Sunday, May 31, 2009


The other day I was in the library looking for any non-fiction book -- you know, those things that have carefully-attributed footnotes instead of a link to Wikipedia (which, I shamefully confess, I’ve been guilty of here) -- on the Free Culture Movement, about which I’m deeply curious. It was hard even to know where to begin looking; the Dewey Decimal System doesn’t have a code for Magical Thinking. So I never found one -- not even next to the Libertarianism and Scientology books -- but that is probably only because of how woefully underfunded my local library is.

The Free Culture Movement is apparently a group of people, mostly students and adult academics who should know better, who’ve taken a vow, not of poverty, exactly, but of...what? They say they will “consume” free culture, popular or high (they don’t distinguish), with the implication, but not the explicit pronouncement, that they mean to do so exclusively. Rather than me trying to distill or translate it for you, which I’ll concede I’m probably unqualified to do anyway, why don’t you check out the link above and read their manifesto -- yes, that's what they call it -- in their own words?

Back now? Then maybe you can help me figure out what their central grievance is, which seems to get lost amid a lot of high-minded, pedantic circumlocution. Evidently, they equate “injustice and oppression” with culture being owned and controlled by corporations. Ohhhhkay...I guess. While I wouldn’t put it in such melodramatic terms, the idea of most entertainment and/or information being controlled by a small handful of huge, vertically-integrated conglomerates doesn’t much appeal to me, either. We’ve all seen what kind of diversity of opinion and availability of so-called "out-of-the-box thinking" is inhibited, and possibly even repressed, that way.

But, according to the Free Culture Movement, the internet, and its capacity to give anyone with a computer a platform, is supposed to be the corrective to the corporate stranglehold on intellectual property. The key to this, apparently, is its free accessibility to any would-be content provider, “amateur” or “professional” (which, I have no doubt, the Movement would tell you are meaningless terms), and the fact that -– so far, at least -- the content thus provided is free, too.

Here's where I start to have trouble following their logic. Most content on the net is free, of course: marketing experts will tell you that the only net content that is willingly paid for by a large number of people (as opposed to, say, the number of Salon Premium subscribers) is pornography. But the idea that everything else is free is largely an illusion, just as the idea that broadcast (as opposed to cable) TV is free is also illusory.

The content creators get paid for their work in both media; it’s just that their payday comes, directly or indirectly, from advertisers. And you, the consumer -- or, if you prefer, "end user" -- pay for it by having to sit through advertising. Something, by the way, you can elude a lot more easily with television, thanks to your DVR, than you can on the internet, where not all ads are pop-ups and thus can't all be suppressed by pop-up blockers.

The Movement seems to think that the way to end cultural corporate hegemony is this: “We will use and promote our cultural heritage in the public domain. We will make, share, adapt, and promote open content. We will listen [only?] to free music, look at free art, watch free film, and read free books." An elaborate boycott of stuff you have to pay for, it seems. Though what that's supposed to accomplish isn't clear to me.

It has apparently not occurred to these people that if all culture were free, there would be a great deal less of it, because most of the time in which this culture could be created would have to be taken up by the day jobs the Creatives would need to hold down in order to survive. That would leave a lot less time in which to be creating. After all, actors, musicians, graphic artists, and writers don’t wait tables to support themselves while they’re acting, playing, painting, or writing for free. For most of them, the idea is to keep a day job with flexible hours only until they can get steady, paying work doing their creative thing.

Nor has it occurred to the Free Culture Movement people, apparently, that they won’t be able to get much more of the free culture they like for very long, because people -- at least those who live on Planet Earth -- who spend all their time making things and giving them away for free can’t buy food, clothing, or shelter, and then they die.

The only counter to that argument that I can think of would be if all the Creatives were people who have trust funds. Scions of the very rich. Which would kind of kick the shit out of the "democratizing" goal that The Free Culture Movement holds so dear, wouldn't it?

I believe the average person might make the argument that the main reason "free culture" is free in the first place is because it's not "good" enough for someone to be willing to pay for it. There I go again, with that "amateur" and "professional" thing. But there are flaws that can be found in that contention, too.

So if you think I’m leading up to an argument in favor of market forces –- that what is popular (i.e., what sells) is what is by definition good and worth preserving -– a kind of Darwinian attitude toward culture -– you’d be wrong. It’s all much more complex than that.

And I think that’s enough of a “tease” to go out on, for now.


Saturday, May 30, 2009


These days I’m trying to resist the temptation to contribute to message boards whose fine print tells me they own the copyright to my posts. Nor do I write reviews in places like anymore, which was really tempting because I’ve always enjoyed writing film reviews in various places from time to time (for which I was always paid, even if only a few cents per word). But Amazon does the same thing as the message boards: you post on imdb, they say, and they own it. Without paying for it. And some, though hardly most, of their posters write really well, I think. Why they’d give it away is a mystery to me. I'm even mystified that I did it myself a few times before waking up to how self-defeating an activity it was for someone who makes a living selling his ideas.

I also think that if someone challenged these policies by, say, "reprinting" on their own blog something they posted elsewhere and claiming copyright to it, they’d prevail in court. But, as we all know, justice in this country costs money. It doesn’t really matter whether you’re ultimately judged to be on the right side of the issue; you still have to have deep pockets just to get your day in court. Unless you’re lucky enough to be a defendant whose plight seems such an injustice that it inspires a legal defense fund.

I imagine there may be some people reading this who think I’m the Antichrist when they scroll down to the bottom and see that I copyright this page and reserve all rights to the material I post here. Which brings me to my puzzlement of the day and probably the rest of this week: why anyone should find it objectionable for a writer, or any Creative, to protect their work and profit from it, rather than making it available for free. Whatever happened to the idea that everyone has a right to make a living, and when was that right revoked or denied for Creatives?

I’ve been advised that my posts are too long for most people who enjoy reading blogs, which, as a dedicated reader, baffles me. But I’ll take them at their word. (For me, this is a short post.) So this is the first installment of a long essay I've written, which I’ll now break up into daily installments.

In the days ahead I’ll be talking about such phenomena as the logic-challenged Free Culture Movement and the fact that scholarly criticism is dying and critics are losing their jobs because of the bizarre belief that they’ve been made obsolete by all the free -- and usually woefully uninformed -- opinions available on the Internet. And then there is the phenomenon of You’re-Talented-If-America-Votes-For-You, regardless of the fact that the only contestant on American Idol to have achieved anything really impressive in show business was Jennifer Hudson, who, if memory serves, was voted off Rupert Murdoch’s island.

(So as not to deny Kelly Clarkson her due, I'll concede that it's my personal biases that make an Academy Award more significant to me than multi-platinum bubble-gum albums with clunky titles like "My Life Would Suck Without You." And, CDs notwithstanding, does anyone even remember who the hell Ruben Studdard is any more?)

So if you keep coming back here, you’re in for maybe a week of arguments asserting the value of elites where the arts –- not politics or governance -- are concerned. And arguments against the idea that Information Wants To Be Free (which may be arguable, but, then, Information doesn’t have a mortgage). All this plus a host of other ideas that will probably piss off readers and, not incidentally, maybe give me a better sense of how many people are actually reading this until I have time to add a counter and start getting some real metrics.

Not that I enjoy or aspire to pissing people off; I just know that it’s a good way to get their attention. And once I have that, I’d like to try to get them thinking about some things they may not have considered before. See you tomorrow?

Friday, May 22, 2009


I’ve just read another one of those impatient internet rants asking when the Obama administration is going to get serious about addressing the medical industry mess. Well, I've learned first hand that the only reason it's called "managed care" is that if they choose to make great effort, they can just about manage to care whether you live or die.

Thus my response to the rant: Who cares? The problem, like most that are rooted in human greed and indifference to others, is not fixable by government. At least, not unless it proposes something akin to a “national health” like what they have in the UK. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I understand that in such a system, government can mandate that the front-line health care professionals be paid a decent enough wage that the jobs will attract people who are able to read medicine bottle labels. But “socialized medicine,” as the AMA’s lobbyists love to call it, is apparently horrific to most Americans. You want to hear horrific? I’ll tell you horrific:

I literally live across the street from a hospital, so when I needed an emergency room in 2006, that’s where I went. I wouldn't have gone otherwise; local legend has it that the hospital was built by the mob (this is New Jersey, after all) for the express purpose of providing abortions for their girlfriends (since the next nearest hospital is a St. Something-or-other in Hoboken) and the discreet treatment of bullet wounds. To my dismay and great frustration, my ER visit resulted in a two-week stay there that became one of the most nightmarish experiences of my life. I began my efforts to be transferred out of there on Day One, but they were efficiently thwarted by the hospital.

And that was the extent of its efficiency. All but one of the nursing staff understood English so poorly that communicating basic needs was impossible. And on the rare occasion when I was being treated by someone with a command of the language, they had the disturbing tendency to say -- usually to a colleague, as if I weren’t right there -- “I’ve never done one of these before.”

I got to be a practice dummy for an anesthesiologist draining an abscess from an internal organ for the first time. This procedure involved inserting a narrow, sharp-ended metal tube, connected to a collection bag, between my ribs and into my liver, piercing layer upon layer of muscle tissue in the process. In order to see where the tube had to go, they kept sliding me into the CAT scanner, leaving to look at the image on a monitor in another room thirty feet away, then coming back and trying to find the target based on their memory of the image they’d just looked at. Kind of like playing darts blindfolded.

Before this farce began, I heard the famous magic words “You might experience a little discomfort,” which, as you surely know, is doctor-speak for “You will suffer the kind of agony that will make you pray for death.” So, had my head not been full of excruciating fireworks, it would have been full of questions.

You see, the abscess had previously escaped detection by CAT scan. (My symptoms and the doctor's tests, by the way, led them to speculate, in my presence, that I had anemia, hepatitis, or AIDS. I’d always thought doctors shared a diagnosis only after they had reached a carefully-considered conclusion; I didn’t realize it is apparently now customary for them to think out loud or share their guesswork with the patient.)

Anyway, after three days of head-scratching by various specialists -– right-handed head-scratching, to be sure, otherwise they wouldn’t have been able to keep staring at their watches while they were doing it -- the real problem was finally discovered by a very persistent ultrasound technician with a hand-scanner, who literally saved my life by devoting more than ten minutes of her time to just one patient.

So, of course, if this needle-like tube weren't being inserted; removed so I could be returned to the CAT scanner; and then reinserted into my liver no fewer than twelve times (I was counting), I would have been wondering why they were even using the CAT scan (and muttering, in my hearing, that they were having trouble seeing the abscess) in the first place.

If I hadn’t been thinking things like “At least St. Sebastian didn’t get it all in the same place,” I would also have been wondering why this invasive procedure was being performed by an anesthesiologist -- much less one who was unfamiliar with the hospital and its equipment because this was a Saturday and he was substituting for “the regular guy.”

The long recovery period with intravenous antibiotics, the drip pole for which had no casters but had to be lugged into the bathroom with me, was a little slice of heaven unto itself. The bathroom door had a huge sign mounted on it spelling out what this chamber of horrors called “The Patient’s Bill of Rights.” One of them, in boldface type and set apart from the rest of the text in its own emphatic paragraph, was the statement that the hospital staff was trained to behave with the utmost respect for the patient’s privacy. A woman who seemed to speak no English at all had been coming around twice a day to draw blood and take my vital signs. On one occasion I was on the toilet when she arrived. I called out to her, explaining my situation, and asked that she come back later. Instead she barged into the bathroom, thermometer held out in front of her like Van Helsing waving his crucifix -- walking right through the door bearing the pledge to respect my privacy.

She was forcibly removed from the room, without blood sample or vitals but, alas, with her job intact, only because my bellows of indignation were loud enough to be heard at the nurse's station at the other end of the corridor. At least I'd found a solution to the problem of those little call buttons being ignored as I lay there, creating several thousand dollars worth of work for my chiropractor, on a plastic mattress with the thickness and consistency of a chaise longue cushion.

As I said, my incarceration in Sweeney Todd Memorial Hospital proceeded immediately from an emergency room visit. Legends aside, the main reason I wouldn't have chosen the hospital, had I been given an option, was that my PCP (Primary Care Physician, not animal tranquilizer) did not have "privileges" there. As if toiling in Dante's Ninth Circle could be called a privilege. Perhaps because of this, the attending physician, who was a stranger to me, never filed the discharge report, or perhaps the hospital simply lost it. So, although I enjoyed a full recovery after the surgical insertion of a porta-cath and four months of twice-daily intravenous antibiotics, to this day I have no idea what, exactly, caused a strain of streptococcus I can’t find with a Google search to create an abscess in my liver, which I was told a squadrillion times was “veddy, veddy rare.”

The epilogue: Six months after I thought my insurance company had paid their share of the bills, and all the co-pay checks had been written, a new bill for several hundred dollars arrived. . .from a collection agency. The young man in the hospital billing department informed me that it was my responsibility to get the insurance company to reimburse the hospital, because the insurance company was saying that the bill was not presented in a timely manner. In other words, their logic was that somehow their f***up was my problem.

A little net-surfing and a cursory phone call revealed that the practice the hospital was engaging in was illegal. So the next time the young man repeated the phrase “This is between you and your insurance company,” I replied, “No, this is between your boss and the district attorney’s office,” and the harassing phone calls came to an end.

So let Obama talk about mandating health insurance, and let the insurance companies tantalize the terminally gullible by dangling ideas they have no intention of implementing unless ordered by law to do so, such as ending the practice of charging higher premiums for “pre-existing conditions” -- you know, like having been born. There will be no meaningful change in the system unless we can figure out a way to weed out the unqualified, poorly educated, inadequately paid, and just plain incompetent from the ranks of the practitioners. Or stop doctors from defrauding insurance companies by overcharging for simple procedures. Or preventing insurance companies from promoting, and doing business based on, the premise that getting sick is always the patient’s fault.

But all of that, as we know all too well, is – in the present United States, at least – simply impossible.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Just enough time today to comment on something that happens when you use the job-search tools on the Internet. I’m sure most of you know the drill: you sign up for free to read job listings culled per the specifications you input, but then you discover that in order to do anything about it -– like, say, apply for the job and submit your resume –- you have to subscribe to a premium service. Been there; stopped doing that.

Nevertheless, my inbox is now being deluged with offers of free critiques of my resume. So I was curious to see what I would actually get for free. I figured I'd get the first half of an analysis, and then just when it got to the part I was really interested in hearing an opinion on, I'd have to pony up some cash. I was wrong. But what I have been getting is just as specious.

I received one of these things today from someone whose analysis contained two grammatical errors in the first sentence, and then went on to point out the “grammatical errors” in my resume, which were apparently decided upon by the use of a word processor’s grammar-checking utility. Someone should tell these people that a grammar-checker is tone deaf and applies rigid rules to one’s copy regardless of whether they truly apply. For example, they tend to flag anything in the passive voice, as if there were never a situation in which the use of same would ever be necessary or justified. It can be argued that lawyers would disagree.

Grammar-checkers also run roughshod over style, particularly the deliberate use of sentence fragments to create a staccato effect. If screenwriters like William Goldman or Shane Black had ever paid attention to such nonsense, they'd be sending out resumes today, too.

Someone should tell these resume experts all this because this latest one is saying that my copy isn’t “stylish” enough, and I should use more sentence fragments and less bullet points. (The last one I got said, "Use more bullet points.")

And, of course, the entire point of the free critique -- which was complete, but maddeningly unspecific and contained no proposed rewrites of my copy by way of example -- was to direct me to a “professional resume writing” service that would cost me $300. The last time that happened to me, the service was charging $700. Evidently, the fact that the thousands of people who are looking for jobs may not have hundreds of dollars to toss around, precisely because they don’t have jobs, hasn’t completely taken hold in logic-challenged America, but at least these outfits are lowering their prices, however incrementally.

Eventually, though, all of it will be free because so many people will have become so desperate for help with their resumes that these sites will be completely advertising-supported. But by then, of course, I'll be employed. In some other English-speaking country where salespeople won't come into my home and look at my bookcases with a horrified expression and say, "Didjoo axshully read all dis?"

But the one truly mystifying thing I want to share, in hopes that someone out there can answer my questions in a posted comment -- here, please, not on Facebook -- is this: I’m supposed to get excited about these resume-writing services because they offer the work of “certified resume writers.” Can anyone tell me what that is? Who “certifies” resume writers? Is it a board of some kind, like those of medical specialists, whose imprimatur supposedly guarantees that the writer won’t commit linguistic malpractice? Is it a government agency? Who makes up these rules?

Sunday, May 17, 2009


I drove my daughter to a birthday party yesterday, just a few meandering roadways away, here in our lovely gated community. No, I’m not a snob, and I’m not one of those who run around calling this place a gated community, either. Oh, sure, there’s a gate out front, but that’s all. No walls, just a gate. And it’s one of those candy-striped wooden things you see at train tracks and it’s always broken because some impatient idiot is always driving through it. I imagine that from a plane overhead our little “community” looks like a Lionel train layout. Though how much of a “community” you can call a place where everybody seems to hate everyone else, despite having no end of interest in what they’re doing behind closed doors -- much of which seems to be facilitated by emails exchanged on a sex dating site -- is another question entirely.

Anyway, I’m driving from Harbor Key to Spinnaker Court and getting lost on Topsail Lane…

(And, of course, I’m wondering, What’s with all the nautical affectations, anyway? This isn’t Cape Cod; we’re on the goddamned Hackensack River, for Chrissake. The Hackensack River -- where sea gulls go to die. Just downstream from an abandoned oil refinery, by the way. I don’t use soap in the shower; I use a degreaser. I’d call this place Love Canal South, except it’s in Jersey, so the word “love” would have to be replaced by a word you won’t hear on The Disney Channel.)

Of course I’m just kidding. It’s a lovely place to live, as my wife, the realtor, reminds me while jabbing me in the shoulder with the sharp edge of a spackling tool. Not that there’s any risk in not making that clear, not even if I leave this post in the archives forever. In this economy, we’re never gonna sell this house and get out of living in the middle of a “Sopranos” location anyway. But I digress.

The main reason I’m getting lost is that I keep having to turn down narrow alleys between the townhouses to avoid some dimwit who’s walking three huge dogs while talking to one person and texting another simultaneously, all while watching a viral video on his iPhone. He’s so intent on what’s coming through his ear buds to give him brain cancer that he doesn’t notice that one of the dogs has stopped in the middle of the roadway to relieve himself. But the thing is on a leash that looks more like a bungee cord, and if I don’t turn away, I’m gonna have to watch this fool be snapped back into an unusually tall pile of dog feces, which I assume won't be good for his iPhone. Not that I harbor any hostility toward the man; I realize he’s not really a dick, he’s just multitasking.

“Multitasking.” I love that word. I’m sure you’re familiar with it: it’s in Bartlett’s Quotations where “A thing worth doing is worth doing well” used to be.

All it is, is a piss-elegant neologism to help you rationalize doing more half-assed stuff more half-assedly than you did before you got the technology that now encourages you to aspire to the physically impossible. You know, the digital magical thinking machines that want to convince you that all you need in order to write well is a spell-checker, and it doesn’t matter whether you know the difference between “here” and “hear” because the magical thinking machine doesn’t know, either.

At its best, “multitasking” is counterintuitive; at its worst, it’s Orwellian. A Big Brotherish kind of Newspeak coined to normalize, if not glorify, being too impatient to finish anything completely, accurately, or correctly. Multitasking as a work ethic is not, in fact, what has made us prosperous, as might be suggested by the crumbling of once-bedrock financial institutions. And, come to think of it, by one other niggling detail: the fact that most of the country is not, in fact, prosperous.

Multitasking is, instead, what causes bridges to collapse; consumer products to be recalled; errors to be made on your credit card, loan repayment, and utility bills; and the reason service calls never show up on time after you’ve spent two hours on hold waiting to place them, because there are only three people fielding over 100,000 calls a day, all of whom have been hired because they know just enough English to say “I’m good at multitasking” in a job interview.

Personally, I believe multitasking is a myth. In my ->aHEM<- copious spare time I’m working on a book called just that: The Myth of Multitasking. I want to be to the art of sustained concentration on a single goal what Gavin de Becker is to fear: the guy who argues that it not only has a purpose and a practical application, but that it can actually be good for you.

And that’s why I’m going away now, when I’m supposed to be writing a book instead of doing this. It has nothing to do with the idea that Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest because God supposedly rested on the seventh day.

(And if you don’t know from comic book continuity, you can stop reading here because the rest of this won’t make any sense to you anyway.)

It’s because God may have rested after six days, but apparently Orion, Highfather, The Source, The Presence, and the Schechina like to go for the overtime. So, no, it’s got nothing to do with the seventh day of the week. It’s because I’m no damned good at multitasking.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

D.I.Y. = R.I.P.

I'm busy writing all weekend and my darling wife, Judith, is trying to paint the first-floor ceiling and kitchen. She's doing it with the for-hire help of a relative of a small business owner for whom we do website consulting (on content, not architecture) and promotional copywriting. Yes, Judith and I work together from time to time; she's got a great natural talent for sell copy and she's funny, too (studied and toured with The Groundlings). We're also collaborating on some children's book ideas.

Anyway, I mention this only because I want to publicly express my admiration to her for her energy and resolve, as well as my regrets and condolences. She's discovering the hard way why, for me, Do It Yourself has the same kind of ring to it as the phrase represented by the raised middle finger.

Judith loves all those wonderful cable shows where some professional contractor stands idly by and does nothing while some idiot with ten thumbs drives rivets through his feet... just because he tossed a coin and said "Heads, 'Home Makeover;' tails, 'Jerry Springer'."

Me? The very sight of Bob Villa gives me a dislocated shoulder. Besides, whenever I see power tools, all I can think of is Jason Voorhees. I feel sorry for Judith, but harbor no guilt: I did help prep the surfaces and move furniture, but she knew I had to be writing instead of painting today and tomorrow, hence the helper.

All this frenzied activity in the kitchen is also interesting because my office on the second floor is directly over the kitchen. And, oddly, my noise-canceling headphones seem to generate more noise than they cancel. OK, OK, I understand the concept of "white noise," but to me, noise is noise when I'm trying to concentrate; I don't care what color it is. Especially when I'm trying to summarize eight 12-issue comic book miniseries that tie into a year-long continuity-rearranging event in less than 750 words and my eyes are starting to bleed.

Which is why I'm not much good for blathering on today, lucky you (or is it too late for that already?)...except to address some ERRATA:

Regarding my post on Thursday, Joe Staton informs me that no, he's not going to be penciling Scooby-Doo after all, but will be doing something else interesting in the kids' arena, and that's all that is appropriate that we say about that.

He also informs me that he recalls that the inker of the Raggedy Ann samples -- and I am horribly embarrassed to have forgotten this, as he is a dear friend and one of the slickest and most underappreciated inkers in the business, as well as the third "above-the-line" collaborator with Joe and me on Plastic Man -- was actually BOB SMITH. But Joe didn't dispute that Bruce Patterson did the lettering.

And so, as Captain Spaulding sang, "Hello, I must be going." I can now actually hear a paint roller making its way across the other side of my office floor. I'd try to get my money back on the headphones, but I got 'em at The Sharper Image and, as you might know, they've become a parking lot, too.

Friday, May 15, 2009


Yesterday, I mentioned my old friend, the late Michael Sisson, who had already had a rich, fascinating career by the time I met him. He'd been an art director at Playboy, and he told me an intriguing story about the first staff meeting at which he met Hugh Hefner.

He'd been working there a few weeks, and had noticed that all the model shots were being color-corrected to make the flesh tones more pink, more rosey -- "healthier-looking" was the way the senior art directors put it. Michael thought they looked as unnatural as department store mannequins. He asked why this was being done and was told "Hef wants it that way."

To the apparent mortification of his boss, Michael had the cojones to speak up at the meeting, and said, "Hef, do you really think it's a good idea to keep making the flesh tones redder all the time?" Hef looked confused and asked what Michael was talking about. His boss jumped in and reminded Hefner of the time, years earlier, that he gave the order. His memory jogged, Hefner was aghast. "You mean you guys have been doing that in every issue since?" Hefner remembered vividly the Playmate of the month and year that prompted his request, and explained that she was suffering from jaundice at the time of the shoot. He'd meant for the color correction to be done on that one gatefold only. Michael never told me if he was rewarded or reprimanded for bringing the misunderstanding to Hefner's attention, but I don't imagine it hurt him much because he was with the magazine for at least ten years.

I told this story to Len Wein a few years later and he responded with the words "Iron Man's nose." "Come again?" I asked. And Len proceeded to tell me of the time he was in the Marvel bullpen as Stan Lee was passing Johnny Romita's drawing table, where Romita was redrawing an Iron Man head to add a nose to the mask. Stan asked, "Since when does Iron Man have a nose?" And Romita reminded Lee of the order Lee gave to give Iron Man's mask a nose, and let it be known that the character had been drawn that way for a few issues already. According to Len, Lee was as aghast as Hefner.

Stan remembered making an off-hand comment, several months earlier, about the way a profile shot had been drawn. The mask seemed too narrow and needed to be "fuller" in the front because, as Lee put it, "It looked like he didn't have a nose" (or, at the very least, that if he had one it would have been flattened against his face because of the impression of the tight fit created by the way the mask had been rendered.) Somehow that got garbled in translation, into "Stan says we have to give Iron Man a nose." Needless to say, once Lee became aware of the miscommunication, Iron Man's mask immediately reverted to its original design and the Tin Woodsman look disappeared forever.

Both these stories illustrate the potential perils of loyal and too-obedient employees working for people they regard as creative geniuses. Questioning authority is, it seems to me, almost a professional responsibility of creative people. And far too few do it; they let hero worship get in the way. And there's a larger danger: the vision of the visionary defines a culture, and business cultures can become entrenched and difficult to change.

Writer D. Keith Mano once wrote a marvelous article -- in Playboy, ironically enough -- about the Walt Disney Company in the years between Disney's death and the company's "takeover" by the now-legendary Michael Eisner management team that revitalized Disney starting in 1984. It was called "A Real Mickey Mouse Operation" (December, 1973), describing a less-than-inspired management team that approached every decision with the question, "What would Walt do?"

Mano pointed out that the problem, of course, was that Disney died in 1966, so his successors were approaching their core audience with thinking that was almost a decade out of date. Had Disney lived, he would have evolved with the times, as he had done continuously over a four-decade career in which he remained at the cutting edge of family entertainment, constantly innovating and leaving his competitors struggling to catch up. The point is, since there was no way to divine what Disney's thinking would have evolved into in 1973, there was no point in even asking "What would Walt do?" Just as there's no point in asking the same question about Hugh Hefner, Stan Lee, William Gaines, or any other great innovator after their tight control of, or hands-on association with, their creations comes, in time, to its inevitable end.

I think of this often when I read or hear fan complaints that the latest revival of a favorite TV show or movie franchise or comic book isn't "faithful" to its creator's intent. Why should it be? Why can't it be given room to grow?

There's no way to know what, say, Gene Roddenberry would think of J. J. Abrams's Star Trek feature, and I would argue that it doesn't matter. A great property is a living, ever-evolving thing, and if we try to trap it in amber, motivated by the useless emotion of nostalgia, we risk killing it.

Food for thought, I think. Especially in these times when we now speak of "branded entertainment properties." Sometimes, serving the cause of "protecting the integrity of the brand" reduces itself to -- unfortunately -- just one more "What would Walt do?"

Thursday, May 14, 2009


I got started with this thing as a result of cleaning out some overstuffed old filing cabinets in my office. Some stuff you might find interesting is already falling out of the drawers.

Some of you might be fans of my old friend and collaborator, E-Man co-creator JOE STATON, from whom I was happy to hear at the NY ComiCon this year that he's back pencilling Scooby Doo for DC. Some of my happiest collaborations in comics were with Joe, on Metal Men and Plastic Man at DC, and the First Comics version of E-Man as well -- not to mention the many times he saved a custom comics project, when I was running that department at DC, by doing things like penciling a 10-page story in two days.

Well, I was rummaging around in my old files this morning and came upon something Joe and I (and, if memory serves, inker/letterer BRUCE PATTERSON) did a long time ago that I don't think has been seen anywhere. At least, no mention or image of it has turned up in my Google search.

Catherine Bushnell, an old friend and fellow acting student at Northwestern, had married a man named H. Michael Sisson, who was, at the time I first met him, a licensing director at ITT-Bobbs- Merrill, then the owners of Raggedy Ann and Andy. Michael had been instrumental in saving the 1977 Raggedy Ann animated feature by bringing in Chuck Jones to complete the film, effectively replacing the original director. Ever since that experience Michael had been trying to turn the venerable children's property into a syndicated comic strip. The idea was to do comedy-adventure that was less in the spirit of Johnny Gruelle's classic children's books and more like the animated film, which gave the ragdolls more of a life outside Marcella's bedroom and a bigger supporting cast, to boot.

Catherine had seen my byline on the Superman syndicated strip and wondered if it was the same Pasko she knew from NU. So out of the blue I get a call, and the next thing I know I'm in NY, making a handshake deal with Michael to prepare a syndicated strip sample -- fast. So I quickly hire Joe, who in turn hires Bruce, and a week's worth of sample strips are prepared in, like, a week. The project didn't sell -- it was a humor strip with continuity, and there weren't a lot of those around at the time (Gasoline Alley was on its last legs), so syndicated strip editors -- a notoriously risk-adverse lot at that time -- passed. However...

This morning I discovered four sample dailies and the B&W art for the Sunday page lurking in the back of that filing cabinet -- probably all that survives of this project. If you're a Joe Staton fan, as I am, you might like to take a look (and I apologize in advance for the poor image quality; these are minimally cleaned-up scans of very old Xeroxes):

comic strip art copyright 1980 by ITT-Bobbs-Merrill.
Raggedy Ann, Raggedy Andy, and related characters
are trademarks of Simon & Schuster and Hasbro, Inc.

Tomorrow: Hugh Hefner and Iron Man's nose.

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