Posts tagged Comics Reporter

Help Gary Friedrich

The War Imposed Upon Us

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Recent Battle Skirmishes

I’m a little behind on putting together some thoughts on recent industry discussion on Jack Kirby, and the situation with Ghost Rider creator Gary Friedrich. The latter has prompted a few changes on this site that have taken some time to put together.  Before we get into all that, here’s a little recap of recent events.

Jack Kirby

A fresh round of community angst seems to have started with creator James Strum calling to boycott Marvel over their mishandling of the Jack Kirby legacy, following in the footsteps of the Steven Bissette call for a similar boycott last summer. We’ve posted about it here and here on this site. Talk about the Kirby legacy saturates the comics web community. As happened with the Bissette controversy, discussions in fandom forums on the Strum boycott quickly degenerated into arguments over the effectiveness of such a measure and whether Jack Kirby even created the characters that comics history gives him credit for. It’s an interesting and all too familiar phenomenon that turns fandom forums into a battleground between publisher supporters and those of creators. A revelry of aggression, confusion, disinformation, distortion and conflict that has nearly paralyzed such calls to action and halted what could have been a more effective display from comics fandom in support of such campaigns.

Gary Friedrich

Then news broke of the judgement on the Gary Friedrich litigation against Marvel for the character Ghost Rider. Daniel Best has posted some reports which can be seen here, that have spread across the comics net and also to some mainstream media. The litigation started around the same time as the release of the first Ghost Rider film Marvel licensed in 2007, starring Nicholas Cage. It ends now on the eve of release of the second film, which looks very much to be a box-office success and one of the popular film events for 2012.

The familiar battleground fodder in the Kirby campaigns managed to overpower debate in this case also, at least if measured by talk at Bleeding Cool forums and The Beat comments, which together seem reliable enough as a compass for the general mood in fandom on these issues. In a counter-suit against Friedrich, Marvel had also won a judgement for payment of $17,000 from Gary in compensation for his profits from selling Ghost Rider covers, posters, art and paraphernalia for the last couple of decades since not having any income from writing comic books.

Part of the discussion is about Marvel’s counter-suit and victory against Friedrich, which is feared to have ramifications and become a serious challenge to creators who even sell sketches of copyrighted characters through their web sites or at conventions – even though it’s been assumed, by unspoken waiver, to be a legitimate means of raising supplemental income for artists. Heidi MacDonald elaborates in this post, which also explains why there’s a considerable amount of back-stage talk that Marvel had no choice given how Gary conducted the case. Marvel seems to be saying this will have no ramifications on other artists. Ty Templeton seems to tow the company line with an “ouch” critique of Friedrich’s case in this cartoon. Steven Bissette disagrees with Ty and the judgement against Friedrich in this Facebook Note.

Tom Spurgeon raises the ante in this reverberation, which is worth reading between the lines…and words.

Community Solidarity to help Gary

Steven Niles, bless his soul, rose to action with a PayPal donation account to help Gary, who has been ill, financially devastated from the trial costs, and is apparently in danger of losing the home he and his family own. The call has been picked up and supported in much larger numbers than what the general mood in fandom hinted at. Neal Adams posted a statement to the comics community urging everyone to pitch in and help give Gary a little financial breathing space. Just to remember that Gary Friedrich is the primary co-creator of a character starring in one of this season’s expected blockbuster superhero movies. The film opened this weekend and looks to be a pretty good production at this stage, on its way to a healthy profit margin.

The campaign to raise funds for Gary Friedrich, given the verdict and judgement against him, seems paramount for the writer’s well-being and that of his family.  Anyone who can donate original art or other items for auction is urged to contact Neal Adams. Paypal donations at Steven Niles site. Please consider helping out.

With that behind us, let’s all sit up for a moment and get a little uncomfortable.

The Lies We Live With

We, the community of fans, journalists and creators, concerned about this and similar issues, have inadvertently become paralyzed by our own reluctance to use tools available to us in order to help improve the conditions we all operate under in the comics industry. We are playing by the rules of the enemy, namely DC and Marvel, who, like most other profit driven corporate entities, have taken advantage of a runaway, renegade and mostly hostile-to-the-common-people world economy, and have brought the comics industry to a state of near demise in order to maximize profits outside of comics publishing, utilizing the properties they get from creators, which they control.

We will remain at near paralysis until we are able to break the unspoken taboo that assumes us beholden to DC and Marvel as industry leaders and foundation stones, whom we are reluctant to confront effectively, on the deeper issues that affect the medium and everyone contributing to it.

The Big Lies

If there was any doubt that DC and Marvel are intentionally keeping the comics publishing business on a death bed for everyone else as well, last summer’s New 52 reboot from DC seems to dispel any remaining confusion. The reboot was preceded with the self-serving trumpet sounds of DC putting comic books back on the map. They said this re-writing the DC Universe would open the market for new readers. They promised to utilize mainstream media, television and cinema advertising to make it popular for everyone to be seen with comic books again. They said it was the dawn of a new day for the comics.

Six months into the hoax and the DC bubble seems to have burst with as little fanfare as being able to claim a slightly larger market share than Marvel for the initial months of the reboot. No new reader base and no serious publicity campaign for the comic books. To make things worse, the hoax was accompanied by a digital sales initiative that’s diverted attention away from the plight of printed comics books and has been followed suit by most every other publisher, cementing a feeling that the printed books are now on notice of termination. That entire hoopla last summer, all that noise and public relations pretension, has effectively died out without improving, not in the very least, nor promising to improve, anything in the business of comics publishing for the common good of the market.

Like everything else DC and Marvel do, they do it for a public relations buzz which only helps their other-than-comics merchandise. That’s all they need to do, really.

The Bigger Lies

DC and Marvel don’t need nor want the business of publishing comics to grow and flourish. Because if it did, then there would be many more Siegel/Shuster/Kirby/Friedrich cases dragging them to spend exorbitant funds to defend their absolute control of the properties and absolute corporate greed. They rather prefer to spend immense resources on lawyers battling creators instead of just being a little more fair with the artists and writers who’ve been the content backbone of the companies, without whom there would be no comics industry.

A perpetually dying medium, especially one that continues to produce raw material for exploitation in other arenas, is the best way to keep getting the raw material at the lowest possible cost. No one will ask for more from a publishing industry hanging by a thread.

Armed with this grim reality, DC and Marvel, owned and managed by the most powerful media conglomerates in the world, can posture themselves as doing “what they need to do” by virtually raping the destitute creators who helped build their expansive property base. And they do it with a brazen enough face that we, the comics community, are left to bicker among ourselves as to the merits of one particular circumstance, while ignoring the larger dilemma that publishers are driving the industry into, effectively paralyzing any action that could put a little more pressure on them to do the right thing for the collective good of the comics industry.

The War Imposed Upon Us

In our near paralysis to help improve the general state of affairs, comics industry activists are not entirely impotent, as evident in the overwhelming grass-roots support to help disadvantaged creators when a need rises. We live with the situation because we are basically at war, even though we are reluctant to acknowledge it. We are at war not only against DC and Marvel, but the entire world population is at war with an economy whose heads have altogether shed any semblance of collective responsibility. We are at war against a prevailing attitude that the strong among humanity have no collective responsibility for the general welfare. At war with the notion that the strong hold the upper legal prerogative to rape and plunder every good portion of this world that their hands can reach.

We are at war but we are not yet training to be soldiers. We’ve settled for being as paramedics who tend to our wounded – but we have few soldiers on the front lines. These few who are fighting the good fight are operating in a near vacuum without the needed full support of populist systems such as the voice of fandom and the comics press behind them…who all tend to agree that something’s wrong and needs to change. But we are not yet fighting the war that’s been waged upon us, which we need to do in order to help bring a change.

Training Ground

I’ve long held that the way we live our lives is itself the training ground for the wars imposed upon us in our journey through this world. I also understand the notion that taking a defensive measure in offence to wars imposed upon us, by itself defines us as warriors also. I’m alright with that, though I understand that a lot of voices in the periphery disagree with the need for such a definition.

Within this outlook on life, I’ve been somewhat of a gypsy soldier in training myself, moving around the comics web community where I’ve been able to try to add something to the talk that stimulates towards seeing the larger picture we’re contending with. The Web Activism section at my Wikipedia biography highlights some of these activities that have been covered in the comics press.

As such that the entire world is our training ground, I’ve not concentrated much on a focal discussion forum for these activities at this site. A previous attempt to start something like that here was apparently too early and suffered a natural fadeout. It may still be too early or entirely unsustainable for such an environment here. But like I hinted at the head of the article, it seems that an imperative move is needed at this juncture. And so, even in suffering a potential fail, I’ve started somewhat of a discussion forum training ground for myself and anyone interested in participating.

Announcing FUSION Fourms

FUSION Forums is a registration-free think tank, at this stage.

Its goal is to take a step beyond discussion, into the realm of web activism on behalf of the common people within the comics industry and beyond.

Its hope is to establish a sort of task force of activists who will slowly saturate the comics web community with the need to take a stand and apply a little more public pressure on the “strong forces” who are waging the war against us.

It may take some time to come together, or it may not do so altogether.

But we will at least have tried to fight back.

If you see the war coming, join us and help prepare yourself and others.

Happy 43rd Birthday Tom Spurgeon

Happy 43rd Birthday Tom Spurgeon

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Ferzat in the Lion’s Den

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Syrian Cartoonist Ali Ferzat

Ali Ferzat is the award winning and outspoken Syrian cartoonist chipping away, through his political cartoons, at the iron curtain protecting the totalitarian oppression of his homeland by Bashar Al-Assad‘s Ba’ath Party regime. A former incarnation of our site, Flaming Sword Productions, highlighted a Tom Spurgeon item on him in 2005. His criticism of Al-Assad and other government officials since the Arab Spring uprisings hit Syria last May, led to his brutal beating by regime thugs, apparently to warn him against further critical cartooning. The Comics Reporter has been covering the story since, wondering how to raise a little solidarity activism from the comics community on his behalf.

Skirmishes with the Syrian Military

Before getting into that, a little background on some skirmishes I had with the Syrian military/intelligence, circa 1981/82, during my 2 year stop over in Lebanon, before I crossed the border into Israel.

The look that enraged the Syrians. 1984.

The Beirut I found in September 1981 was not the Paris of the Middle East, as it was known, when I left it in the 60’s. Lebanon became plunged into a civil war aggravated by violent tensions between its fractured populations. It was one of the more stable and neutral mid-East countries and a bridge between the Arab world and the west. In 1970 the PLO was driven from Jordan into Lebanon by King Hussain in the Black September assault. By 1975 Arafat and his military succeeded with a hostile takeover of parts of Lebanon, imposing a militia authority over sections of the country and taking much of the peoples’ land and assets in the process. The takeover met the resistance of Maronite Christian and Druze communities, who even though they’d been locked in armed struggles over Lebanese territory in the past, both tried separately to defend their areas from the PLO intrusion, which set the ball in motion for sectorial armed conflicts. Syria was called in by an Islamic coalition to send in a massive military force for the purpose of keeping the peace in its neighbor’s back yard. The Syrians, however, quickly became themselves another aggressor and brought the collapse of the Lebanese government and military. By 1981, Lebanon had become a powder keg of conflict, divided into areas of militia control with massacres, bombings and gun battles erupting everywhere. An all out civil war and a nightmare for the citizens. Anarchy was everywhere as even a new generation of youth solved their rivalries with fire arms, and small conflicts often erupted into machine gun battles on the streets.

From the moment I landed in Beirut, I became a suspect of the Syrian security forces at the airport. Not having a Lebanese citizenship, I entered my father’s home country as an American citizen. Not a friendly basis to begin a relationship with Syrians or Muslim backed militias who controlled the airport. I was met by my father and relatives, to head out for a Druze/Christian town just southeast of Beirut. The town had successfully repelled a Syrian/PLO attempt to impose a military governing outpost in it some years before. The battle was won from the Syrians and PLO around when president Hafez Al-Assad (Bashar’s father) assassinated the Druze leader Kamal Jumblat for speaking out on Syria’s aggression. Kamal’s son, Walid, took over leadership of the Lebanese Druze community, exercising a little more care not to ruffle Al-Assad’s feathers, while trying to keep the Syrians at arm’s length from the Druze towns. When I arrived I began hearing stories of Syrian forces plundering anything they wanted from villagers taking cars and truck loads of television sets, sound systems, refrigerators, machinery, or anything they got their hands on. But stories of atrocities told in more closed circles, such as the common rape and murder of Lebanese women found in nearby dumpsters and forests, or the inexplicable disappearance of people who spoke out against the Syrian occupation, indicated that Syrian intelligence elements, “Mukhabarat”, were everywhere, and that everyone needed to be careful what they said publicly about Syria.

Trouble at a Syrian Checkpoint

Another thing to my disadvantage was the long hair and beard I brought along from New York, after years of making trouble for myself and the comics community with it. The look apparently antagonized the Syrians as they detained us at the airport for several hours, checking if I was an American spy or some such…or at least that’s the excuse they gave. But I was released in the end and took some advise by trimming down a bit. It didn’t help much as I wasn’t in a very compromising mood about my look at the time. As a result, I wound up suffering a few uncomfortable incidents, along with a physical assault, over the next several months. Incidents that recurred nearly every time I crossed a Syrian checkpoint.

Detainment at checkpoints was to be expected though some passages went smoothly and without incident. For the most part, if there wasn’t a long line of cars waiting for clearance, Syrian soldiers took a little more time to scrutinize the strange looking long haired and bearded youth trying to get through their barrier. Sometimes the security check would take less than 10-15 minutes but there were times that soldiers took advantage of having an American citizen in their grasp and extended the detainment over several hours. After one such ordeal, having spent nearly an entire day waiting with a few relatives to be cleared by soldiers who had no declared reason for preventing us from continuing, I arrived home and quickly made a drawing of what the harassment felt like at the time (Thanks Yisrael for the scan – click image above and then right-click>>open image in new tab/window for high-rez version).  The drawing tried to get across how it felt every time I approached a checkpoint and how my look irked the Syrians. But it also had a dangerous statement about the Lebanese/Syrian situation. A “Stop: Checkpoint” sign showing the Syrian national symbol, an eagle, kicking and tearing down the Lebanese cedar icon. The drawing never left my portfolio because my father and few relatives who saw it pleaded and warned that there were Syrian intelligence personnel in our town, or at least snitches who kept them informed, and that if the drawing was to become known, it would threaten my security and the well being of the family. So I resigned to keep it from view at the time, though I eventually brought it with me to Israel, and gave it to a friend on a Kibutz.

The look that enraged the Syrians. 1982.

On one occasion while driving through Beirut on my way to pick up a friend from work, I lost my way and found myself navigating an alley, from which the only exit was to defy a one-way street sign and hope not to be noticed. I didn’t know the street would lead straight to a Syrian checkpoint that guarded a diplomatic home. I realized that the offense of traveling the wrong way on this street, added to my look and nationality would lead to trouble in this heavily secured area, so I tried to approach the checkpoint carefully. When I was stopped, the soldier aggressively asked me to step out of the car and show my identification. I handed him my American passport, he became enraged, held it upside down, asked what it meant as he waved it around and threw it back in my face. I’m almost certain he handled the passport this way in sarcasm and that he knew he was holding it upside down, but I may never know.  He suddenly lashed out with a violent backhand across my face and came back with a clapping smack from the other side that dropped me to the ground. He then delivered two staunch kicks to my midsection as I tried to protect myself. He said to get out of there and never return for him see me again. I was alive, at least, and nothing seemed broken, I thought to myself, as I drove away trying to console the bruises.

Syrian eagle assaults Lebanese cedar.

A month or so later the Israel invasion of Lebanon started, scattering many of the Syrian forces for cover. The siege of Beirut lasted about 3 months before the PLO agreed to withdraw to Tunis. During the fighting, I sometimes found myself with friends sitting on balconies watching the artillery exchanges around Beirut. The capital city, nearby airport and surrounding topography were visible to us from the mountain-top village as if we were watching an open field below us from a two story building. Towards the end of the fighting, after Israel captured the airport in a fierce artillery battle that we watched from a friend’s house, about 10 Syrian soldiers appeared at the end of the winding road below us, making their way back to Syria. They stopped by my friend’s car, which was the only one parked on the road at the time, and tried to break into it. We rushed down to explain to them that the car is grounded, needs repair, and wouldn’t take them more than a 100 meters before it stalled. The soldiers were torn, beaten, bleeding and charred, much like Sgt. Rock and Easy Company after a brutal battle. Our instinct told us that they didn’t have the energy to fight over the car and we were fortunately right about it. At this point one soldier asked if we had any cigarettes. Aside from the hash that my friend and I smoked earlier on the balcony, cigarettes became rare in our town around that time because supplies that weren’t as basic as bread and water had a difficult time making it through the fighting. But I did have a box of cigars in my jacket, that I saved for moments of low supplies. I quickly pulled them out and gave the box to the soldier.  He snatched it away and told his buddies to get walking. The car was salvaged and the soldiers disappeared over the hilltop on their way home. The incident seemed to aptly close the circle of harassment.

On Behalf of Ali Ferzat

Ferzat was born in the city of Hama in Syria but gravitated towards Damascus at an early age to study art. Still young, he launched a career of political cartoons for government run newspapers. As was the way of state-run media in the Arab world, Ferzat became known for his anti-Israel cartoons, such as the one to the right depicting an Israeli war plane dropping a bomb on a child while the pilot says “drop it gently”. By 1980, Ferzat won his first international award for his work from Intergraphic International Festival in Berlin, one of many European institutes quick to embrace his defamatory distortions of Israel while turning a blind eye to the atrocities of the regime he worked for in Syria. And it’s not that Israel was above criticism, but directly targeting children has never been one of its crimes, unlike the regime Ferzat worked for. To drive home the irony of his situation, in the same year that Ferzat won this first award, Syrian president Hafez Al-Asad, “the lion” as his name translates, besieged Ferzat’s home town of Hama and slaughtered around 25,000 men, women and children (some estimates say about 40,000) to crush an uprising by the Syrian majority Suni faction, in what’s been internationally dubbed the Hama massacre.

Demonstration in Syrian Hama, 2011

To Ali Ferzat’s credit, the Hama massacre apparently jarred something in him as he started producing more independent political cartoons that targeted corruption and oppression in the Arab world. By 1989 he’d received a death threat from Saddam Hussein and was banned in Iraq, Jordan and Lybia. With the passing of Hafez Al-Assad and the unopposed election of his son Bashar in 2000, who promised political reform in Syria, Ferzat found a friend in the new president who lifted the ban on independent journalism and allowed him to publish Syria’s first non-state run publication Al-Domari (The Lamplighter). The venture was short lived, however, due to Ferzat’s growing criticism of the Ba’ath Party’s refusal to follow through on its reform promises. The paper was shut down in 2003 after repeated government censorship, and state-manipulated drying-out of its funds.

Ferzat after the beating by Syrian regime thugs.

By 2005, when Tom Spurgeon cited the BBC article on Ferzat, his work had all but disappeared from the local press as no publisher in Syria was willing to carry it anymore, even as international acclaim of his work grew. This brings us to the ongoing Syrian Arab Spring uprising, where many of the demonstrations are again launched and led from Ferzat’s beleaguered home city of Hama. In that no foreign press has been allowed into Syria since, estimates of casualties vary but are mostly over 3000 civilians killed by direct fire from government forces, even though the demonstrators were unarmed and peaceful. Stories of plunder and rape leak out out from time to time on the web. To this background, Ali Ferzat returned to a more staunch series of recent cartoons, criticizing his former friend and patron Bashar Al-Assad, all of which led to his brutal beating and fracture of his hands by regime thugs last August.

The incident drew world-wide condemnation also in the Arab world that had been reluctant to criticize internal affairs of its constituent nations. A good sign of progress towards an airing out of the problems under some leaders there. Problems that have largely colored the cultures’ outlook on the rest of the world, mainly due to nationalistic solidarity and an overboding fear of straying from regime lines. These are maybe even a major influence on the general view of the Arab-Israeli conflict, exacerbated by the regimes’ hold on public opinion. And though many indications point to the Arab Spring possibly opening a Pandora’s box of extremist aggression, as visible in Egypt today, it still seems like a necessary step towards change there.

For the moment, however, Al-Assad’s hold on Syria shows little signs of teetering and Ali Ferzat remains at Bashar’s mercy. It’s very likely that their former friendship is the only reason he’s still alive today. It’s also likely that he’ll consider his moves more carefully since the beating. To my mind, Ferzat needs to get out of Syria right now, and continue his work from the outside where he can be free to say what he wants without fear of repercussion. I also think he’d have a much more attentive world audience that could put considerably more pressure on Al-Assad by doing so. I’m just not sure that his sense of national responsibility would allow him to leave Syria now, even in the face of suffering more harm by pursuing his cause from inside the lion’s den.

In spite of the wide international condemnation of Ferzat’s beating, there aren’t many signs of efforts with concrete steps planned to help him, nor for that matter to seriously intervene in what’s going on in Syria. Indeed, while we saw swift European involvement in Lybia, the international community has been reluctant to offer anything nearly comparable with Syria. Aside from calls for economic sanctions, it seems that Bashar Al-Assad is holding steadfastly in his brutal subversion of the people’s attempt to take the government away from his minority Alawi rule. One reason, it would seem, is that the threat of an extremist takeover in Egypt and a similar possibility in Lybia have curbed international enthusiasm for the Arab Spring, as if to say the world might be better off with the present totalitarian regime in Syria, than a possible takeover by a more volatile elements creeping into power after the fall of Bashar Al-Assad.

Ferzat and the Comics

A few Facebook pages have sprung up for moral support of Ali Ferzat as would be expected, but none seem to have come from comics related sources. The community has been mostly silent about it, and maybe that’s somewhat understandable due to the distance of the issues Ferzat tackles with his work. Our arena seems to have more of an entertainment nature that doesn’t like to get too serious with international intrigue, and the summer was strongly driven by DC’s reboot. Maybe that’s a good reason the story hasn’t been visible much, at least not to any degree that reflects the international coverage it’s received in wider media. As an entertainment medium, we can often be inattentive to such stories, not only in this case where a fellow creator/cartoonist suffers political harassment, foreign as his case may be to many of us, but also for other issues much closer to home, that we may not always raise to any effective volume, or bring to the forefront of concern.

In a summer that saw some reflections on the treatment of creators by major publishers, such as with the Jack Kirby Estate litigation against Marvel, the Siegel Estate litigation against DC, along with some insight into the plight of creators such as Gene Colan in their final years, a certain phrase reverberated through many of them saying that these cases should be bothering us a little more than they seem to. I believe there’s a straight line that can be drawn from this sentiment towards the need we have to keep up with the product driven news ticker most of us and fandom are caught up into. And I wouldn’t belittle the good curve that comics content is going through right now, nor some of the inspiring old and new work that’s flooding the comics web. But it does seem that we tend to agree to a consensus of what’s worthy of putting on our front pages, which also inadvertently defines what’s less suitable for them. We are a content driven medium, I understand, but I can’t help wonder if as creators, reporters and fan advocates of the medium, we’re striking a good enough balance of our needs relative to the non-content driven issues affecting the industry.

If a general feeling of something needing to bother us a little more, such as was repeated this summer, continues to nag at the background of the music we dance to, then we might need to pay a little more heed to the nagging voices if we hope to be able to enjoy the music more fully. Or maybe it’s that the music is ultimately made of a collection of nagging voices, mixed together in such a way to conceal their nature. Either way, there seem to be issues and stories popping up at the periphery of the medium that we’re not always able to air out thoroughly enough to address and act on them with some satisfaction.

I honestly don’t know what can be done through the comics community to help Ali Ferzat. I think we have many dire issues at home that we’re not facing or addressing any more effectively than pointing a fire extinguisher at a burning building. I’ve tried in the past, ineffectively, to push for more creator involvement in the world we swim in, and I’m first to admit I’m not the best voice for it. But I think we’re not yet collectively ready, neither at the group level, nor at personal individual level, for a serious change in this regard. Populist agitation is growing everywhere and scenarios of public unrest I’ve talked about before, are now rising to the surface of events at a hefty pace. Yet the comics community seems to remain relatively indifferent, as if we’re not yet grasping that we have a powerful instrument of influence on the world around us. I don’t think it’s a lack of knowing what specific steps we can take in order to have a more effective role or say in any particular issue. I rather tend to think it’s more of a button or switch that needs to be touched within us, igniting a necessity or urge to nudge us from a feeling of impotence that’s been imposed, or that we’ve self-imposed on ourselves, regarding everything outside our contained periphery. And in spite of this condition, I’m perfectly hopeful about our ability to make the switch at any point down the line, even as the trouble around us escalates.

I’m also not sure whether a fund-raising effort for Ali Ferzat is what he needs most right now. And as Tom said, it’s not clear how such funds, if raised, could be delivered to him through the iron curtain that Al-Assad has locked tightly shut since the uprisings. Trying to manage such a thing may be more efficient done through people closer to him. More than anything else, I think it’s we that need to feel this story bothering us a little more. In that sense, Ferzat may be in a better state than we are. He feels the problems around him and uses his art to address them and help others feel them. It might even sound somewhat presumptuous to think we’re the ones who can do anything to help him, instead of maybe realizing we’re the ones who might need to learn something from him.  But I’ll admit that I can’t for the life of me understand what it’s going to take to get us off our duffs so that a story like this, and other ones as well, become as important to us as Wonder Woman’s pants or Hawkeye’s reflections on the internet. There are a lot of possibilities for what we can do that would emerge from a desire or need to do something. But I don’t know, really. I’ve not been too keen in the past on figuring out what’s making us tick in this department. We have an enormous voice on the world stage as creators, journalists, fans and publishers, that we can enlist to become more engaged, given we can begin to nurture a collective need for it.

When asked in an interview about being a political dissident, Ferzat answered in classic comics creator form:

That’s belittling my importance as an artist. An artist and creator is more important than a politician.

A new drawing of Ali Ferzat to cover a missing copyright free image in his Wikipedia biography. Also a new addition to Portraits of the Creators Sketchbook.

Ali Ferzat in Portraits of the Creators Sketchbook

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The Jack Kirby Trigger

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Aftershocks of Marvel’s victory over the Jack Kirby Estate are rippling through the comics web community. Of special note is a spirited plea, Honoring a Fallen King, by Stephen R. Bissette, the prolific artist known for his collaboration with Alan Moore on Swamp Thing, calling for an industry-wide boycott of all Kirby derived products at Marvel, including films, toys, games and all other merchandising products.

Stephen’s bold call to action is being received with unpropitious agitation at Bleeding Cool forums, where it’s quickly topped the 150 comments mark, and where many members are venting their often misguided angst, that entirely misses the point of the moral foundation on which Stephen makes his plea. A few good forum members are holding the fort in answering this barrage of antagonism there, but the general thrust of the discussion is peculiar for comics fans who claim to base their opposition to a boycott on legal and financial ramifications it could have, while entirely disregarding the moral injustice that’s been rendered to the Kirby Estate…and which also portends of an overriding cataclysm not only for the comics industry but also for our entire world.

On the opposite side, Tom Spurgeon has called for a consideration of Stephen’s plea at The Comics Reporter. Indeed, and in staying in true form to his outspoken discourse on the moral injustices of creator/publisher issues, Tom delivers yet another masterpiece of reasoning and heart-felt disassociation from the grossly unjust treatment of creators by major publishers.  It cannot be stressed enough how important a voice such as Tom’s is, within the expanse of mainstream comics journalism, that seems to be more and more avert to taking such a clearly and blatantly confrontational position towards Marvel and DC.

It would be hoped that Stephen Bissette’s call to boycott Marvel is a beginning of an avalanche of public outcry to come. Indeed, if there ever was a creator/publisher issue that should trigger widespread condemnation, then Jack Kirby’s enormous and fundamental contribution to the medium we love, and his tireless creative output that shaped the modern narrative, along with his definitive influence on the cultural success of Marvel properties… all these suggest that this is the single-most event that should send a wake-up call to creators, fandom and the comics press, for realizing a minimal degree of moral humanity, that we should be demanding a greater representation of in the comics.

The case for the Jack Kirby Estate cannot, however, be isolated from the larger picture of the comics industry, nor from the signs of the times we live in, where global public unrest over the financial demise of the middle-class is reaching decibel levels that have not yet been heard in recent history. 

It is this basis, evident in the shattered Obama dream; along with people taking to the streets in France, Spain and Greece; giving rise to the Arab Spring; and agitating the African and Far-Eastern nations, that is at the heart of the injustice rendered to the legacy of Jack Kirby. Yes, it is all woven into an intricate web and driven by the same power-lust and obliteration of basic moral and humane considerations, that are leading our world into an intolerable critical mass where the only answer will be a bursting of the bubble that comes at the risk of the highest price possible.

The toppling of our social, political and economic infrastructures, and our subsequently trying to pick up the pieces in order to prepare a better world for our children. Until we more fully understand the implications of such local events as Marvel’s victory over the Jack Kirby Estate, and strive to fathom the operative forces at the root of the problem, then we have little chance of being prepared for the storm to come, that this case heralds.

It would seem that this is as good a time as any to once again call for comics creators to join together and form a guild or union in order to better withstand the strengthened position of publishers in the wake of this court decision. I cannot however mislead myself or anyone else by believing such a possibility is visible over the horizon. It is not yet imminent nor visible. I cannot also deceive myself or others to suggest that this could solve the problem of creator/publisher issues. It will not nor can it. Comics creators, fandom and the comics press, generally do not yet feel the heat strongly enough to support such a minimal needed step towards rectifying injustices inherent in the medium. And even if they did, it is long past a time that a guild or union can be effective, considering how the root of the problem, which is far beyond the comics industry, has raised its head on the world stage over the last decade.

It was in this spirit that I proposed The Comic Book Creators’ Party, as a political union of creators, borne to address the larger global issues affecting the comics industry, back in 2004.

The site called on creators to organize for the 2008 elections in an effort to take leadership of the United States, under a platform calling for a vision for the success of all of humanity. And while most industry proponents scoffed at the notion, primarily citing that America wasn’t ready for such a message, it turned out that the Barak Obama victory of 2008, driven by a platform calling for the same vision, proved that America was indeed ready.

Part of the message in the website was to utilize the San Diego Comic-Con International as the event within which to announce the launching of the party.

I believe Stephen Bissette is right on target by calling for the boycott to culminate in a painful blow to Marvel at the 2012 SDCC International. This is one of the single-most events and vehicles at the disposal of the comics industry that should be utilized to loudly voice the cry for justice, and make it heard around the world.

But I cannot also deceive myself or others by suggesting such a possibility is imminent, or visible around the corner. Indeed most of the people who would lead such a clearly needed effort, and this includes creators, fans and the comics press, are not anywhere near prepared to raise such an aspiration to the forefront of discourse in the comics community and to begin working towards making it a reality. Even though it may be clear to a lot of people that the times have become more agreeable with such an effort. The barriers to such thinking and action appear to be two-fold. On the one hand, we have natural psychological checks in place which prevent us from initiating something that does not yet appear to have wider public support. On the other, we tend to maintain a complacency of action, if it seems that the action could threaten the stability of our local environment – regardless of how clearly we can see that the present path we’re on is heading for all-out chaos and anarchy that will likely obliterate any stability we’re holding onto anyway.

No, I cannot deceive myself or anyone by suggesting a revolution is around the corner. It is not. But I can tell you with unrestrained assurance that it is certainly at least a few neighborhoods away, if not actually the distance of only several blocks.

The critical mass cataclysm is coming. The fall of the Jack Kirby Legacy and Estate, trampled by the corporate insensitivity and greed of Marvel Comics, heralds a trigger for public outcry and unrest of the magnitude we can only hope for. Stephen Bissette has just squeezed the trigger and fired the shot that should be heard around the industry and the world.

I have not personally bought a DC or Marvel product in the last decade nor do I intend to. Nor do I believe the struggle will begin or end with Stephen’s call for the boycott. But for everyone frequenting comic book shops, it is imperative to take his advise and let retailers know why you’re not buying a Marvel product.  It is imperative to capture this momentum and elevate it into the front pages of the comics industry.

And it is no less imperative that we begin opening our eyes and utilizing all the tools at our disposal to put the more serious issues to the forefront of public talk. Having fun with 52 relaunches and retailer gimmicks is alright when placed in proportion. But such fun cannot continue to be the bread and butter of our lives, when it’s all leading us astray into a very dangerous future that will catch us unawares and unprepared.

It’s time to start getting ready for the more serious action coming our way, and that means raising the more serious issues into public debate.

 

Save the Comics

Wake Up, Sneaker Pimps!

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It’s somewhat daunting to be reminded of fellow colleagues in the creator community defending DC and Marvel, during heated debates on the “creator revolution” (I wonder what happened to that, or did some of the comics press effectively kill it by turning a blind eye to the real debate?), against my charges of their mistreatment of creators as being the root cause for their intentionally keeping the industry in a constant decline mode.

But every once in a while a series of events converge to give us a clearer picture of the ugly practices of major publishers, relative to creators who are the source and cause of their success, and who are mostly discarded like bloody rags when they’ve been sucked dry of stories and properties with which publishers build their empires.

At Bleeding Cool, Rich Johnston reports about the Kirby Estate losing the Summary Judgement against Marvel for Entitlement to Termination of properties that Kirby co-created with Stan Lee. He posted the entire document of the ruling which is a revealing statement on the mitigating conditions creators work under, relative to Intellectual Property rights they should ostensibly have a legal avenue by which to reclaim. Looks like it was an easy win for Marvel who can now be even more emboldened against such future claims.

And in contrast, over on Tom Spurgeon’s The Comics Reporter, he posts links to two articles by creators, revealing a realization and fighting spirit that we can hope to see more of, and touching on mitigating instances of publishers’ behavior towards writers and artists:

1. WAKE UP: Matt Seneca on a Marvel tribute to Gene Colan in Daredevil.

2011-: It isn’t the tribute itself, which is a touching example of hearts in the right place and even carries traces of what seems like genuine emotion at points. It’s what it stands for: a tiny gesture of remote pity by an immortal giant watching the lives of the people who built it pass more quickly than they should. It is a hypocritical expression. A lie. 

This is what happens to the lives that give themselves to the world’s most beautiful medium. This is what working in comics does to people.

Something is wrong.

2. SNEAKER PIMPS: Warren Ellis on publishers lying to and pitting creators against each other.

Not only are they fostering a creative condition where even Eddie fucking Campbell can’t triumph, but they are finding new and interesting ways to piss off more people than they’re hiring.  Now, comics has no shortage of resentful people –  but do you really want to create exponentially more?  People who can identify the exact individuals who fucked them over, and wait?

Commercial comics can be enough of a snakepit even in relatively benign times.  But bringing back a process both demeaning and creatively inferior, and just fucking lying to people about it?  I don’t like what that says about the next cycle in the field.  I guess the Nineties really are coming back.

If the Kirby judgement is any indication, and it certainly seems to be, it looks like things will get worse before they get any better. But will this help awaken the comics community, creators, fandom and press alike, to overcome an overriding complacency we continue to try to resist?

Or will we be forever wooed by 52 Relaunches and Retailer Gimmicks meant to divert attention away from the more sinister reasons for the decline of the printed comic book?

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Have Peace, Dwayne

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I was far away from comics when Dwayne McDuffie emerged into the medium with a talent and humanity that crossed genre and inter social barriers. We had occasion to exchange a few words on the web that only sharpened the widely held sense of the extraordinary writer, producer and humanist he was. The comics industry and world are poorer for your untimely departure, Dwayne.  Condolences to family and friends.

Click image above to go to Tom Spurgeon’s Collective Memory of Dwayne McDuffie

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A little more on Dick Giordano

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The Comics Reporter Tom Spurgeon delivers (in familiar incomparable form) an in depth review of Dick Giordano’s career.

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The Groovy Agent posts a complete unforgettable vintage Dick Giordano Batman tale.

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Steven Thompson doesn’t talk much about being a member of an International Team of Comics Historians. It was only due to his linking to this site’s remembrance of Dick Giordano that the delightfully perky Super I.T.C.H Blog came under our radar. Even in his passing, Dick continues contributing to and promoting the comics history he loved.

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Neal Adams mourns the loss of a brother and friend:

Dick GiordanoInking my work was the LEAST significant thing that Dick did for-me and to me. I loved Dick like a brother and a friend. He cared for and loved me. I was made better by him. For a time, we were partners, on a handshake. NO ONE didn’t like Dick Giordano and respect him. Who can say that? Look at that face. JUST,…look at it.

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If You Love Something…

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Just go read this.

And don’t forget to look at the video.

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Tom Spurgeon | On the Serious Side

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By its very nature, pop-culture is most often seen and presented as a light and fluffy affair. And though there are always exceptions, or perhaps even that exceptions abound, the general thrust of major pop-culture news and commentary institutes, and especially these of the comics, is to keep their content, look and feel on the lighter, more colorful, side of the attitude scale. This is not necessarily a criticism of the prevailing phenomenon, magnified by the proliferation of such outlets on the web. It is simply a persistent reality, for better or worse, which rules the thrust of most all sources for news and information on the medium. And even though more exceptions abound in the private expanse of the blogosphere, this has not proven enough to have a lasting visible impact on the big league trend setters.

Standing apart from all these are a few notable enterprises, to whose credit a more selective and in-depth approach to news and commentary remains a mainstay. Tom Spurgeon, proprietor and operator of The Comics Reporter, whose professional origins as editor of the equally serious Comics Journal, has successfully established himself as a unique leading voice for a more insightful approach to comics journalism.

Though it doesn’t cover all the current news items appearing at major outlets, TCR has carved a niche for itself for its commentary on major events and behind the scenes of the industry. The analysis always digs deeper beneath the surface of convention to reveal new insight, driven by a prevailing sense of the betterment of the industry, and seen in a more long-range historical perspective, unhindered by what’s necessarily viewed as being currently popular.

An additional aspect of the site is the array of material it covers, bringing together the wide range of genres from Indies, manga, cartooning and mainstream superhero, and everything in between, under one roof, giving them all their due regard as equal constituents of the comics world. Every visit to the site becomes a treat of sometimes obscure but pertinent information that major outlets can’t  allow themselves the time or space to carry. From publications to exhibits and other events in the comics periphery, the impression one gets from visiting the site regularly is that nothing truly eventful is able to slip under its radar.

TCR also carries some of the more comprehensive listings for creator and publisher websites, along with an ongoing bibliography project, and topped off by an array of indexed compilations of comics stores, distributors, and other useful utilities.  When adding Tom’s daily birthday wishes to comics and comics related notables, which is of the most extensive seen anywhere, viewing the site becomes a sojourn into another realm, unmatched in its vibrancy and rich in unique detail, leaving a lasting and fulfilling impression that there exists nothing else like it for an all-encompassing serious approach to comics related content.

Tom Spurgeon is co-author of Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book along with Wildwood for King Features Syndicate, which also makes him a comics creator and certainly a candidate for Portraits of the Creators Sketchbook. That his Wikpedia biography was lacking a copyright-free image clinched the subject for our next entry.

Tom Sppurgeon: Portraits of the Creators Sketchbook.

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Have Peace, Eric

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Eric Aryeh Mahr 1955-2010

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At first it seemed like a mistake. An email from Joe Rubinstein asking if it was true that Eric Mahr had passed away, and if so, how. I couldn’t understand how such a thing is possible but looked around and found an obituary in the Buffalo News, yet still couldn’t see the connection. It’s not so uncommon a name, after all. I looked at Eric’s website, Mahrwood Press, and saw no indication. Emailed back to Joe that it must be someone else. Keep on checking, he said. I then visited Targum Press, where Eric was CEO. The front page obituary slammed into me like a ten ton truck with a payload of shock and sorrow.

No other news to be found on the web.  Maybe Clifford Meth knows, I thought, but Clifford’s shock was equal to mine. Maybe Sofia.  No.  Hearing the news wasn’t the easiest way for her to start her day either.  Eric’s gone and no one knows.

Stupid. How could I forget his Facebook page. Don’t do Facebook that much anymore, but there was the entire story on Eric’s profile. Countless condolences for Jody and the kids. An audio file of eulogies from the funeral that just took place on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.  Eric’s older brother, Sanford, who couldn’t make the trip from the U.S. due to health restrictions, tells the story in a moving written eulogy recited by a friend at the funeral.

Eric and Jody flew to Buffalo NY last week to attend the funeral of Jody’s father… and another one of Eric’s uncle. Eric was very close to both. Way too much sorrow and grief for one family, one man, to suffer at once.  One funeral after the other.  But Eric was almost done.  Only one more eulogy for his uncle left to give.  His heart, ripped into shreds, pressed on with love, grief, memories and praise.  At the grave.  Pressed on so hard that it couldn’t press on anymore.  That’s when Eric collapsed.  Giving the eulogy at his uncle’s grave.  His heart.  His soul.  Collapsed at the grave.

Almost done. Way too much sorrow.

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It was a cheerful spring of 1994 when we first met. Eric called from Jerusalem asking if I was who he thought. Said he was a long time fan of my comics work, ardent comics aficionado and acquaintance of Neal Adams and his family in New York. We’d spend the next few years riding the bridge between the two distant worlds we both shared. The two worlds of comic books and Jewish heritage. Not an easy bridge to play on at all. Two worlds that don’t seem to share much in common, though we both knew how much in common they really shared.  So much so that we could hardly imagine a Jewish heritage without comic books or comics books without Jews.  Like me, Eric was raising a young family with heart stretched across the long divide between past and present loves and lives. Refusing to let go of either. Searching for ways to keep both worlds connected. Here in Israel.  Living only 20 minutes apart on the West Bank of our Jewish heritage… and our comics books.

Eric acclimated to Israeli life and culture quickly. Studied technical writing and secured a position with technology giant Comverse, and soon rose to position of marketing director of overseas projects. Though often on the road, he never forgot the neighborhood. Always thought of his friends. Several freelance design and animation commissions from Comverse that he directed my way were of the most lucrative and creative jobs I did in Israel during the 1990’s.  But that wasn’t enough for Eric. He wanted to work in comics and was intent on bridging the two worlds. By the turn of the millennium he found a way and established Mahrwood Press, beginning an outstanding line of comics books for the Jewish world. Comic books rich with thousands of years of the history and heritage of his ancestors .

During a visit to Israel, Joe Rubinstein talked about Eric approaching him to help illustrate stories for Mahrwood. Joe Kubert was already on board with a project. Eric was publishing one book after the other. It’s enough to simply peruse Mahrwood’s front page to see the rich array of books he produced, almost as a one man operation. He was publisher, editor, writer, coordinator, letterer and anything else that needed to be done to produce the books. It was the only way to raise such an operation from the ground up.

Though I contributed sporadically to Eric’s venture, my former partner Sofia Fedorov-Polonsky became a regular artist and colorist for Mahrwood press. Her Moscow art training and exquisite sensibilities went on to help define the brand name of books he produced.  In 2006, he conceived a project to help Israeli children displaced by the Second Lebanon War. Balm in Gilead featured some of the comic book industry giants, pitching in to help offset criticism against Israel and the financial setbacks the war caused its northern citizens.  Edited by Clifford Meth, it featured contributions by Neal Adams, Jon Bogdanove, Dave Cockrum, Jack Dann, Jeffrey Jones, Joe Kubert, Stan Lee, Robert Silverberg, William Tenn, Marv Wolfman, Michael W. Kaluta, myself and many more.  It was the landmark project that showed how Eric’s love and devotion for the two worlds he was ardently dedicated to, had fulfilled the ambitions he dreamed of  a decade before. Eric’s persistence and perseverance became a shining light in a world often governed by feelings of helplessness and futility.

In recent years, Eric supplemented his commitment to Mahrwood Press by also taking on the position of CEO of Targum Press book publishers, elevating the production quality and output of both enterprises simultaneously.

Eric Mahr’s unique contribution to the global comic book industry was only one side of a man driven by his convictions and commitments to his family, his people and his chosen profession. The other side, evident in the eulogies at his funeral, and well known to Sofia and I who were privileged to work with him, was the more indication of the special soul residing in him. A man with a heart of gold as big as his ambition. A giver at every turn. A father and husband cherished by family, friends, acquaintances and colleagues. There was not a time that Sofia and I met with Eric, that we didn’t talk on and on about the uplifting experience he left us with. About that soft-hearted man with a zest for life and a vision for tomorrow, to match the expanse of the worlds he toiled to bridge together and enhance.

The comics have lost a unique lover and contributer to its legacy.  The Jewish people have lost a visionary who’s left an indelible mark on its culture.

Our deepest condolences to Jody, the children Benjamin and his wife Shifra Hanna, Chava Sara and her fiance Moshe Yehuda Saposh, Raphael Moshe and Yosef Shmuel Alezer, grandchildren Moshe Yehosua and Sora Brucha, brother Sanford and sister Marilyn. May you be comforted from above with the peace of Jerusalem and Zion.

Michael Netzer and Sofia Fedorov-Polonsky
Ofra, Jerusalem, 2010.

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Family, friends and comics professionals remember Eric

  • Eulogies at the funeral – audio file.
  • Sanford Mahr‘s eulogy of his brother Eric in text format, telling of Eric’s childhood, their growing together and Eric’s last moments in his arms.
  • Clifford Meth‘s moving tribute to Eric at his blog.
  • Tom Spurgeon reports on Eric’s departure at The Comics Reporter.
  • Moshe Chaim Gress, artist and colleague, remembers Eric (from Facebook).
  • Hazon Yeshaya Humanitarian Network dedicates its hot meals nationwide to Eric’s memory (Word document).

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