Category Archives: Politics

Comic Book Men Production and Writers Attempt to Unionize

comic book menWhile a union dedicated to just comic creators has been discussed for decades (and probably be a while before one happens), the production and writing team behind the show Comic Book Men have been attempting to. The effort is being organized by the Writers Guild of America East.

Original Media is the company behind Comic Book Men, Swamp People, Inkmaster, NY Ink, LA Ink, Miami Ink, The Rachel Zoe Project and much more. In 2014, the writers and producers voted overwhelmingly to unionize and join the Writers Guild. The vote was 42 to 9. It was a part of a campaign by unions to organize writers in the reality television business. The goal is to provide the kind of benefits and working conditions writers on scripted shows receive. The claim is reality show writers put in long hours without extra pay (some work up to 70 hours a week) and denied insurance and other benefits.

Since then the WGA East has said that Original Media has “refused to bargain in good faith.” Original Media is also being investigated  by the National Labor Relations Board for “failing to bargain in good faith, and by the wage and hour authorities for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from their freelance workforce.” The Writers Guild has successfully negotiated collective bargaining agreements with at least three other nonfiction television production companies.

In 2013 the editorial crew of Swamp People walked off the job due to a dispute with Original Media. The walkout was due to “unfair labor practice … unlawfully interfer(ing) with employees’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act by interrogating employees about union organizing activity.”

The WGA East is currently running a campaign to have individuals post labor-friendly tattoos on Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #InkMasterUnion to show support. Below is some suggested text from their alert.

  • Workers on @SpikeInkMaster deserve a fair contract. @OriginalMedia needs to ink a deal #InkMasterUnion
  • I have ink. I watch@SpikeInkMaster. I want @OriginalMedia to stop #Unionbusting & sign a fair contract #InkMasterUnion
  • I Support @OriginalMedia Workers right to a fair contract #InkMasterUnion

We have reached out to the stars of Comic Book Men and Kevin Smith for their comments. The show airs on AMC.

Supreme Court Rules in Kimble v. Marvel Enterprises, Inc.

Supreme CourtWhile folks had their eyes on the possibility of Marvel going before the Supreme Court over the rights of Jack Kirby, another case actually did make its way before the highest court in the land. Kimble v. Marvel Enterprises, Inc. was argued before SCOTUS on March 31, 2015, and today the court came down with their decision.

The court case was pretty simple. Marvel in the past purchased Stephen Kimble’s patent for a Spider-Man webshooter toy for a lump sum plus 3% royalty on future sales. There was no end date for the royalties. The patent Kimble had ended after 20 years. Marvel then discovered a case, Brulotte v. Thys Co., 379 U. S. 29, in which the Supreme Court held that a patentee cannot continue to receive royalties for sales made after his patent expires. In other words, Marvel was paying Kimble, when they didn’t need to. Marvel then went to court to confirm they could stop paying and eventually it made its way to the Supreme Court. Kimble wanted the Brulotte ruling overruled so he could continue to receive payments.

marvel featuredThe question was whether the Supreme Court should overrule the rather old decision, and they were encourage to overrule that precedent due to economic reasons.

The court decided in Marvel’s favor 6-3 with Justice Kagan writing the opinion for the Court. Justices Alito, Thomas, and Chief Justice Roberts dissented. The court declared stare decisis, that they should stand by yesterday’s decision, but also said they can revisit the decision in the future.

Quickly reading over the majority opinion, the decision was that even though some deals might not go through, you can still make a deal that can favor the patent holder getting around this ruling.

We’ll be examining the decision further, and update this post as the decision is parsed out and made clearer.

You can read the decision here, and find out the whole history via SCOTUS Blog.

The best part, Kagan in her opinion quotes Spider-Man:

What we can decide, we can undecide. But stare decisis teaches that we should exercise that authority sparingly. Cf. S. Lee and S. Ditko, Amazing Fantasy No. 15: “Spider- Man,” p. 13 (1962) (“[I]n this world, with great power there must also come—great responsibility”). Finding many reasons for staying the stare decisis course and no “special justification” for departing from it, we decline Kimble’s invitation to overrule Brulotte.

For the reasons stated, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed.

And that’s not the only comic reference by Justice Kagan. She also wrote:

The parties set no end date for royalties, apparently contemplating that they would continue for as long as kids want to imitate Spider-Man (by doing whatever a spider can).

Patents endow their holders with certain superpowers, but only for a limited time.

To the contrary, the decision’s close relation to a whole web of precedents means that reversing it could threaten others.

It has also been pointed out that Justice Kagan is a fan of comic books, and comic book movies. That little factoid was included in her bio for the Supreme Court Review. Maybe Kagan variant covers will become the next big thing in comics, like President Obama was at one point.

FTC Takes on Crowdfunding Fraud

FTC-logoWith Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms unwilling to take responsibility and do something about fraud and failed projects, the Federal Trade Commission has stepped in to do so.

While it’s a slap on the wrist, the FTC has announced through press release that it settled with Erik Chevalier over a failed board game Kickstarter project. Chevalier, as Forking Path Co., had his project The Doom That Came To Atlantic City! successfully funded in June 2012. The fundraising campaign raised $122,874 from 1,246 people, and the project was announced dead by Chevalier 14 months after in an update on the page.

The FTC charged Chevalier with not delivering his promised rewards or refund the backers. Instead, Chevalier spent most of the money on “unrelated personal expenses such as rent, moving himself to Oregon, personal equipment, and licenses for a different project.”

photo-originalAs part of his settlement Chevalier can not make future misrepresentations about any crowdfunding campaigns. He also can not use any of the donor’s personal information in any way and must get rid of it. The final order also imposed a $111,793.71 judgment but that has been suspended due to Chevalier’s inability to pay. He’ll have to pay if it turns out his financial situation isn’t what he claimed. He’ll also have to report any crowdfunding activity he partakes for the next 18 months. So lots of slaps on the wrists and some bad press for Chevalier. Chevalier in the end never admitted or denied the charges. How that amount of fraud doesn’t qualify as grand larceny and involve jail time baffles my mind.
Now, if only the FTC would do something about crowdfunding platforms profiting off of the fraud. The FTC was asking if the platforms have any responsibility, to which the FTC attorneys responded that “crowdfunding platforms have a responsibility to act fairly and non-deceptively.” In other words as long as they say upfront you can get screwed, the platforms can profit off of fraud as long as they want.

While they were promised a lot, backers who pledged to get the game did eventually do so. Cryptozoic Entertainment stepped in to help with the production of the game. Even after the files were lost, they were recreated by Lee Moyer, one of the game’s creators. Cryptozoic tracked down sculpts and molds with help of Z-Man Games founder Zev Shlasinger. They eventually shipped 1200 Kickstarter backers a copy of the completed game. Cryptozoic paid for the production, but the company and creators didn’t receive any revenues from the backers. The backers didn’t get the promised extras like pewter miniatures, art prints, t-shirts and other promised items.

The FTC took on the case as part of their work to protect consumers when it comes to new and emerging financial technology also known as FinTech. The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, Portland Division.

No Salon. Magneto Should Remain a Holocaust Survivor.

magneto-1On Saturday, Eli Keel posted what looks to be his first article on Salon, “It’s time for Marvel to make Magneto black: Use the coming “Secret Wars” reboot to make X-Men get real about race.” I believe this is the same Keel who has contributed to other sites, and in his first piece for Salon, he shows either a tone deafness to what he asks, lack of understanding of the Civil Rights movement, a lack of understanding of Marvel’s X-Universe, or a mixture of all of the above. It also surprising that Salon would approve such a poorly thought out article.

Keel opens his article with the conundrum of time in comic books that originally had characters reflecting or living in “modern” times. And with real-time moving, and characters not aging there is an issue of how do you deal with age and origins in the comic universe. Iron Man for instance originally was injured in Vietnam, but in years that has been updated to the Gulf War, and most recently Afghanistan. This shifting time line has led to inconsistencies and continuity issues. DC Comics has rebooted their universe numerous times, often resolving such issues, while Marvel has had a rather unexplainable sliding time scale. This summer’s Marvel event Secret Wars will hopefully right some of those time paradoxes, resulting in a new “prime” Marvel universe bringing together the various continuities, versions, multiverses, and more into one grand vision that will guide Marvel for the “next 50 to 75 years.” Marvel has said that some things will change and that new characters may take on old mantles for instance X-23 will be the new Wolverine, and there’ll be a new Hulk that is not Bruce Banner. In the past few years Marvel has also found success in changing up the gender or race of characters such as a Jane Foster taking up the role of Thor, a new Ms. Marvel who is a 16-year-old Muslim girl from Jersey, and the Falcon who is now Captain America.

Keel begins his article from a false logic point, that comics have been white and cis-gendered throughout their history. Not only is this incorrect, it ignores comics’ rather vast a varied history that is often forgotten or unknown. Female characters have existed since the early days, with many over the years placed out of mind such as Nellie the Nurse, Invisible Scarlet O’Neil, Betty, Veronica, Sheena, Miss Fury, and many more. There’s also comics’ progressive nature including the creation of Captain America who advocated America’s entry into World War II a year before Pearl Harbor, integration of the military in comics before the actual real world military, and creation of characters such as the Black Panther and Luke Cage when African-American and black characters weren’t heard of. In fact comics were the industry that Jews, women, and African-American creators went in to when they were shunned by “mainstream” America. Things haven’t been all rosy, but it’s not all black and white as Keel suggests.

All of this leads Keel to conclude in the new Marvel universe:

It’s time to make Magneto black.

Magneto is one of the very few comic characters inextricably tied to a specific real-world event: the Holocaust. His abuse at the hands of Nazis turns him hard and cruel. This real-world event can’t be moved forward in time, and that’s becoming a problem.

Thing_Num56_Pg22Keel is requesting for not just erasure of one of the highest profile Jews in comics (a minority more underrepresented in comics than blacks and African-Americans), but also erasure of the Holocaust from mainstream comics as a whole. There’s a tone deafness of the request that is astonishing, but also beyond insensitive to the reality of both the real world and history of the X-Men and X-Universe. The website ComicBookReligion lists 507 out of the 36,389 characters as Jewish. How many can you actually name? How many actually wear their Jewishness regularly and out in the open? Compare that to how many African-American or black characters you can name.

Lets begin with the argument of Magneto’s age being an issue. Keel correctly points out his age has been fudged and changed before, and there’s no reason it can’t be done so again. If we de-age Magneto a bit and say he’s 5 or so during the Holocaust (born in 1940 for an easy number), that’d make the character 75 years old today giving him decades more before age is an actual issue. There’s no reason Magneto can’t be 75 or older, and in fact it opens up even more compelling storytelling opportunities. To make a more “comic” like solution, we can say his mutation somehow makes him age slower too for an even easier fix.

Thing_05There is a very real world issue of those who survived the Holocaust dying out and the history being forgotten. Not only by keeping Magneto as a Holocaust survivor do you do a service of serving as an entry point for those to learn about this vile point in human history, but it can also address this very issue. Imagine Magneto reflecting that those that have experienced what he has are dying out, and the world is forgetting the horrors. What would a man do with the power he has when faced with that reality? Imagine a story of him being on his death-bed, and having characters around him reflecting upon his experiences and what it means to lose that first hand knowledge.

Today there’s a “cult of Hitler” propping up the genocidal leader as a pop-culture icon, not even 70 years since those last camps were liberated, parts of the world have washed the ghastly horrors away enough to use the visage of a madman to sell products, ideals, and more, turning him into an advertising prop. If that’s not enough of a sign we need for a renewed call to “never forget,” I don’t know what is.

Keel continues:

But part of what makes Magneto such a great villain is his base in real-world historic tragedy.

This is absolutely correct, and his experiences in the death camps have driven his actions to prevent similar tragedy for the mutants of the Marvel universe. It’s not Magneto’s Jewishness that defines him (actually for quite a while it was murky if he was Jewish or Romani), it’s his survival from the Holocaust that defines and drives his character and actions. His hope is to prevent what happened to 6 million individuals repeating for the mutant population.

X-Men-Days-of-Future-Past-comic-coverThe imagery of the Holocaust has been an aspect that has been used time and time again in Marvel’s “X” comics. In the classic tale Days of Future Past, mutants are rounded up into camps reminiscent to exactly what the Nazis did. There’s constant talk of the eradication of the “mutant threat” in Marvel comics, and it’s going on today quite frequently in the current Secret Wars event. This is something the X-Men have been attempting to fight against, and Magneto proactively through terrorism is trying to prevent. In fact when it comes to the black/African-American experience or the Jewish experience, Marvel’s mutants in their dwindling numbers better reflect the serious issues modern Judaism face, as the religion dwindles in numbers.

Currently Jews worldwide account for a little over 6 million individuals, less than 0.1% of the world’s population. There are fewer Jews in the world right now than intersex individuals who are about 1 in 1,000 (not really a point to that, but an astonishing stat I learned). In modern stories the X-universe was faced with dwindling numbers and the very possibility that mutants would become extinct. This issue is something that Jews face today as the numbers of those practicing shrinks and interfaith marriage increases. Other recurring stories have had mutants attempting to establish a homeland where they can be safe, but have been besieged over and over again, and recently that very storyline has had almost Zionist tone in a schism that divided the X-Men, a split that does exist within the Jewish people.

But most insulting is Kreel’s insistence that any retconning/race-swapping be tied to the Civil Rights movement, ignoring Jewish contributions to the actual Civil Rights movement. Also the Marvel X-Universe today is more reflective of the Gay Rights movement, more so than the Civil Rights. It shows a lack of knowledge about X-History and the real world history. It was in Haifa, Israel that Xavier and Magneto first met as an example.

Keel says:

The best fix for Magneto’s origin problem is to reboot him and Professor X into the heart of the Civil Rights Movement. Have them experience the heartbreak of the historic assassinations as young black men. This reboot would be true to the heart of the characters — X-Men began as a  metaphor for segregation. In 1963, America couldn’t openly discuss race in comic form, so the conflict was encoded. “Negroes” became “mutants.” Professor X and Magneto are often interpreted as metaphors for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Having the characters openly admire the historical figures would give Professor X and Magneto the opportunity to argue about the nuances of the their mentors’ philosophies.

In other words, they could openly talk about race. After 50 years of coded language, it’s time to get real. The Civil Rights Moment needs to become canon.

Personally, I’d have Professor X be a follower of Malcolm X, while Magneto hangs with Dr. Martin Luther King. That way, Prof. X sees Malcolm X gunned down, the tragic results of a movement divided. He tries to choose peace. Magneto watches the death of his pacifist hero Dr. King, and rejects nonviolence.

The Jewish contribution to the Civil Rights movement and black history is long and closely entwined. Jews after-all were the original slaves (Egypt) and treated as less than others/full citizens (most of history). The Religious Action Center has a wonderful article laying out Jewish contributions to the Civil Rights movement. That includes helping found the NAACP, the establishment of some black colleges, “Jewish activists represented a disproportionate number of whites involved in the struggle. Jews made up half of the young people who participated in the Mississippi Freedom Summer in 1964.” It was Jews who were murdered attempting to do their part in the Mississippi Burning case. And this support continues today.

The Jewish community has continued its support of civil rights laws addressing persistent discrimination in voting, housing and employment against not only women and people of color but also in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community and the disabled community. Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, is currently the only non-African-American member of the NAACP board.

Keel then suggests the rather non-inspired idea that not only should Magneto and Xavier be black, but they should be involved in the movements of Malcom X and Dr. King, showing insight of the X-Men that should be left in the past, much like some of the non-progressive attitudes that have been shed by the industry in recent times.

legacyToday, the X-Universe no longer reflects the Civil Rights movement so much as the Gay Rights movement. A more inspired idea would to embrace that aspect of the characters. Like gays, there has been a theme and outright debate throughout the X history of those that can hide the fact their mutants and those that can’t, reflecting more of the struggle of gays being in the closet and facing discrimination when they come out or can’t hide. In fact, there was real world uproar when writer Rick Remender had mutant and Avenger Unity team leader Havok say he disliked the division and the word “mutant,” and in the comics some responded it was easy for him to say, since he could pass for a normal human.

In the 1990s the X-books faced a disease called the Legacy Virus which very much was a not too subtle allegory about the HIV/AIDS epidemic. And, reflecting the Holocaust again, there was real world discussion of placing those afflicted with HIV/AIDS in camps to isolate them, another reason for Magneto’s past to remain unchanged. This is something that has actually been done in Cuba, and political leaders in the US have called for it in the past. While HIV/AIDS isn’t only a gay issue, add in the “coming out” aspect of a mutant’s gift and the mutant story better reflects the LGBT experience. An inspiring and more original twist might have Xavier be bisexual and present at the Stonewall riots or part of the early years of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis.

I can’t tell if Keel actually believes his suggestions would lead to compelling storytelling, is oblivious to what his request represents, or he and Salon are trolling for click-bait like rallying articles. No matter, not only is the article poorly thought out, it’s downright insensitive.

12 Years in Prison for a Cartoon

Atena FarghadaniAtena Farghadani, an Iranian artist and activist has been reportedly senteced to 12 years and nine months in prison for a caricature she drew lampooning a debate about a bill that would ban some forms of contraception. She was charged with “insulting members of parliament through paintings.”

The bill Farghadani lampooned would ban voluntary sterilization procedures such as vasectomies and tubal ligations in an effort to reverse Iran’s falling birthrate.

Atena-Farghadani-Cartoon-375x230The artist posted a video on YouTube where she described beatings, strip searches, and threats from guards. In January, she went on a hunger strike in prison, and suffered a heart attack three weeks later. She has also be beaten just for speaking out about her mistreatment.

An appeal is in the works.

This case is just one of the numerous examples of cartoonists being jailed or attacked for doing their jobs and expressing free speech.

(via CBLDF, Washington Post)

Everything is Not Awesome for Sen. Ron Johnson

The_Lego_Movie_posterSen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) is definitely not a fan of The Lego Movie. The Senator spoke with WisPolitics after addressing members of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

At the meeting with the MMCC, he spoke on topics ranging from “Cuba to regulatory relief.” So, how did The Lego Movie come into this?

According to the United States Senator, the movie is an example of Hollywood propaganda that business is bad and government is good. That opinion was derived from a Wall Street Journal article written by Doug Haugh. Haugh is the President of Mansfield Oil Company.

Johnson said to WisPolitics:

He lamented what he called a “cultural attitude” that “government is good and business is bad,” giving as an example the animated “LEGO” movie, in which the villain is called “Lord Business.”

“That’s done for a reason,” Johnson said. “They’re starting that propaganda, and it’s insidious.”

This nothing new about how some viewed the movie. Many conservatives took to their platforms to blast the film for being ant-capitalist. It can also be argued that the film is about individuality, something conservatives also claim to champion…. so, yeah.

How far has this all gone? The Senator has responded on his official United States Senate website.

The strange thing isn’t that a kids’ movie was anti-business, it is that someone claiming to be a journalist never encountered the idea before.

The Senator faces a tough reelection campaign where he’ll face former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold. Johnson defeated Feingold in 2010. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have the vote of Lego fans after this.

 

The Southern Poverty Law Center adds Bosch Fawstin to their 2016 Report

THE INFIDEL #1 coverComic creator Bosch Fawstin is in the center of controversy after his portrait of Mohammad won the contest hosted by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI). That contest spurred two terrorists to attempt an attack on the event hosted by AFDI. Both gunmen were killed by police.

Fawstin Tweeted the below concerning the attack.

He has since used the event to promote his anti-Islamic series The Infidel, causing the series to vault to the top of digital sales on comiXology. I reviewed the comic a while ago and you can read the review here.

Fawstin, a New York born, former Muslim, won $12,500 in prize money for his art.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization which tracks hate groups, includes the AFDI in its annual list of U.S. hate groups. They plan on adding Fawstin to the list according to Heidi Beirich, director of the tracking effort. In full disclosure, I’m very much a supporter of the SPLC, and find Fawstin’s and the AFDI’s beliefs disgusting. Beirich said to Reuters that Fawstin would have been listed before, but was not due to the fact they were unable to figure out his location.

Beirich said to Reuters:

He’s like the artist of the movement. His views, they are hate views.

Fawstin said he fears for his safety, but will continue his work. To Reuters, he said:

It definitely is concerning. You do your work and people out there want to kill you for it. I understand the threat, but I’m not going to be cowed by it. I still intend to go up there and I still intend to speak out.

And on being added by the SPLC:

So they want to put a cartoonist on there who doesn’t act out violently? Go for it.

It should be made clear, Fawstin is against all Islam:

You can see his drawing below.

This is a story we’ll be following as it progresses.

 

(via Reuters, The Outhousers)

Team Rubio, X-Men and Walking Dead Fans

On Monday I ran a story about how the team for Marco Rubio noted that they’re fans of Marvel and DC Comics‘ television shows and movies. It was a rather odd thing to include in a Presidential Twitter bio. After a few Tweets pestering them why they didn’t show any love for indie comics, I decided to go with an easier one. Now we know what they’re fans of.

So a series about the apocalypse and another that focuses a lot on tolerance/racism/and exclusion. Some lessons to be learned from both as the campaign chugs along.

 

 

 

Batgirl Fights for Equal Pay

In 1972 Batgirl, along with Batman and Robin, were in a PSA to advocate for Equal Pay. The fight continues 40 years later. Today is Equal Pay Day, it represents the additional 3 months and 14 days women must work every year to earn what men made the previous year. Gender pay exists and American women earn 78 cents for every dollar a man makes.

Rubio for President Likes Both Marvel & DC, No Love for Indie Comics

Well this might be new. The official Marco Rubio for President Twitter page touts its love for both Marvel and DC Comics‘ television shows as well as movies…. no love for all of the small press and indie comics? I’m sure shunning The Walking Dead fans is a winning strategy for no one….

rubio_twitter_profile

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