I regularly teach classes on the history of newspaper comics and comic books in the U.S. It comes as no great surprise that few if any students regularly read newspaper comics any more (in my current newspaper comics class, the only folks who read a newspaper regularly are all over 60). It always comes as something of a surprise, however, how few students in my overenrolled comic book history classes regularly read comic books—maybe 5-10%.
But when the class discussion turns to the rise of webcomics, the native expertise comes alive. Many students can name 5 or more webcomics they read regularly, often daily. Suddenly they are throwing names of webcomics at me they are sure I will love—even folks who hadn't said a word in class up to that point.
All of which brings me to a question that keep coming up for me: why aren't an army of folks writing regularly about this stuff. A survey of the webosphere suggests that most webcomics review sites go dormant after a matter of months, maybe a year or two. And most of the major comics review and journalism resources online give haphazard or occasional attention to webcomics at best. In scholarship, the story is no better.
Is it because the field is just too sprawling, uncurated, or overwhelming? Or because critics and scholars—for all their protestations to the contrary—prefer the traditional gatekeepers of publishers to give the cultural stamp of approval before they take a chance on their own opinions or the expenditure of their precious scholarly energy? As one of those reviewers and scholars guilty of not getting a handle on this huge ocean of comics, I suspect it is a combination of all of these. But unless we get to work on this, are we going to be increasingly talking to our own boutiquey community, ignoring the comics that young people especially are actually reading?
Here is a Krazy Kat daily from 1938 that came my way this morning via King Features. I have been staring at it every since:
I am stumped, genuinely, with how to read Krazy's "mis-hearing" of the most proper "Gander" as "Proppa Genda" as anything other than "proper gender." The only thing tripping me up from such a reading is that "gender" as related to the attribution of sex characteristics/identity is largely a post-war etymology, according to the OED and most sources. Is there a way of reading the 'joke' here that I'm missing (keeping in mind that one of the ongoing 'jokes' of Krazy Kat is that s/he in fact has no gender is both/neither boy/girl).
I've been dormant for ages (seriously, not just the blog, but my meatspace self as well), but leave it to Stan Lee to summon me from the dead. All it took was this headline:
STAN LEE LAUNCHES NEW SUPERHERO FRANCHISE "NITRON"
Before I even read the article, written in the cut-and-paste-the-press-release style we call 21st-century "journalism," I was already coughing up my coffee. One does not "launch" a "franchise." By definition a 'franchise' is one that has crossed multiple texts and media. "Nitron" has done nothing but be the subject of various contract negotiations between Stan Lee, Keya Morgan, and Michael Benaroya to "target films, television and digital media," all based on this remarkable new "franchise."
And what is Nitron, you might ask? The
press release article is stingy on details, but we are told that it will involve "highly advanced Nitronians, a secret species that covertly lives among humans on Earth." In other words, it is the Inhumans, a brilliant idea from the 1960s Jack Kirby Stan Lee adapted from another great idea (X-Men) Kirby Lee had developed a few years earlier. But now it is called "Nitron," presumably because of the possibilities this new branding opens up for energy-drink sponsorship (and of course, to keep Kirby's heirs from suing, because they will never see through this brilliant disguise).
Look. I pretty much hate Stan Lee. I hate anyone in commercial comics who insists that he is the sole and true author in what is—for better and worse—a truly collaborative popular art form. I'm not even so crazy about Jack Kirby, truth be told, but in Kirby's case it is the fans' claims made on behalf of their beloved martyr that leaves the bad taste in my mouth. But at this point Lee is just a deranged narcissist who reminds me of my grandmother, a former theatrical agent who in her dotage would spend her time penning her autobiography about all the actors she screwed in her younger years (at least half of which, according to her, "got my cherry") and annotating an antiquated edition of Who's Who in American Theatre to better reflect her own instrumental role in every aspect of the history of the stage . The difference of course is my grandmother was by that point living alone in with nothing but her beloved brandy to offer assent to her assertions, her minor fortune having been absconded by some gigolo a few years earlier. Stan Lee, on the other hand, has been paid millions of dollars for a half-century now to claim auteurship over everything Marvel has created and he has an army of yes-men to remind him to stick to his story—to the point where he now clearly believes it.
But still, it is easy pickings to beat up on Lee, whose force-fed ego and centuries of lying to himself has made him vulnerable to his new friends and business partners, who have somehow not bothered to tell him that "Nitron" has been done, and by him, more than once. They haven't bothered to tell him that these movies, TV shows and "digital media" will never be made. There are many reasons why it will never be made, of course, but two of them are named Keya Morgan and Michael Benaroya.
Benaroya is the producer behind such recent smash-hits as Herzog's most recent misfire, Queen of the Desert (2015) and, more recently still, The Cell (2016), the only film I know of currently clocking in with a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes. Despite being "scion of a prominent Seattle real-estate family,” I am sure Benaroya is a perfectly nice guy. But he is at best an amateur, spending his family fortune backing movies in an industry that depends on "scions" and their carbon-copy Hollywood dreams.
Keya Morgan is a far more fascinating guy, the kind who biographers will be writing about a century from now as the ideal representative for the unique excesses of the early 21st century. I first became aware of Morgan a decade ago when the 20-something was brokering the sale of a purported Marilyn Monroe sex tape; I won't go into the sordid details here (that's what thesmokinggun.com is for), but suffice it to say the whole thing never passed a basic smell test. Since then, Morgan—whose fortune seems to be entirely based around a career of collecting and selling memorabilia attached to historical scandal, tragedy and conspiracy—has become extremely wealthy and well-connected. Along the way he has befriended everyone from Michael Jackson and Donald Trump to the widow of Lee Harvey Oswald, and he has accumulated perhaps the largest private collection of artifacts associated with Lincoln. So it should come as now surprise that he is now a Hollywood "producer/director" (even if his credits a pretty much limited at the moment to Marilyn Monroe: Murder on Fifth Helena Drive, a pet project devoted to Morgan's favorite conspiracy theory).
My point in all this is not to hate on any of these guys. They are rich deluded narcissists all, no doubt, but that is a precondition to being a Hollywood "insider": Hollywood, after all, feeds on of the money and narcissism of the Lees, Benaroyas and Morgans of the world, draining their cash and their self-interested dreams into the great charnel house that is the "Dream Factory," out of which comes the endless parade of—not surprisingly—plagiarized, neurotically cautious, packaged goods we call 21st-century American movies.
Of course, even this sorry end will elude Stan Lee's newborn "franchise." Precisely nothing will come of this superteam except reams of press releases that will be endlessly circulated as "breaking news" by shills like Comic Book Resources.
But at least a morning spent choking into a cup of coffee finally woke this guttergeek up from his long winter's nap.