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From Rolling Stone's obituary of Henry Kissinger...
The Yale University historian Greg Grandin, author of the biography Kissinger’s Shadow, estimates that Kissinger’s actions from 1969 through 1976, a period of eight brief years when Kissinger made Richard Nixon’s and then Gerald Ford’s foreign policy as national security adviser and secretary of state, meant the end of between three and four million people. That includes “crimes of commission,” he explained, as in Cambodia and Chile, and omission, like greenlighting Indonesia’s bloodshed in East Timor; Pakistan’s bloodshed in Bangladesh; and the inauguration of an American tradition of using and then abandoning the Kurds.
And while the fact that Kissinger's Shadow was first published in 2015 might suggest to you that the number of deaths Kissinger was responsible for is only known now at the end of his life, let me draw your attention to these panels from Super-Villain Team-Up #6 circa 1976...
Kissinger was seen as a villain AT THE TIME HE WAS DESTROYING ENTIRE CULTURES -- that's why it was not a particular surprise that a writer would have him team up with the ultimate Marvel villain: Dr. Doom. That's why Marvel, as a company, didn't have any problem publishing the story. That's why fans didn't take exception to it and just said, "Of course he'd team up with Dr. Doom if Doom were real!"

If you see any of the literally thousands and thousands of people celebrating Kissinger's far-later-that-it-should-have-been death, they have good reason. He's been the stuff of literal comic book villainy for decades and the millions of people he killed should have outlived the bastard.
I've dropped off most social media now. I still have a LinkedIn account for professional reasons, and I maintain a presence on Mastodon just to have somewhere to dump whatever non-comics crap is rattling around in my head, but that's it. But everything else seems to deliver more awfulness than benefits. (And actually, even LinkedIn is more of a playing-the-long-game benefit at best.) And while my feed is still full of cat memes and bad puns and random Bettie Page photos and whatever other nonsense, there's also plenty of news on Israel bombing Palestine back to the stone age and Russia trying to get Ukraine to roll over and COVID killing thousands more people and corporate greed screwing over yet another swath of people and the GOP trying to dismantle democracy and hundreds of other headlines that showcase how/why humanity doesn't really deserve to exist.

I live in a town with a population of around 75,000 people. It's a suburb of a major metropolis with a population north of 2.5 million within the formal city limits, and nearly 10 million when you look at the broader metro area. And I find myself doing more to insulate myself from those people. It's not that there aren't good individuals out there, but it seems increasingly dangerous to go out to find them. Because the Jason J. Eatons of the world -- the people who step off their front porch to shoot three college students just for being Palestinian -- have ready access to guns legally. Because of the 300-ish people who have been convicted for trying to overthrow the US government (300 of well over 1,000 who have been arrested) the median sentence has been a mere 60 days. Because... actually, I'm going to stop myself already. You get the gist. The point is that it seems trivial to wax on about a statue for an old Batman fan or a co-worker whose grandfather was friends with Count Dante or just complaining that Skrull Kill Krew should never have existed in the first place.

So I keep having to actively remind myself of this short comic Jon "Bean" Hastings wrote in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. And while the "Planes crashing! Buildings collapsing..." screed is a little different now (just pick a headline) the impact is similar. So maybe it's worth pulling this comic up again to see why I need to keep writing about comics...

A friend asked recently what, these days, gives me hope or makes me smile. I could rattle off several things that make me smile (a loving wife, a reasonably secure job, comics...) but I had trouble coming up with anything that gives me hope. Hastings reminds me that it's the stories themselves that provide hope, and that by examining the stories, I can express precisely when/where/how that hope might be placed relative to whatever bullshit is coming out of Washington. It's incentive enough to keep doing what I've been doing: trying to be the best me I can be, whether that's calling out people on their racism or just writing about building my own funny pages from scratch.
I noted last week that I've had to create my own online funny page because I can't find any satisfactory options. After about a week and a half -- including two weekends -- I'm pretty sure I've got all the kinks worked out so that all the correct updates are displaying properly on the correct days. That is, the daily comics are appearing daily, regardless of what file naming format they use; the other comics are updating properly according to whatever schedule they're on, of even if they're not on a regular schedule; and the images aren't coming in distorted because my code is applying weird dimensions to them or something. So it's definitely working as I ws hoping it would.

That being said, though, I'm still sometimes getting instances where I'll get a broken image link or I'll see the previous comic instead of the current one. My first thought when seeing one of these is that my code is wrong or didn't accommodate for some variable or something, but what I've found is that my code is working fine but the creator simply hasn't uploaded their latest comic. Which tells me that they're still doing a fair amount of manual labor that should be automated.

Let me spell things out a little more clearly. Let's say that you've got a daily webcomic. If you name the images by, for example, the characters that appear or the punchline or whatever, it won't take long before you'll have a nightmare trying to sort through your files. So you come up with a regular naming system, so each comic's file name is tied to the date it goes live. Something like "2023-11-28.jpg". Then you upload the file to your server whenever it's finished, and you set things up to publish that image to your website on that day. That capability is basically built in to pretty much every platform any more. You could, in theory, create months' worth of comics in advance, schedule them to post daily and take a huge vacation for several weeks, and your reading audience would never miss an installment. David Willis actually does that with Dumbing of Age -- he's currently got comics scheduled out through the end of next June, so he could not do a lick of work for seven months and you'd never notice.

Alternatively, you could just update your website manually and just upload files on the day they're supposed to go live. Your latest comic doesn't get published until you manually hit the "publish" button. That certainly works, but it means that you get more variability in your update schedule. Because instead of scheduling at, for example, midnight every night, you might have one comic that goes up at 12:30 and one at 12:15 and one at 11:50. Which is generally not a big deal, unless you happen to be a reader hitting the site precisely at midnight. But that variability can extend when you get busy or sick or whatever.

So I've seen, just in the past week, several instances where a creator didn't update their site until quite late in the day. Despite an ostensibly weekly schedule, one didn't even get theirs updated until literally the day after their normal Sunday update day. It literally includes "Sunday" in the file name, but didn't get posted until Monday.

What I find particularly interesting are the cases where I know -- because of print syndication obligations -- some of these creators have their strips done weeks in advance. But they still seem to be updating the sites manually. I do have friends who have occassionally run into issues where they've tagged the wrong publication date, usually by typing in the wrong year, so the comic's done but it's just scheduled further out than intended, but many of these seem like more manual operations. And while this might be a deliberate choice for some reason (maybe for the sense of control in doing it themself, or maybe a sort-of anti-anything-that-starts-to-look-like-AI concern?) but I can't help but feel that many are still doing that because they didn't finish their comic until moments before posting it. And while I'm doing that this morning with this very post instead of writing the day before like usual, I'm also very much NOT dependent on this blog for my livlihood. I think that if it were, I'd be a LOT more diligent about being farther ahead consistently so I don't inadvertently jeopardize my income.

But, as always, I don't do comics for a living, so what do I know? Maybe there's a lot more going in practice that chucks my ideas and theories right out the window.
Last week, the day before the Thanksgiving holiday, someone left a clear plastic baggie with a few paper items in it -- you can see them in the photo at the right here. It included a Chick Tract called "The Sissy?" and the accompanying religious texts suggests that whoever left it did so completely sincerely. This is the third Chick Tract I've encountered "in the wild" and the first one I've been expressly given. (The previous two were ones I found lying around.) Like every other Chick Tract, "The Sissy?" is very poorly written with tin-ear dialogue, and only adequate (at best) artwork. Although there is a space on the Tract for a group to put a stamp or sticker highlighting the name/address of their organization, this had neither so I can only presume it came from the same Church the last one I got was from. But whether or not it included an address is irrelevant because the Tract wasn't for me.

If you've ever read a Chick Tract (I won't link to it now but you can find digital copies of many of them on the Chick Publications website) you'll likely posed the question, "How the hell is this going to convert anybody?!?"

Answer: "It's not. It's not supposed to."

To read the history on the Chick website, his initial tract was inspired by wanting to bring the word of Jesus to "a group of teenagers who appeared aimless and lost." There's no mention of them doing anything sinful -- or anything in particular at all for that matter. The most critical description they have on the site is: "a group of teens hanging out on a curb." Not smoking, not drinking, not stealing or vandalizing anything, not hurting anybody... at worst, you could maybe say they were loitering but Chick was driving at the time so he couldn't have stayed around long enough to even witness that. That's not a group of people who inspire someone to try to "save" them. That is a group of people who, if you don't share their values, inspire you to close yourself off from other people.

The stereotypical condemnation that comes from this is the classic, "These kids today..!" Often said with ire if not outright anger. And while the person may yell briefly at "these kids today" about their hair or clothes or music or whatever, the next thing they do is try to shut them out. To shut out everybody remotely like them. They close their social circles tighter so that it includes fewer and fewer people who disagree with them. That's what Jack Chick did, and he took it to extremes.

That's what the Chick Tracts are actually for: they're a self-selection test for letting people in. No one reads these and says, "Oh, I was totally wrong about [whatever the topic of that particular Tract is] -- I should find Jesus and be saved!" But there are people who read these and say, "FINALLY! Someone who tells it like it is!" The Tracts are used as a passkey of sorts to find other like-minded people. You need to have fully bought in to Chick's particular brand of bat-shit crazy fundamentalism before you've seen a single Chick Tract in order for them to hold any meaning.

Which means that they don't have to make sense. In point of fact, it's better if they don't. If someone reads through the nonsense and still buys into it, you've got someone who's essentially brainwashed into following you without even trying! Chick Tracts come across to most people as, at best, kitsch that was put together by people too incompetent and too ignorant to know they're amateurs. Whether or not Jack Chick knew how talented he wasn't is irrelevant, though, because he stumbled onto a format where consistent garbage was rewarded more than progress or growth.

I'm explaining all this because I think a lot of comics criticism comes from the wrong lens. There are plenty of comics out there that might not meet whatever your criteria are for "good" comics, but if they have a different set of goals than what you're thinking, maybe they're doing precisely what they're supposed to do. That's not to say you can't or shouldn't criticize it from your own perspective, but just acknowledge that it is still just your perspective and how you're approaching the work is as important as what's in the work itself!
Here are this week's links to what I've had published recently...

Kleefeld on Comics: Making My Own Funny Pages

Kleefeld on Comics: Fore-Thoughts

Kleefeld on Comics: Marvel vs DC

Kleefeld on Comics: Thanksgiving Comics

As you travel in comics circles (why else would you be reading this blog?) you will no doubt today see any number of posts, tweets, grams, toots, and whatever else that include a comic book cover highlighting Thanksgiving in some form or another. You'll see everyone from Donald Duck to Scooby-Doo to Archie to The Tick to Green Lantern facing off against a turkey -- maybe still living, maybe fully cooked. You'll see any number of homages/parodies/knock-offs of Norman Rockwell's Freedom from Want painting featuring the Fantastic Four or the JSA or Barbie or Batman's rogues gallery. Some of the images will be from fairly recent comics, some will be a half century old. And whether you realize it or not, pretty much all of them will have a racist undercurrent.

Now, you might say to yourself, "Well, sure, the ones from fifty years ago that feature stereotypical Native American headgear, I get that, but I don't see anything racist in the more contemporary books. Don't publishers tend to avoid using racist caricatures any more?"

True, the racism in older books tends to be more overt and obvious with several decades of hindsight. But later book still portray Thanksgiving through a lens of heavy whitewashing, omitting the harsh realities of that time period. Taté Walker, the editor of Native Peoples Magazine, has noted:
Some Natives are indeed ‘offended’ by Thanksgiving, in the same way farting can offend someone’s sense of smell. The word ‘offended’ or the phrase ‘taking offense’ downplays what holidays like Thanksgiving represent for some Native people. The people who protest Thanksgiving aren’t doing so because they’re offended; they’re doing so because Thanksgiving is a nice way to sweep the genocide of millions under the rug. That’s pretty racist, if you ask me (and I haven’t even mentioned the millions of schoolchildren who dress in redface and war-hoop for school celebrations). In celebrating a mythological account of ‘The First Thanksgiving,’ not only are Americans blindly accepting a whitewashed version of events, but they’re also ignoring the very real history that the ‘thanks’ given by colonizers was that their diseases (among other unfair causes of death) were killing off Indians by the thousands. Essentially, ‘Let’s give thanks to a god who clears the way of savages for our colonies to thrive.’ Hey – pass the gravy, will ya?
So while a specific image -- like the one I'm using with this post -- isn't racist in and of itself, it's still promoting a mythic version of the first Thanksgiving that has decidedly racist origins.

Now, I'm not saying "Don't celebrate Thanksgiving" or "Don't buy Thanksgiving-themed comics." Many Native Americans indeed celebrate the secular holiday as a day of giving thanks to their loved ones. What I'm saying is that you should spend some time knowing the actual origins of the holiday, rather than just relying on the bullshit about buckle-adorned Purtians and loin-cloth-wearing "Injuns" that you were fed in grade school. Here, I'll help you get started...

My friend Lys Fulda made a succinct observation a little while back regarding the difference between Marvel and DC.
There's been decades of discussion among comics fans comparing and contrasting the two companies and their characters and their stories, and the idea that DC's characters are more like gods while Marvel's tend to have more feet of clay is hardly new. But I quite like the particular phrasing Lys came up with here. It's pithy and has a symmetry that I think works serves the distinctions really well.

Obviously, there are exceptions on both sides. Marvel's Thor is a literal god and how often does Green Arrow chastise himself for thinking he can run around with the likes of Superman and Wonder Woman? But I think it gets to the heart of the general differences pretty quickly.

But one thing that almost immediately popped into my head when I read this was a set of visuals: Superman changing to Clark Kent and Bruce Banner changing into the Hulk. A god putting on the suit of a man, and a man being empowered to the level of a god. I'd seen both of those images plenty of times in the comics and I thought it perfectly encapsulates the point visually, so I wanted to make that to be able to use/share online. I had a little trouble finding the precise image of Superman that I wanted for this, so thanks to dance along the edge 💬 for that.

In any event, here's the image I put together. I flipped the sentences because the visuals work better in this order, but I think sharing it will make for a nice light bulb moment for some people. Feel free to pass it around if you want to look clever in your comics circles.