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I Am Not Your Negro -- a documentary about the history of race relations in the United States, largely through writer James Baldwin's own knowledge and recollections of various civil rights leaders -- debuted a few years ago. It's based off an unfinished manuscript by Baldwin, and makes heavy use of recordings of him.

At the time I saw, when someone had posted the trailer for the movie on Facebook for the first time, the first response to come up was from someone asking who the guy who was shown at the start of the clip and did all of the talking. While they don't expressly say "This is James Baldwin" in the clip, it's pretty apparent that's who it is. But, even after identifying Baldwin by name, the original responder still had no clue who he was until someone pointed to his Wikipedia entry.

I don't say this to mock that individual. I suspect most people in the States have never heard Baldwin's name before. I know I hadn't until maybe ten years ago. As far as the majority of America is concerned, the Civil Rights movement consisted of entirely Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. Maybe, among those who went out of their way to learn something outside of their classrooms, you could add Malcolm X, Jesse Jackson, and John Lewis. Names like Baldwin, Huey Newton, E. D. Nixon, Medgar Evers, Whitney Young, and who knows how many others simply don't get mentioned at all.

I've mentioned before how I think more comic biographies of Black luminaries need to be made. Today, I want to make a special call-out to suggest someone make one of James Baldwin. That people like him are so widely unknown, I think, is a large part of the problem today, where people don't listen -- don't want to listen -- to views and experiences that don't closely reflect their own. I'm not about to claim a biographic comic about Baldwin is going to bring peace to the world, but it sure would help in its understanding.
Last week, Marvel announced a primary cast for their upcoming Fantastic Four movie. I hadn't planned on weighing in at all, but I'm drawing a blank on what to write about today, so I figure I'd throw out some thoughts on what I think should/shouldn't be in the movie. I'm not as invested in the characters as I used to be, but I do have some cred on the topic -- I had my first letter published in that comic back in 1988 in which I was also awarded a No-Prize; when fan sites were a thing, I ran (the largest, most comprehensive FF site on the web by a wide margin) for over a decade; and I've even helped out some of Marvel's writers and editors out by doing research and providing continuity checks. With some of that out of the way, here's what I think should/shouldn't be in the upcoming movie (in no particular order)...
  • No origin. We've seen it; it's been done. And it's not even necessary. ("How can you do a superhero movie with no origin story?" "The Incredibles.") Not to mention that if you try to use the original origin, it makes no damned sense to today's audiences. And there's not a decent way to update it without changing a lot of the motivations and characterizations -- regardless if it's a rocket or dimensional portal or whatever, the root problem is that maybe only two of the team should be there in the first place. Maaaaybe three if you add a scientist background for Sue. Johnny has no place there, and if you change things so that he does, he's no longer the same character. Skip the origin altogether.
  • No Doctor Doom. I know he's everybody's favorite villain and the MCU needs a new big bad with them having to drop Kang, but Doom isn't your opener. He should be more of a Thanos type threat, where he's only hinted at for several movies before he becomes the actual antagonist. In fact, I would suggest there should not be a villain at all! Why? Because the Fantastic Four aren't superheroes. They're a family, they're explorers, they work for the betterment of mankind by pursuing ideas and boundaries that will help Earth. They've not there to fight bank robbers or Nazis or whatever. Sure, they'll stop a purse snatcher if it comes up but that's not their goal. Let's leave villains out of this. (I'll get to story ideas that don't include villains in a bit.)
  • The offical art that Marvel presented has a very '60s vibe to it. I think this is definitely the way to start. This does several things. First, it immediately differentiates them from every other Marvel movie; they've got a unique tone right off the bat. Second, it explains why they're totally absent from all the Avengers related movies and the Thanos storyline. Third (and admittedly this is really minor) it lends credence to Dr. Strange's quip in Multiverse of Madness about how the Reed Richards he meets "charted in the '60s." (Fun fact: there was actually a band also called the Fantastic Four that got to number 6 on the R&B charts in 1967 with "The Whole World Is a Stage." Strange's commment had two meanings!)
  • The '60s vibe should be treated as if it were other media from that time period. That is, it should be set up and presented with the campy vibe of 1960s' science fiction movies like Fantastic Voyage and The Angry Red Planet. They shouldn't go as campy as Adam West's Batman or anything, but it should give the same vibe as going to a drive-in in the '60s.
  • But that should only be the first act of the movie. The team should go off exploring or adventuring somewhere where time runs differently than in our reality. The Negative Zone, for example. They jump in back in the '60s and when they come out, it's been a few hours or maybe days for them, but it's been decades for everyone else. They pop up in the MCU in the current continutiy (sometime after The Marvels) and suddenly find themselves having to adjust to a half century of technological and social changes. Which gets me to what should be the hook of the story.
  • Instead of villains, the story should then focus on how these four people have to adjust/adapt to life in the 21st century. Reed has no problem with the technology updates, but is even more clueless when it comes to social cues. Ben is now additionally haunted by the loss of many of his old friends. Sue has to catch up on what feminism and activisim looks like now. Johnny is initially excited for all the new stuff and the promise of even greater celebrity, but gets literally slapped in the face when he tries his old pick-up lines. Maybe he gets slapped with a sexual assault lawsuit too. The story, then, is on them acclimating to 2025. Can they maintain their 1960s-era optimism in light of... well, whatever this hellhole of a world has become?
  • Now, if you want to additionally tie it into the MCU more broadly, then you bring in the Skrulls. While the heart of the movie should be the emotional elements stemming from what I listed in the previous bullet, the superficial plot can revolve around the team helping to find the Skrulls a new home. That's a danglng plot point from Secret Invasion and The Marvels, so have Reed either design an entirely new scanner that can find a suitable homeworld in a way that Carol Danvers couldn't and/or have the team terraform some otherwise uninhabitable planet.
So that's what I think should happen. I doubt it will; it's not any prediction of any sort. I'm just throwing out what I think should be in a FF movie.

(Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that the fan art I'm including here was done by Luis Felipe N.)
One of the semi-common refrains among those in support of Black History Month is that it's only one month. When weighed against the centuries of oppression, which continues in various forms to this day, one month is hardly long enough. (And it's the shortest month at that!) So here's a quick suggestion that might help you in your ongoing appreciation of Black people's place in American history...

One day every week of every February, make a point of finding a comic by a Black person that you like. Whether it's a newspaper comic, a webcomic, a monthly pamphlet book, whatever... just find one comic created by a Black person that you like for whatever reason(s). It doesn't have to be about the Black experience, or have a political edge to it, or anything. Just find a comic you happen to like that happens to be created by a Black person. (If you need help finding something, you can start with something obvious like what's listed in Wikipedia or get more options from the Cartoonists of Color database.)

Then, and here's the important part, read it. Like, all of it. Track down the first installment (or the first installment by that Black creator if it was started by someone else) and commit to reading through everything. Maybe it was a monthly comic book that only lasted six issues, but maybe it's an ongoing newspaper comic that's been running for 30 years. But commit to reading all of it, whatever is available.

And, if it's still going on, keep reading it. Support that creator by buying their books, or whatever they have available. If they're still alive and still working on the comic, send them a note of appreciation. It doesn't have to be elaborate, "Hey, man, I like your comic," is fine.

But the idea is to use Black History Month as a springboard for a longer, extended appreciation of Black creators and their work. It's a way to see a larger scope of their work and, hopefully, turn you into an evangelist for their work.
You're nominally familiar with Nimona, right? Like, even if you haven't read it or seen the film adaptation, it's garnered enough awards and critical attention that you've heard of it. It was ND Stevenson's college project that she later released as a webcomic which was picked up HarperCollins and published as a successful graphic novel that was adapted into an Audible audiobook that was adapted into an animated feature film first by Disney and later by Netflix. Commercially, it's about the best an indie comic creator could ask for.

Now, I had not seen the film adaptation until last night. It was originally released on Netflix, which I don't have a subscription to, but yesterday, they made the entire movie available for free via YouTube...
I'm not here to review the movie or how it measures up against the book -- there's plenty of other folks who've already done that -- but I'm interested here in the business decision behind releasing it. As far as I can tell, Nimona is the first feature length film that Neflix has put on YouTube. They've sometimes released single episodes of an ongoing show, but I can't find any other instances of a full film being made available. (There's nothing else coming up in a current search for "Netflix full film" at any rate.) The vast majority of what Netflix uses it's YouTube channel for is, not surprisingly, promotional material: mostly trailers, but also some blooper reels and behind-the-scenes pieces as well.

I think the reasoning behind not putting full films on YouTube should be pretty self-evident. As a business, they want you to pay for access to their streaming service and a streaming service's biggest draw is in the unqiue content they have. Why pay for Service B if it has all the same offerings as Service A? (I mean, they could theoretically also differentiate on price and/or service quality -- but they'd have to seriously undercut every other service to the point of not making a profit if they wanted to compete on price, and the service quality is more of an on/off issue here; it either streams in real time seamlessly or it doesn't.) So why would Netflix opt to offer one of their unique pieces of content up for free on another platform?

The basic concept behind the idea is that of a loss leader, where you offer up a significant offering for free -- understanding that you'll be taking a financial loss on it -- with the hope that it will be enough to entice some people to come back and pay for something else. Netflix is hoping that people see Nimona on YouTube and say, "Hey, this is really good! Maybe I should actually get a Netflix subscription to see what else they've got." It's honestly not far removed from the basic webcomic model where the comic itself is available for free, but readers might pay extra for earlier access or behind-the-scenes extras, or maybe they buy a printed copy of the story or a t-shirt or something. Netflix has, as I noted earlier, done variations of this before by offering up some first episodes of their ongoing series. But why now with a full film?

I suspect that is tied to awards season. On Saturday, they held the 51st Annie Awards, celebrating excellence in film and TV animation. Nimona was nominated in nine categories and won two of them, which puts it in the same company as Pixar's Up. Given that highly favorable critical response and that Netflix seems to be aiming for getting an Academy Award for "Best Animated Feature" (also like Up) the broader release of the movie is likely an attempt to garner some additional attention/buzz around it. Instead of taking out costly ads in trade magazines (or perhaps, in addition to them -- I don't read movie industry trades) they're opting for raising awareness more organically by trying to get people (like me!) talking about it. Maybe this will be something someone with actual voting power reads and they give the movie a little more attention than they otherwise would. Or maybe the easy/free access gives them the chance to revisit the movie and put it more top-of-mind than the others they might not have seen since the Cannes Film Festival last May.

Will it work? Either to get more subscribers to Netflix or to garner an Oscar? I certainly have no idea. On the former, they're also fighting subscribers leaving because of price hikes and on the latter, they're up against Studio Ghibli and Pixar among others. Regardless, Nimona is a thoroughly enjoyable movie and it's worth a watch on YouTube if you haven't seen it already.
I have read a number of biographies in comics format. From Bertrand Russell to Martin Luther King, Jr. to Claude Cahun to Jack Kirby to Frederic Douglass to Leon Trotsky. And the creators who've done them have take all sorts of approaches -- some stiff and factual, others that are far enough removed to almost qualify as straight fiction, some focusing on only a short period of someone's life, some looking at the entire life in such depth that it supercedes most "traditional" biographies. Nina Simone in Comics does something unique. (At least unique to everything I've seen.) It's part comics anthology with different artists tackling different portions of the Simone's story and it's part prose, interjecting between each sequence with a section that covers some details that weren't addressed in much depth in the comics portion.

Rather than a full accounting of Simone's entire life, we're actually presented with an extended series of vignettes, taken from significant points in her life. Each section begins with a direct quote from Simone, followed by a graphic interpretation of the events in question, most lasting five pages. Then there's two pages of prose often expounding on the sequence, adding some additional context or some parallel narratives that won't interweave directly with Simone's life until later. The pieces flow together surprisingly well, although I did find the page layouts of the prose pages a little confusing in places. Namely, there are elements that appear to be sidebars to the main narrative -- but sometimes they are and sometimes they're not. But the structure weaving in and out of the comics format does work much better than I would expect. Likely in large part because Sophie Adriansen wrote both aspects.

The book, as a whole, was written by Adriansen. I'm not familiar with her prior work (most of which was published in French -- I'm not sure how much has even been translated into English; Amazon doesn't list any English titles besides this) but she had already written a prose biography of Simone in 2022, so she was clearly already well familiar with her subject here. There's no translator listed in the credits, which NBM usually does I believe, so I assume Adriansen either wrote this in English from the start or translated it herself. Additionally, while she has written juvenile and young adult works before, I think this is her first comics work. If so, she does an especially great job working in the medium; most prose-to-comics writers tend to be overly verbose and try writing panel descriptions that try to show more than a single panel can depict.

Further, Adriansen does not shy away from covering some of the less-than-flattering portions of Simone's life. Not just things like being beaten and raped by her second husband, but also her own bad decisions like shooting a neighbor's child in the leg for being too loud. Adriansen even notes in one of the prose sections that Simone's autobiography is "riddled with inconsistencies -- dates and places that a simple online search will invalidate..." and Simone "goes to great lengths to erase elements she doesn't care to accept responsibility for and/or she fears might come across as unappealing." I know I, for one, appreciate it when a biography isn't so in love with their subject to paper over the uglier (i.e. human) aspects of their life.

I will also say that Adriansen does a great job in the fiction department. That is, many comics biographers are reluctant to write dialogue they don't know their subjects said. Adriansen seems to have no qualms here, trying to capture individual's voices but without adhering exclusively to what they've been recorded actually saying. There are no doubt passages that Simone did say -- beyond just the lyrics of her songs -- but they blend in with Adriansen's text pretty seamlessly.

The art is good overall. There's quite a range of styles and approaches, but they all read well visually. Despite the changing depiction of Simone and other characters, they're always readily identified and remain consistently rendered within each section. Here again, I think the anthology approach is helped but the prose pieces offering a little visual break so the changing artists doesn't feel jarring. Offhand, I don't recognize any of the artists' names and/or styles, but I'm guessing they're all French and don't have as much name recognition here in the US. Some have tighter linework, some is expressively loose. All of it works, though, and I can't find anything to complain about with the art.

In fact, my one complaint for the entire book is the lettering. It looks to me as if the artists drew in their own word balloons, as the style shifts to match the illustrations. But rather than having the artists letter the work directly or finding fonts to match the illustation style, there's a single font applied to all the text throughout the comic portions. It looks vaguely familiar but I can't pull out a name for it. It's kind of a cross between Tekton and Comic Sans. It's not an awful font in and of itself, but it doesn't seem to fit with any of the illustration styles and feels like they just chose the first vaguely-handwritingly font they came across.

On the whole, though, I was really pleased with the book. I definitely gained some insights on Simone that I did not know before and it was done in an engaging and entertaining way. This is the first comics biography of Simone and I hope not the last. The book came out last week and should be available from bookstores now. It retails for $27.99 US.
Here are this week's links to what I've had published recently...

Kleefeld on Comics: Scripts Week, Big Town #1

Kleefeld on Comics: Scripts Week, Fantastic Four #47-#49

Kleefeld on Comics: Scripts Week, Fantastic Four #35 and #50

Kleefeld on Comics: Scripts Week, Fantastic Four #51

Kleefeld on Comics: Scripts Week, Fantastic Four #511

Closing out Scripts Week is something of a landmark issue. Fantastic Four #511, the famous issue where the FF, looking to bring the Thing back from the dead, meet God, who happens to look and act a helluva lot like Jack Kirby. This is the original (nearly) full script from which Mike Wieringo drew the story. It is interesting to note that the script never actually refers to God as looking like Jack although, as evidenced by Waid's comment about God's cigar, the idea was expressly discussed beforehand. Originally provided by Mark Waid.

Fantastic Four volume 3 #511 by Mark Waid