elizabeth Shue (Could never act in enough movies to satisfy me.)

Bruce Campbell (If I'd been casting a Superman movie in 1990, Campbell would have been my choice for the lead... or a Batman movie for that matter.)

Robin Tunney,

Eric Bana (Just hasn't clicked yet with world audiences, but he's good in everything he's ever been in; especially his entertainingly overwrought and unrecognizable turn as a villain in the last Star Trek film by JJ Abrams.)

Aidan Quinn,

Rutger Hauer (The man whose performance carried Bladerunner deserved better, bigger projects.)

Emily Watson, (A walking, talking, breathing genius of an actor.)

Courtney B. Vance,

John Cazale (My favorite actor of all time.)

Brooke Adams,

Rufus Sewell,

Patrick Wilson,

Carla Gugino,

Michael Rosenbaum,

James Mason (Sure he was in great movies but he should have been in many more. Once he lost the role of James Bond to Sean Connery, his career took questionable turns.)

Dennis Christopher,

Andre Braugher,

Treat Williams,

Katrin Cartlidge,

Richard Jordan (Simply one of the finest actors this country has ever produced.)

Tim Roth,

Stephen McHattie,

Kyle Secor,

Giancarlo Esposito (Got his start in Taps with Sean Penn, Timothy Hutton, and Tom Cruise, then somehow, for some reason, didn’t become a leading man, a household name or big star.)

Franka Potente,

Andy Garcia,

Damian Lewis (Seriously, someone needs to do something about this guy soon, before he’s relegated to just Masterpiece Theatre in America, and only BBC mini-series programming in the UK.)

Adolph Caesar,

Keir Dullea,

Bill Nunn,

Jeff Daniels (In one of the most notable cases of one star replacing another altogether, Daniels had his career seemingly absorbed by that of Bill Pullman's.)

Michael Sarrazin,

Peter Weller,

John Savage,

Jean-Marc Barr (I'm still praying this guy will suddenly breakout somehow.)

Scott Grimes,

Terry O'Quinn (is just a great actor who has done incredible things with sometimes terrible scripts.)

Howard E. Rollins Jr. (I still think he died far too soon, as did a few others on this list.)


If a few of these names struck you as odd, or altogether unknown, search the IMDB website for their filmographies and you may understand their inclusion. If not? Post your own picks in the replies below.
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March 9, 2011


Norma Iglesias might have been one of the most fascinating people I have ever known in my entire life.

Norma was brilliantly determined, with an incendiary intellect. She was among the first adults I ever knew as a child who didn’t cast aspersions on people who were different, -not that she ever hesitated make fun of anyone or any particular thing, just that she had a deep and abiding respect for people that transcended her outsized sense of humor. Norma was a very cool lady to put it flatly. She was a gregarious Puerto Rican woman, hailing from a generation that fought greatly for an elusive acceptance and begrudged respect attained by few in the last decades of the 20th century.

People were always drawn to her; to her light and warmth and her explosive laughter. She collected life-long friends much in the way celestial stars collect planets, with a kind of unconscious, unaffected magnetism. I was always impressed with her because she didn’t lecture and pontificate as many intelligent people can’t resist doing, but always maintained a knowing posture and shared what she knew as an act of generosity and friendship. She prized intelligence and her values had an enormous effect on me as a child and later as an adolescent. She had hard set opinions about a great many things, as all of us do, and if you weren’t ready to hear the truth as she saw it, it was not going to be easy for you, but she never told people her thoughts as an act of unkindness. Norma once confided to me that she believed keeping a deeply held conviction or perspective to oneself was not only dishonest, but criminal among friends. She was confident in her relationships that way. She insisted that friends not be afraid to anger each other in service of the truth and that opinions should never be secrets, lest they become divisions. Norma also showed me one of the truest measures of wisdom: the ability to say you don’t know something. That particular aspect of her honesty is a quality that I encounter rarely in my professional life, as everyone pretends to be an expert on a vast array of subjects, approaches and technologies. Norma showed me that pretending to know something only convinces those around you of your insecurity, more importantly, Norma always reminded me that you cannot learn things that you don’t concede you need to know and Norma was all about getting on with life at all times: It showed in her professional life, it showed in the way she drove her car, it showed in the way she went to Orchard beach in the summer time.

Norma took me to see Star Wars in 1977 when I was nine, along with two of her lovely daughters only because she’d heard it was a groundbreaking motion picture. I’d always thought that we had a love of fantasy and genre pictures in common. She confessed to me, many years later when I was in college that she disliked Science Fiction, but that she couldn’t let that stop her from taking me to see Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Norma thought it was important that I see effects work and storytelling other than what was on Saturday morning television. The movies in her opinion, was where all the important work was being done, even if it meant sitting through Ridley Scott’s Alien with me.

She told me “You’re a smart, weird little kid. Don’t ever let anybody give you any shit for it.” And armed with that, I went forward in life at the age of 8. I worked towards becoming an artist. I worked towards becoming a writer. I worked towards becoming a filmmaker. I became a creative person, set largely on my way by her presence in my life.

Blood is thicker than water as the saying goes, but love possesses qualities beyond measure and definition and Norma was more than family to me. I am fortunate. I had plenty of opportunities across a lifetime to tell Norma just how much I loved her, and rarely missed an opportunity to do so, right up until last week when I spoke with her on the phone. It’s a great honor to be able to tell someone that you know just how special they are: I count that among the most important lessons she taught me among all that she gave me across a lifetime.

Norma Iglesias departs, leaving her daughters, her grandchildren and her many friends with much to talk about and remember for the rest of our days before we all move on to join her. For my part, I have to admit that the world is a smaller, duller place for her passing.

March 6, 2011

Another Ranking of the Top Twenty Horror Movies of All Time…

Lists and rankings have been an Internet staple since at least the early 1990s, always recognizing this and excluding that, to someone’s ire, -often mine. Every time I read a list of the “best all time” horror movies, I'm left wondering just how much more emotionally flat and indistinct (in terms of our aesthetics and tastes) we can become as a movie-going public in America. It's probably not a new complaint, but we don't seem to care that there is a difference between what aims at the visceral, physical, physiological and that which operates on emotional or psychological levels.

There is a big difference between Horror movies and Thrillers or even “Scary” pictures.

I use the word "Horror" in the sense that a motion picture inspires not only fear at the time of viewing but that it also creates a lasting lingering feeling of dread long after the film is over. I think it's easy to disgust people or make them flinch with gore and other superficial and temporary frights, but pictures that "haunt" us psychologically, that unnerve us emotionally are the true horror pictures in my opinion. I leave pictures like the Nightmare on Elm Street series out of my consideration because although they are among my favorite movies, outside of the momentary scares and revulsion they provide during viewing, they are closer to thrillers and action pictures in my opinion, and only cousins to a picture like The Shining. If I opened consideration to shock and gore pictures, clearly films by Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and others would be all over my list below, and believe me those are not omissions or oversights, -but a difference of classification. Some of my selections are almost bloodless productions, but as I've already said, gory and violent spectacles are not necessarily what determines a horror movie; if that were the case, Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill pictures would be considered for inclusion, but they both fail entry by my criteria as would Robert Rodriguez's From Dusk 'til Dawn. They are all great, entertaining pictures to be sure, they simply lack a strong enough psychological component to underpin the explicit shock they provide.

Lists and rankings are all about starting arguments; so if I've left any of your favorites off, feel free to list them in response.

My Top Twenty Horror Movies of all Time are:

1) The Exorcist
2) The Omen (1976)
3) The Shining (1980)
4) The Sentinel
5) Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
6) Night of the Living Dead (1968)
7) The Blair Witch Project
8) Dawn of the Dead (2004 remake)
9) Evil Dead
10) Alien
11) Poltergeist
12) Rosemary's Baby
13) Gates of Hell (1980)
14) The Changeling (1980)
15) Quatermass and the Pit (1968)
16) The Innocents
17) The Wicker man (1973)
18) Salem's Lot (1979)
19) The Reincarnation of Peter Proud
20) The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

(I listed years only where I thought there might be confusion due to a remake, and it should be known that it absolutely killed me to exclude John Carpenter’s The Thing, as well as his Prince of Darkness: They would surely make my Top Twenty Five.)


February 28, 2011

Comics Code Seal R.I.P.

Ugly isn't it?

The comics code seal was a self-imposed, self-regulatory marker crafted by the various comic book publishers to get the government and parents groups off their back.

Last month, it went tits up and died. DC comics, and finally Archie comics, stopped submitting to the Comics Code Authority, basically killing it in favor of their own reader advisories.

Discussions about the legacy of this code, and the motivations behind its rules and haphazard application will go on for a long time. For my part, I've always seen it as a mechanism for censorship, and I've always considered it to be something as un-American and fascist as the presumptuous House Un-American Activities Committee was. As damaging as its control was, the seal itself enabled something just as bad if not worse than the promulgation and enforcement of the subjective morals of a few onto the public. The seal established (-in a way that even Frederic Wertham's books and writings couldn't have-) that comic books were a medium for children. More than any of the CCA seal's insipid and condescending rules about allowable portrayals of sex, crime and violence, it was the presumptions of the comic book audience's makeup, and the parallel assumptions about the sophistication, intelligence and emotional vulnerability of readers that did the most harm.

As a reader and creator in the medium, I blame the seal and the CCA for much of the bad writing in comics for the past several decades, and nearly all of the mediocrity foisted on readers across all genres. I am thankful that I was born late enough to be spared toiling under its yoke.

I can be heard briefly speaking about the Comics Code, and the history of the CCA's predecessor at Troy Price's Completely Comics blog at about 34 minutes in at this link:


February 22, 2011

Don’t (Won't) Get Fooled Again

Death in the comics is a rare and momentous event, being that comics, especially superhero titles, make a repeated point of defying mortality and even ignoring the age of their central protagonists, month after month, year after year, now on into the 21st century. I’ve written at length about the now institutionalized practice (read stunt) of killing off legacy characters to drum up noise for a title. I still think it’s a weak and cynical trope, and all it really indicates is a lack of imagination on the part of editors and writers. Recent case in point: Johnny Storm, The Human Torch of Marvel Comics, who just met a violent end this month.

As a reader, and sometime comic book artist/creator I don’t have an issue with death in stories, -but I’m not referring to death am I? –Again I’m talking about a stunt; a gimmick conceived to generate buzz, even fury in an indifferent audience. The editors at Marvel have already rationalized, in public statements, that someone such as I wouldn’t even be writing about their comic title if they hadn’t killed off Johnny Storm, -that’s true. Truer still is the fact that I’m still not writing about how good their comic book is, or even buying it again now that Johnny is dead. It’s the leveraging of a death as a scandalous hook that is problematic for me as a reader. I wasn’t reading Fantastic Four comics because “nothing was happening.” -I wasn’t reading Fantastic Four because the stories hadn’t been strong in years. This is the case with many superhero titles at Marvel and at DC, and the solution that seems to be repeatedly pitched on an almost annual cycle is the sudden unexpected killing off of a character, -with no intentions of really keeping him/her out of the world of the “living,” even for very long.

The problem stems from everything related to the event-structured story arcs across titles (DC’s Blackest Night event being a notable recent exception,) to the increasingly puerile shock-driven stories in superhero comics. Ultimately the culprit is a confluence of tired-minded staff writers, and at least the perception in the mind of the audience, of a character’s exhausted potential.

A friend told me yesterday “But superhero comics are supposed to be sensational…” to which I responded; “They’re also supposed to be good.” And I really meant that. Comics, particularly superhero comics, have never been a laughing matter for me. In a post-Watchmen world, -(the world we've all lived in as writers or fans of comics whether we like it or not since 1985,) the standards are supposed to be higher. There have been several watershed moments in the superhero genre. From the earliest work of Will Eisner on the Spirit, to the Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories of the early seventies, to the work of Chris Claremont on X-Men, on to Frank Miller’s work on Daredevil, and further on to Alan Moore’s work on Swamp Thing, we’ve always known how good comics could be, leading up to the explosive work done in the 1990s and beyond By Ellis, Ennis, Busiek, Ward, Millar, Morrison (and Moore all over again.) Writing is the key to all good superhero stories and it is only strong, sophisticated storytelling and character development that allows this genre to rise above simple power fantasies, which is what they are at their worst, and what they degenerate into far too often.

“Johnny Storm’s not going to stay dead anyway,” my friend said over the phone.
-And that’s the problem.

Nobody likes being played, and while kids and older dedicated readers may rush to the racks to buy up multiple copies, they will soon feel as cheated as I did 20 years ago, when Jean Grey returned from the dead, invalidating the significance of one of the longest and most meaningful story lines ever created in comic books up to that point. The death of Phoenix, which was in truth the suicide of Jean Grey, was a singular moment in superhero fiction that was the culmination of a long story told in various background events and subplots strung across many years. The ascension, corruption and then mortal capitulation of Jean Grey was writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne’s illustrated speculation about the nature of power and the dissolute psychology that attends all supremacy, real or imagined. This story was all the more important in the world of the 1980s where two nations, and possibly just two men, held the ability to destroy the world in their hands. That was a meaningful, well written story. It made the X-Men into a superhero comic book of note. It was also a best seller for Marvel.

"There's nothing like a dead superhero to dredge up press and sales," wrote Scott Thill of WIRED on the Underwire blog. And he’s right; nothing sells like death, even the fatal demise of fictional characters apparently.

The question remains, will the inspired/angry fans lighting up the internet care about this latest predictable resurrection in waiting… as they cared for Superman, Batman, and Captain America?

Those were stunts too.

I refused to go along then, and I keep getting told it has more to do with my age than anything else… curiously I haven’t outgrown the need for a good story, or a meaningful adventure with a profound ending. So here’s an idea for a stunt that Marvel and DC should try: Free writers up to write good comic book stories…

Just try it, it used to work all the time.