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Andy Gump Statue circa 2007
In 1917, Sidney Smith created The Gumps comic strip for the Chicago Tribune. It's almost immediate and wide-spread popularity directly led the Tribune to join with the New York News to create the first syndicate. The Gumps then became the first syndicated comic strip in 1919. Animated shorts began appearing in 1920 and two-reel live-action pictures debuted in 1922. With associated merchandising, Smith (and the Tribune!) became quite wealthy.

Andy Gump Statue circa 1965
The Tribune was so pleased with Smith and The Gumps, they commissioned a statue of Andy Gump and had it placed on Smith's estate in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. When Smith died in a car accident in 1935 at age 58, the statue was moved to a city park. It wasn't until 1943 that it was officially acquired by the city, however.

Andy Gump Statue circa 1969
Over the years, the statue bore the brunt of some unfortunate events. In 1952, the plaque on the front of the statue was stolen; however, it was eventually recovered and replaced. During a "druken riot" in 1967, the statue was destroyed entirely. The city then replaced it, despite the strip ending in 1959. The replacement statue was then stolen in 1989 and was replaced yet again. Though comparing these 1965 (pre-riot) and 1969 (post-riot replacement) photos with each other as well as contemporary ones, you can note several differences in the designs (notably the hat and the length/style of the limbs) presumably reflecting how the character was most widely recognized at the time. I haven't been able to find any information about the artists who worked on the various statues.

The statues have all been moved several times, but the current one now resides in Flatiron Park facing Geneva Bay just along Wrigley Drive.
Image via Chainmail Bikini: The Anthology of Women Gamers
As you're probably aware, there's been a set of mostly parallel ongoing discussions going on in comics regarding diversity. We need more women making comics. We need to see more Black characters in comics. We need better representation of Hispanics. We need to see more LGBTQ people. All these types of discussions boil down to: comics need more diversity both in content and in creative development. That's essentially why I started this "On -isms" series -- to talk about precisely those types of issues. Others, like Heidi MacDonald, have been talking about it longer than I have. Still others, like Trina Robbins, have been talking about it longer than Heidi.

The discussions, I think, have helped. If you caught any of the talk last week surrounding Jay Smooth and his appearance on MSNBC's All In, you may have heard him note though that discussion is not enough. There's more diversity in comics now than there used to be. But what needs to happen to continue that trajectory is to actively support diverse creators and characters when they do show up. That's one of the brilliant aspects of the new Ms. Marvel -- it's a minority female character written and editted by two Muslim women, and it's been very well received and supported. That financial support helps to convince Marvel to produce more stories by and about people who aren't just white men.

Image from Princeless #3
But the tricky part has been finding stories and creators like these to support. I try to plug them when I'm able, as does Heidi and others. But we're a handful of individuals promoting what we're able to find, and have time to plug.

And that's where the We Need Diverse Comics Facebook group comes in. Started this week by Carol Tilley and Eti Berland, it's a way to get the internet hive mind to all support more diversity. In Tilley's words...
Recently we've seen efforts across social media to highlight and promote diverse comics, creators, and readers. For instance, in just the past couple of months, creator Greg Pak has started a Tumblr (http://diversecomics.tumblr.com/) to showcase comics of all sorts and February on Twitter saw lots of posts about #BlackCosPlay.

Other groups and pages such as Women Write about Comics (http://womenwriteaboutcomics.com/), Indigenous Narratives Collective (http://www.inccomics.com/), and We Are Comics (http://wearecomics.tumblr.com/) are also bringing attention to what many of us already know: there are all kinds of comics, all kinds of creators, all kinds of readers.

This page isn't intended to replace or overshadow any of these other efforts. Instead, we hope it will be a clearinghouse, a conversation space, a reminder, and a celebration of the value of finding yourself in the pages of comic.
Even at only a few days old, there's a lot of content over there already, a decent chunk of which I hadn't seen before, despite actively looking for precisely that type of thing. I hope you'll head over, Like the page, and join the growing support for increasing diversity in our favorite medium!
Hilda and the Black Hound
Fragile by Fouad Mezher
Shatter Special #1
One thing I need to continually remind myself of is that what has been common knowledge to me for ages isn't necessarily common knowledge for everyone. I just saw, for example, several people on Twitter completely stunned to discover Mike Saenz's Shatter, which debuted in 1985.
Except I read these in the 1980s when they first came out. My father purchased them, in part out of curiosity to see what the computer he just bought was capable of. The story was very much in a Blade Runner type of vein and, coupled with the computer generated imagery, I was hooked very early on.

Rather than give the full history of the book myself, I'm going to reproduce here editor Mike Gold's notes from the Shatter Special and Shatter #1 before a letters page got started. (Apologies for using cell phone pics; I don't have a scanner handy.)
Shatter Special Editor's Note
Shatter #1 Editor's Note
I don't think I've ever seen mentioned either was that Saenz put together an animated trailer for the comic as well. I have no clue how it was distributed; some variant of sneaker-ware, I suppose. But it was minute-ish long video featuring animations using the artwork from the comics. Kind of like how motion comics are created, but this didn't pretend to be comics. It was very much an animated piece that happened to be using art from the comics, much like you would make a movie trailer. I can't find a copy online anywhere, and I'm sure the 1985-level technology that created it would be insanely difficult to port into a format useable today.

Shatter was billed as "the first computerized comic." Everything Saenz (and later Charlie Athanas) drew for the book was done with a mouse. The only thing not done on the computer was the coloring. It's clearly dated in a lot of respects (the fonts they had to choose from were horrible!) but it was something very special and exciting at the time. No one, and I mean no one, was producing comics like this at the time, and that uniqueness was not lost on even then-teenaged me!

I haven't actually re-read the story in years. I've caught snippets of reviews that say it's only an okay story, but that's like watching a recording of a concert and saying it was meh. A lot of the excitement and exuberance is in particpating in the action as it's actually unfolding. Readers knew they were witnessing something special in Shatter and dove into it for that. It's worth examining today from a historical perspective, but I doubt anyone could capture the feeling we had seeing it hit the shelves back in the mid-1980s.
Blackstone Master Magician Comics #2
One of the things I am not good at is self-promotion. I generally just try to put my head down and do decent work. I think it's an outgrowth of the work ethic instilled in me by my parents: that life is a meritocracy and the best will always naturally rise to the top. I've had more than a few professional... let's call them incidents where that was pretty roundly disproven, but I haven't yet really got the hang of playing politics or networking or self-promotion. My good work has gone completely unignored, fortunately, but I do very occasionally wonder where my career would've taken me by now if I'd have played the game differently.

Anyway, since I don't generally do a good job of self-promotion, I'm going to take some time today for some...

ITEM!
I have written and published two books, and am currently working on my third. My first book was Comic Book Fanthropology, which looks at who and what comic fans are. There's a bit of history in there, but I think it provides a good understanding of why fans act the way they do. In light of some of the crap in comicdom that happened last week, I think many people would find it very insightful. (I know I continually refer back to it mentally all the time!) It's available through Lulu in a variety of formats or in paperback via Amazon.

My second book is Edward Lear & the Snargetted Flartlethants of Nonsense. It contains an examination of nonsense poetry, a biography of Edward Lear, and a reproduction of Lear's illustrated Book of Nonsense. This is only available in paperback via Lulu.

Jack Kirby Collector #59
ITEM!
I'm a long-standing contributor to a variety of TwoMorrows magazines, most notably The Jack Kirby Collector. I've been in every issue since #40 back in 2004! Issue #64 came out recently in which I discuss Jack's script for an unproduced film he called The Frog Prince. Issue #65 should come out in late May/early June. There is always a boatload of great content in every issue, and I have long been thrilled to have my name attached to it in any way. There are previews of, I think, just about every issue on the TwoMorrows site, and many of them have at least one page of my work.

ITEM!
I've been a contributor/partner to the relatively new comics/pop culture news site, FreakSugar.com. I've got two columns over there, one on fans and fandom generally (not just of comics!) and one on webcomics. Plus, I do an occasional book review or interview or something. There's also some really good work there by the other contributors, and I think we'll have some big announcements in the coming months, so stay tuned for that!

ITEM!
I'm going to limit my plugs today to four, so this is the last one! I mentioned above that I'm working on a third book. It's going to cover the Blackstone comics of the 1940s. I had originally planned on just reprinting some of the public domain books with maybe a short introduction, but the more I learned about them, the more fascinating the story behind them became! Because Harry Blackstone and writer Walter Gibson had such illustrious careers outside of this work, it's rarely mentioned even in passing. The comics passed from Street & Smith to Vital to EC to Timely, and how everyone got involved is a strange and winding story in an of itself. I'm aiming to have this finished later this year, and I started a Patreon in part to help fund some of my research on it. If this sounds like an interesting book, or if you like my writing generally, I'd really appreciate any financial support you might be able to provide!

Thanks for taking the time to read my work, in whatever form(s) you find it! I really do appreciate that I have any platform at all to talk about comics, and hearing when someone recognizes my work means a great deal to me.
I'm fairly certain Bob Kane never touched this Batman strip.
There seems to be little concern when new/different creators take over a comic book. The changes are noted, certainly, and someone always declares the outgoing team to be the best ever and completely irreplaceable and someone else always declares the incoming team to be the best ever and will make for a game-changing comic but, by and large, there's generally not a lot concern from within fandom about the shift. The attitude is certainly understandable with corporate-owned comics, but I've seen this on creator-owned work as well. Even books that seem at first uniquely tied to the creator's particular style, like Mike Mignola's Hellboy, have never really experienced upset when someone else steps in.

But people seem to have this romantic notion that that shouldn't happen on comic strips. That the creator who originated the strip should be the only one who touches it. Or, at the very most, if a creator is approaching retirement age, it's kind of okay if someone else in her/his family picks up the strip. Although, even then, it seems questionable. I recall more than a few "they should retire this" commentaries when Johnny Hart died and his grandsons took over B.C. -- even though they'd been helping on it for years prior anyway. I believe there was some upset when Jeff Keane took over Family Circus from his father years ago as well.

I can't help but wonder how that came about. It's actually a long-standing tradition that comic strip creators can/do get replaced. Lee Falk turned over art duties on Mandrake the Magician and The Phantom to Phil Davis and Ray Moore respectively, both within weeks of launching those strips in the mid-1930s; Harold Knerr took over The Katzenjammer Kids from Rudolph Dirks in 1914; and William Randolph Hearst put a string of artists -- including Winsor McCay! -- on Buster Brown after Richard Outcault left in 1906! And conversely, the expectation in comic books was that the creator stayed on the book indefinitely. John Romita initially assumed they would cancel Fantastic Four and Thor when Jack Kirby left Marvel; artists hid their personal illustration style under C.C.Beck's when they drew Captain Marvel; and Bob Kane was contiuned to be creditted with art duties on all Batman stories for years after he'd actually drawn anything.

We've actually got comic strips with switching creators dating back over a century, and the assumption that a comic book creator would stay on their own strip going on at least 50 years after that. So why/how did that seem to switch? When did it become fine when a comic book creator stepped in on an existing property, but a comic strip creator could not? Was any of that influenced by creators such as Bill Watterson, Gary Larson and Charles Schulz not allowing anyone else to work on their strips? I can understand a "relaxing" of sorts on what's considered acceptable versus not, but these both seem like complete reversals, which is what strikes me as most odd. Anyone have any ideas?
Batgirl variant cover. Not THAT one, though.
Valerie D'Orazio
The past week has seen more that a fair amount of bullshit in comicdom. There was the Batgirl variant cover thing, the Erik Larsen rant on Twitter, and most recently the D'Orazio/Sims issue. I'm not about to dig into the weeds on all of these issues here, but coming out of each of these, comics fans should be asking themselves a series of questions.
  1. What do I think about the issue? Not what is my gut reaction to a superficial claim, but what do I personally think about the larger issue at hand?
  2. Why do I think this? What background am I bringing to this that's influencing my thinking, and how is that the same or different than what anyone else is bringing?
  3. Is the broader issue at hand important to me? Why or why not?
  4. What is the best way I can support the people involved with this that I most agree with?
Many people I've seen on Twitter, Facebook, etc. tend to skip over these questions (or at most gloss over them quickly) and essentially start with "Is it okay for me to buy a comic by this person if they've acted like a shithead?" Can I enjoy the work they create? Does that enjoyment (or more precisely, that purchase with the intent of enjoyment) tacitly condone the creators' words and actions?

It's a reasonable question to ask, even if it's coming at it from a somewhat selfish position. A more selfless spin might be, "Can withholding my dollars influence the creators' position and/or thinking on this issue?" Either way, it's the consumer trying to use capitalism itself as a means to shift views on race/gender/whatever. But without putting some critical thought behind that decision, does it really send the message you intend?

First, you need to think about the issue at hand. Not just, "Do I think this is a cool cover?" but "What does this cover say about the characters? Would changing the context change the meaning? What was the thought process that led to this particular image being created, approved, and distributed? Is this something that's an ill-conceived, but isolated, incident or is this part of a systemic pattern?"

Second, put those thoughts into context. "Am I reacting to the creator this way because their statements ring true, or am I giving them deference because I've liked their comics for years?" "What would my spouse/kids/coworkers think about someone saying these things to them?" "Are other people taking offense to this? If so, why?"

Third, is this an issue of concern to you personally? If you really don't give a shit about online harassment, then that's obviously going to influence how you view that situation. But why do you think harassment is not an issue? Is it just not an issue in this instance?

Then, after you've thought about these things, then I think you can start to make a reasonable (and personal) choice about why/how you want to lend your support. That might be a boycott of the creator making an ass of him/herself (though, let's be honest, it's mostly men making asses of themselves in comics) or it might be buying extra copies of a book from the aggrieved party. Maybe, if it's surrounding a book that you couldn't get your hands on if you wanted to, you show support with blog posts or Tweets or something. Obviously, every situation is going to be a bit different. My point is that you should really think about the issue at hand, and not just run with your first instinct. Make sure you understand where everyone is coming from before you make a decision, and then make a conscious, deliberate, thought-out decision.

EPILOGUE

For the record, I was never much of a fan of Batgirl, Savage Dragon or the X-Men. I don't really even buy comics from Marvel or DC any more, and only the occasional trade from Image, so "voting with my wallet" isn't really an option for me here. But, if you really want my opinion on these particular issues...

I think DC is by and large an incredibly tone-deaf company. Anyone above the individual creators seems to have no real concept of what fans have enjoyed about Batgirl and, as a company, they're continuing to utilize a set of thought processes from three decades ago to make contemporary creative decisions. The Killing Joke was a great comic, but not because Barbara Gordon got shot. That was, in my opinion, the weakest part of the story. Celebrating that element of the comic, especially in light of where the character is today, showcases sexist thinking on the part of editorial. And while DC made what I think is the correct decision in nixing the offending cover, they did a phenomenally bad job in trying to play clean up.

I've not followed Larsen very closely over the years, so I'm unfamiliar with his history with sexist comments. But his rant on Twitter (while somewhat blown out of proportion) highlighted a long-prevailing sexist attitude throughout the superhero contigent of comicdom. It's that kind of thinking that drove women away from comics decades ago, and has kept them out until manga imports started bringing them back. Larsen wasn't saying anything that wasn't common in any comic shop throughout America 20-30 years ago. It's small-minded thinking, but is more an indictment of how sexism ran (and in some *coughsuperherocough* circles still runs) rampant throughout the entire industry.

(Side Note: I thought a Larsen-drawn image of She-Dragon might be interesting to include as a visual with this post, but I honestly could not find one that wasn't blatantly and uncomfortably misogynistic.)

Sims admits he was in the wrong in harassing Valerie and has apologized. I don't know Sims well enough to speak to his sincerity; honestly, I never cared much for his writing so I've largely ignored him the past decade. Should Marvel fire Sims? Valerie says she's okay with him writing for them, so I'm going to follow her lead. I'm also going to follow her lead in not accepting his apology. Valerie continues to suffer from what he did, so I don't think an apology, however heartfelt it might seem to be, is going to cut it here. What restitution should there be? I'll leave that between the two of them.