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Here are this week's links to what I've had published recently...

Kleefeld on Comics: On Business: Movie Sales and Review Notes

FreakSugar: Fanthropology: Dressing Up vs Cosplay

Kleefeld on Comics: On History: 1966 Black Panther Letters

Kleefeld on Comics: Weekly Black Panther Links

Kleefeld on Comics: On -isms: Listen during the Panther Discussions

Kleefeld on Comics: On Strips: Editorial Panthers

With the US premier of Black Panther last Friday, it would normally have been the prime opportunity for editorial cartoonists to reference the movie, and its subsequent box office domination -- ultimately more than doubling the original estimates. However, since the day before was ripped up by yet another horrific school shooting, the headlines and subsequent editorial cartoons have largely been dominated over the past week with discussions about guns, the NRA, and the completely spineless inaction by virtually everyone in government, up to and including the maddeningly pathetic excuse we have for a President.

With that bit of my own editorilizing out of the way, I did find two cartoons from this past week that dealt with the Black Panther opening. Here we have comics from Steve Breen and Joe Heller...

Heller's is particularly interesting, I think, in that it specifically and directly challenges all of the non-POC movie-goers, and their typical lack of consideration for it being Black History Month, beyond the first few days of February.
After watching Black Panther, naturally my wife and I spent some time talking about it. Some of it was kind of superficial ("I need to find out how to use 'colonizer' at work without getting fired.") but a lot of it got into some of the larger issues within the film: the notion of a country hiding when it could be helping, whether the ends justify the means, etc. There was a lot to celebrate in the film, but a lot to consider as well. Particularly for a Black woman, like my wife. Being as I was the only one there with her during the discussion, I offered up my thoughts and opinions, but I tried to let her drive the conversation.

See, because despite my relative expertise in comics and superheroes (a genre which she actively dislikes), I knew that the movie wasn't about that for her. It was about that celebration of Blackness that was a through-line in the entire film, front to back. So from that perspective, she is decidedly more expert than me, a white guy.

She at one point noted that there was a lot to unpack in Black Panther and she would like to sit down for a debrief with around a half dozen of her Black friends to talk about it. With the friends she rattled off, I expect there'd still be jokes and light-hearted superficial comments, but I don't doubt that they could spend an hour or two just discussing Killmonger's "throw me in the ocean with my ancestors that jumped off the slave ships because they knew death was better than bondage" line.

She had mentioned something to the effect of wanting to debrief with her friends to a white friend who hasn't yet seen the movie, and they responded by saying that they'd love to chat with her about it. And while she didn't say anything, my wife was definitely thinking, "Yeah, the conversation I'm thinking about isn't one that you'd even want to be a part of, much less be able to contribute to." The point being that she, as a Black person, wants to unpack the Blackness of Black Panther with other Black people who can fully appreciate that Blackness.

As it happened, we did later sit down with a few friends after we had all watched the movie together. Of the five of us, I was the only white guy. And in that ensuing conversation, I mostly kept my mouth shut and just listened. When there was some question about continuity or how the movie differed from the comics, I threw in some facts around those points, but by and large, I just listened.

Because in that space, in that setting, in that context, my opinion is worth zilch.

I have nothing to offer in a conversation about what it means to be Black in America. I have nothing to offer in a conversation about being oppressed. I have nothing to offer in a conversation about how traditional African elements were both updated and honored. Not when I'm sitting with four Black people, two of whom had actually been born and raised in Zimbabwe.

All these Black Panther posts this month -- in fact, all of my On -isms columns -- they're not for POC. Everything I say here is shit they already know. Shit they've lived and had to deal with their entire lives. These posts are for the white folks who have only one Black friend, but they're not even really a friend because they just know them from work. My point here is to amplify what Black people are already saying, but have been ignored for the past few centuries. Maybe if a white guy like me, who by virtue of marriage happens to be a little closer to the Black community than most white folks, says what people of color are saying, it will have some additional privileged resonance among other people who look like me.

With that mind, let me make this suggestion...

If you're around any POC discussing Black Panther, whether that's in person or online, keep your mouth shut. I don't care if you have every comic book appearance of T'Challa ever and know the full history of Wakanda backwards and forwards, that is not your discussion to have. If you're in a comic shop or around a bunch of comic geeks, by all means, dive right into the conversation and enjoy! But if you're the white person among a circle of Black folks, shut up and listen. I can guarantee you will learn some things you never even considered before!
  • A few years ago, Dr. Walter Greason of Monmouth University began something he called The Wakanda Syllabus as a way to use Black Panther as "an opportunity for global audiences to study the traditions of black nationalism, Pan-Africanism, and the variety of African indigenous cultures."
  • You know what a lot Black people asked after watching Black Panther? "How'd they get everybody's hair to look so good?!" (White people, don't laugh! You probably didn't hear them ask, but they did! Trust me!) Ashley Weatherford talked to Camille Friend, head of Black Panther’s hair department, to get what all when into everybody's locks.
  • Ryan Parker talked to Jack Kirby's family, who say that Jack would've love the film.
  • Jamie Broadnax and Abraham Riesman have a short chat with Florence Kasumba about the lack of LGBTQ representation in Black Panther.

Judging by the boffo box office numbers, people today seem to like Black Panther. But what did they think of the character in 1966 when he first debuted? Let's take a look at the letters sent in to Marvel back in the day...
Dear Stan and Jack,

I am usually loaded with millions of words, but it is hard for me to sort out the ones needed to tell you how great F.F. #52 was! The Kirby-Sinnott art team seems to surpass itself with each issue, and Joe's inking becomes finer win detail and shading. But the main thing that made my heart sing is the latest in your concerted effort to bring comic literature to a more adult level by portraying members of races other than white. I have a feeling that the Black Panther will turn out to be the first great Negro hero-villain in comic book history! Not only that, but an African king at that! Most of all, I am gratified at the introduction of Wyatt Wingfoot to your pantheon of characters. Being partially of American Indian ancestry myself, I am alwayss happy to see a modern Indian shown as being something besides a poor relic of the past. Wingfoot's pride, his skill, and his dignity are in keeping with the real tradition of the past. Let me cast the earliest vote for keeping Wyatt Wingfoot as a running character in Marvel mags. You could possibly have a strange accident endow him with some super-power, or actually him his normal human self. But let's have more of W.W.! Having run off long enough, I close with a "well done", a "keep up the good work", and a "face you-know-where" to the bullpen gang.

Ken Green
Dear Stan and Jack,

How could I ever describe the feeling of pure ecstacy [sic] that gills every fiber of my being when I run breathlessly to the drug store where I buy my comic books and see the greatest of greats, namely F.F., SPIDER-MAN, and THOR! Actually, to get down to business, F.F. #52 was really fantastic. The Black Panther is one of your better characters, much superior to run-of-the-mill super-space-villains like Galactus. Having the strongest of your heroes get airsick is something only Marvel could do, and I personally loved it. Th thing that really crowned the story was having an ordinary man like Wyatt Wingfoot save everybody. In closing, I would like to sat, as many have said before me, make mine Marvel!

Darryl Miller
Those are the first two published letters than mention Black Panther's debut and, while they both liked him, apparently found Wyatt Wingfoot a more compelling character. The following is the very next letter...
Dear Stan and Jack,

Well, I've done it at last! I have finally written to you. One reason I did not write earlier was because there was nothing to gripe about in your issues. In your flood of letters praising F.F. #52, I though someone had better speak up for the minority of your readers. To make a ong letter shorter, I'll you the bare truth. The Black Panther stinks! A lot of your other villains do, but to add another to their ranks is unbearable. The cover of F.F. #52 was magnificent, as was the first half of the issue. Then what happens -- the Black Panther bats the F.F. around like dolls! (It was about time someone did, but that is not the point.) Wingfoot was beautiful, as was the entire mag's attitude and art. No one, but no one, had enough fight. The Black Panther is entirely too ridiculous. One more thing -- cut the comedy. Your jokes have polluted all your mags with corny nicknames and funnies. This tends to make your life-and-death struggles seem unreal. This goes double for your letters pages. This letter may not change your views any, but nevertheless, I will remain a loyal fan for many years. I have a small group of neighborhood friends who collect Marvel Comics and each shares my views in this letter.

Alan Finn
I'm not sure what he's talking about with the "flood of letters praising F.F. #52" -- there may well have been that, but Fantastic Four #55, where all these were printed, is the first letters page that mentions #52 at all. There's no way he could have seen how many letters were talking about the issue one way or another. And, if his statement about all his friends sharing his views is accurate, then how would he come to believe his opinion is in the minority?

Fantastic Four #56 had some more people sharing their thoughts about T'Challa...
Dear Stan and Jack,

I would like to congratulate you on your series of comic magazines -- also on your lively attack on Communism and your subtle use of real-life problems to bring out both the best and the worst in your fantastic, wacky, wonderful super-heroes. In particular, I mean F.F., Spider-Man, Daredevil, and the Avengers. Their human problems make these heroes among your best. Believe it or not, Galactus had his so-called "elemental-converter", and the Black Panther his "jungle" of traps for the F.F. to surmount.The next thing you know, the F.F. will be fighting "The Creature from beneath the Garbage Can", with his uncanny "Onion Gun". Finally, the Earth is saved as the F.F. defeat him with Reed's "Fantasti-kitchen Rubbish Disposal Unit". Enough!! Enough new menaces for the F.F. to battle! Enough super-scientific hogwash! it's time the F.F. met (or should I say, re-met) some of their old foes. Perchance the Sub-Mariner. Why not take a poll?

Russell Bullock, Jr.
The original entitled fanboy who doesn't want things to change.

I've found one more letter discussing Black Panther's debut, this one from Fantastic Four #57...
Dear Stan and Jack,

I just had to give you my compliments on F.F. #53. Bravo to you! It's the best story and art of all the F.F. adventures. It even tops the Silver Surfer, whom I had rated as a very good and handsome, majestic character and story. The best panels I liked were the first page and page 11, panel 4, where they are going to attack that ugly crimson monster. In this panel, I think the thing that looked so good is the way that you are the first, the very first to create and introduce a Negro super-hero who is as brilliant as he is handsome to team up with your already fantastic heroes. This is truly wonderful. I must say that with the Black Panther added to the F.F., and Wyatt added as a guest, this made the story more interesting and suspenseful and gave you a first in comicdom. I wish to nominate the Black Panther for membership with the F.F.! Please? May all your future F.F. stories be as good as #53. It was so good that even my mother said, "It was the best I've ever read!" 'Nuff said!

Linda Lee Johnson
Now, obviously, they were never going to publish letter that were outright racist if they got any. And indeed, the two negative letters they did print are pretty easily dismissed as less than substantive. So are these really representative of all the external feedback they got? Were they deliberately skewed in order to show publisher Martin Goodman that his concerns about featuring a Black character (as I've detailed here) were overblown? Or were they deliberately skewed to make the stories look better to other readers? At this late date, those questions are impossible to answer with any degree of certainty, but that they were able to get enough glowingly positive letters to run for several issues suggests that there was a good chunk of positive feedback, even if it wasn't in the majority.
Look, I've been telling y'all Black Panther was gonna be big since August 2016, but did any of you listen? They have been continuing to revise initial weekend sales estimates up since pre-sales were first made available, and even going into Saturday, they were still making revisions. As part of a holiday weekend, today's sales will be counted too so I don't have final figures of course, but the last projections I saw put it at $218 million. It's breaking all kinds of records. Let me quote myself from 2016...
The cynic in me says that's why Marvel opted to push Black Panther from November 2017 to February (Black History Month) 2018. To play off whatever additional Black pride that might be in the air. Regardless of the reason, though, I suspect the movie will do a lot to empower people again. Seeing a block buster action movie made for everybody, but featuring almost nothing but people that look like them? That's going to get a LOT of people VERY excited.
Indeed, estimates are putting about 40% of the movie-going audience here as Black. And when you consider that only about 13% of the US population is Black, that says something.

Panther succeeds on any number of levels. The script is tight, the costumes are fantastic, the music is pitch perfect, the effects are solid, the acting is phenomenal... everything about the movie works very, very well.

But there are other movies that have all those things and don't do as well. So what's different here?

One thing that my wife was quick to point out after seeing it is that Killmonger isn't actually the villain here. Antagonist, yes. But villain, no. The villain here is actually White Supremacy, though it's never actually named as such in the movie. Killmonger's motive isn't to defeat Black Panther and/or take over the throne. That's merely a means to an end. The end is getting Wakandan weapons and technology out into the hands of Black and Brown people who are being oppressed. Black Panther, while he struggles with what his approach should be throughout the movie, ultimately decides that Killmonger did indeed identify the problem correctly, but it was just that his solution was faulty. Panther ends the film taking on the exact same fight Killmonger was waging, but with a different approach.

Further, it was the exact same conflict between T'Chaka and N'Jobu; however, both T'Challa and Killmonger take different approaches than either of their fathers did. That's a powerful statement about the ongoing nature of such a conflict, and how it can impact generations and divide families.

Then we have this large cast of characters, all of whom have their own journeys. Even comparatively minor characters like W'Kabi have a story arc they go through. So almost regardless of which character you, as a viewer, identified with, there was plenty there to appreciate. (Now, I expect there's plenty MORE in that original four-hour version that was allegedly the original cut, but even the 2 and a quarter hour version in theaters leaves plenty still there.) Despite Black Panther being the title character here, it was really an ensemble film.

And because that ensemble including heavy representation behind the camera, as well as in front of it, that meant that the story spoke to people of color in a way that very few big budget films do. It was still a corporate-owned media property and it was marketed and sold as just a continuation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but that across-the-board representation was felt in a way that it rarely is. (See my note about 40% of the audience above.) And when some corporate-level accommodations had to be made (the inclusion of Agent Ross' character, for example, adds little here besides helping to tie the movie more decisively with the MCU and acts as an avatar for white people who might be too bigoted or racist to deign to identify with anyone else in the movie; this suggests to me that his inclusion wasn't entirely director Ryan Coogler's choice) they're still done with a POC sensibility. (You'll note that, even in their darkest hour, no one suggests Ross take the heart-shaped herb to help save them; he's roundly shut out of the conversation in the Jabari throne room by M'Baku; and he regularly and repeatedly relies on Shuri's assistance in flying that ship. Not only is there zero chance of his being seen in some kind of "white savior" role, but he's largely relegated to being the sidekick of a sidekick.) But since it's all handled so expertly and without relying on any triggering terms and typical tropes, it all flies under the radar of the non-POC audience, who just see it as another cool Marvel superhero flick.

When I first watched the movie, I felt there were a few minor things that weren't expressed very clearly, but I knew the original cut was much longer and assumed some of those explanations fell to the cutting room floor. On my second and third viewings, though, I caught that virtually everything is indeed there; it's just that some of it relies on a single line of dialogue or a nuanced bit of body language that I missed initially. Which means that it's a really tight film in the first place, and (as I confirmed with my wife and some other friends who saw it multiple times) it gets better with repeat viewings.

I talked last week about how Chadwick Boseman's pay for this movie was tied to it's financial success. Considering how well it's doing domestically, as well as several African countries, already and it still has yet to open in other large markets like Russia, China, and Japan, I think Boseman will be pleased with his take-home pay for this. I also understand that Marvel Studios didn't come to Coogler about a sequel until after the ticket projections started radically climbing, so I'm hoping he's able to take full advantage of his leverage in that negotiation.

And hopefully better still, the rest of Hollywood will see that if you don't exclude people of color from movie-making, you can make big bucks by speaking to everybody instead of just the typical melanin-deficient "everybody."
Here are this week's links to what I've had published recently...

Kleefeld on Comics: On Business: Pay Scale

The Comics Alternative: Webcomics: Reviews of The Flying Ship, Next Town Over, and Yu+Me: Dreams

Jack Kirby Collector: Incidental Iconography

Kleefeld on Comics: On History: Astonishing Tales

Patreon: MTV Geek Classic: Kleefeld On Webcomics #71: Original Art 

Kleefeld on Comics: Weekly Black Panther Links

Kleefeld on Comics: On -isms: SHHH!!! Movie!

Patreon: MTV Geek Classic: Kleefeld On Webcomics #72: Get Your Learnin' On

Kleefeld on Comics: On Strips: Panther in Candorville