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At some point back in the 1980s, I picked up a copy of FantaCo's Daredevil Chronicles, a comic-sized magazine with a lot of articles and interviews about Marvel's Daredevil. But one of the art pieces in it was something by Michael Gilbert featuring Marvel's Daredevil beside Lev Gleason's Daredevil. That was the first time I'd heard of the earlier character. And one of the key points (besides his existence) that I learned was that the character was originally mute! "The world's first mute hero!"

Even in that one page piece, it states that trait was later revised, but I'd for some reason always assumed it was later in the character's run. Maybe around the time the Little Wise Guys started gaining popularity. I discovered yesterday, though, that the change was actually almost immediate. Daredevil debuted in Silver Streak #6 and he's talking up a storm by #7.

I can't really fathom why, though.

In the original story, they go out of his way to make sure you know he's mute. On the opening page narration, it says, "During the attack, the thugs branded Bart's chest with a hot iron shaped like a boomerang. The torture caused the boy to lose his voice." So it's very much a part of the character's origin, standing out from other heroes of the era. (Indeed, standing out from other heroes, period. How many other mute comic book heroes do you know of?)

Now, the initial thought I had when realizing the character was only mute for one issue was that the creator might have had difficulty in communicating the character's thoughts and ideas to the reader if he couldn't speak. But there are two big problems with that. First, he's given thought balloons that act pretty much as dialogue anyway. Second, creators Don Rico (probably the writer) and Jack Binder (definitely the artist) left after that one story, and all the creative duties were picked up by Jack Cole, so they wouldn't have even been around to think maybe writing a mute character was too hard.

Now, the next thing I could think of would be that Cole wasn't given much information about the character, and reworked things out of ignorance, maybe basing his work off a single sketch or something. The problem with that theory, though, is that Cole was also editor of the series! He would have absolutely known what had gone into the previous issue! There no way Cole could not have known the character was intended to be mute.

There don't seem to be good statistics on the number of mute people in the world, or even just a single country. The World Health Organization estimates 15.6% of the world have some form of disability, and 2.2% of the overall population have what might be classified as a severe disability giving them "very significant difficulties in functioning."

And yet we see very, very few instances of characters who exhibit any disability in comics. That's one of the reasons fans got upset when DC revamped Barbara Gordon (again) and removed her from her wheelchair. In scanning through a variety of lists, the biggest/most well-known mute character I can find in comics seems to be Man-Thing. (One could argue Black Bolt is mute, but that that is an active choice on his part and not the result of a physical, mental, or emotional problem seems to me to put him in a slightly different class.) Besides that, you've got a couple infrequently-used Green Lanterns and a handful of background characters that were used for a single story.

When people talk about diversity, it's not just about race. I know I tend to focus on trying to find/highlight/promote more people of color, and even when ableism is brought up, it's often thought of in terms of missing limbs. Ultimately, I don't know why Daredevil was changed after a single issue. But I'm talking today about being mute because that should be a concern as well. Just because mute people don't speak doesn't mean they shouldn't get a voice.
Let me clear right off the bat: today I'm talking about Strange Fruit: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History by Joel Christian Gill from 2014. This is not about the Mark Waid and J.G. Jones book of the same name from 2015. The Waid/Jones book is fiction; Gill's book is history. (Hence my reviewing it under my "On History" section.)

Strange Fruit is a collection of nine stories about Black men from American history that are generally not taught in schools. Seven of the stories are fairly straightforward biographies, one is more of an autobiography (using the subject's own correspondence as narration), and one is more broadly about a town. Some of the subjects I was at least somewhat familiar with previously, but most were entirely new to me. For the record,
the book contains biographies of Henry "Box" Brown, Harry "Bucky" Lew, Richard Potter, Theophilus Thompson, Alexander Crummel,
Marshall "Major" Taylor, Spottswood Rice, Bass Reeves, and the town on Malaga Island. (I happened to read a Taylor biography by Frederick Noland recently, and Gill himself later expanded his Reeves biography into a full book which I reviewed earlier this year.)

The biographies here are solid, if necessarily short by the dictates of the overall book length itself. Gill has clearly done his homework, and chosen subjects with a range of backgrounds. Accordingly, he tells each story differently using a variety of framing devices and tonal styles that match the lives of his subjects. His cartoony style is somewhat deceptive in that it belies both the drama of the stories and some of the design and storytelling sensibilities Gill has. Although, in much the same way that "strange fruit" is something of a euphemism, Gill also avoids any particularly graphic aspects of the stories; for example, using actual crows to suggest the violence that came with enforcing Jim Crow laws.

I know I've complained in a variety of places (frequently on Facebook) about how I remain upset at how distorted a view of history I was taught in school. I knew from around seventh grade that a lot was getting glossed over but as I get older, I keep discovering instances where we were flatly lied to. I feel like I've had to spend a good chunk of my adult life re-learning everything (primarily history) that I was taught incorrectly. So I love that comics like the ones Gill is creating are out there, not only improving the education that I should have gotten in school, but doing so in an engaging comic format that I'm already enjoy. I love that Gill is one of the guys out there doing exactly this type of thing. I understand he's working on Strange Fruit volume 2 right now, and I'm eager to pick that up whenever he's done.

All that said, I do have two minor complaints about this book. First is that some of the biographies are left incomplete. Not that Gill never finished the story, but that the figures disappear from history and we just don't know what happened to them. Given the subject matter, that's sadly not entirely surprising, but it's still a bit of a disappointment.

The second issue I have is that all of the Gill's subjects are men. Women only show up as mothers, wives, and daughters. Naturally, given that Gill is trying to focus on "uncelebrated narratives", women like Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman are poor candidates, and given that Black women are generally the least well respected (and therefore least documented) group of people in American history, I can understand that finding female-focused narratives would be more difficult, but what about Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin or Sarah E. Goode or Sophia B. Packard or Frances E.W. Harper or...

(Side Note 1: These are just a handful of notable Black women I looked up just now. Me, the ignorant white guy.)

(Side Note 2: If you don't know these women, look them up!)

Gill's subjects are interesting, certainly, but I think that since he's trying to address giving due credit to under-represented Black historical figures, he shouldn't limit himself to only men.

But all in all, I'll recommend any of Gill's historical books. He does a good job of presenting history in an entertaining and engaging way, and that he's covering poorly covered subjects makes it that much better!
There have been more than a few pieces recently commenting on Chuck Rozanski's decision to not set up a Mile High Comics booth at Comic-Con International for the first time in 40-some years. As he explained in his newsletter, it basically boils down to the math -- rising costs and shrinking revenue. He's actually cited this trend the past few years, and as I recall, he seriously considered dropping the show last year.

I first became aware of Mile High Comics back in the early 1980s via the ads they would take out in various comics. The ads were visually unattractive, just a full page (or two!) listing of comics for sale, but they proved to be very functional. They told you what comics they had available and how much each cost. If you couldn't find what you were looking for at your local shop, and travel to the nearest convention 150 miles away wasn't a regular option, this was clearly your best way to get back issues. (This is all pre-internet, of course.) The first check I ever wrote was actually to Mile High Comics, ordering around a dozen back issues of, I think, Marvel Two-in-One. Mile High certainly wasn't the only one to use that approach, nor were they the first, but they often had a better/broader selection than most anyone else's advertised listings.

I don't recall precisely how soon they jumped into internet sales, but their early site presence was basically a long-form, digitized version of their ads. That is, it consisted of hard-coded lists, and you had to write down what you wanted in an email or fax and send the that over to them. They could accept credit card payments, but you had to write your card number down and send that along for them to process manually.

I know that they teased for a while a searchable online catalog, but it eventually went live in 1998. You were then able to scan through their entire stock (not just the titles that someone keyed in manually and may not have updated recently) and click which comics you wanted to order. Again, with their huge inventory, it made finding normally hard-to-find comics easy. Particularly if you were looking for a number of different titles/issues, and didn't want to pick them off one at a time in ebay.

Rozanski saw that the internet was going to become the primary way to sell back issues, and he updated his business model accordingly. It took some time, and probably cost a lot of money, but it's kept him as a relevant retailer for the past two decades.

but have they updated their business model in those two decades? The Mile High site has remained essentially unchanged, with only a few superficial modifications to the front end. You can still run a title search, but the results appear in a seemingly random order (if I recall correctly, it's based on most popular results, but there's nothing that says that currently) and clicking the button to add any given issue to your shopping cart provides no feedback letting you know the task has been completed. Not to mention that the whole site design and structure looks like it's trapped in the late 1990s, with links for EVERYTHING running down the sides of the home page. Technically, the site does use a style sheet, but it's very rudimentary one.

The site still works, but it's not a great user experience. And in light of ebay adding more of a shopping cart functionality and Amazon allowing third parties to sell through their site, Mile High's previous benefit of having tons of stock in a single location becomes less of a selling point since users can do much the same thing elsewhere. Even though they may be buying from multiple sellers, the unified check-out process means that it may as well be a single seller from the purchaser's point of view. They don't care how many people their books come from, or how many individual packages show up on their doorstep; they just don't want to have to enter their credit card information several times.

Rozanski is right that the demographics of Comic-Con have shifted away from his favor. He noted that a lot of people don't even come into that exhibit hall, in favor of attending the various off-site parties and events elsewhere in the city. But this is part of the broader shift from purchasing "stuff" to purchasing "experiences." That was the underlying message at D23 last week -- that whole Star Wars themed hotel they announced is about a full extension of that as is currently possible.

If I want a "thing" I can order it online. In many cases, I probably don't even have to pay for shipping. The two things I'm going to be looking at are the price and the ease of the purchase. Mile High prices their books fairly (when you consider they under-grade most everything) but not cheaply, so they're rarely going to win on price. And if they don't continue investing in the purchase experience -- either online or at shows -- their customers will look elsewhere.

One of the challeges in today's marketplace is that things are changing constantly. What worked forty years ago won't work today. What worked twenty years ago won't work today. What worked five years ago might not work today. The Red Queen told Alice, “My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.” I don't know that Lewis Carroll had 2017 business models in mind when he wrote that, but it definitely applies today!
Here are this week's links to what I've had published recently...

The Comics Alternative - Smart Discussions on Comic Books and Graphic Novels: Webcomics: Reviews of Gods Can't Die, Kamikaze, and The Secret Life of Gitmo's Women

FreakSugar: Fanthropology: Reclaiming Terms

Kleefeld on Comics: On History: Reggae Marvel

Kleefeld on Comics: Weekly Comics Links

FreakSugar: Webcomics Wednesday: Tag!

Kleefeld on Comics: On -isms: T'Challa's Coming

Kleefeld on Comics: On Strips: Post Syndicate Syndication

Last week, someone mentioned the old Bungles comic strip by Harry J. Tuthill. I had heard of the Bungles, but knew little about them and nothing about Tuthill himself. So I started with a quick Wikipedia search. Tuthill was something of an unlikely cartoonist, seemingly not doing anything related to drawing or illustration until his 30s. But he launched Home Sweet Home in 1918, which he retitled The Bungle Family in 1924. He finally retired in 1945, and passed away in 1957.

Here's the passage from his Wikipedia entry that stands out to me, though...
Tuthill continued to draw The Bungle Family for McNaught [Syndicate] until he had a dispute with the syndicate in 1939, which no longer carried the strip in 1942. After a hiatus, the strip returned May 16, 1943, with newspapers running a promotional banner, "The Bungles Are Back!" The final two years were syndicated by Tuthill himself until 1945 when he retired.
My first question is: what was this dispute about? I can't find any other references to it online, and what I have in my print library doesn't mention it at all. The Don Markstein Toonopedia page says that Tuthill tried retiring multiple times, so perhaps it was a conflict over that? The notion of ownership would be another obvious candidate, although given that he later returned to the strip without McNaught which suggests that Tuthill was able to hold on to the copyright, so maybe that was never in contention.

But that's the other thing that strikes me: Tuthill syndicated the strip himself in the 1940s. That wasn't unheard of, I suppose, but syndicates had been the primary distributors of newspaper comics for at least a couple decades by then. Tuthill certainly would have been aware of, if not made many contacts in the newspaper world by 1943, so that would have helped him. Creators often don't syndicate their own work because it requires a lot of business and social skills that right-brain creators don't often possess in abundance, if at all. I suspect it's much easier now, with so much being run digitally, but back in the mid-1940s, everything would have had to have been done manually. Do-able, but as a ton of additional work besides just creating the strip itself. Not to mention that a lot of newspapers only wanted to deal with one syndicate, rather than worry about and juggle two or more different accounts for comic books.

And this is all in 1943 to boot!

Does anyone know more of this story that they'd be willing/able to share? This sounds absolutely fascinating!
Last August, I wrote about how I thought Black Panther was going to stoke a lot of pride and excitement in the Black community. To quote myself...
Any success that movie has -- critical, box office, whatever -- will resonate very loudly and strongly with them. If you talk to any Black geeks or nerds about the movie, you'll see an excitement behind their eyes. Restrained, perhaps, because they know it could all go to shit between now and the movie's release but the anticipation is there.
In the past almost-a-year, we haven't learned a ton about the how the movie's going but we do have a teaser trailer that was very well-received and just this week Entertainment Weekly released a bunch of cast photos. And every time a new snippet gets released, I see a bunch of Marvel fans going "This looks awesome!" and a bunch of people of color forcibly restraining themselves from just running around the room in circles squeeing at the top of their voice!

Remember when Ghostbusters came out, and a lot of women were very openly thankful that they finally had a movie like that to relate to? And the LGBTQ community was thrilled to see Kate McKinnon steal just about every scene she was in? Multiple that level of excitement by a hundred.

The film not only stars a primarily Black cast, but so is director Ryan Coogler. And so is Joe Robert Cole, who co-wrote the script with Coogler. And so is costume designer Ruth E. Carter. Not everyone involved in the movie's production is Black, but a very good number of them that have a significant impact on the story and visuals are. That is a lot more representation than we saw in Ghostbusters or Wonder Woman, and that has a lot of POC excited.

Really excited.

When the trailer was released during Game 4 of the NBA playoffs, the trailer garnered more social media attention than the game itself. "The real-time reaction to the Black Panther trailer was overwhelmingly positive on social media; reaffirming what the success of Wonder Woman has already proven — that fans of Marvel and DC movies are hungry for representation," Jonathan Cohen, principal brand analyst at Amobee noted at the time. He went on: "Audiences want to see superheroes onscreen that reflect their own diversity, and when that does occur, there's a heightened level of excitement and nervousness that the movie is going to measure up to expectations... Based on the audience's reaction to the teaser, it appears fans have gone from cautiously optimistic about the Black Panther movie to feeling February 2018 can't come soon enough."

This is all last month's news. But from the other conversations I've had, I don't think most people have an inkling of just how big this will go over in the Black community. Those women-only showings of Wonder Woman? Expect at least as many Black-only showings of Black Panther. I know Black people who are planning their whole week of the movie's opening now. My wife, who has never been in a theater in the almost ten years that I've known her, who hasn't seen any of the Marvel movies (including the one I'm actually in!), who doesn't even like the superhero genre, has asked me if there's any way I can get advance screening tickets to Black Panther. Regardless of where it is. She's willing to fly to New York or Los Angeles or wherever just to see this movie as soon as possible.

(As an aside, seriously, I know it's early, but if anyone can help hook me up with advance tickets, that would be really fantastic! And that "any city" comment isn't hyperbole either.)

There's still a lot of opportunity between now and February for something to go sideways, though, and all the POC that I know are trying to keep things cool. But I'm telling you, they are just keeping things in reserve for now. As we get closer to the opening date, things are going to get more and more lit. Excuse my attempt at contemporary slang, but that's really the best descriptor here. I genuinely think white people will be taken aback by how big this will get for Black people; I'm telling you now to expect it. There is a metric ton of excitement that is barely kept from exploding all over the internet right now; this will be big.

Yes, there will be jackasses protesting Black-only screenings. Yes, there will be reviewers panning the film for being "too Black." Yes, there will be a call for a boycott of the film. And Black people will collectively (and rightly) tell all those assholes to fuck all the way off.

I'm saying now that this is predictable and expected. This is not Beyonce creating an entire album in secret; we know T'Challa is coming. Don't be one of those fools writing a "clever" "think piece" about how Black Panther "unexpectedly" tapped into some zeitgeist of Black culture. You'll see those pieces next February, too. Tell the people who write them to wake up for once and pay attention to something outside their little privilege bubble.

Don't say I didn't warn you.