John Paul Leon ~ High Contrast Excellence for You Guys.
Hnnngggghh!! J.P. frickin’ Leon!
Gene Yang is one of my heroes. Read this, y’all.
Read This: Gene Luen Yang’s rousing comics speech at the 2014 National Book Festival gala
From the Washington Post, article here.
GENE LUEN YANG, Library of Congress, Jefferson Building:
Good evening. Thank you, Library of Congress and National Book Festival, for inviting me to share the stage with such esteemed authors, and to speak with all of you. I am deeply grateful for this honor.
I’m a comic-book guy, so tonight I’d like to talk about another comic book guy. Dwayne McDuffie was one of my favorite writers. When I was growing up, he was one of the few African-Americans working in American comics. Dwayne worked primarily within the superhero genre. He got his start at Marvel Comics but eventually worked for almost every comic book publisher out there. He even branched out into television and wrote for popular cartoon series like “Justice League” and “Ben 10.”
Dwayne McDuffie is no longer with us, unfortunately. He passed away in 2011, at the age of 49. But within comics, his influence is still deeply felt.
I was lucky enough to have met him once. About a year before his death, we were on a panel together at Comic-Con. I had the opportunity to shake his hand and tell him how much his work meant to me.
In a column Dwayne wrote in 1999, he talked about his love of the Black Panther, a Marvel Comics character. The Black Panther’s secret alias is T’Challa, the king of the fictional African nation of Wakanda. He has super senses, super strength, and super agility. He’s an Avenger, though he hasn’t yet made it into the movies.
The Black Panther wasn’t created by African American cartoonists. He was created in July of 1966 by two Jewish Americans, Stan Lee (who was born Stanley Lieber) and Jack Kirby (who was born Jacob Kurtzberg).
By modern standards, the Black Panther is not a flawless example of a black superhero. In their first draft of the character, Lee and Kirby called him “the Coal Tiger” and gave him a goofy yellow and black costume. Even in his final form, his superhero alias includes the word “Black.” This is true of many early African and African American superheroes, as if what makes them remarkable is neither their superpowers nor their heroism, but their ethnicity. Most problematic, though, was that Marvel made their most prominent black superhero the star of a series called Jungle Action.
All of these flaws were lost on Dwayne McDuffie when he first encountered the Black Panther in 1973, at the age of 11. What struck him was the character’s commanding sense of dignity. The Black Panther wasn’t anyone’s sidekick. He wasn’t an angry thug. He wasn’t a victim. He was his own hero, his own man. As Dwayne describes it, “In the space of 15 pages, black people moved from invisible to inevitable.”
Dwayne’s love of the Black Panther eventually blossomed into a love of comics in general. Dwayne was a smart guy with a lot of options in life. He’d earned a master’s degree in physics. But he chose to write comics as his career. I would argue that without the Black Panther, this flawed black character created by a writer and an artist who were not black, there would be no Dwayne McDuffie the comic book writer.
Dwayne wasn’t just a writer — he was also a businessman. In the early ’90s, he teamed with a group of writers and artists to found Milestone Media, the most prominent minority-owned comic book company that has ever existed. The Milestone universe have since been folded into DC Comics, so these days characters like Static Shock and Icon – characters Dwayne co-created – fight crime alongside Superman and Batman.
In the early ’90s, I was finishing up my adolescence. I visited my local comic-book store on a weekly basis, and one week I found a book on the stands called Xombi, published by Milestone Media. Xombi is a scientist who became a superhero after he was injected with nanotechnology. He allied himself with a secret order of superpowered nuns. One sister was known as Nun of the Above, another Nun the Less. Together, they protected the world from all kinds of supernatural threats.
Xombi was inventive and fun, but he stood out to me because he was an Asian American male carrying in his own monthly title. And even more notable – he didn’t know Kung Fu. Xombi wasn’t created by Asian Americans – his writer was white and his artist black – but he did make Asian Americans a little less invisible.
We in the book community are in the middle of a sustained conversation about diversity. We talk about our need for diverse books with diverse characters written by diverse writers. I wholeheartedly agree.
But I have noticed an undercurrent of fear in many of our discussions. We’re afraid of writing characters different from ourselves because we’re afraid of getting it wrong. We’re afraid of what the Internet might say.
This fear can be a good thing if it drives us to do our homework, to be meticulous in our cultural research. But this fear crosses the line when we become so intimidated that we quietly make choices against stepping out of our own identities.
After all, our job as writers is to step out of ourselves, and to encourage our readers to do the same.
I told you the story of Dwayne McDuffie to encourage all of us to be generous with ourselves and with one another. The Black Panther, despite his flaws, was able to inspire a young African American reader to become a writer.
We have to allow ourselves the freedom to make mistakes, including cultural mistakes, in our first drafts. I believe it’s okay to get cultural details wrong in your first draft. It’s okay if stereotypes emerge. It just means that your experience is limited, that you’re human.
Just make sure you iron them out before the final draft. Make sure you do your homework. Make sure your early readers include people who are a part of the culture you’re writing about. Make sure your editor has the insider knowledge to help you out. If they don’t, consider hiring a freelance editor who does.
Also, it’s okay if stereotypes emerge in the first drafts of your colleagues. Correct them – definitely correct them – but do so in a spirit of generosity. Remember how soul-wrenching the act of writing is, how much courage it took for that writer to put words down on a page.
And let’s say you do your best. You put in all the effort you can. But then when your book comes out, the Internet gets angry. You slowly realize that, for once, the Internet might be right. You made a cultural misstep. If this happens, take comfort in the fact that even flawed characters can inspire. Apologize if necessary, resolve do better, and move on.
Let your fear drive you to do your homework. But no matter what, don’t ever let your fear stop you.
zuiyomaru said: So if I wanted to start reading Multiversity, which looks excellent, what should I read first? I've read stuff like 52 and Final Crisis and Morrison's Batman, but I still feel like I'm missing some context.
I think the book really tells you everything you need to know to understand the story, but if you want to really get all the shades and nuance, it’s always good to read what came before.
I honestly think you’re already most of the way there, but overall I would say the best prep reading would be
- Seven Soldiers, for Morrison’s approach to the anti-life equation, which is being mirrored by the anti-death equation in Multiversity; also because of interesting possible thematic parallels between the Gentry and the Sheeda
- 52, to see the multiverse reinstated
- Final Crisis, including most importantly to Multiversity Superman Beyond, to see the introduction of a lot of these characters and concepts like Nix Uotan, the Ultima Thule, the Superman of Earth-23, the rebirth of Captain Carrot, and so on
- Action Comics by Morrison, most notably #9, which focuses on Earth-23 Superman and introduces that big box that serves as a link between worlds
I think those are the main ones that are informing the story, really, based on issue one. Each of the one shots will be referencing something different, I’m sure, but I don’t know which individual stories of the Marvel Family or the Freedom Fighters or whatever will be referenced until they come out. I’m sure there will be Watchmen references in the Charlton issue.
Otherwise I don’t know it’s really worth going back and reading the old Silver Age Flash and Justice League issues where the multiple earths come into play unless you really want to. And it’s DEFINITELY not worth going back to read Crisis on Infinite Earths.
STEEL YOURSELF FOR MATT FRACTION & CHRISTIAN WARD’S ‘ODY-C’ WITH THIS PROLOGUE THAT WILL NOT BE IN THE COMIC
When it was announced back in January, we knew three things about ODY-C, the new Image series by writer Matt Fraction and artist Christian Ward: It was a retelling of The Odyssey, would take place in space, and the characters would all be gender-swapped.
What wasn’t as clear was just how trippy and brutal it would be, but if the five-page prologue Ward posted to his Tumblr last week is indicative of what the whole series will be like, those are the words to describe it.
Ward was sure to note that these pages won’t appear in the first issue of ODY-C, so get a good look at the prologue — with its positively luminous color palette, sometimes unorthodox panel layouts, and one big scene of someone getting sliced in two with a sword — now.
A Thought on Multiversity #1
By Weird Beard
Grant Morrison’s Multiversity finally arrived this week, and everyone in the comic news/analysis business is talking about it. You may have seen that we reblogged Comicsalliance annotations of it, and that we posted this video already to help anyone new to Morrison and the comic understand it more easily. Morrison’s work has a reputation of being dense and hard to understand, but Multiversity is probably one of his most-straightforward and easily understood first issues in a while. It’s still filled with Morrison’s trademark blend of science, magic, cultural references, and superhero lore, which means there’s plenty to examine in this first issue. Here is a thought I had in examining the bad guys.
So, as said in the video, the multiverse exists in the fifth dimension, which was revealed to be imagination by Bat-Mite in Morrison’s Batman R.I.P. This means that Mr. Mxyptlk and his kind exist beyond even Monitor space. Considering the Gentry’s power to battle and defeat a god and then a Monitor, it would seem to suggest that the Gentry are Fifth Dimensional intelligences/organisms. I think this is also true because Thunderer states that they are from behind the Invisible Rainbow, which I take to mean the white space of the Source where all colors become invisible when they are one, since when white light is refracted it becomes a rainbow. Unified as white light, the individual colors are impossible to see, but refracted through the multiverse, the colors are visible.
If this is true, then it would seem that the stories most relevant to Multiversity from Morrison’s bibliography would be JLA: Crisis Times Five and his recent run on Action Comics. In each story, the primary villain is a denizen of the Fifth Dimension. The Gentry mentions that there is only one rule they follow. I suspect this rule is the need for invitation/permission to operate inside the multiverse, because in both of the previously mentioned stories the power of the bad guy may have been omnipotent but they needed to be anchored in the world by a human host. This would be most similar to the concept of familiars, which relates back to the power of the Fifth dimensional beings described as magic (rather than technology) and Morrison’s habit of adding multiple meanings to create his own meaning out of this kaleidoscopic perspective he applies to his writing.
If the Gentry are Fifth Dimensional creatures, then we get the haunted element talked about in the promotional material and in the comic Nix Uotan was reading, from the fact that the Gentry are imaginary creatures interacting with both the fictional (to us) world of superheroes and the mysterious narration boxes that question who’s voice is in your head as you read them. Ghosts are often described as ignorance combined with figments of our imagination in our more scientifically advanced world. What was once a part of our collective perception of concrete reality has been moved to our imagination, but as Morrison is showing, the imagination is moving back into our world. We are thus being haunted by negative, personified avatars of our imagination, and Morrison is just channeling this interaction through narrative to create an experience that blurs the line between concrete and abstract reality. Anyone familiar enough with Morrison’s personal beliefs and thoughts on fiction may interpret Multiversity not as a story Morrison is telling, but as an experience he had and is processing on a number of personal levels by using narrative as external memory, proof, and catharsis. Morison doesn’t just write superheroes, he’s seen them save the world.
But, all of this is dependent upon what is revealed in future issues, so we shall see if I’m right about the Gentry’s origin. Until then, share your thoughts on what you think the Gentry are with us.