Monday, September 12, 2011

Heroes for Hope and Why I Don’t Like Oxfam America

This is very frustrating. During the last week or two, I have held in my hands several items that now I cannot find. One was my copy of Heroes for Hope. The others were a press release and a PR photo regarding same. Now that I need them, where are they?

As I sort through boxes brought from my storage space, things get shuffled around, stacked here and there. Those things are neither here nor there. I must have put them aside very carefully someplace safe from the cats and apparently safe from me as well. Sigh.

They’ll turn up. Then I’ll show them to you. 

Anyway….

I suspect most people are familiar with the fact that in 1985 Marvel Comics published a comic book, Heroes for Hope, to raise money for East African famine relief. The idea came from Jim Starlin and Berni (now spelled Bernie) Wrightson. I think it was whatshisname Wrightson’s suggestion, made to Starlin. Starlin is the one who brought it to me. He and Wrightson proposed that Marvel publish a special book the proceeds of which would be donated to a suitable charitable organization. They envisioned a “jam” book created by the biggest names and best creators we could find, each donating a page or two’s work.   

Starlin is very persuasive. He didn’t have to be. I thought the idea was wonderful. I think I was the one who suggested that we star the X-Men in the book, to maximize sales. I could be wrong. If Starlin says that was his idea, believe him.

I walked the new project proposal through the vetting process. I am very persuasive. I didn’t have to be. Everyone thought the idea was wonderful. I met no resistance.

I told X-Men editor Ann Nocenti and Chris Claremont about it. They thought the idea was wonderful.  Chris really got behind it. He sort of took over and became team captain. Chris recruited big name writers, Starlin and Wrightson went after big name artists, and all three did brilliantly, wonderfully well.  Ann was central fire control, governing and coordinating the whole project, aiding and abetting the recruiting process.

Starlin, Wrightson, Nocenti and Claremont did everything. I had the good sense to stay the hell out of their way.

They got people to contribute who probably wouldn’t even have taken my call.  

My input was fairly minor. I worked with Chris and Ann on the plot a little. Mostly I was the Structure Enforcer. I made sure the story worked and that it could be parceled into one, two and three page sections to make life easier on the jammers. We gave Stan the first pages to write and Archie Goodwin the last ones, so the team would have heavy-hitter, comics-experienced people anchoring the effort on either end. I wrote two pages in the middle somewhere, drawn by Alan Weiss, inked by Joe Rubinstein, lettered by John (Jack) Morelli and colored by Christie Scheele. They looked great.  
Pages 40-41 Drawn by Alan Weiss, Written by Jim Shooter
We had no shortage of volunteers. Everyone wanted to participate. I hated the fact that so many were willing and so few spots were available. I think Chris and Ann did a pretty good job of mixing Marvel writers, experienced comics pros, with stars from other fields.

The non-comics writers who participated needed some help in most cases, which Ann and Chris provided. The biggest challenge was Stephen King’s contribution. I may be exaggerating here, but not by much—he gave us something like 5,000 words for three pages. Almost overnight, by the way.  Chris, Ann and I somehow cut that down to what would fit on three comics pages. 500 words? I forget.  Has anyone else ever had to cut out 90% of Stephen King’s brilliant words?
Page 11 Drawn by Berni Wrightson, Written by Stphen King
Meanwhile….

Pam Rutt, Marvel’s PR director, really got behind this project. That was refreshing. I loved Pam, but sometimes it was hard to get her to grok the significance of what, to us comics people were clearly big events. Spider-Man’s black costume for instance. I pitched that to her as a PR op. Nah, she said, no one will care.  

Imagine her surprise the day the first Spider-Man black costume issue came out when we were swamped with calls from major newspapers, the wire services and news media outlets across the country. Never saw a PR department scramble so fast…. 

Pam wasn’t a comics person.  Almost no one at Marvel outside my department and some of the sales department was. Most Marvel execs would proudly tell you that they had never even opened a comic book (thereby preserving their “adult” image).  

Once the V.P. of licensing told me excitedly that she’d just made a great deal for Wonder Woman. I pointed out to her that Wonder Woman didn’t belong to us. She was nonplussed. I told her to call the woman at LCA who handled the DC characters—I can’t call her name to mind at the moment—and pretend that she had just warmed the potential client up for her.  

Once our V.P. of Promotions, who mostly spent her time arranging for Marvel’s costumed actors to appear at events like the White House Easter Egg Roll or ribbon cuttings at malls called me to ask how many stories were in each issue. You get the drift.  

Pam got behind what you’d expect a civilian to get behind—the anti-child abuse comic we did with the National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse, the launch of Marvel’s children’s book line, etc.  Heroes for Hope was right in her wheelhouse. When she embraced a PR op, she did a great job. She was/is brilliant, if not comics literate.         

Anyway….

Pam had arranged for Oxfam America to receive our donation. Their reaction to our offer, at first, was what one might expect from people who had never seen a comic book up close: “Comic book? There’s nothing funny about famine!” Sigh.  

For some reason Pam was determined that we should donate the money to them, though, and we convinced them that comics weren’t always comic. They still demanded to review the finished book before they would commit to accept our donation. 

Okay….

When the book was ready to go to press, we sent a mock-up to Oxfam America to review.

Their response was that they wanted nothing to do with it. Flat rejection.

Furthermore, they said that the book was unbelievably offensive and that we, the people of Marvel Comics, were racist, sexist and reprehensible.

When this was told to me by Pam and Marvel President Jim Galton I felt as if I were being called on the carpet. I was flabbergasted. I showed them the mock-up.

They didn’t see anything wrong with it.

Galton called the exec at Oxfam America we’d been dealing with to ask what their specific objections were.

Their response was that, while under no circumstances would they have anything to do with our project or with us, they would send an executive to meet with us and explain the many horrific, repugnant, disgusting elements that made our “comic book” anathema. 

So they did. Oxfam America’s representative came to meet with Galton and me. The meeting took place in Galton’s office.

I do not remember the man’s name.

He was a nice-looking, thirty-something man. He had on a suit that probably cost more than my entire wardrobe. Designer shoes. He had on more gold and diamond jewelry than I’d ever seen on a human being. Jeweled watch. Cufflinks. Stickpin. Bracelets. A neck chain that would make a rapper blush.  Doubt me, go ahead. Discount by two-thirds what I’m telling you and you should still have an image of a guy wearing clothes and jewelry that at market price would feed a thousand starving people for a month.

After the greetings and handshaking, Galton, making conversation, said that he imagined that Oxfam America and other charitable organizations had, at least, gotten a lot of people to focus on the ongoing tragedy in Africa, and had inspired many efforts such as ours from musicians and performers and artists.

This Oxfam America fellow, let’s call him Midas, just plain gushed about how good for business the East African famine was, how donations were rolling in at record levels. He talked about the millions dying as if it were a great marketing opportunity.

Galton and I were stupefied. We couldn’t believe how thrilled Midas was that his business was booming.

Midas explained that the purpose of his visit wasn’t here to request changes or negotiate. He had come to save us from our own folly. He made it clear that Oxfam America had nothing but contempt for us and our work. He came as a favor, to urge us not to publish the abomination that we had created. He assured us that it would destroy Marvel Comics.

Right. Well, naturally, I wondered why.

Midas flipped through the mock-up. Again and again he pointed out black characters that he said “looked like Michael Jackson.” We were obviously trying to capitalize on Michael Jackson’s image and fame.

Page 33 Drawn by Herb Trimpe, Written by George Martin
Page 28 Drawn by John Bolton, Written by Jo Duffy
Michael Jackson in particular and the Jackson family in general were huge supporters of Oxfam America, by the way.

Every drawing of a woman, he said, was sexist and exploitative. He was particularly offended by depictions of Storm, which he thought were more than sexist, a denigration of women of color.

Page 2 Drawn by JR, Jr., Written by Stan Lee
Page 26 Drawn by Brian Bolland, Written by Chris Claremont
I mentioned that the men were heroic and glamorous, too. Just like in the movies, stars tend to be good looking.

He pointed out a panel in which Chris had a carnival barker saying: “Yowza….” That, he said, was racist in the extreme. I don’t have the book handy, as explained above, but wasn’t that character Caucasian?

Page 25 Drawn by Brian Bolland, Written by Chris Claremont
Moore and Corben’s pages? Yikes.

I cannot begin to tell you all the racism, sexism and hate that he (and Oxfam America) read into the words and pictures.

Wow.

The punch line is this: Midas accused Marvel of “stealing Janet Jackson’s logo.” He believed that the Heroes for Hope logo, credited to Janet Jackson, was ripped off.

I offered to introduce him to the designer on our staff who had created the logo, one Miss Janet Claire Jackson. He dismissed my obvious attempt at a cover-up.

No, really, we have a designer named…. Oh, never mind.

No wonder Janet Claire Jackson eventually started going by the name “Blog Elf.”    

Finally, the lunatic left. Galton and I shared a moment of “what a jerk.”

Pam was instructed to find some other organization to which to donate the money. She came up with the American Friends Service Committee.

Here’s their acceptance letter.

Heroes for Hope was a huge success. Thanks to our sales department, we got donations from downstream—distributors, retailers, even fans.

Can’t find the press release and the picture of me and Galton giving the AFSC honchos the PR “Big Check” created by our production department to symbolize the real check. I think the initial donation was $500,000. Much more came later. 

It was a great thing. Jim Starlin, Bernie Wrightson, Ann Nocenti and Chris Claremont are great heroes in my book. Heroes for hope. There are people alive today who wouldn’t be without their efforts.

Thanks to everyone who helped, and everyone who wanted to but couldn’t because there wasn’t room. It was one of our finest hours.     


NEXT, A DAY OFF.  THEN, I DON”T KNOW, BUT SOMETHING GROOVY



121 comments:

JayJayJackson said...

I was able to find a copy of the book so Jim didn't have to. It just wouldn't be the same without the pictures.

JayJayJackson said...

I remember back when this happened and Jim was telling me about it. He was so incredulous that the guy would think there couldn't possibly be two people named Janet Jackson in the world. He told me that he said to the guy, "I'll take you down to the bullpen to meet our designer. You can look at her driver's license!"

Heck, my UPS guy told me that there were three Janet Jacksons in Brooklyn at the time!

Anonymous said...

I bought that issue and re-read it several times. I still have it in my X-Men collection of the time.

And I can't believe the "Midas" character. If he had been a comic book character, I would've blasted you for it.

Cheers.
--Rick Dee

Anonymous said...

More support that the folks making money off suffering want nothing to do with actually making anything better.

You all did great work with HFH. Be proud of it.

J.C. Vaughn said...

You can tell a lot about a charity by the way its executives dress and what they drive. I am not opposed to people not being dressed in sackcloth, but geez...

Marc Miyake said...

Dear Jim,

Your description of Midas was nauseating. Far worse than what I had expected for tonight's entry. I said to myself out loud, "Sick, sick, sick." I wonder how others reacted to this creep. I imagine he's retired now, lying back on a yacht somewhere without a second thought about his behavior. His hypersensitivity about nonexistent racism and sexism sounds like a feeble attempt to compensate for his own moral failings. "Look at meeee! I'm a good person!" No.

Dear JayJay,

Thanks for the scans which prove how empty Midas' accusations were.

Dear J.C.,

I'm sorry to hear that Midas might not be unique.

Tue Sørensen said...

I think there ought to be an on-going comic book about relief aid, whose proceeds would continuously go to such charities. Surely a company like Marvel can afford to put out one such book. And what's more, it would be in the spirit of superheroing. Can you truly do stories about superheroes if you do not believe in being a bit of a hero yourself?

Thanks for the story.

JediJones said...

Sadly it doesn't seem like any institution is immune to corruption. Not businesses, governments, religious institutions nor even charities. Not as long as human beings with their predictably problematic human natures are running them. It's important not to forget this because once an institution does become completely trusted, that's exactly the one the smart scam artist is going to use for cover.

It's good to know you and Marvel didn't back down in the face of the criticism. Too often we hear about companies who bow to any kind of pressure or scare tactic from outside groups rather than focus on what their customers want. That's why we'll never get an "Everybody Draws Muhammed" Marvel Super Special. ;-)

I've long thought that the misinterpretation of the word "comic book" must have been why the movie Superman III came out the way it did. It seemed like the screenwriters had never opened a comic book and just assumed it was synonymous with the "Sunday funnies." So they gave us comedian Richard Pryor co-starring with Superman and some slapstick sequences that looked like they belonged in a Looney Tunes or Mr. Magoo cartoon.

To think that the executives at Marvel were just as out-of-touch boggles the mind. Maybe you should've run their comic business into the ground and then offered to buy it off them cheap instead of spearheading the revitalization of the industry. 20/20 hindsight of course.

It is kind of sad to think that despite everything that's happened in the medium and the influence comic books have had on other media, it doesn't seem like the "average Joe" thinks of comic books much differently than they used to. You can still almost see the "Biff, Bam, Pow" bubbles popping up in their head when you mention the term "comic book."

Compare this to animation, which has had its reputation in North America completely revamped since the '80s thanks to the Disney films of the early '90s, The Simpsons and its numerous imitators, the exposure of Japanese anime, the Bruce Timm DC cartoons and Pixar's CGI work, among others. Now you can strike up a conversation about one cartoon or another in almost any setting and find someone receptive to it, but you still don't stand much of a chance of doing that with comic books. Animation managed to break out of its stereotype as Saturday morning kid stuff and became somewhat as multifaceted and appreciated an aspect of our culture as it had been in Japan. The same thing should have happened with comic books. But I don't think it did. Maybe it still can?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the afterword on a lot of my childhood and young adult memories. There was something special with Marvel in the 80's and I think you do an excellent job of showing us just what that was.

Marc Miyake said...

Dear JediJones,

I think part of the reason the perception of animation changed is that it's so accessible. Civilians could see the changes for themselves. The Simpsons etc. are on TV and even if you don't go to theaters you can still see TV commercials for animated movies.

Comic books, on the other hand, are less visible in the public eye than before. There may be people who are unaware they're still published in the US, who might vaguely recall that "Superman died" in 1992 and conclude his title was cancelled two decades ago.

William Noetling said...

You know I think I'm going to see if I a) have a copy or b) can get one on the Bay of E.

LOVING this blog, as a dyed-in-the-wool DC Fan, but lover of all comics, I can say that growing up during the 70's and 80's was an exciting time for the comics alone. I never appreciated Jim's efforts at the time, being a surly teenager I had to hate ANYTHING popular and only show love on the obscure and unpopular stuff.

That's not to say I didn't sneak around and read X-Men and other titles...I just didn't tell anyone...shuuuush.

One of these days I'm really looking forward to the New Universe stories. I actually liked every one of those titles.

bcolflesh said...

"I'm really looking forward to the New Universe stories. I actually liked every one of those titles."

Even Kickers, Inc. ?

Jerry Bonner said...

Dear Jim,

This story reminds me of another noble cause that you and/or Marvel championed. I seem to recall a picture of the Hulk in Marvel Age that was drawn by a 12-13 year-old fan who was stricken with an incurable disease of some sort. I'm not remembering the circumstances of his illness or his name exactly (Richard maybe?) but I do remember that you had Terry Austin ink it and it turned out very well. That story always stuck with me because I was around the same age at the time, loved to draw Marvel characters but couldn't fathom being faced with death and pain at that age...as that poor kid was.

Does that story ring any bells with you and is the full story blog worthy?

Thanks,

Jerry

Dusty. said...

If Jim's not careful, I'm going to start liking JayJay even more than him! 1985 was such a great year for comics. Maybe the best ever! The Heroes for Hope comic was good fun. This entry brought back another great memory! Thank you both!

I hope to see a future blog about Marvel's original graphic novels. Revenge of the Living Monolith is the greatest superhero story ever told, and I've read it at least once a year since it came out in 1985.

Some Secret Wars and Secret Wars 2 stories would also be great. I've always been really curious why Marvel's top guy was given Al Milgrom as his artist on the biggest Marvel crossover event in history. Nothing against Al, who did great work on Avengers and West Coast Avengers when Joe Sinnott was inking him, but his art wasn't grand enough for such a big deal, and I always wondered why John Buscema, John Byrne, Neal Adams, etc..., weren't chosen, or why Mike Zeck didn't return.

Just throwing out some ideas!

JayJayJackson said...

Ah, Revenge of the Living Monolith... what a logo, huh? ;)

howiegold said...

Thanks for the background. Unfortunately, does not surprise me.
Glad the book was completed and the AFC able to do more good in the world.
I remember buying multiple issues, and am sure I still have some.

jimshooter said...

Dear Jerry,

I remember only that it happened. Not sure I was the driving force behind it, but I certainly was in favor of it.

OM said...

...Jim, this Wiki section on Oxfam might be of some interest to you:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxfam_America#Criticism

...One thing it does *not* mention for some reason are allegations that Oxfam officials and reps like "Midas" were "skimming from the till" in order to support what we'd call a "Playa" or "Drug Thug Rappa" lifestyle. Marvel did the proper thing by not going with Oxfam, as it would have been unlikely that more than 15% of the take would have made it past "administrative costs", and that's not including the bribes given to local warlords and politicians to let what little gets through actually has a -chance- of getting through.

OM said...

...And on a side note, while I usually never participate in these types of fundraisers, I actually bought ten copies of this one. Not for speculation, but to try an help those in need the only way I could at the time.

Thunder said...

I want to throw in my vote for a blog about the "New Universe", especially Jim's plans for "Star Brand" (assuming he remembers after all this time). :)

JediJones said...

Marc, it's certainly true that TV exposure helps. Even then, not everybody can be "reached." The Simpsons' writers often talked about how their guest star voices would react to the show. Above a certain age, they knew that the guest actors wouldn't quite "get" the show. Those guests thought of it as something fun to do for their grandkids, but didn't perceive it as an entertainment for adults. By contrast, I would expect most Americans born after 1985 to always have an open-minded perception of animation.

As for how the perception of comic books in the culture could be broadened, a lot of the right kind of exposure helps there too. I think the closest we've come was with the Watchmen comic. It really proved that the medium could be geared directly to adults. It got some traction in terms of media exposure and got noticed at least by those with an interest in literature. But there really wasn't much that followed up on it and clicked in the same way. So, by the time the Watchmen movie came out, most people had such little understanding of how far comic book content could stretch in its tone and themes that many ended up taking young children to see it and having to walk out.

I think the industry probably needs something along the lines of the next Dark Knight Returns. Something that takes one of the really well-known characters and stretches their boundaries into territory that could only be appreciated by adults. It has to be a creatively brilliant story of course, otherwise it would come off as cheap exploitation. And it has to be accessible to the average adult, not just filled with clever references only comic buffs would get and not filled with too obtuse a style of artwork.

It's not that I think there shouldn't be superhero comics geared to kids. There definitely should be a lot of them. But to change the public's perception about comics, you need to shock them and confound their expectations. Not necessarily to huge extremes though. Who Framed Roger Rabbit with its subtle adult references juxtaposed against classic kid-friendly characters got the ball rolling in terms of broadening people's appreciation of cartoons.

You need to do this with a top ten character because, unless you've got a bottomless marketing budget, you need some free media hype. The hype is meaningless though if it's just around a plot point like a death, a wedding, a secret identity being revealed, etc. That's been done to death, and sometimes poorly enough to leave a bad taste in the public's mouth. The book has got to say something about the character or the genre that's new on a meaningful level. Whatever mature content is there has to be honestly relevant to the story, even while it cues the reader that the paradigm for the genre is being shifted to a more adult sense of reality, at least for this particular story.

JediJones said...

Another nice thing about The Dark Knight Returns is that it took place in the future, so it couldn't completely be dismissed as an "imaginary" story. It had some extra weight in the public's eye as being quite possibly the "real" future of the Batman character. If a new story is obviously completely disconnected from regular continuity or completely self-contained, then it could lose some cache.

There seems to be a timidity in the comic industry now around trying to attract a different, broader kind of readership. Comics seem to be made to appeal only to the type of people currently reading them. I think all the grown-up, lapsed readers of comics are looking for a reason to come back, but not finding it. Everything benefits from nostalgia at some point, but comics are somehow missing the opportunity, other than selling reprints of old material, which can never create the same electricity as something new and great.

For these former readers, comics have either become too unrecognizable compared to what they grew up with or they're still too much of the same thing that they grew out of. This lapsed audience wants to find a comic book that they can recognize and feel comfortable with but one that's also grown up with them.

Maybe a Marvel or DC "adult-verse" is what we need. Sure, being a teenager coming of age was difficult, but being an adult is no walk in the park either. A greater dose of reality injected into the fantasy is what propelled both 1960s Marvel and 1990s Valiant to sudden heights of popularity. That's the kind of step we might need to take now. We need grown-up, adult characters with complex adult problems, stories with adult themes and content where appropriate, the same action and fantastic characters we're used to, but no-holds-barred when it comes to the threats, the psychological terror and the consequences.

If a new, adult audience can be built up, they may bring other adults with them, who may create new and different kinds of demand for non-superhero genres. I love the superhero genre, but animation has sold itself to the public by proving it can do broad comedy, non-cartoony realism, action, "dirty" humor, avant-garde stuff, etc. Comics need to be ready to expand their base when the opportunity arises. Of course comics for kids need to be there to work on building the next generation of readers, but the goal should always be to have adult comics they can grow into, not to let them walk away at a certain age.

I've read a lot here and in other articles about how the comic industry was dying in the '70s. Some said TV was inevitably replacing it. The rebound of the '80s was never a guarantee. The right people had to have the right ideas and do the right things to make it happen. There is no doubt in my mind that can happen again. No matter what the medium, if you create brilliant, fresh content, people will come. It's just going to take a little daring to get it done.

JediJones said...

Dusty, I'm not sure if you saw Jim's older blog posting about Secret Wars, but here it is. Make sure to scroll down and read the comments for more answers from Jim.

http://www.jimshooter.com/2011/04/secrets-of-secret-wars.html

If you're looking to see if Jim's covered a certain subject, try putting a search like the below into Google. Google...still the next best thing to an intelligence-enhancing cyborg implant in the brain.

www.jimshooter.com "secret wars"

Justin Fairfax said...

I remember buying that one at my local comic shop. amazed that you got such "big-time" writers like Stephen King to write for the book. I do believe it was the only job that Alan Moore ever wrote for Marvel that wasn't done thru "Marvel UK". It wasn't long after that DC did their version. called "Heroes Against Hunger"...I'm not sure how well it sold (ask Paul Levitz) but in my opinion artistically it didn't hold together as well as Marvel's book. Belated congratulations on your accomplishment, despite venal opportunists trying to shut you down.

Anonymous said...

Jim, your description of Mr Midas did not mention whether he was black or white?

Ronnie said...

To be fair, Storm's costume at the time was ah, rather far from the least objectifying in comics at the time. I love it, it's incredibly 80's in an amusing way, but it also screams sex in the way black leather does a lot.

Harry said...

"Jim, your description of Mr Midas did not mention whether he was black or white?"

What does it matter? Either way, he was a dick... ;)

Harry said...

"To be fair, Storm's costume at the time was ah, rather far from the least objectifying in comics at the time. I love it, it's incredibly 80's in an amusing way, but it also screams sex in the way black leather does a lot."

Whatever about Storm's then current costume, the image on the bottom left of page 26 of Heroes for Hope, as included above, certainly "screams sex"...

Benoît Leblanc said...

Great story, Mr. Shooter. Great but also infuriating! It is shameful to see what happens to charitable organizations when they get big enough to go corporate. Then we get people like Mr. Midas talking "(...) about the millions dying as if it were a great marketing opportunity".

I was shocked to see recent numbers about certain charities up here in Canada... some of them will finally use only about 20% of donations to do any actual good; the rest is eaten up by expenses and salaries. Essentially, such groups are creating a job for themselves by exploiting the misery of some and the goodwill of others.

Luckily there are still grass root movements, like that launched by Mr. Wrightson and Mr. Starlin, that make it possible for us to believe that hope can triumph over greed. Thanks for sharing that inspiring moment with us!

ireactions said...
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ireactions said...
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ireactions said...

Is this the same charity book Jim Owsley/Christopher Priest recalls being invited to contribute to? From Christopher's website from an article on racism in the comic industry:

http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:1yh5djO5nREJ:www.digital-priest.com/comics/adventures/frames/chips2.htm+the+last+time+priest+discussed+race+in+comics..+%E2%96%BA&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=ca&client=firefox-a

7. the marvel famine relief project

The most heated racial episode in my career occurred during Marvel's production of their charity book for Ethiopian famine victims. Promoted as work from "the top writers and artists in the industry— the very best of the very best," profits from this effort were going to be donated to help the poor starving Africans. It was a truly noble effort, one the entire industry rallied behind (at least until DC decided to do their own book, thus dividing the talent pool along company lines).

Denys Cowan dropped by and mentioned, amused, that he'd seen the list of talent working on the famine relief project. There wasn't a single African American creator invited to participate. This actually amused me tremendously, and I went over the list myself to make sure, but, yup, no blacks had been thought of as, "the very best of the very best," and none were invited to work on this book.

Tickled, I picked up the phone and called Larry Hama, telling him no blacks were on the list. Larry was hugely amused, and suggested we do our own charity relief book for the poor white trash of Appalachia. He and I howled with laughter, and then shook off the dumbness of it all and got on with our lives.

Only, a white staffer had overheard part of the conversation (I assume the notion of my "recruiting" Hama to do my "own alternate charity book"), and some warped interpretation of my conversation with Hama got reported down the hall to the X-MEN office (where the book was being developed). The editors became incensed and loudly demanded my head on a plate for, essentially, inciting the black talent to stop working for Marvel. I mean, this thing got blown to huge proportions, so much so that, by the end of the day, it was largely accepted as fact that I was organizing a walkout of black talent, and the EIC kind of put me and the X-Men editor in a room to negotiate a deal.

I just couldn't stop laughing. I mean, it was all so stupid. These were stupid people. It was extremely stupid to do an African relief charity project and not invite any damned Africans to work on it. It was even sillier for these stupid people to invent some massive protest out of a silly joke in a 30-second phone call with Larry Hama.

The X-Men Ed was not amused, and refused to believe me when I said I had no intention of bad-mouthing the project. I was invited to participate, but I just chuckled and said, "No affirmative action, please." And this just set the Ed off into a screaming match that could be heard everywhere in the office, "What is WRONG with you? Why do you have to make a RACIAL ISSUE OUT OF EVERYTHING?!?!?!"

It just got out of control, and the episode (along with my paying my assistant to stay home on MLK's birthday once it was ratified as a national holiday but Marvel refused to recognize it, other than the numbingly patronizing "We got us our own holiday" speech by Luke Cage in the VISION & SCARLET WITCH Miniseries) fairly cemented my pariah status at Marvel. Without saying a word and without actually doing anything, I was routinely assumed to be some radical activist who saw everything as a race issue.

I felt trapped in a world of loons. It was totally no-win, and I tended to simply withdraw from the office more and more, from people who, in my view, had now invented a justification to do what they'd been doing all along: fencing themselves off from me.

Sanjiv Purba said...

Jim,
I'm involved in a number of charities. I ensure that only a small portion of a donation goes to admin costs and the rest do quantifiable good works.

Do you remember how many copies of this book sold?

JayJayJackson said...

"I felt trapped in a world of loons." Yep. I sure can sympathize with that sentiment. And Owsley was right. Over and over again I saw the gossip network of staff and freelancers act like a gigantic game of telephone. People were vilified over nothing, people lost work because of complete misunderstandings and people were ostracized because of things that never even happened.

But it was just a microcosm of how the world in general really works. It's human behavior at it's lowest and everyone of us has to resist it and seek the truth for ourselves. That's what being in those situations made me believe.

jimshooter said...

Dear ireactions,

I suppose. Wow. I wasn't aware of any of this drama. It's hard to believe that Owsley/Priest felt as he apparently did. I don't remember seeing any sign of it or hearing anything about it. I never put J.O./C.P. and anyone in a room to "negotiate a deal." Nonsense. Starlin, Wrightson, Nocenti and Claremont are not racially biased. I doubt that the ethnic background of anyone they chose ever crossed their minds. The horror going on in Africa was about starvation, not race. Famine is an equal opportunity killer.

By the way, what days were paid holidays wasn't under the control of anyone at Marvel. Corporate, Cadence Industries, controlled that for us, Vitamin Quota, Curtis Circulation, Perfect Subscription, U.S. Pen and Pencil, etc. All the Cadence companies. Around the time J.O./C.P. is talking about, we campaigned for and won the right for everyone to choose his or her own paid holidays, so, for instance, Paty could take Halloween off as a paid holiday, which she wanted, others could take Good Friday, MLK Day, Presidents' Day, Rosh Hashanah or whatever as they wished. That seemed fair. Virginia Romita was a leader in that effort. Paty, too. She wrote a letter to the Chairman of the Board every year about the subject.

jimshooter said...

Dear Sanjiv,

I made no allegations about Oxfam's administrative costs. I said that their rep was a jerk and that he was expensively dressed. I stand by that. I don't remember how many copies H4H sold. If I come across the memo with the figures I'll post it.

JayJayJackson said...

I don't think it was necessarily a racial issue. I don't think anyone involved with the Heroes for Hope book intentionally excluded anyone at all. The organizers were good people trying to do something good. Maybe the Marvel staffer who overheard Owsley's conversation even thought he was trying to do something good. Maybe. But situations like this and many others, as well as seeing Jim vilified so unjustly, have taught me not to believe everything I hear without looking deeper.

In many situations Jim's wise council has made me see things in a different light, also. But, I've been lucky to have good friends. I've sought out friends who would tell me the truth instead of what I want to hear. Without smart people like Jim, Joe James, James Fry, Jim Salicrup and a few others my life would be a poorer thing.

Mars Bonfire said...

"...how good for business the East African famine was..."

Or any kind of misery. Reminds me of this story from The Onion:

http://www.theonion.com/articles/new-childrens-hospital-filled-to-capacity,597/

I do ask my friends working for charities what their mission statement is. If it's not "To put ourselves out of business" then I demand why not.

Mark said...

@ Mike Miyake and Jedi Jones -

The general public will probably hold comic books in higher regard when comic book fans realize that Y: The Last Man is in many respects a more mature, profound work of fiction than Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns:)

Sanjiv Purba said...

Hi Jim,
Thanks. The publication figures would be interesting to know. The $500k was a strong initial contribution especially back then.

I agree that it is unfair to infer admin costs from the way a rep is dressed. But i find it difficult to make that separation. Also, perception can be as powerful as reality.

Pastrami said...

First of all, I'm disappointed. The only reason I read this Blog is because I thought Jim was best friends with Michael Jackson's sister. Now, I'm kinda bummed.
Almost as bummed as I was when I discovered that this book which I had purchased as a back issue was "the" X-men #1. Those were my early days of collecting, I thought a gem had REALLY slipped through the cracks.
Keep up the good work.

ireactions said...

Oh, Mr. Shooter. Every time I post something from Mr. Owsley's site, I feel rather regretful, but as always, the explanation seems clear: there were miscommunications and personality conflicts that can often make small disagreements seem so much larger and more insidious and malicious than they actually were.

Dusty. said...

"Ah, Revenge of the Living Monolith... what a logo, huh? ;)"

JayJay, did you design that great logo??? I spotted your name in the credits when I looked!

Dusty. said...

JediJones, thanks for the link to the Secret Wars stuff!

Chris said...

Not long ago, I didn't know the race of Owsley/Priest (or, for that matter, Matt Baker, Kyle Baker, or Larry Hama). Reading/collecting on my own means that unless it's specifically mentioned or I see a picture of the creator placed prominently on a book or website, I will probably never know. Or care. (The downside to little face-to-face interaction is that I don't doubt I can't correctly pronounce a lot of names.)

I have never experienced any real racial discrimination so I can only imagine how it feels, but it's sad that since I've started seeing Owsley/Priest's name brought up, the majority of the quotes I've seen from him are racially charged.

JayJayJackson said...

Hi Dusty,

I designed a few logos at Marvel. It was pretty cool work. I do a lot of logos for bands nowadays. Other businesses, too, but usually pretty fun stuff. Which is nice.

JayJayJackson said...

Hi Chris,

I don't believe that there was a lot of racism at Marvel, I don't know... it's hard to know what's in a person's heart and interpreting people's actions is difficult and misleading, but when great guys like Owsley and many others have to go through annoying and insulting prejudices every single day of their lives in the outside world might it NOT skew one's world view? It's possible.

Unfortunately, the bad things that happen to all of us tend to shape our thoughts and feelings more than the good things. I can't say if Owsley is correct or not in everything he writes about, because I don't know, but I understand why he feels that way. I remember him as a great guy with a great sense a humor and a wonderful positive attitude. I used to love hanging around with him and his assistant Adam. That's what i focus on.

Gregg H said...

I myself really just can't wrap my mind around this part of it.
When O/P saw the list of the creators and realized that there were no blacks working on the project that was hyped as 'the best of the best', did he ever consider that it just so happened that there weren't any in the business that qualifies as 'best of the best'?
I'm sure that there are people a lot more knowledgable than me on the subject, but using that criteria, would it realy have been 'right' or 'better' to push a Claremont, Starlin, Miller, Cheykin, Vess etc. off the project to add someone who happens to have different pigmintation? That would be my first question.

BTW...Living Monolith was AMAZING.

Harry said...

Like most people above, I would have had no idea as to the race of any of the names I saw in Marvel comics: to me, they were all Americans, or Brits in the case of Marvel UK strips, they could have been green like the Hulk for all I knew or cared. It's a shame that Jim Owsley/Christopher Priest seems to have encountered racist attitudes from a minority in his working career, though I have no doubt that most at Marvel, Jim and Janet included, were colour blind where race was concerned, just wanting the best people involved regardless of colour or creed.

Anonymous said...

http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=4288

-Benjamin Jay Bayliss
Columbus, Ohio

Anonymous said...

Granted that's TODAY'S OXFAM and who knows how it compares to 1985's OXFAM.

Anonymous said...

Owsley/Priest: "It was extremely stupid to do an African relief charity project and not invite any damned Africans to work on it."

(MikeAnon:) Being Polish myself, on both sides of my family right down the line so far as I know, if someone had been doing a relief book for Polish orphans and asked me if, due to my ethnicity, I wanted to work on it, I would have been offended for them having taken my race into account, as America is the only country I've ever lived in or had any strong affection for.

What strikes me amazing about Owsley's conceited remark is his implicit assumption that anyone who is a black American of African descent should give any more of a damn about Africa than any other American just because they're black and of African descent. For some people born in America, our allegiances start and stop right here in the good ol' U.S. of A. For all the years that Poland spent behind the Iron Curtain, I never once gave a thought to my "oppresed brethren in the motherland" because my motherland wasn't Poland but the United States, and all the family I know lived right here in the U.S. with me. In fact, the only Polish person outside the U.S. I felt any affiliation with at all was Pope John Paul II, and that's mainly because of the Marvel comic book about him that I was given as a child (since I'm not Catholic, though my grandparents were, and my parents were raised in the Church but drifted away after high school and never returned). I now happen to work with someone who's actually from Poland, so my ethnicity comes up sometimes as a humorous aside, but otherwise it doesn't drive my sense of identity (unless I'm asked about it in a survey). So basically any kind of statement like Owsley's that says "if you are [this], you should think/act/be treated like [that]," really bugs me because that implies ethnicity should be a big deal, and I thought the whole point of the last sixty years' worth of racial growing pains in America was to say exactly the opposite.

Jacob said...

It's kind of hilarious but hardly (sadly) unsurprising that Owsley's anecdote about stupid office gossip is being reflexively turned into "Who's the REAL racist?" or "the menace of affirmative action" talk-show fodder. It's the goofy paranoia of people who don't know how to sort out their feelings on the issue in an organized, sensible way and so have a little mini-freakout as soon as the word "race" appears.

Of course ethnicity matters. How could it not? People like knowing and being proud of where they come from. Ask anyone at the Columbus Day parade, or on St. Patrick's. Ask the people in Chinatown if they "never once gave a thought to the motherland." Hell, ask my granddad, a committed Anglophile who traced our family tree, such as it is, all the way up the Mersey to a forgotten village outside of Manchester.

Owsley wasn't suggesting that white people shouldn't be working on the charity book, or anything ridiculous like that. If I can presume to guess what was in his head, I think he was probably mordantly amused to discover that no black creators were considered "top tier," and probably a bit disappointed on behalf of the black creators who are interested in, or feel a kinship with, Africa, the same way my granddad feels that kinship with the little village outside of Manchester.

Brian Doan said...

Thanks, Jacob. Well-put.

Mark said...

I've read Owsley/Priest's blog, and the guy seems like a sane, well-balanced individual, the Boswell, as it were to Jim Shooter's Dr. Johnson. Some of the other older comic book professionals blogging about the good old days, well, the less said about them, the better.

And I'm not sure how to put this exactly. While race shouldn't matter when enjoying a particular cultural product - or anything for that matter - people do have unique cultural perspectives that can add interesting layers to their artistic work.

Chris said...

Hi JayJay,

Thanks for your perspective. It's nice when people who know the people being discussed weigh in.

Anonymous said...

Out of curiosity, is the George Martin on the writer list George R.R. Martin of _Game of Thrones_ fame?

--Sean

Diacanu said...

Reading Owsley's/Priest's blog, be mentions being quietly avoided because "he's that angry black guy who's hard to deal with".
First of all, I believe it, second of all..why are so many white people such...fuggin...WIIIIIIIMPS!?!?
Gawd, I'm white, and I'm sick of it.
Y'know what? I'd LIKE to have an honest to goodness angry militant black guy making my comics.
If I were in EIC, I'd hire real Black Panthers to write Black Panther!
I want angry black guys, I want angry EVERYTHING!
Get some Sandanistas in there!!
More!! More!! MORE!!!
More anger!! More scary people!
I want a book by a guy who once ATE another guy, and now he has to be chemically castrated to make it through the Burger King drive through!!
You think poor Owsley was frightening?!?!
Give me the reigns!
You'll see something! Oh yeah!!
*Exhales*
Ehem...sorry about that...

Diacanu said...

Ahem...so yeah...the state of comics...not so good...needs improvement...yeah...*cough*

Diacanu said...

Gregg H-

"I myself really just can't wrap my mind around this part of it.
When O/P saw the list of the creators and realized that there were no blacks working on the project that was hyped as 'the best of the best', did he ever consider that it just so happened that there weren't any in the business that qualifies as 'best of the best'?".

Ehh....there's a couple average ones I'd bump if a better minority artist/writer popped up....

halojones-fan said...

I think you mean "reins", not "reigns", there, Spider Jerusalem.

Diacanu said...

halojones-fan-

Bah, gotta stop trusting Chrome spellcheck, and slow down for a proofread...

Mark said...

When O/P saw the list of the creators and realized that there were no blacks working on the project that was hyped as 'the best of the best', did he ever consider that it just so happened that there weren't any in the business that qualifies as 'best of the best'?".

If Denys Cowan and and Kyle Baker aren't "the best of the best", I clearly do not know what "best" means.

Pariah said...

Omg i was wondering where that picture of Storm came from ! i remember reading that was a wee kid and thinking it was a wee bit racy and i didn't even remember it was for charity.

I've been looking for that issue ever since but i couldn't remember where it came from i just remember some clown dude messing with storm in a sort of reality warping way and putting her in different costumes and stuff.


I never really understood Claremont's fetish for leather and bondage.

I'm kind of surprised that it went through the comics code but then they seemed to be pretty lenient around that time.

Bill Carrigan said...

As a representative to the American Friends Service Committee, I am very grateful to Marvel Comics for their donation. I am certain that it was put to very good use. With regard to the Jim O./Christopher P. comment, I can see his making a joke out of it and then the whole thing getting blown out of proportion. I don't think he was being overly sensitive to note the irony of the lack of African American talent on the issue. Even if he believed that there were no blacks that were part of the "best of the best" that would not mean that he would not still find the situation ironic. In any event, I hope he was pleased with the choice of AFSC, which not only did great work in Africa but was also a pioneer in civil rights in the United States. It was to AFSC that Martin Luther King, Jr. sent his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." And it was AFSC who helped pay for and sponsor his trip to India to learn about the tactics and philosophy of Gandhi. Thanks Jim for the blog! I really enjoy reading it, and today was a special treat with the mention of the American Friends Service Committee.

Jacob said...

It's kind of funny going back and rereading the classic stories as a kid and noticing the moments where the writer's extracurricular interests or kinks peek through the margins. And yeah, Claremont's Storm is a classic example - reading a bunch of X-Men in a row, you can't help but notice how many of their villains, from Magneto to Moses Magnum to Doctor Doom, are bewitched by Storm's "exotic beauty" and kidnap her to be their new bride.

But whatever. I think being creative means putting something of yourself into the final product, warts and all, and as far as I could tell it never got in the way of the story. Certainly little Jacob never picked up on any BDSM themes - it all went right over my head.

czeskleba said...

Gregg H. wrote "did he ever consider that it just so happened that there weren't any in the business that qualifies as 'best of the best'?"

********************
"Best of the best" is highly subjective though... it's not like you can scientifically measure which creator is better than another. If the list of creators had been arrived upon through something like a popularity poll of readers then I could see your argument. But it really is just Nocenti and Claremont's opinion on who is the best, nothing more. Should they have gone out of their way to include some African-American creators? I don't know, but it does seem a little ironic that they didn't consider any of the guys around then worthy of the honor.

jimshooter said...

Dear Bill,

Thank you for your comment, and thank you to everyone at AFSC for all you do.

Urk said...

Yeah, its ironic, and perhaps shortsighted or careless. Not in a hostile way, just in the way that being white makes it much easier to not think about race in a given situation than being black does.

I really, really don't imagine that Chris Claremont or Ann Nocenti harbors any kind of even latent racist feeling. they just went looking for the best of the best. But they did so in an industry that hadn't, historically, been all that friendly to black folks, and one that often takes a good bit of work at low wages for a long time to raise one's profile to the point where you're considered "the best of the best." Under those circumstances, a lot of talented black folks who like comics are going to take their talents elsewhere. Certainly, there were more talented black folks working in comics in 1985 than ever before, but that doesn't mean there were many, or that many of that small number had been around long enough to be considered elite talent professionally or according to fan appeal.

I'd also agree with Brian, upthread, that Jacob's comment at 6:42 is right on.

One of the problems of talking about racism is that people often take it to mean simply personal dislike of or hostility towards people of other races. What's much more insidious, and a much bigger problem, is structural racism, which often doesn't seem like racism at all, it simply seems like "the way things are."

Anonymous said...

I found this comic a while back on one of the clearance racks at Half Price Books. (Great place for finding hidden gems, by the way...) I have to say this was a very well-written and drawn jam session you helped put together, Mr. Shooter. Would you say this was the comic book industry's answer to Live Aid?

Mark said...

But it really is just Nocenti and Claremont's opinion on who is the best...

Given her outspoken left-wing political views, I find her oversight...ironic. Don't get me wrong - I like Nocenti's work - so much so that I purchased a back issue of Stop Smiling that she edited and wrote some gambling related articles for. I could see why Owsley/Priest, who was good friends with Larry Hama, a man who had a concealed weapons permit in New York, might have wanted to have a little bit of fun at her expense.

Thunder said...

On the subject of Owsley/Priest... his stories in that link are very entertaining (especially about Larry Hama and his Uzi! :) What an incredible place Marvel of the 80s must have been with so many characters working there.

jimshooter said...

RE: "Best of the best": Chris, Ann, Jim and Berni recruited well-known creators from outside the comic book industry to make the book truly special, one-of-a-kind and more promotable. We had high hopes that a celebrity creator like Stephen King might get on Letterman or whatever and get the project more exposure and better results. No luck, but we did well anyway.

The comics industry people they picked were either givens -- Stan, other obvious, long-time Marvel greats, the bozo who happened to be EIC -- or the people who showed up first and demanded to participate. I find the fact that no African-Americans were involved to be evidence of the selection committee's obliviousness to race, sex and ethnicity. They probably didn't notice. Color blind, indeed. I imagine that Mary Jo Duffy was included as a writer not because she is Caucasian or a woman, but because she has humanitarian concerns, she showed up early on, she insisted and she's really good. Bill Mantlo, who at his best was an incredible creative force, was a humanitarian of the first waters. I suspect that he was first in line and demanded to contribute. I wasn't directly involved with the creator "casting" but I see no malice in it. Maybe there were better choices that might have been made, but I think all involved were pretty damn good.

Jacob said...

Part of the thing that makes race issues complicated is that they involve different degrees of seriousness. The worst is, of course, actual full-on active racism, the sort practiced by the KKK and skinheads, where they are motivated by malice and ugly primal fear. Beneath that is the more passive racism of stereotypes and ignorance - the cabbies who didn't pick up Dwayne McDuffie probably would never dream of burning a cross on someone's lawn and many probably didn't think they had done anything wrong.

Then beneath that you have the innocent accidents of thoughtlessness and carelessness. Ironically, these are often the most controversial and difficult to defuse, because when you point them out people get very quick to get their backs up and assume you're accusing them of being malicious or ignorant. It's important not to react that way, though. Imagine one is at a party and tells a very mildly off-color joke about a car accident, causing a guest to squirm uncomfortably and leave, whereupon you find out that that man's daughter died in a crash two months ago. Is the correct response to a) seek the man out and apologize for giving inadvertent offense or b) to follow him out the door, loudly protesting one's innocence and haranguing the man for his sensitivity? Unfortunately, in racial matters, too many people take option B, casting themselves as martyrs of "political correctness" (eg, of common courtesy) and wind up escalating a situation that needn't have been.

It's *mildly unfortunate* - not malicious, not a slur on their characters and good names - that the Heroes for Hope team didn't think to solicit the input of one of their talented black coworkers. And if one carefully reads what Owsley wrote, he says that wasn't really what bothered him! He had a laugh with Larry Hama about it and went on with his day. What bothered him, what actually upset him enough to write that article, was that somebody somewhere used that as grist for the gossip mill to accuse him of crazy things, possibly out of that sort of overweening defensiveness at being "accused" of "racism."

GePop said...

To avoid further confusion, might I suggest that from now on, the name be written as Berni/e Wrightson? LOL

bmcmolo said...

Re: Anonymous' question above about whether the George Martin credited for pages 33-35 is the same GRRM of Game of Thrones (et al) fame. I've tried a few online GRRM bibliographies and don't see it listed, so I doubt it. But maybe? What other George Martin (besides the Beatles producer) is it, I wonder?

The selection committee probably would only have selected GRRM if they had some amulet of clairvoyance, anyway, as I don't think GRRM was quite "GRRM" at that point. I could be wrong on that - hell, he only got on my personal radar earlier this year, so he's still brand new to me.

Jacob said...

Martin was nominated for a Hugo in 1976 and actually had some established relationships in the comics business from his fan activities as early as the late 60's, so it's entirely possible that that's him! The first Wild Cards book also came out not too long after Heroes for Hope.

bmcmolo said...

Thanks, Jacob - as soon as I posted I found another site listing all of his 60s fanzine work. Quite extensive - yeah, very probably could have been him, with that background.

Is Wild Cards any good? I've got such a reading queue right now, it's ridiculous, but I've been tempted by that.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... shouldn't EVERYONE be concerned that there is suffering going on, regardless of where in the world it may be and whom it affects?

It think (hope) this is true for most of us, and it was certainly the message I got from the Heroes For Hope concept.

Pete Marco

ireactions said...

I really didn't expect my repost to take over the comments so much.

I'd like to express here my admiration and appreciation for the hard work and wonderful achievement from this book. I think it's a terrific example of how meaningful and relevant comics can be, and it wouldn't and couldn't have happened with a less dedicated Editor in Chief at Marvel, nor would recollections of finding a suitable organization to handle the funds be as amusing.

Jacob said...

"Is Wild Cards any good? I've got such a reading queue right now, it's ridiculous, but I've been tempted by that."

I've only read the first couple volumes, but I like it! The two big caveats are these - firstly, the series apparently started off strong but, I am told, tailed off somewhat as it went past volume three (part of the reason I haven't picked up that book yet). The other one is that it's really uneven. The series is a grab bag of writers and styles and not all of them will click for you - although, in defense of at least the first couple installments, the people I've talked to don't seem to agree on which stories were the "good ones," so it seems to be more down to taste than quality.

Chris Arndt said...

Pete Marco, there is a point where suffering is relevant to a multitude and there us a state where suffering is no one's damn business. Sometimes there is a fine line and some days there is a huge gray area.

Diacanu said...

Chris Arndt-

"..there is a point where suffering is relevant to a multitude and there us a state where suffering is no one's damn business".

Geez, that...sounds like the argument wife beaters use...there was even a creepy PSA in the 90's about it..

Diacanu said...

You probably intended it to mean like a Terri Schiavo type thing, right?

Chris Arndt said...

Well I meant it more in a selfish "I'm suffering right now but I don't want help" example. I assume I wouldn't be alone in that sentiment. It is not relevant to an argument about famine but to dispute the use of a particular statement as an absolute.

Diacanu said...

Hmm...depends what "suffering", is.
If it's a just bout with the blues, and a half hour crying jag, yeah.
But, full blown depression can make people crawl into their little hidey-hole when they probably need intervention the most.
When I was depressed, I wanted to be left alone, but at the same time, I wished someone gave a friggin shit.
It's an irrational state of mind.
So, while you might not be alone in the sentiment, a lot of times, you'd be wrong.
Just sayin.

jimshooter said...

The George Martin listed in the credits is science fiction author George R.R. Martin.

Tue Sørensen said...

About the administrative costs of charity organizations; mentioning figures like 70% (or 80, 90, whatever) seems alarming, but in fact, as far as I know, organizations spend that much on fundraising because that is what maximizes the overall flow of funds, and therefore also maximizes the amount of money that can actually be concretely spent on charitable causes. If they spent less, there would be less to go around. So it's actually, in many xases, a logical and sensible way to run things. Although of course competence varies from org to org.

Anonymous said...

It's great that Marvel put out Heroes for Hope and contributed so much money to fight famine. I wish more charity comics had been produced during the boom days; the only other ones I know of are the 9/11 books.
Were there any other Marvel or DC comics with which the proceeds were donated to charity? Are there any upcoming tales of PSA comics (e.g. anti-smoking comics)?

- Mike Loughlin

Anonymous said...

Chris Arndt said...
'Pete Marco, there is a point where suffering is relevant to a multitude and there us a state where suffering is no one's damn business. Sometimes there is a fine line and some days there is a huge gray area.'

Well, as should be apparent by the context of this thread, I'm referring to the kind of suffering that means the agony of starvation, death from preventable disease, persecution from marauding gangs with machine-guns - that kind of thing.

Hopefully that clear now.

Pete Marco

Leonard Rifas said...

(This post may not have gone through. I'll try again. Apologies if it's repetition.)

Thanks for this article and for doing _Heroes for Hope_. I had never heard about the Oxfam visit nor wondered about the ethnicity of the cartoonists on that project. I became interested in famine partly because of my work making an educational comic book in 1982 for the Institute for Food and Development Policy (later renamed Food First.)

I reviewed _Heroes for Hope_ and the DC comic _Heroes Against Hunger_ for _itchy PLANET #2 (Fantagraphics, 1988.) In my review, I repeatedly recognized the generous intentions behind these projects, but criticized the comics’ understanding of the famine in Ethiopia.

My review said this about racism:
“Despite obvious good intentions, the benefit comic books present a racist picture of Africans.
“The comics imagine Africans as without history, without culture, without government, without language, and without initiative. No African gets a single word of dialogue in either comic book. What this adds up to is that Africans are seen as less than fully human. Every African pictured is starving. Nothing in these comics challenges the myth that hungry people are too stupid, lazy, or passive to feed themselves.”

171 different writers, artists, letterers, colorists and editors were listed in the credits of these two benefit comics. I have never heard whether any of them saw my critical response to their work in that small-scale Fantagraphics comic _itchy PLANET_. Those interested can contact me at rifas@earthlink.net for a scan of that 4-page review.

Anonymous said...

@Jacob September 14, 2011 12:00 AM
If only there were a 3rd option where people could have a civil, rational discussion and sometimes agree to disagree. Oh, well.

In that case, I am appalled at Jacob's thoughtless, careless and racist comments. Luckily, he will seek me out to apologize for his lapse in common courtesy without getting defensive or escalating the situation by questioning the accusation.

bmcmolo said...

Well I certainly didn't find anything Jacob said to be thoughtless, careless, or racist. But it's not surprising in this day and age to hear those charges levied against anyone who even comments on the topic. If you go off the PC script in any way (ie if you actually analyze a situation, omit double standards, and /or exercise your right to free speech - not hate speech, not yelling "fire" in a crowded theater) you have to suffer those charges. It's sad, but a sign of the times.

Urk said...

There's nothing in Jacob's comments that's racist that I see at all. I'm curious what the basis of this charge is? To me, his comments seem carefully thought out and perceptive.

I've come to believe (based on talking to people and reading, not personal experience) that being black in this country pretty much forces you to be conscious of the subtle work that ideas about racial difference do in a variety of situations. Think of it as a kind of background noise that gets louder and quieter, but pretty much never goes away. Its the sound of history working in the present moment.

Part of being white is that we get to ignore that noise most of the time. Listening for it hasn't been a survival skill for generations in our families. So, sometimes we don't listen for it and miss it, completely innocently. And, sometimes, when we're asked to listen for it, we get skeptical and resentful, and complain about "political correctness" or "reverse racism." (note to bmcmolo: I'm not saying this in reference to you- I think we're working with different definitions of "PC." I'm not disagreeing with what you're saying, tho I think we have different ideas about what "PC" means.)

Imagining the comics industry as a pure meritocracy, where the people who just happened to rise to the level of being considered "the best of the best" by 1985 all just happened to be white, means tuning out the background noise created by the history of the industry up to that point. (not to mention the history of the industries that fed into comics, the history of society as a whole, etc.) That "tuning out" can be done completely innocently. I'm absolutely certain that it was in this case. it certainly doesn't constitute racism in the sense of "racial hostility," but it does show a lack of awareness of racism as a historical force that's shaped the present moment. Pointing that out shouldn't be taken as an indictment of those folks or anyone involved in this project, its just a call to keep our ears open.

Urk said...

@bmcmolo- I think its interesting that the term "PC" has some working definitions that are, in practice, a little contradictory. What I hear you saying, that anyone who points out racism or even talks about race in a public forum, is in danger of being called a racist these days. i think that's absolutely true. Its a tactic that's used, often cynically I think, to shut down conversations about race.

What's ironic is that the term "PC" used to have more to do with pointing out racism in public speech and promoting the idea that expressing racial hostility shouldn't be a public virtue. That's what I mean by "political correctness" and that's a different idea of the "PC" script than the one you point to in your post.

bmcmolo said...

Totally agreed on the distinction you make, Urk. Well put.

I generally find internet discussions on race, politics, or 911 to sow more acrimony than understanding and try and avoid them. But I felt like chiming in here.

Chris Arndt said...

To what ends should we go to prevent death from preventable disease? I apologize for the threadjacking.

Diacanu said...

Chris Arndt-
Man, you like your questions vague and open ended, doncha?

Um...in the here and now, a "we are the world", every year...

In the future, nanites.

Nanites to fix everything.

Forever and ever.

There, happy?

Anonymous said...

"Of course ethnicity matters. How could it not? People like knowing and being proud of where they come from."

(MikeAnon:) Not all people do. I'm Polish and could care less about it. I've never so much as Wikied up Poland. I've bought mushroom pierogi from a Polish restaurant because they're really good, but if I could get that same stuff for cheaper from "Mrs. Fields" brand in a Krogers, I would. I don't know any Polish holidays and don't care to. I don't know if any Polish athlete has ever won an Olympic medal, and I will not Google it to find out. I just. don't. care. America is my country. It's the only country I've ever known and may ever need to know.

I don't have any problem with people feeling a connection to their ethnic heritage. I do have a problem with anyone assuming people *should* feel a connection to their ethnic heritage, as if where you or your ancestors originally came from should be a primary informant of who you are as a person. Nobody should be either bound or entitled by their ethnicity to believe or act or be treated according to any set ethnic standard (which under most circumstances is called a "racial stereotype" and decried vehemently).

So, yes, I do have a problem with Owsley/Priest's assuming that African Americans *ought* to have been invited to contribute to a charity book for Africa simply on the basis of their race. Now, if any African American creators at Marvel had previously expressed personal interest in Africa or Africa's plight, then, sure, it would have been entirely reasonable to send them invitations -- just as it would have been reasonable to send invitations to any other Marvel creator of any other ethnicity whatsoever who had expressed similar personal interest. One might argue that *then* among the creators who expressed such interest the creators with African heritage would be preferred, but even that seems offensive to me because what should be cared about first and foremost is the quality of the book, not the ethnicity of its creators. Some comic book readers never even glance once behind the curtain to look at the personal attributes of comic book creators. I only learned last month that Jan Duursema was a woman. I only learned *today* that Larry Hama is Asian. It never mattered. There's no reason why it should. What matters is the work, nothing else.

Anonymous said...

"...people do have unique cultural perspectives that can add interesting layers to their artistic work."

(MikeAnon:) Excellent point. Problem is, just because you have a certain ethnicity doesn't mean you have one iota of linkage to the culture(s) associated with that ethnicity. I'm 100% Polish, but I know nothing of Polish culture, so if you're going to come to me for cultural insight on a Polish project, you're SOL.

Now ask this: How many African Americans today have any cultural linkage whatsoever with Africa? If an African American is the descendant of slaves, he or she probably has more linkage to white Southern U.S. "redneck" culture than to modern or ancient African culture. So ethnicity is not necessarily an indicator of any other kind of diversity besides color of skin or other descriptive features.

Diacanu said...

Anonymous-

But you do have a culture.
Comic books.
...which have largely been drawn by white guys.
So, there you go.

Didn't care about the skin tone of the people behind the stuff?
You didn't have to.
You had it handed to you.
Apparently, Owsley had to care, he put up with some shit.

Anonymous said...

"My review said this about racism: 'Despite obvious good intentions, the benefit comic books present a racist picture of Africans. The comics imagine Africans as without history, without culture, without government, without language, and without initiative. No African gets a single word of dialogue in either comic book. What this adds up to is that Africans are seen as less than fully human. Every African pictured is starving. Nothing in these comics challenges the myth that hungry people are too stupid, lazy, or passive to feed themselves.'"

(MikeAnon:) My first impression is, "Yeah, but doesn't this basically describe ever Sally Struthers commercial evar??" And who knows how much money those kinds of commercials rake in?

My second impression is, "You do realize you're viewing propaganda, right?" I mean, those commercials, as well as the Marvel comic, have a point to make: There are people who are starving to death through no fault of their own who need help. I'm not sure how any of the elements you say are lacking from these charity efforts -- history, culture, government, language, and initiative -- would reinforce rather than detract from the point of these efforts, which is to get money from people who can help and send it to those who need help. I don't think "stupid, lazy, or passive" even remotely describes the thought that runs through the viewer's mind when contemplating these efforts -- "suffering, desperate, and helpless" are what come to my mind, and anything less than that particular portrayal, however one-note and dehumanizing it may appear (although I would argue that it's the terrible conditions that are dehumanizing), would plant reasons in the viewer's mind *not* to contribute. When you're begging the viewer for immediate help, you don't *want* the viewer thinking too much about questions like:

a) How did things get to this point? (History)
b) Did these people's customs and practices contribute to their plight? (Culture)
c) What are their leaders doing about all this? (Government)
d) Would I like these people if I got to know them? (Language)
e) Can't they help themselves? (Initiative)

That last point is particularly important because God forbid you should challenge the myth that these suffering victims are for *whatever* reasons incapable of helping themselves, because as soon as you let on to the viewer that these people might be able to do just fine by themselves, the channel changes, or the comic book goes back on the rack unpurchased.

Nothing I've said above is supposed to be taken as a critique of African famines -- you could just as easily apply the above theory to charity efforts about poverty-, hunger-, or disaster-stricken groups anywhere in the world: You have to present the victims *as victims*, or else you're not going to get the job done, and that job is not to give viewers a sense of holistic appreciation for the victim group but to get money out of the viewers' pockets and on its way to helping the victim group.

Anonymous said...

"But you do have a culture. Comic books...which have largely been drawn by white guys. So, there you go."

(MikeAnon:) Wow, that really makes no sense. So, because I cut my teeth on early Marvel Comics, that makes me Jewish because Stan Lee wrote those comics and he was a Jew?

"Didn't care about the skin tone of the people behind the stuff? You didn't have to. You had it handed to you. Apparently, Owsley had to care, he put up with some shit."

(MikeAnon:) Huh-wha? So if Owsley bought a paperback novel to read, he had to check whether the author was black or not to properly determine the quality of the book?

Diacanu said...

Anonymous

Wow...way to put some really weird stupid words in my mouth.
I can do that myself, thanks.

..how to even address that mess?

First point, no.

Second point, no.

Let's start over.

You act like you're beyond some sort of "cultural heritage", you ain't.

Doesn't mean you're a "Jew", or whatever.

Just means you're not a Starbaby unstuck from time.
Or, more bluntly, get over yourself.
I was trying to cushion that by making you come to it yourself.
I've learned my lesson, no more being cute.

You don't care about nation or bloodine?
Gooood for yooouuuu.
I actually even agree with you.
With the exception of a book here, a movie there, a person there, America largely makes me vomit, I don't even have a fuckin' country.
I'm alienated from the whole goddamned thing.

I also recognize, others don't have that experience, or indeed, luxury.
It'd be all nice and evolved if everyone thought our way, they don't.
They ain't gonna.
Not in your lifetime, not your grandkid's lifetime.
Deal with that.

The human species is a wreck, and it moves slow as a mass.

My expectation are more realistic than yours.

Does this clarify?

Urk said...

Actually, there's been a movement, or series of movements among African Americans to try to cut this connection to slave culture and reach back and reconnect with African culture. Its taken shape in the arts, in political activism, in holiday celebrations, etc. You can find it in Jazz, in University departments, in pop culture, etc. Look up Marcus Garvey, or Afrocentrism, or Randy Weston in wikipedia.

Your point that skin color doesn't have to mean an interest in or connection to one's ethnic heritage is true. but there are complicating factors in the way that's played out in reality. different groups of people have created, discovered, abandoned, and synthesized ideas about their ethnic heritage and what it means.

Urk said...

oops- the above was in reply to the comment by one of the anonomouses:

"Now ask this: How many African Americans today have any cultural linkage whatsoever with Africa? If an African American is the descendant of slaves, he or she probably has more linkage to white Southern U.S. "redneck" culture than to modern or ancient African culture."

its getting hard to tell the anonomouses apart, & especially confusing since you all seem to be disagreeing and at least one of you is quoting the other.

Anyway, i'd add this to my thought above: this reconnection to ethnic heritage can take any number of forms, positive and negative. for people who are oppressed or discriminated against its a tactic that can be useful.

Urk said...

-oops- ack- will try ot get back later and finish this thought.

Mark said...

Now ask this: How many African Americans today have any cultural linkage whatsoever with Africa? If an African American is the descendant of slaves, he or she probably has more linkage to white Southern U.S. "redneck" culture than to modern or ancient African culture. So ethnicity is not necessarily an indicator of any other kind of diversity besides color of skin or other descriptive features.

When I made the comment, I was thinking of the culture African American's have created for themselves in the US, as opposed to any direct or indirect cultural linkages to Africa.

Mark said...

its getting hard to tell the anonomouses apart, & especially confusing since you all seem to be disagreeing and at least one of you is quoting the other.

I'll second that. This is probably my last post on this thread:)

Diacanu said...

Frankly, I'm biased towards the African American Anonymous.
;)

jimshooter said...

To me, it was like this: people were starving. Other people of good will tried to help. Some of my best friends are people.

Urk said...

HI Mark

[In case that doesn't have to be your last comment;)]

The thing is that the culture that African Americans have created for themselves in the US includes some created/discovered/reimagined connections to Africa. For some folks its a political project and means actual activism on behalf of or in concert with Africans. For others "Africa" is more of a talisman, a focus for creative energies. Either way, it is a fairly significant part of being African American for a lot of folks.

the thought I wanted to finish properly is just that this claiming of ethnic or racial belonging can be toward good or bad ends. For people who are part of oppressed groups, its often been necessary in order to survive & advance. I think that makes a difference. If you don't look at the history of what its meant to be black or white in the US, you can draw an equivalence between the NAACP and the KKK. if you look at that history, its easy to see that, depite both being organized around "race" as a principle, one is clearly evil and the other not.

(oh, and the "you" in that second paragraph is the universal/rhetorical you, not you, Mark.)

Urk said...

Diacanu- you should check out Paul Gilroy's Against Race. its dense. he's (IMHO) a great thinker and an awful writer, but he mounts arguments aiming towards the ideal your advocating.

Jim- agreed on people and the good will effort to help. None of what I'm saying should be taken as an attempt to diminish this.

Diacanu said...

Urk-
Thanks, I'll check that out...(looks at backlog) ...someday.

Gregg H said...

Jim,
Some of your friends are actually PEOPLE? And you come right out and admit it?
Aw hell...if I knew this was a place for THAT kind, I would never have stopped by.
I'm outta here!

Jacob said...

What I'm curious is if that means some of Jim's other friends are robots.

Eklectic1 said...

Maybe he means his other friends are cats.

Anonymous said...

"Actually, there's been a movement, or series of movements among African Americans to try to cut this connection to slave culture and reach back and reconnect with African culture."

(MikeAnon:) I'm sure this is so, but the word I have a problem with in all that is "reconnect." You can't reconnect if you were never connected in the first place. I can't "reconnect" to Polish culture any more than most African Americans can "reconnect" to African culture (whatever that may be, given that Africa is a continent holding many cultures, same as there are different cultures in the U.S. or even in smaller countries like Italy, in which the northern and southern areas had different cultures largely because of their different geographies).

My beef is mainly with the "race = culture" mindset that says things like "white people shouldn't adopt black babies" or that success in school translates to "acting white." And the seed of these sorts of memes is planted every time someone makes the assumption, "Because so-and-so is , applies to so-and-so."

Which is not to say that racial generalities do not or cannot exist. "No Irish Need Apply" didn't come into existence out of thin air or kneejerk racism, but because the work habits and social patterns exhibited by many Irish immigrants in those days made hiring them less desirable than hiring people of other ethnicities, at least until the time that the Irish left those ways behind and became more assimilated. I wonder whether that assimilation would have ever taken place had civil rights and affirmative action laws been in place then as they are now. People do tend to stay fixed in their ways until they realize it's advantageous for them to change.

Anonymous said...

MikeAnon:
Gah. Last line of second paragraph should be, "Because so-and-so is [race], [this] applies to so-and-so."
--MikeAnon

Urk said...

Hi MikeAnon

Agreed about the "race=culture" mindset. Race is a social fiction, an imaginary conception applied to clusters of inherited physical traits.

Unfortuneatly, that imaginary conception has a lot of force, historical and current in this world. Drawing on race as a unifying idea but trying to re-imagine its social, political and cultural meanings has been a necessary strategy, and still is. When people are trying to deny you your rights on the basis of belonging to a particular group, you sometimes have to use that idea of belonging to gather the necessary force of numbers to resist that denial. its a quandry, philosophically, but in terms of getting anything done politically its been absolutely necessary.

part of that drawing together around the condition of blackness has included a political embrace of the idea of an African diaspora. its been a very strong idea in African-American political thought since at least Marcus Garvey's movement in the 1920s, and it gained a lot of steam in the late 1950s and 1960s. I do think that "reconnect" is a fine word here. There are little bits of music, language, and expression that were maintained in one form or another in the passages form Africa to the Carribean and the US. Also, in part because thats how these connections are often imagined, whether by political activists or people tracing their family tree on geneology websites. All connections to the past are somewhat imaginary.

closer to the case at the bottom of this: If you're recruiting people for this book you shouldn't assume that every black artist or writer feels a a connection to the fate of starving Africans, _but_ maybe you should know that they are more likely to feel that connection, simply because of historical factors affecting the condition of being black in America, not because of some mystified or assumed connection. Unless, for perfectly innocent reasons, it just doesn't occur to you. And its a lot more likely to not occur to you, for perfectly innocent reasons, if you're white, because taking race into consideration isn't a survival skill for white Americans the way it is for many black Americans. So: innocent mistake, but worth thinking about.

Lastly, I'm not sure that the analogy that you're drawing with Polish and Irish backgrounds really carries through simply because the history of race-thinking is different with people of African descent than they are for people whose ethnicities were absorbed into the idea of being "white." It was fairly commonplace for people to refer to the "irish race" (or the Polish, or Italian, etc.) until around the 1870s-1890s. That assimilation is not unrelated to the influx of black labor into the North during those decades. and, that assimilation was based in part on common physical characteristics that differentiated them from the newly freed African Americans. Certainly it hasn't been civil rights laws or affirmative action (which didn't come into being with any force for another century) that kept those freed black folks from being assimilated. it was the fact that the idea of "race" that had been used to justify Southern slavery and northern second-class citizenship was still quite strong. (this paragraph is kind of a mess, but its a complex history & I'm running out of time here!)

I'd also argue that "No irish Need Apply" wasn't just a recognition of "work habits and social patterns" that Irish people just happened to have. it helped keep Irish people poor and uneducated, which reinforced those "work habits and social patterns."

there's more to say, but it helps to think about "white" being just as imaginary and inexact an identity as 'black."

OM said...

...Da Jimster related:

"Paty could take Halloween off as a paid holiday"

...HAW! And it wasn't even an attempt to claim it as a *religious* holiday, either! We actually had several goth-types try to pull that particular stunt when I was working at D*ll. However, only the first three of them got away with it. After that, Halloween was -specifically- declared as not being a religious holiday. The irony is that the rest of them submitted requests for Guy Fawkes' Day, explained that in order to celebrate it "at the same time" as is celebrated over in Englandland, they needed the day -before- off. They got it.

This is why I've never been surprised to see the stock price of that place never fluctuating more than $2-$3 USD above $25.00 USD for over a decade now...:/