Looking back: [Arguably] The First Mojo Wire

• Tuesday, September 29, 2009 0 comments
I posted the following note on Facebook on May 5, 2008, and though it predates The Mojo Wire by about five months, I consider it the first step towards starting this blog. I re-print it here, partly for that reason, and partly because I find some poetic justice giving the story of my sudden eviction a new home. --The Management.

I feel like a refugee tonight -- which is to be expected really, after having only a handful of hours to stack my most prized possessions into a becoming pile of leather suitcases and cardboard boxes. Notice was given mid-day, of course, and twelve hours are not exactly what anyone would call 'fair warning,' it was certainly enough to keep the ordeal from being the bad dash it would eventually become.

But I've never functioned well under immediate pressure -- no, I'm one of those fun, worn-down, self-deprecating, hyphen-junkies who's best work is done well after all hope is lost, and the only possibility is a eleventh hour save that'll only make you look more badass in a sideways, "I'm getting too old for this crap," Indiana Jones sort of way.

So for whatever reason, be it shock, laundry, or paralytic apathy, I didn't even get started shoving black t-shirts and flannel into my old sea chest until well into the night, when even my dear lady love, may she get well soon, had decided her Saturday had went on quite long enough. Which is not to say I got no sleep at all -- this would just be madness during such an emotionally trying time, and I managed to doze off for a couple ours in the mid-morning, giving my bed one last hurrah after downing a cup of coffee that would either keep it to a short nap, or give me the sort of screamer nightmares reserved for art students unfortunate enough to mix malt-liquor with herbal viagra.

I did it though, the pile by my [former] front door standing as either a proud tribute to nomadic thrift, or the heartbreaking pain of a materialistic part-time idolater leaving a chunk of his livelihood behind. There really is so much to go back for later -- Clerks figures, signed crap galore, DVD cases which might once more be displayed on a shelf [as opposed to their discs only being displayed in a 100+ count slipcase], an old Teddy bear even now I figure I should have taken, coats no longer worn but still loved, a Pulp Fiction disc MIA, and a scarf made by a girl who loved me once. And that's not to even mention the books, and the comics, and the plethora of things most of my ilk would have grasped in a tight kung-fu grip, and dragged along behind themselves as they were forcibly removed from the premises. But no, not me... for now, we wait. It will all be still be there tomorrow, at least. And hopefully, come tomorrow, the same sentiment will be true again.

Not that I was totally sensible in moving. It's May for god's sake, and I'm not going to need my winter coat anytime soon, but be damned if I wouldn't bring it along if I'd just be reassigned to work a calendar kiosk in hell. Same for my crooked Afgan, the two couch throws [even though I no longer have a couch], the books I've already read that like some teenage girl or college professor I have to have near -- lots of dead weight being carried today. And some of the stuff is sentimental and necessary; a wooden box, a note, a finger puppet, a mug, fat comic books that take up more room than I'd like. No discussion. Room had to be made.

Could anyone do this? I'm not saying I'm anything special, the only one capable of lashing things together and moving on, but... what would you do? Look around your room, house, apartment, eight-by-ten cell... What would stay? What would go? What if it was different from me, what if going back was even less certain -- maybe impossible? Clothes, dishes, books, towels, this gift from this person, but not this gift from this person? Maybe you'd never see this thing again, but you could bring it and another, if only you'd take out something big. Be pragmatic, be sentimental. Either way, be materialistic. Admit this thing is more important than that. Weigh the slight of object, to the worth of another.

Maybe I'm overreacting. It seems cruel to me, a trial that I wouldn't want to put anyone through, even in the mildly tame way I experienced it. Even those who in my mind I consider "perfect victims" -- a special few in this world who I'd wish no end of ill will upon, in most cases, those girls from "The Hills," hardly seem deserving. Granted that episode could be hilarious, but still.

Just conjecturing is hard. I suppose girls might have an easier go at it -- underwear is smaller, thongs, hell, even boy shorts don't taking up near the room boxers do. And so much of the female process seems prepared to take on the go -- makeup kits, purses, etc. Old picture of the Red Cross come to mind, the readiness of the female will to have everything they'd ever need stuffed into a canvas bag. Still.

It's not all bad. I made it, there's takeout food in walking distance, and MTV2, truly all a man might need to be happy. And I'm moved in comfortably enough, playing well the part of the gentlemanly guest, and tomorrow I might even hang something up -- perhaps the truest act of arrival, the modern equivalent of raising a flag, or killing the natives.

But it’s too soon, and too late, and I simply can't commit to such a committal yet. Unpacking is just going back over all those things left behind.

The Mojo Wire: One Year Later

• Monday, September 28, 2009 2 comments
On September 28, 2008, one year ago today, I started the Mojo Wire. The first entry is still there of course, titled "The First Kiss Cuts the Deepest," a reference to the Zombina and the Skeletones song of the same name. I don't recall if the song was on at the time, or if it was just on my mind, or if I just thought the title fit well with the idea of an inaugural post -- hell, I wouldn't even doubt that somewhere in my twisted mind I saw something romantic about starting this blog [re: kiss], or thought that by implying this was somehow already important to me [re: deepest], that I wouldn't abandon it.

In the beginning, I saw this as an experiment. I hesitate to call it that, of course, because the word "experiment" almost immediately brings to mind "social experiment" which, since my college years, has become code language for acting like a total dick to provoke a reaction but having a clever excuse to get out of actually being labeled a dick [which, by the way, effectively renders you a weekend warrior of douche baggery, and insults those of us who've tried to take being an asshole to a professional level. Get off the field, for god's sake]. And this never felt like something that I needed an easy out for. Honestly, there are numerous reasons not to do a blog, many of them cataloged here, and many more out there on the internet, filled with inane chatter, bad spelling, and no purpose.

"Masturbatory." That word is still in my profile, there at the side of the page. A blog very much is masturbatory. There's a level of self-importance to this that, in the beginning, I wasn't comfortable with, and the "look-at-me!" mindset is hard for me, not because I don't want attention, but ironically because I do. So much of my life has been about getting people to notice me, and often in the most backward-ass ways I could possibly think of. Maybe this was just too straightforward for me? It's hard to say. But I liked the idea of having the soapbox, even though I wasn't crazy about being "one of those guys" up on their soapbox. Still not, on some level. Sometimes, I'm all too comfortable, though, and I think, thus far, that conflict is good. When it's not there anymore, I'll worry.

But that conflict wasn't what kept me going. I'm not entirely sure what did. I think, in part, having a purpose for this spot was helpful. I largely started the blog because of the conversations I was having with Justin at the time, about staying focused, about producing work, about getting things done when all your "deadlines" are made-up or self-imposed. Answering to yourself is a difficult, because while I'm awfully hard on myself a lot of the time, I also tend to let myself slide a lot too, and having a space where I basically laid down "this is what I'm doing, this is what I'm having trouble doing, this is what I want to do..." it made all these projects more permanent. It was like I'd made a public commitment to do something, and because of that, I had to keep working, and perhaps more important, keep focused.

Not that I was under the delusions that anyone was reading, or at least not anyone who was going to hold me to my weird promises about half-ideas I posted here. In the beginning, the idea was to keep people from reading this, actually, and I kept the Mojo Wire a secret, more or less, out of fear that I would decide to walk away, and I didn't want anyone to give me grief about it. "Oh, Randall made such a big deal out of starting this blog, and then didn't stick with it -- again." That wasn't something I wanted to worry about, so I kept my trap shut about it, and when it would come up, it was just something I was tinkering with, something I wasn't sure was going to "stick." It did. I'm glad it did. And when a Facebook privacy snafu made it public, I honestly didn't mind anymore. I'd made it a couple of months -- I didn't think I was going to stop now. So I told people about it. On John's suggestion, I put up the Sitemeter, and watched the few visitors trickle in. Didn't matter -- which isn't to say I'm not glad for the people who do read, I am -- it's just by this point, I'd been at it alone long enough that I knew who I was doing this for. I was writing here for me.

I guess in a lot of ways, the blog has become about my needs. A year ago, I didn't just need to focus, I needed an outlet. My family life and my personal life were a mess. An entry I'd done about my parents break-up and my eviction from my house on Facebook had helped, and actually helped a lot. I'll probably be re-posting it later in the week, because if anything was precursor to some of the stuff I've done in the last year, it'd be this. Later notes on Facebook, many of them done in a semi-gonzo, Hunter Thompson-style were equally cathartic, and made me think something like an online journal could take the edge off of things. In a few cases since starting this blog, I think things have even been a little more dire than even I was willing to admit. Nothing worth dwelling on, but definitely something that makes me glad I had this place to come to, whether just to distract myself, or vent.

And a lot of those entries, well, they're embarrassing, and they're usually followed by long apologies. But they're still there, you notice. Almost nothing's been deleted from the blog, actually, save for a little cleanup here and there. A year ago, I wasn't even sure if honesty was going to play into this much. Short of keeping track of what I was working on, my life's not terribly interesting, and some fiction might have been preferable to some of my doldrums.

Of course, looking back, I really wasn't sure of what I was going to do here. The production diary thing was an early conceit which became really important to keep, and I'd still call a driving force behind this blog. Talking about my process was going to be a big part too, since I just like doing that, and am still fascinated about how I get from point A to B. Some have suggested this isn't very healthy, and I more or less agree. But we all deserve a few bad habits.

Other things I tried never took hold. I attempted political commentary -- and that didn't go anywhere. I talked some about personal quirks that irked me, and daily annoyances, but even to my surprise I've eased up on that a great deal. In a lot of cases, what pisses me off either isn't worth the trouble, or just isn't very interesting when stated so plainly. I feel like I skate too close to boring most of the time as it is, so I don't need to actively pursue it. And if I'm going to bitch, I should at least earn it, with some good points or a couple of laughs. I'll never take the personal out of this blog entirely, but I think I've eased up on it as far as certain aspects of my life and social interactions go. And all those movie reviews I thought would eventually turn up? It turns out I'm just critical; but not really a proper critic.

None of this I miss, of course. Probably better they didn't stick around, all told. The things I regret not having more of are equally asinine too, actually, but reading over old entries I find myself personally wishing there were more of them. Occasionally, I wrote about my dreams and nightmares here; many of them that I no longer recall having, and their content interests me greatly today. I've entertained making a second blog for them, or just writing them down when I get up in the morning, but honestly there's still a little too much ridiculousness involved in starting a "dream journal."

It also bugs me that there's so little reference to music here. In the past year, I've really rediscovered music, both old stuff I'd missed, and new stuff that I would have never found had I not had the time that insomnia has afforded me to look. I could never add the "listening to" header to this blog, of course, as the that option has always skated a little too close to making the Mojo Wire look like your run of the mill Livejournal. And as generic as the site currently looks, that is a step against professionalism that even I can't seem to make myself take. Still, I wish I'd talked more about what I was listening to, and why, because it does seem to impact my writing a lot, and I'd really hope that my work diaries would have reflected this better.

Something that has stuck? The links. I just can't help myself from linking things -- to the point that I've practically ignored the option of a sidebar full of them so I can occasionally take a day and just throw up an address to this site, or that blog. It's addictive, and it tends to get me some extra traffic from time to time as well, which is just incredibly cool, especially since that isn't the reason I do it at all. It almost becomes like a game, one where the more you talk about others, the more others talk about you. I'm always surprised more people don't try it from time-to-time.

And posting work -- the little bit of prose I put up [Method to Madness, folks], the scripts I've posted for people to read, and stuff like character sheets and outlines, which are not often seen with a finished product, all of that has found a nice home here. "Nova" was a project more or less born from the fact that I was willing to just put something I worked on out there, and someone who I likely wouldn't have shown it to otherwise [Kyle] decided it was a worthwhile script to pursue. We're filming next spring.

The Mojo Wire has become a hub for things I'm collaborating with people on. "Calamity Cash" has triangulated between myself, Justin, and Laura here since almost the beginning, and a lot of information as it concerns "Nova" and "Trendsetter" has its home base right here. I've even gotten good feedback on solo projects, just because people have found them here, and been willing to contact me, and tell me what they think. Even with social networks like Facebook, this blog has been a great way to stay connected.

And most importantly, this blog has been honored to be a shrine to two men who've left us this year. With Steven, I lost someone I saw as a father figure, and I was able to spend a lot of time here, thinking about what he meant to me, and sharing stories about him. In turn, other people came to me, and told me about their own experiences, and I connected and reconnected with so many because of it. I don't know if anyone would consider this a proper memorial, but with all the distance that separated those of us who knew Bach, it was the best we could do. I hope it was enough.

Then Dad died. So much still to say about that. Some of what I wanted to say is here. Some isn't. But even one recollection of him here is worth a million to me. And there will likely be more. I miss you, Dad.

I could go on, about death, about changes and progress. A part of me feels like blogging for a year probably isn't worth all this to-do, and that I'm being silly for spending so much time talking about it. And there are also so many people to thank -- not today, though I will, later in the week, I promise. But for today, this post is for the blog, and for myself. For keeping at it.

For another year. For a lot more years, I hope. But who even knows.

Cheers. More soon.

Not sleepin', might as well be postin'.

• Sunday, September 27, 2009 0 comments
The title pretty much sums it up.

I actually had a master plan for all this. Monday I have a day out with Mom scheduled, and since that Monday is the big anniversary for the Mojo Wire, I had this idea in my head I'd shoot for a good night's sleep tonight, and then pull an all-nighter Sunday, using that extra time to do a post about the past [first] year and be up at a normal person's hour the next morning so things could get done. Instead, I'm awake now, which will probably mean sleeping tomorrow night, which will probably me... I don't know. Something. I'll cross that bridge when I get there. It probably speaks volumes about me that when faced with one day of functioning before noon, I feel the need to just push on through the whole night.

I actually expected to write more here this week. The anniversary of my first year since graduation was sort of devastating for me, if only for how anticlimactic it seemed, and what at the time I saw as a lack of progress towards my goals was very difficult to deal with. I think when I started this blog, I had a similar mindset, one of "oh what a failure I will be if in one year's time nothing has changed," and I expected a lot of panic and hair-splitting as the day approached. But I think somewhere my outlook shifted a little. There have been a lot of reminders lately that "change" and "progress" are not necessarily synonymous, and though I it has crossed my mind, I don't expect Monday to usher in great feelings of failure or accomplishment. It's a milestone certainly, but not in the grand, defining moment sort of way, and more just in the line of demarcation. If there is any great success here, it's that I've managed to keep it up for a year.

I might still get sentimental once The Mojo Wire: Year 2 gets underway. So don't hold me to any of this, naturally.

This past week has been spent thinking and talking more than writing, honestly. I have a pretty solid outline for the next "Real Quality Comics" issue, but I'm worried about the length of the story and that's kept me from getting a proper start on it. Hopefully I'll be able to break through that invisible wall soon. I've also been taking "The Familiar" out on walks with me, reading it in some of the places I put in the screenplay. Whether that'll yield any different results, I'm not sure, but I feel closer to it, which is never a bad thing.

I spoke with Kyle over the phone about "Nova," and we seem to still be on track, though he's having some difficulties with his other job right now, and there's no reason on my end to push anything. The script is finished, I'm actually pretty pleased with what I have, and expect any final changes to happen either on set or in the editing room. It looks like the DP we want will be freeing up soon, so I expect "Nova" to move forward a little faster after that, but right now the important thing is that nothing has changed, and we're still on our intended schedule.

Justin and I talked for a little bit too, and it looks like the page count for "Calamity Cash and the Town with No Name" has worked out perfectly for printing. It'll be a monster 52 pages, the absolute most allowed for a staple binding [where we're looking to print], which after my script went so far over I consider almost serendipitous. Nice to have something work out of a change, to be sure.

Finally, I'd like to link the website of Peter Wonsowski. PW! is an artist I discovered through the Autumn Society, and I just really enjoy his artwork and encourage anyone reading to go and check out his website. He recently left a comment over on my post about Dana Stevens, and I thought that was really cool of him, especially since I so rarely know who is reading. Which isn't an indictment of anyone, I should point out. Blog comments are sometimes a daunting task.

Cheers. Look for a post Sunday night/Monday.

Another new Cash sketch.

• Thursday, September 24, 2009 0 comments
Justin has new sketch up for the comic [Re: Calamity Cash and the Town with No Name]. Go check out it, it looks pretty good.

Tried to sleep, maybe got about an hour. Sinuses are killing me, can hardly breath, thought maybe getting up, moving around a bit might help. Couldn't really come up with anything pleasant to talk about here though, what with my head feeling about three sizes bigger than it's supposed to be. And my tissue box has monkeys on it.

Ugh. Monkeys.

Real Quality Comic's #1 -- Illustrator Wanted.

• Tuesday, September 22, 2009 0 comments
Real Quality Comics #1 -- The script's finished, download it here.

This has been done for about a week, give or take, but I wanted to wait and post it on a Monday or Tuesday for better visibility [I get zero traffic on weekends]. I don't really expect the flashy title to get me much Google attention, but certain search terms have drawn visitors here in the past, so I figure it's worth a try. And if you are an illustrator, looking to be a comic book artist, feel free to download the above script, and if you're interested get in contact with me either in the comments section of this post, on Facebook, or at mojo.wire.productions@gmail.com for more information.

And if you're not an artist, but you're reading this and know someone who might interested in working on a comic, feel free to pass them this script, or send them my contact info. I'd really appreciate it.

Otherwise, I'm still not sure how I'm going to go about finding a new illustrator to work with. A few methods spring to mind -- Deviant Art was recently suggested to me, though I know going there can tend to get a little... ah, hairy [re: furry], and there are so many portfolios over there that working through the bulk of them might take more free time than even I have. Blogspot also seems promising, and if I make any headway I'll be sure to write about my results here. Still, I'm up for suggestions if anyone has any, as this is a "problem" I've been trying to work out for awhile now, and really haven't come up with much on my own.

A few other notes about the above-mentioned script -- if you're one of the three people who read the first draft, don't worry about bothering with this one. The changes are marginal, mostly just fixing typos and making things clearer for the reader and the artist. Since the whole idea was to try and work on an industry timeline, it didn't seem fair to obsess over this and make too many sweeping changes, and besides, I'm actually pretty pleased with what this does.

But if you are interested in seeing what I've been working on, or want to help me come up with a title for the story, then feel free to download this and tell me what you think. Yes, I am pretty much finished with this story, and probably won't be making changes on the draft based on any comments, but I will be beginning work on the script for Issue #2 soon, so knowing what I need to do better, or what people would be interested in seeing more of would be a big help. Again, Facebook, e-mail, or my comments section are fine for anything you have for me.

As for Real Quality Comics #2, I have a pretty good outline, and will probably be getting started soon. But I have a few other things I need to work on too [re: The Familiar], and maybe a couple of healthy distractions coming up, so I might wait and see if there's some interest in the first script before I rush to do others. Of course, the first one didn't take me too long to crank out [which has sort of the idea], so who knows? Could be a script for a second issue as early as next week, though I think another month would be a smarter estimate.

Cheers.

Cash sketches slipped by me.

• Sunday, September 20, 2009 0 comments
Justin put up a new sketch from the comic [re: Calamity Cash and the Town with No Name] on his blog Thursday, which somehow I overlooked.

This is actually a pretty important place in the comic, essentially my "all-bets-are-off/shit-hits-the-fan" type moment, where the confused good guys stop fighting amongst themselves, and prepare to face off against a particularly nasty group of hombres that are on their way into town. You'll find moments like these in most stories, they're practically mandatory as far as 3 Act structure goes, but here it felt especially important because of the nature of the character of Tana Cash.

I wouldn't say I've struggled to get her down, but with any character it's good to a couple of baseline attributes, and with Tana that's always been the idea of her being a sort of force of nature. The upside to that characterization is you can treat her like you would a Dirty Harry, a John Rambo, or a Frank Castle -- effectively excusing [even celebrating] a lot of the single mindedness in her actions, while allowing those around her, and the readers, to see her almost as they would a folk hero. The hope is that by doing this, you can still treat your subject semi-realistically, while occasionally busting out kick-ass comic book action sequences.

The problem with a "force of nature" character is that they're very hard to refocus on something once you've cut them loose, and an "it's on" moment becomes all the more important, to make the sudden change of heart and mind seem believable. I think it comes off here pretty well [if I do say so myself], though I do tend to lean pretty hard on Cash's concern for her daughter, which is a bit Spielberg-y, but still effective. In the long term, when more Calamity Cash stories come, I'd like to rely on it a little less, as the daughter in danger/damsel in distress bit doesn't really capture the thrust of what I'd like to do with the characters, though I'd be lying if I didn't think it's going to come up on occasion.

Anyway, enjoy the sketches. As usual, Justin's work is impeccable, and I can't wait to see the finished pages.

Dana Stevens told me she really liked my writing.

• Thursday, September 17, 2009 4 comments
I had kind of a cool morning.

For people who don't know Dana Stevens, she's a columnist for the Slate Magazine, and an absolutely wonderful movie critic, who I've sort of come to swear by since discovering the website a little over a year ago. Our tastes just tend to be pretty similar, and I've come to trust her reviews well enough that I've even taken chances on ass-killers like "The Baader Meinof Complex" just because she said they were worthwhile [and, no surprise, Meinof was]. In some cases I even kind of regard her as my movie conscience, confident that since she's tackling some of the thorny problems of movies like "Inglourious Basterds" that I don't have to feel quite so bad about overlooking their flaws to enjoy them as much as I do. Which probably sounds odd, but it does help me relax a little more at the movies.

The point is I really respect her opinions and taste, and enjoy her writing style. Her reviews are always must-reads, and I've even taken to following her on Twitter [Re: thehighsign]. Once or twice lately I've even commented on some of her posts, and when she put together a pretty insightful obit for the recently departed Patrick Swayze [one of Dad's absolute favorites], I felt I had to tell her I how much I liked it. Plus anyone who touts "Roadhouse" and "Point Break" deserves major kudos.

I don't tend to expect responses from anyone other than my friends on Twitter. As far as celebrities, journalists, comic people and other writers go, I don't tend to hear back. Even Kevin Smith, who has active Q&A's there at times has never responded to me, and it's not really a great blow. So imagine my surprise when I woke up this morning and found this on my wall:

thehighsign: @themojowire Thanks a lot. I wandered over to your blog last night (insomnia-driven websurfing) and I really like your writing.

This just made my day. I mean, the obvious reasons are, of course, it's flattering to know people are reading sometimes, and it's nice to get complimented. And I've always gotten a little charge out of insomniac's solidarity too. But also, I've said to people before, if this movie thing works out, if something I write gets made someday, I really hope Stevens reviews it. Even if she hated it, you know, I could use that, use it to improve, like Steven used to say. And while this is not exactly that, it's a really cool place for praise to come from, especially now, as I'm nearing the end of the blog's first year. A little positive reinforcement is always pretty rad.

We had a short exchange on Twitter, and she was very complimentary, and sent condolences about Dad, which was nice of her. I went back and forth over doing a post here about it, because I didn't want it to seem like I was geeking out, but the honest fact is that, yes, I am a little, and also the whole thing was very flattering. And I want to remember that Dana Stevens read my blog, and the Twitter wall is just slightly...disposable, still.

In other news, I finished up on what should be the final draft of "Real Quality Comics #1," and I'll probably be posting it in the next couple of days, maybe with a flashy title advertising the fact that I'm in the market for an illustrator again. I mentioned before I have an outline for the second one, but I also need to get back to work on "The Familiar," especially now that I have the ink to make a paper copy of the script [very Dickensian life I lead sometimes]. I'm sure I'll be back here to talk about whatever I decide.

My project right now is reading "Pride and Prejudice" as quickly and as thoroughly as possible, as my kid brother is covering it in AP English and asked me to help him a little. It's funny, even with my big, bad Bennington College degree with its focus in Literature, I managed to avoid Jane Austen for the entirety of my academic career. Which I should point out was a bad decision on my part, and even sort of a head-scratcher considering what I tend to write. But I'm getting to Austen now, and am appropriately charmed, at least as much as I was with "Emma" and the half of "Persuasion" I read before Aaron asked me if I'd read "Pride" yet. So I put the more serious book on hold, and knocked this one up on my reading list, and even found out I feel less bad about that when it's for the same author. And to give someone a hand.

Cheers.

Johnny Appleseed [Re: Randy and Randall]

• Tuesday, September 15, 2009 0 comments

This picture was taken in June of 2008, at our family reunion. I found it tucked away inside a book while I was doing some cleaning. I'm not much of a picture person, and the few I do have tend to get stowed away, but I thought posting something with Dad and I together might be important, especially after writing about him so much. And it's not a bad picture of either of us.

It's getting close to five months now. Not a whole lot easier. Maybe tomorrow.

New Hooverville

• Sunday, September 13, 2009 0 comments
[This is the original, unpolished version of "New Hooverville." I left it here as a curiosity, so people can see how the work progressed if they want to - however, the version I consider finished, and the piece I'm really proud of, can be read here under the heading "New Hooverville DX" ... though naturally, the DX (for "Deluxe") isn't actually part of the title. -- The Management.]

It was 2 a.m., but the fires outside of my trailer were already burning. I, meanwhile, struggled with my own fire, or lack thereof, my disappointingly wet matches refusing to spark and give me a proper shot at the half pack of Pall Malls I traded for earlier. With every fizzle, I felt god’s anger, not just at myself for leaving the matchbook out, but also at flighty, plain-looking girl who’d passed me the pack in exchange for the airplane glue I’d had on my person.


I tried again, to no avail. Each defeat seemed somehow her responsibility, as if the very idea of having an evening smoke would not have occurred to me, had she not provided me with the object of my addiction. I pictured her, braless in her parka, squinting at that tiny, half-rolled bottle of adhesive, not blind, but studious. My first thought was that she was keen on it for getting high; but I was new here. Such a mistake was to be expected.

Anxious and out of matches, I curse Surtr and head back outside, not entirely sure if the rising panic in my throat was in desire for a light, or a chance to swear wildly at the girl who’d done this to me. A stupid, brilliant private school beauty, just one of many with no interest in me, at all until she realized I carried art supplies, as though they were relics straight from my editor’s personal supply closet. And they were, of course, as much as I could carry, and it was the least that sad-eyed slave driver could do, after sending me out here. Go west, young man, she said, and bring back tales of the bohemian tent city. Explain to us this New Hooverville.

Four weeks later and the only thing I can say for sure is that no one in the camps likes the title “Hooverville.” The best of them of them wish it had been called “The Bush,” and hold tight to the moniker, using it not unlike a forty-five year old hitting his midlife-crisis would use "cool," so sure that with enough repetition, it will stick. A few of the more history minded among the camps appreciate the reference, of course, though even they agree that if the depression era cardboard cities were to bear the name of the man responsible – Herbert Hoover, then it is only fair that these stand in eponymous tribute to the ex-President who drove this generation into the ground.

Ah, this generation. Perhaps even that is unfair. Though New Hooverville boasts a population of upwards of 5,000 people, all of them young, from twenty to twenty-five, it is a misnomer to categorize them as an entire generation. Indeed, among their age-group, most stumbled out of college to get entry level jobs far below the status their degrees promised. And though insulted, these new adults were willing to swallow their pride, clock in, and join the real world – nine to five, or eight to seven, or even twelve to twelve, all for the compensation of paupers, and the promise of something better tomorrow. Indeed, that is likely this generation.

But that is not what the media sees – indeed, what the media, and the country at large has taken to noticing is this vocal minority, the residence of New Hooverville, called fondly by the more risqué publications “Generation Couldn’t Give a Shit.” It, like the name of the makeshift camps, is an identity everyone is still getting used to. Some here proudly claim in, emblazon it on parked vans, paint it on canvas tents, and even self-tattoo it, with borrowed ink and improvised needles or, if supplies don’t permit, any sharp object that might make the mantra permanently visible on the skin. And those I’ve met with such scar tissue have intimated to me but one regret – that perhaps a shorter phrase could have been found.

Others feel the title is just as inappropriate as the camp town’s name. “It’s easy to say we don’t care,” Shawnee Gratta, a recently graduated Political Science major claims. “People just look at us, and decide that we’re too young, and we can’t possibly be trying to make a statement. We’re just lazy.” Shawnee is one of the few citizens of New Hooverville willing to offer a quote – her background in sociology meant she was quick to see significance in my arrival. She tells me she considered journalism, after graduating, but in her last year had discovered pottery was her real passion. She wants to make sure I don’t get it wrong.

Exiting my trailer, I see her from across the way. The rain has turned the camp into a ridiculous mud pit, but Shawnee is more than able to get to me before I’ve wandered in too far without her. It is, of course, my own fault; remembering weekend getaways from my youth, I was too busy recalling the great pain and colorful language it took my father to light a fire even in a metal pit. But the water has not seemed to stop the people here. Indeed, they call it the only guarantee of New Hooverville – the campfires will burn every night. Gratta reaches me before I make a move to light a cigarette in one. She has something she wants me to see, and promises that on the way I’ll get my fix.

Traversing the camp is what you might expect – huddled masses of muddy, half-naked twenty-somethings, swearing and shivering and smiling, and yes, even making out, under quilts and parkas and torn sleeping bags, all of which have seen better days. The scene is like some sort of perverse Woodstock, hippies and hipsters and beat-wannabes standing, sitting, and shitting shoulder to shoulder among tents, burnt-out trailers [mine was provided by the publishers], and lean-tos. I look for familiar faces, but it is dark, and in the fire light even the best eyes can play tricks on you. It seems the longer I am here, the less folks I recognize. Before snubbing me completely, Ryan Sook explained it.

“No one should call this a home,” he said, eyeing me, nonetheless, like a trespasser. “We’re a half-way home, a check point, some place to stop over on your own journey.” I pause, remembering someone told me that Sook himself had been here almost three years – since New Hooverville first appeared. When I put this to him, he only grimaces.

“Look, I wasn’t here, if that’s what you’re saying. But the folks before me? They had it figured. I mean, it’s like roommates. If two can live more cheaply than one, with no threat of eviction…” He smiles. “What are they going to do, throw us all out?”

Though I’m not sure Sook knows, it was certainly discussed. I spent three weeks on Capitol Hill, listening to endless rhetoric about juvenile delinquency – ridiculous as almost no one in the camps are anything but post-grads, and public nuisance, which might have made a better case if not for the fact that they all mostly kept to themselves. And the President wasn’t about to come out against them, especially when so much of his election seemed to have hinged upon that youth vote. And vocal minority or not, the last thing anyone wanted was the National Guard busting heads and uniting the rest of America’s twenty-somethings with these art school yahoos. Though sources will go unnamed, right up until the night of the final vote on the “Public Dispersal Bill,” which ultimately failed, several high ranking officials were hoping that New Hooverville might go the way of Spahn Ranch and give DC a Sharon Tate-sized reason to get rid of these kids.

No such violence took place. Indeed, it’s hard to find anyone willing to do violence in the camps – unless it’s against themselves. One friend I’ve made here, besides Gratta, was the relatively down-to-earth Ron Twill. Ronnie caught my eye mostly for how odd he looked among the residents – baggy pants, a hooded sweatshirt, and medical bandages – wrapped tight around both hands and covering down his forearms.

“I just got down,” he said, seemingly sure anyone would understand how that connected to the boxer’s breaks in his hands. Unlike others, he didn’t mind me pressing him. “I was writing. I mean, I’ve been here about a year. Put a lot of stuff together, and had only really started sending it out.” But the rejection letters soon came, a reality of the outside world which was easy to forget in the camps. “I just sort of lost it. I hauled off and took it all out on a tree. I think we were in the emergency room all night. I felt like such a child.”

It’s a sentiment you hear often in New Hooverville. Perhaps not in so many words, perhaps not even in the negative, but this question of who is an adult, and who is a child permeates this place. One girl, who I saw more my first few days, claimed she was only here because of her lack of success in the job market, post-college. “I sort of fail at being an adult,” she said, and now she spends her days here, painting. Shawnee too is always expressing to me how she doesn’t want this place to be viewed as some kind of “collective temper tantrum.” No one is here because they don’t want to be on their own, because they don’t want to live in the adult world. They just don’t want to trade any of their passions for a place there.

Rather, they have instead chosen to trade pieces of the adult world for their passions. This vocal minority, art school graduates and Shakespeare majors, writers, and painters, and sculptures have decided if the economy of the post college world has no room for them to make a living at what they love, then in the name of their loves they will make no living. They stay here, in New Hooverville, and trade paints and booze, and drugs and food, build homemade kilns and makeshift print machines. They hide here, among friends, where financial aid dare not tread, and protect and help each other. And they go penniless, and many go without food, and yes, for the sake of necessity, so much of their art is lost, as to keep their dreams alive they must spend nights huddled around fires burning bright with fuel of canvas and turpentine. They starve here for the only reason starving artists should – principle and passion.

Shawnee eventually leads me to an overhang, where perhaps a hundred or so citizens of New Hooverville stand around a much different fire, this one handheld and emanating from a butane torch. Wielding it was an emaciated man I knew only by reputation, who everyone called “Twitch” with a concerned look on his face, as if he were very ill, and needed tending after. In this moment, he was working diligently on something I couldn’t quite see, but the crowd stood transfixed as sparks flew out from under his enclosure. This Prometheus did not seem to need coddling.

Scenes like this were not hard, and I wanted a cigarette more than I wanted to see one more monolith made of scrap iron, and then dismantled for a different project the following day. But Shawnee insisted, less that I stay, and more that I hold her hand, and we watched for hours, her occasionally looking over to me, as if to illustrate that what went on now had far greater weight than any interview New Hooverville might provide. So we stayed, far into the night, until finally the torchlight began to fade, and die. And with the finality befitting his performance, Twitch threw down his torch, and shrank, skulking off to the side.

In that moment I realized, had he wept, they might have all ran to his side. But Twitch did not, and instead crowd moved forward, like a wave towards the weak pillars of the overhang. And as all those artists, writers, failures, and deviants crested against it, and the wood twisted and shook, and folded before them, while Twitch’s masterpiece stood revealed. And there were audible gasps; and finally, Twitch cried.

It was nothing I hadn’t expected – a great ball of scrap, welded panel to panel, rusted and perfectly round. A metal monolith over a one story tall, tragic to look at, but only in the sense that the materials might well have fetched enough money to feed the entirety of New Hooverville for a few days more. And that was, of course, the point, that here they had built a new world, where when the decision came down to life or art, the choice was always the latter.

Or, at the very least, the choice was a choice, to a whole generation who thought it hadn’t been.

As morning came, Shawnee left me, feeling she’d imparted her lesson, and needing desperately to be a part of the harem that looked after the ailing Twitch. Returning to the trailer crossed my mind, but I suddenly felt dissatisfied by my assignment, my deadline, and the she-beast of an editor, breathing down my neck from thousands of miles away. So I stayed there, by their new world, and waited.

Eventually, I am rejoined by Twitch, not for company, but for the sake of his work, which several hours later he has decided is far from finished. Something to him is not quite right, and he has decided it is worth another day without food, without sleep, and he is not deterred that the rain has started again. The weather especially seems to make no difference, as if by magic the sculptor manages to relight his torch again.

Indeed, the only thing that seems to give him pause is I, your humble journalist, and we stand in silences, studying each other for a moment. Finally, I just ask.

“Light?”

Postcard from Blackrock

• Friday, September 11, 2009 2 comments

I got this postcard in the mail yesterday from my friend Hannah. The caption on the back was as follows:

Nichols!

I figured you probably have a dearth of crazy dirty hippies down there, so this postcard alone should help with that. Tonight I may fight in Thunderdome (yes, I am serious) or visit the flamethrower shooting gallery before returning to our masked ball.

Love, Hannah

One bright spot in a couple of bad days.

Cheers.

Rough day, few updates, and 1 Year of Mojo...

• Tuesday, September 8, 2009 2 comments
Today hasn't been one of my better ones. I haven't been sleeping much since last week [shocker, there], and this morning was used mostly to repay a little of my ever-expanding sleep debt. Rolled out of bed about two, far later than I intended, feeling not altogether anxious to get up, but not really knowing why. I felt a little irritable -- every off-the-cuff Facebook status message or response felt like a slight, and I found myself running past conversations over again in my head, and feeling upset, as though someone had been slyly badmouthing me, and I'd only just noticed. They hadn't, and of course I recognized this, but it made me feel surly. I opted to stay in bed a bit longer, and took some time to catch up on some e-mails and reading,

When I finally ventured out, dinner conversation didn't improve things much; my grandmother's cousin is in town, which is actually really wonderful, and gives grandma something to do and a chance to take her mind off things. However, a sad but unfix-able aspect to any visiting relative now is a lot of talk about Dad, talk that I don't have as much control over. Which is not to paint myself as a control freak, per se, but it's still a delicate enough subject at times that I like to be able to say "I'm done with this," at least momentarily. Instead, there was another walk through of events on the day he died, which didn't help the anxiety attack that had apparently disguised itself as morning [early afternoon] crabbiness.

About an hour ago the feeling abated, but I still did my best to avoid people and not take any drastic action. I've been trying to work out the second issue of "Real Quality Comics," which I had an idea for about a day after finishing the previous one, but have as yet been unable to come up with an outline for. I was no more successful today, but considering my mood, I wasn't surprised, nor did I blame myself all that much for it. A little later, an episode of "Gangland" came on, a show I've been a little taken with since I watched "Bastards of the Party" on HBO a year or so back. Feeling inspired, and a little distracted, I worked out a rough treatment for an idea I've been kicking around awhile, called "Bad Guys."

"Bad Guys" is a movie idea I had while working at the book store last winter. At the time it wasn't much, sort of just an independent movie-type love story about a guy who runs guns from Nashville to New York, working with a real detestable piece of shit while in Nashville, while dating a woman who worked in legal aid and public defense. Working on it, I found my Tarantino sensibilities made the bits with the scumbags and their customers far more interesting to write than the love story, and when I realized that the whole of the script was going to just be long conversations between felons, and short bursts of self-loathing. Plus, it was looking like it was going to clock in at just under forty pages, which meant some actual plot might be necessary, which I didn't have at the time.

I deleted what I had done [which wasn't very good], but kept my written notes. I've been thinking about them and looking them over a lot lately, and with the help of "Gangland," I think I might have a nice ensemble cast crime screenplay on my hands. The ending I have in mind isn't bad either, though I'm going to have to watch "No Country For Old Men" again, and make sure I'm not stealing it.

Anyway, I finished the treatment just over an hour ago. Nowhere near ready to get started yet, but a nice thing to put back, in case my interest is sparked again. I don't know if having the task helped calm me down [most of my friends would say it did, I feel somehow doubtful of that, though], or if I was just finally all panicked out for the day, but I started feeling better about 3:30. Physically, I'm exhausted, but my mind is buzzing now. So much for tonight.

Saw Justin this Sunday [re: Calamity Cash and the Town with No Name]. He and his girlfriend have just moved into a nice apartment in town. Been about a month or so since we've hung out, and he showed me the new pages [excerpts here], which really look amazing. Work is going a bit slower, because he's doing some temping, and might be starting another new job soon, and with the move and everything else, he needs time to get settled. At this point, there's really no rush on the project, and it turned out so huge and so much has gone on this year since we undertook the project that I'm just so happy it's survived, and it's turning out so well.

Another newsworthy thing [as if anything on this blog ever qualifies as news] is that on the 28th, the Mojo Wire will have officially been around for a full year. I've had a lot of thoughts on how to commemorate this, I've even considered that it might be more my style to blow past the anniversary completely, but I haven't decided anything yet. Looking through old entries, it crossed my mind to finally do that mission statement, but I think Ian might have made it so anything I came up with would look like self-parody. So we'll see. There is a part of me that feels I'd be doing a disservice to this space if I didn't do something, especially after the year this has been.

There's also hope that some writing will get done.

Shalom.

Marvel Team-Up: Disney Pt. 2

• Friday, September 4, 2009 5 comments
Like last time, some links to start us off:

Glen Weldon at NPR: Why Disney's Delicious Snack Cakes Don't Threaten Marvel's Golden Eggs.

Marv Wolfman weighs in.

And for giggle: An Imaginary Memo From Disney to Marvel. And Penny Arcade's take.

My previous post dealt primarily with the [known] business ramifications of Disney’s acquisition of Marvel Entertainment, and attempted to get to the heart of some of the fear [at least my own], and perhaps expose the origins of some of the public/fan outcry against this change. In the past couple of days a few new questions have been raised, such as the fate of Marvel’s existing contract with Universal Studios’ Islands of Adventure Theme Park, and the future of the exceptional “Spectacular Spider-Man” cartoon. Perhaps more troubling is the possibility of Disney choosing to self-distribute through Harper Collins over Diamond Distributors, a change which could easily alter the landscape of the direct market, and possibly end it completely [I find it funny I’ve only seen that mentioned here – but as much of a rag as Bleeding Cool can be, someone should be talking about this].

One of my biggest concerns regarding Disney’s purchase of the House of Ideas has very little to do with business, and is more about the future of comics, and what new management could mean for the continued improvement, or lack thereof, in the medium overall. I’ll also be looking at how, even though I’m very leery of Disney’s influence, it could, ironically enough, encourage the very sort of innovation I’m worried about it squashing.

It’s been my belief for some time now that comics, graphic novels, and other sequential literature are overdue for their own renaissance. Of all the manners of story-telling, few seem to still have the untapped potential comics do. One of my professors at Bennington, Chris Miller, would occasionally theorize that comics might be the last medium to as yet be explored to its full potential, and that always felt, to some degree true to me.

Graphical literature, particularly in America, has always been a little stunted. Often I blame Fredric Wertham’s “Seduction of the Innocent,” which eventually led to the Comics Code Authority, a set of rules so strict that only the simple morality tales of superheroes could survive in the market, thus allowing one genre to dominate mainstream comics. With “superheroes” more or less becoming synonymous with “comics,” the medium was largely and wrongfully disregarded as infantile and less diverse writers and artists were drawn to it. Comics effectively became a niche market, and an unsavory one at that.

Look no farther than the Japanese comic market than to realize this is true. Comics covering a large variety of topics, ranging from love stories, memoirs, to straight up pornography share the medium with what might be analogous to our superheroes. Comics there are popular, varied, and even a little disposable. Different kinds exist for different ages and interest, and creators there come from many different places, with many different backgrounds, often outside of their main “industry.” Though still a business, creativity and innovation thrive, and comics as a whole have not been homogenized to a single genre.

Thanks to the super-hurdle and the CCA put to us in the fifties, America has admittedly been a little behind. Outside of the mainstream, new and interesting comics have been popping up since the seventies, but only recently, perhaps at the end of the eighties, have these off-beat, non-superhero books found their foothold. These “Indie Comics” have recently been joined by the wealth of almost newspaper-strip like web comics, which have appeared with the rise of the internet, and have found great followings with relatively little cost to their creator to maintain. Many these kinds of comics, both independent and web-based, have adult themes and mature situations [though not all], and the medium is slowing getting out of the peg hole the mainstream had cut for them.

Depending on how you look at it, this is a change that many in the industry knew was coming, or saw and began moving towards. Be it Alan Moore’s work on “Swamp Thing,” or Neil Gaiman’s refashioning of obscure Kirby character for “Sandman,” the eighties brought new kinds of stories to mainstream comics, and lead to darker takes on superheroes like “Watchmen” and “The Dark Knight Returns.” This would eventually lead to DC launching its Vertigo line, and comics overall skewing slightly older [though, the fan base was aging as well], with more mature content, adult themes, and a less strict rating system. As comics shed their “kiddie” image, they attract more creators, and said creators use sequential narrative in new and different ways.

The point is, while the artistic merit of mainstream comics [still dominated by superheroes] could be questioned, innovation in the medium, which often leads to artistic development, doesn’t just in independent comics. Or, at the very least, in the fringe projects of the mainstream, thus making the movements of the big two – DC and Marvel – important to gauge the overall future of comics.

So, what does all this have to do Disney buying Marvel?

Disney is very well known as a family company, and as I’ve already stated, part of what has begun dragging mainstream comics away from superhero-centric books is the publishers’ willingness to go a little more mature with their content. Marvel has two lines for this, one called “MAX,” and the other called Icon Comics, as well as a couple titles within their main line of Marvel books, such as “The Punisher,” or “Moon Knight,” that are slightly more adult-oriented. And though I’m not sure of the sales on any of them, I know several of the Icon comics such as “Kick-Ass” and “Powers” have seen some critical acclaim. And I know none of them come anywhere near “family friendly.”

Does that mean Disney will pull the plug? It’s difficult to say for sure. Disney does distribute movies with similar content to those books, but not directly under the Disney banner. If company higher-ups decide that Marvel is not meant to be so varied, that all the books would need to be of similar, family friendly values, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Marvel’s more adult books cancelled and the overall content of the comics change to something a bit more like the tone of the Code years.

This is the kind of worry that many Marvel fans have, and I think I’m in the same place, though for different reasons than the majority. As I mentioned, when content is policed more closely, stories are going to scale back to their more basic superhero origins, which will in turn bring a lot of stigma back to comics. I could honestly care less if Marvel is allowed to publish a book that Wolverine can say “fuck” in. But if having a book where Wolverine can say “fuck” somehow changes the perception of the business away from its more simplistic reputation and can help get someone like Stephen King or Kevin Smith interested in writing for comics, then losing it would be bad.

New perspectives from other mediums often lead to growth and innovation. Disney doing anything that might halt that would be a very bad thing, and it remains a legitimate fear because Disney is certainly well known for going lowest-common-denominator with some of their properties. And a lot of people believe Marvel should go back to just being for kids, and if anyone could make that move successfully, then it would be Disney. But as much as the future of graphical literature may not depend on Marvel wandering into adult-oriented territory, losing an aspect or genre of the medium where innovation could happen feels like a loss to me. One that, partly because of my love for comics, and partly because I grew up with Marvel, worries me.

As bad as all that sounds, I would be remiss if I didn’t say how a big of an upside having Disney behind Marvel could also be for the overall quality and content of Marvel comics. A problem with Marvel being its own company is that the business lives and dies by its bottom line. Even the best reviewed book, no matter how many Eisners it wins, is in danger of being cancelled if the sales are not there. And when sales are the most important thing, Marvel doesn’t have a lot of reason to deviate from what works, never taking chances on new concepts or different ideas.

This was the Marvel without Disney. Nearly all of Marvel titles are superhero stories, the majority rest within the confines of their main “universe.” And while I have already said I think the medium can advance within the genre of super heroics, stepping out of it isn’t a bad thing, either. Marvel’s main competition, DC Comics, also publishes a line of manga through CMX, a line of girl’s-centered comics called Minx, and an adults-only imprint that has produced the bulk of the most creative and I would also argue artistic work within the mainstream – Vertigo. Very few titles in any of these imprints have super-heroes [that has not always been the case], and the most popular, things like Hellblazer, Y: The Last Man, Preacher, Sandman, Ex Machinca, and Transmetropolitian were unlike anything being published at the time.

Naturally, because of their uniqueness, they garnered a smaller number of fans and, naturally, sales. However, they were able to continue being printed because of solid regular numbers and the fact that, to DC’s bottom line, and more specifically, the larger and more financially sound bank accounts of Warner Brothers; the titles could go on being sold with no significant deficit to the company. These books were allowed to survive because of the deeper pockets of their parent company, and now stand as critically acclaimed achievements within the industry, some of them changing how people even go about thinking about comics as a medium.

As a part of Disney, Marvel could feasibly reap the same benefits. Not only will fans of cult books like “Runaways” no longer after worry about possible cancellations, but new characters and new ideas could be given more time to make an impression on readers. Disney means a level of security, and Marvel could become bolder, and wander outside its comfort zones of Spider-Man, the Avengers, and Wolverine, and publish real noir-style books, instead of reimaginings of already marketable characters. We’re not talking about wasting large swaths of Mickey’s money of course; we’re just talking about a cushion that would allow Marvel to branch outward.

Even more interesting is that Disney might want Marvel do this. Remember, it’s the characters and the licenses that Disney seemed most interested in when buying Marvel, particularly for movie adaptations. There is a possibility [though this is speculation] that Disney will expect Marvel to produce new types of comics other than their usual superhero books, with the hope to have access to these different sorts of graphical novels in much the same way Warner has with Vertigo. At DC, it’s always been important for the company to pursue non-superhero titles for Warner to push into production, and there’s no reason to believe Disney won’t want Marvel to do the same.

More comics outside the traditional genres mean a greater chance for new and interesting things to happen. And as new kinds of stories are explored, it’s very likely new ways to tell them in the medium will also be discovered. The end result is comics will only get better.

One last interesting tidbit is something I mentioned in the previous post as a negative – about Disney’s tendency to stay in house, and work primarily with those they’ve worked with before. I spoke on this as someone who hoped to work in comics one day, and anything that makes it harder to break through I can’t help but see as a negative. But from a creative standpoint, this could also be a positive, as new creators, ones who never considered comics, and who have made their names in film, or novels, or even other aspects of entertainment will be able to become involved with Marvel. While it’s not new blood in the traditional sense [as a lot of talent already in the Disney family have some… similarities in their work], it does bring creative people from outside the Marvel sphere into the company, with new perspectives, and perhaps even unique stories to tell.

It is very exciting all the possibilities something like this offer fans of both the Marvel brand, and for Disney. Creatively speaking, this could put mainstream comics back on the cutting edge, and make comics significant again in a way beyond the traditional waxing and waning of movie buzz and fads. Having taken the time to write this, to think about what Disney buying Marvel means I wouldn’t put myself as firmly in the camp against this as I did when I first heard the news. There are a lot of exciting possibilities here, and I am not so arrogant as to call those in the industry wrong, who seem so honestly pleased with this development, assured that big things are in store for Marvel Comics.

And they are. But big things do not necessarily mean great things, and there’s nothing wrong with fans approaching this change with some caution. For every benefit, there is a worst case scenario, and it is so early, and we have so little information that to come down firmly on either side and believe you have the full story is impossible. When I got the news, I was sort of horrified, and disappointed, as though I’d lost some important fight. Now, having as read what I have, I’m a excited by what could be, but still feeling a bit pessimistic about it all coming together as well as it could.

And the really funny thing? This whole "event" has just reminded me how much I really love comics. All comics; the indy books, the superheroes, all the horror, crime, and romance, the manga, and the artistic stuff.They've exciting, and absolutely brilliant.

So, just this once…

Excelsior!

Marvel Team-Up: Disney Pt. 1

• Wednesday, September 2, 2009 2 comments
Well, think of it less like a team up, and more like if Iron Fist and Luke Cage had been crime fighting partners two or three hundred years earlier, and Iron Fist owned…

Eh. I don’t even want to see where that metaphor is going.

First, some links:

Initial announcements can be found here[NPR] , here[CNN], and here [Newsarama]. And here's Disney's official announcement.

Newsarama meanwhile brings us the Marvel's company's timeline, a few acquisition details, a breakdown of some of the questions Disney's acquisition raises, and a look at what it all might mean through the eyes of industry insiders.

And finally, for giggles: Stan Lee[MTV].

For those of you who don’t know by now [where have you been? Under a rock?], Disney is about to “acquire” Marvel Entertainment Group AKA Marvel Comics. What this basically means is that Disney, one of the largest entertainment conglomerates in the world will own one of the industry’s top two comic book publishers, with complete access to their entire library of stories and the deep bullpen of iconic characters. To simplify [and avoid the already tired jokes], this is a real-life crossover of epic proportions, which puts Marvel mainstays like Spider-Man, Captain America, and Wolverine in the domain of Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy. And while who knows how long it will be before Disney gets around to having Donald and Howard duke it out in a spirited battle of Quack-Fu, the significance of this purchase will be remembered in entertainment history for a while to come.

The upsides are numerous for both companies. Marvel has been struggling [supposedly] somewhat in what many people consider a niche market – 18 to 35 year olds who’ve grown up with the characters and the brand, and made the rough transition from fan boys to fan men while recruiting very few new readers along the way. Add this to the fact that, while comics are no longer stigmatized like they once were, Marvel’s major presence is less in retail bookstores and more in specialty shops, and it is no wonder that the numbers for Marvel’s top-selling books are far lower than what they have been in the company’s past. By becoming a part of the Disney family, one of these problems are immediately solved, as Disney’s expansive shelf space in retail outlets is now available to the company. Don’t expect Marvel trade paperbacks and digests to be shoved in some half row in the corner of your local chain bookstore any more. Marvel’s sales will likely soar with this increased presence alone.

Disney’s interest in Marvel is simpler, but no less lucrative. Despite the wide-reaching arms of the Mouse, Disney has always had trouble in one particular demographic: yes, you guessed it, 18 to 35 year old males. By adding Marvel Entertainment to the Walt Disney company’s portfolio, the company immediately comes into possession to this elusive demographic, and not to sell them comic books, mind you, but rather to exploit Marvel’s already fledgling movie business, bringing licenses like Iron Man, the X-Men, and the Avengers to big screens, and giving older brothers and fathers movie tickets to buy while their wives, daughters, and sisters go check out the newest “High School Musical.”

Many have even theorized that Disney might look to reinvigorate the Marvel brand and characters for the next generation of fans – fans whose attendance in theaters and patronage at the newsstands and comic shops even Marvel had come to doubt. While this is a possibility, I do not believe it to be the case. Disney’s goal in this purchase seems to be cornering a present-day market they are currently missing. There’s little reason to believe that Disney would actively pursue new fans for Marvel’s content, as after all, they already control a hefty share of the tween and pre-teen demographics. I wouldn’t be surprised if Marvel occasionally used popular Disney characters – like “Hannah Montana” or the Jonas Brothers – to boost sales considerably. Though these books won’t have much staying power, they’ll likely serve the same purpose licensed properties such as Transformers, GI Joe, and Star Wars have in the past with Marvel, as fast, big, company-sustaining paychecks.

Other good news involves the possibilities this “pairing” [which many are calling it, which already seems to be disingenuous. Disney owns Marvel, no two ways about it] opens up. We mentioned before the relatively pat, laughable crossovers that the internet has already done to death since news of the acquisition broke. But the more exciting “crossovers” are far more likely to happen behind the scenes – such as setting Marvel up with one of the other innovative companies Disney owns, Pixar. Imagine, if you will, an “Incredibles”-like Fantastic Four movie, or a computer animated, 3D “X-Men: First Class.”

Even outside of Pixar, Disney has its own version of “3D” [which I believe is eponymously called Disney 3D], which could be integrated into any number of Marvel’s slated movie projects [It is, of course, important to note that these buy-outs sometimes cause problems when it comes to getting movies made. As of this writing, there’s no indication any Marvel blockbusters such as the Iron Man or Wolverine franchises, or “Captain America: The First Avenger,” etc, will be impeded by this purchase. Instead, it seems more likely Disney will wait out the current, in-place deals with companies like Sony, while working towards moving all Marvel movies in-house]. One can also assume that Disney will look to integrate the Marvel Universe into their various theme parks as well – effectively turning Marvel Entertainment into the multimedia juggernaut it always wished to be.


All sounds pretty good, right? So why are there so many Marvel fans on the internet, shitting bricks?

There is certainly an argument to be made that internet fans just love to bitch. That the outcry we’re hearing now is just a bunch of whiny, depressive nerd-losers who are going to complain about everything, and think everything is terrible, no matter what happens. They’re afraid of change. These people should do things like “grow up,” “get over it” or “let it go and wait and see.” And if you’re fine seeing this situation like that, then don’t read any more. But if you’re actually interested in understanding why someone might respond negatively to this news, I’m going to talk about it here, from my own perspective. Hopefully this will also address some of the overall criticism, and without speaking for my peers, look a little about why some have come out so strongly against it.

On a personal level, my hang up with the Disney/Marvel deal came from intense feelings of loyalty to the brand. For as long as I’ve been reading comics, I’ve been reading Marvel’s Comics [note the capitols], and even though I’ve read less of their books in recent years, I’ve always felt like a “Marvel guy”. There is a connection there, partly to the brand, like one person might have a favorite soda, but more to an aspect of my life, like how many people have attachments to certainly literary characters or movies. The same is true for me – there are so many things I’ve taken from Marvel’s comics, so many lessons and so many benchmarks of times in my life, this change shocked and scared me. As though a part of me was now in the hands of someone I didn’t trust.

But there was also something a little deeper, a level of betrayal. Not real betrayal, but definitely something I could actively feel about this change. The largest part of it has to do with the time period when I was one of their biggest fans – the mid to late 1990’s. Though it was not so long ago, few talk about this period, but after a rash of bad business decisions, and the over-all bust of the collector’s bubble, Marvel filed for bankruptcy. Though at my age I couldn’t fully grasp what that meant, as a reader it felt like a dark period for the company, a storm to be weathered not just by Marvel, but by Marvel’s fans. And I was there, and this was during the period where I spent more money than ever on comic books, and almost entirely on Marvel’s comic books [remember, it was my Dad who bought DC’s comics]. And I also remember, just before the new Millennium, that big newspaper article which proclaimed “SPIDER-MAN LIVES!” and ushered in the feature film while pushing out of bankruptcy.

We made it. We got through the worst of it, and yes, it felt very much like a “we.” And in a way, that’s why this merger struck me like it did, why I took it so hard, and was against it right away. I felt let down, that after all of that, the Evil Empire had swooped in and took over.

I think a lot of the negative sentiments come from something like this. Maybe not because they bought from Marvel during the dark days, maybe just because they’ve grown up with the brand, and feel a loyalty to it, not unlike a parent or a sibling. It seems silly, but if you think about it, there’s a lot that feels like Mom’s getting remarried.

People care about Marvel, and it’s “library of 5,000+ characters”, and in all fairness Disney is a big enough company [literally the biggest entertainment and media conglomerate in the world] that it’s no surprise the publisher’s fan base is concerned about its properties being mistreated. Though Disney has certainly proved itself capable of doing extraordinary things, it has also a long history of following its bottom line and homogenizing its products to great lengths. Many of the Marvel fans, perhaps, are also Muppet fans, who watched the characters they loved as children purchased outright and then poorly capitalized on it with underwhelming made-for-TV movies featuring tween idols and storylines that lacked the pop and intelligence of the property’s glory days. These mistakes by Disney don’t inspire confidence with the carry-over fans, and they shouldn’t. The closest thing we have to be reassured by is their knowledge that they want the attention of our demographic – but that could change, or cease completely, if Disney decides it we’re no longer important to its bottom line, or more-likely, that Marvel’s properties are better served by catering to a different audience instead.

Something else I worry about, on a professional level, is what this pairing will mean for Marvel’s hiring practices. Even though the type of comics I write are a far cry from what Marvel publishes, and I hope even a little more artistic than their typical super-hero-centric books, there’s a part of me that hoped to work in mainstreams comics. Sentimentally, I grew up reading them, so I have an attachment, and pragmatically, I have trouble believing that unless I become hugely successful, that I’d be able to make a full-time job of comic writing without taking on more monthly, work-for-hire gigs in the industry.

Warner’s ownership of DC always made it seem a little impenetrable, and cold. There never seemed to be a lot of “new blood” writers or artists coming into DC comics, and rarely was new talent ever making their name there. Marvel seemed somehow more attainable – it wasn’t a cog in a corporate machine, it was the machine, and that machine churned out comic books. If you applied to Marvel, your contract said so – while your DC job was found a Warner Brother’s hiring board. Even Marvel’s public submission policy, largely a joke and discontinued this year, made the company feel like an actually comic book safe house. Now, it’s a part of Disney, and it takes the same status of DC. Just one more asset, one more office in a worldwide business. Add to this Disney’s pretty common practice and hiring people in the family – creative persons Disney trained in a particular field and my dream of one day writing Spider-Man or X-Men seems somehow farther away.

Now there is one other complicated concern I have about the Disney/Marvel deal, but as this post has already gone long, and as a little bit of comic book history will be needed to explain it, I think I’ll separate it and put it up as its own entry in a couple of days. I don’t want to bog this post down, especially since it’s seemed to develop its own central theme.

Said theme being, I think, this: That while Marvel Comics is indeed a business, and while its library of stories and thousands of characters are most definitely assets, Marvel is more than just licensing and merchandise – there is a very real base, built around those stories, and intensely followed because of those characters. A strong, opinionated, and in many cases intelligent fan base has grown around Marvel. The fear of losing that in any capacity coupled with the possibility of seeing it change in a way that alters it spirit is going to cause some outrage, no matter how many great possibilities arise from the situation. I think, perhaps, the best way to understand is to look again at why Disney bought Marvel – for that 18 to 35 year old, male demographic; a demographic Disney has always self-admittedly been weak in. And now, the conglomerate who’s failed to give those fans what they want is running the company that always has.