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Drawn Together: Comics, Diversity and Stereotypes is Free to Watch in May on World Channel

This month PBS premiered my documentary – Drawn Together: Comics, Diversity and Stereotypes. The film has been to over 52 film festivals and has won 9 major awards. It has also screened in over 100 educational institutions, at almost all Comic Cons and numerous conferences.

Drawn Together traces the fascinating journey of three comic creators who challenge the notion of race, appearance and gender stereotypes through cartoons, comics and cosplay. The film features Keith Knight, Vishavjit Singh ( AKA Sikh Captain America ) and Eileen Alden.

For the month of May, you can watch the film for free on Youtube.

Goodbye Arts? Thanks Trump!

President Trump has unveiled his proposed budget plan, named “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” and it calls for a sharp increase in military spending with sharp cuts across the rest of the government.

Those cuts include eliminating future federal support for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Sorry Big Bird, looks like you’re flipping burgers.

While Winston Churchill is often quoted as saying “then, what are we fighting for?” when asked about cutting funding for the arts during World War II (he didn’t say it), he actually did say the below in 1938:

The arts are essential to any complete national life. The State owes it to itself to sus­tain and encour­age them…. Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the reverence and delight which are their due.

The National Endowment for the Arts was started in 1965 by President Johnson, it’s dedicated to “supporting excellence in the arts, both new and established; bringing the arts to all Americans; and provided leadership in arts education. The organization has made over 128,000 grants totaling over $5 billion. Its funding makes up just 0.004% of the federal budget. 40% of its funding goes to state arts agencies and regional arts organizations. With a budget of about $150 million that’s about two months of comic sales at local comic shops. The NEA generates more than $600 million annually in additional matching funds and helps to shape a $730 billion arts and culture industry that represents 4.2% of the nation’s GDP and supports 4.8 million jobs.

National Endowment for the Humanities also began in 1965 and is an independent federal agency. It too has a similar budget as that of the National Endowment for the Arts. It provides grants for humanities projects to cultural institutions such as museums, archives, libraries, colleges, universities, public television, and radio stations, and to individual scholars. The “Treasures of Tutankhamen” and Ken Burn’s The Civil War documentary were both funded by this. Its also sponsored 15 Pulitzer Prize-winning books.

Both organizations have funded research and spotlighted comic books at times bringing an academic perspective to the entertainment we love. Check out this podcast with Mike Mignola or essay by Gene Luen Yang for examples.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting was founded in 1967 and is an American Private non-profit corporation whose mission is to provide non-commercial, high-quality content. 70% of its funding goes to 1,400 locally owned stations. Its budget is about $445.5 million (in 2014) which is about 0.012% of the federal budget. It helps supports television like PBS and radio programming. Series like NOVA and Sesame Street are available and accessible because of this. Programming that might not be commercially viable, but provides quality and educational entertainment to Americans and programming where you’re not bombarded by advertisements. If you’ve watched Sesame Street, you’ve benefited from this.

This isn’t the final budget that we will eventually get. Congress needs to still pass it, reach a separate agreement over a temporary funding bill, and raise the debt ceiling. But, what this does is lay out the Trump administration’s priorities, and the arts is not a part of that.

This is a wake-up call that we must defend the arts. March 20-21 is an Arts Advocacy Day in Washington, DC. If you’re unable to participate you need to call your Congressman and tell them to support the arts and not defund these three vital organizations.

PBS NewsHour Spotlights Comic Writer Gene Luen Yang

Comic book writer Gene Luen Yang continues to make the rounds as an ambassador for comics. Around Christmas, PBS NewsHour released a feature spotlight Yang who was one of 2016’s MacArthur Fellowship winners and a national ambassador for young people’s literature. If you haven’t gotten to hear Yang speak it’s well worth it and very inspiring and insightful.

The Future of Fandoms Courtesy of the PBS Idea Channel

What is THE FUTURE of Fandoms? Excited, interested, and devoted to a piece of the world, fandoms have an ever growing presence and power in our culture. But how will that power morph in the coming decades? Will fans be able to control the media they celebrate? Will fan-created works and the argument of Fair Use alter copyright law? Will fandoms find a place in politics and government? Watch the episode, and let us know what you think!

PBS explores what we as fans might have in store for us.

2013 Wastebook Includes Man of Steel, Superheroes, Toy Museums & Video Games

Each year, Senator Coburn (R-OK) releases his Wastebook which highlights what he thinks is some of the most wasteful spending by our government. In total, the 2013 edition has 100 examples of “wasteful and low-priority spending” (his opinion of what that is) which totals more than $28 billion. This year, a bunch of “geeky” things wound up on the list. He’s all over the place this year including a PBS documentary on superheroes, the military’s co-branding with the movie Man of Steel, two toy museums, and a video game to help children learn. Last year, the Senator decided to take jabs at the 501st Legion’s charitable actions.

Check out below for what irritated the Senator and made the list this year.

  • It’s a Bird. It’s a Plane. It’s Superman! – (National Guard) $10 million – Coming in at number two on the list, the Senator had issues with the National Guard’s co-branding of advertisements with this year’s movie Man of Steel. The “Soldier of Steel” campaign was to “increase awareness and consideration of service opportunities in the National Guard.” The Senator seems to have an issue that the money could have been better spent supporting the actual National Guard troops and that the film and theaters, which eventually did quite well, could have been more charitable as far as costs. I guess the Republican only likes handouts when the government isn’t doing them?
  • Comic Book Superheroes Documentary – (NEH) $125,000 – At number 19 on the list, the Senator didn’t enjoy the PBS documentary Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle as much as the rest of us. While the documentary boasted it was a first of its kind, the Senator shows some examples that’s just not the case. All together the documentary and project has received $825,000 and though funded by us, we still need to buy the DVD. The Senator does leave out how much the documentary might have brought in for revenue, offsetting the cost. Small details matter.
  • Playing Games with Taxpayer Money – (IMLS) $225,000 – The National Museum of Play in Rochester, NY has made the list. The Senator doesn’t seem to like the museum which provides a hands on experience for kids. The money is geared towards a play zone that encourages just that and looks at the history of it. With more kids faces buried in front of electronic devices, is this a bad thing? This one ranks at number 50 on the list.
  • The Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys – (CO) $40,810 – At number 55, I can’t disagree about those creepy dolls shown in his report. This money is going towards a staffer to log the contents of the museum. That’s a small amount of money for a lot of work. I guess the Senator just doesn’t like people getting paid, and wants everyone to volunteer or rely on charity.
  • Need Brains! Fighting Zombies with Pluses and Minuses – (NC) $150,000 – Clocking in at 63 on the list, the Senator hates education as well. The money is meant to go to develop a “web-based, action-adventure, narrative-based, role-playing game where the player defends against zombies in an effort to save the human race.” And while doing that, they learn. The Senator seems to be less bothered by his math of this hiring 5 teachers in South Carolina. That’s really poor pay for hard work. He does have a point that many educational games like this already exists. Though, for schools to use them, they’d cost how much?
  • Four Score and Seven Clicks From Now: historical multi-player computer games – (NEH) $300,000 – At 88 on the list, I think the Senator just hates education through video games. He could use some of that education, because there’s a spelling error in this entry.
  • NSF Spending Millions on Ineffective Educational Games – (NSF) $4.4 million – See he hates education through video games! Taking up the 91st spot, this attempt at an Alternate Reality Game (ARG) by the National Science Foundation is to “attract teenage girls and underrepresented groups to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) careers, as well as educate these students in deep-time sciences, astrobiology, astrophysics, interplanetary space travel, and Earth sciences.” His reasoning goes into the fact some things says these don’t work. Can’t find all of that out if you don’t try! Maybe that fact that this is geared towards women and minorities is the real issue?

You can head to the full report and find out the other things the Senator thinks are a waste, and in fairness many of them are. But, many of the above have more to them the Senator ignores and conveniently leaves out, like if they generate revenue. But, that’d mean looking at all the facts, and we can’t ask our politicians to do that…. can we?

Well, no matter your political persuasion we can all agree there’s some irony in the cover riffing from Action Comics #1 right? How much did that cost to draw and color Senator?




History is Written by the Winners of the Marvel No-Prize

Guest commentary post from Emma Houxbois. Emma is a queer blogger for hire out of Vancouver, BC most recently attached to Girls Read Comics. You can follow her on Twitter @emmahouxbois.

no-prizeThe thing about history is that you’ve got to be really careful who you let write it. Herodotus, the guy widely acknowledged as the inventor of western history writing was known as both “The Father of History” and “The Father of Lies,” in his lifetime, and one of the reasons for that was that he never really made any kind of an effort to judge the credibility of the people he was collecting history from. It’s widely believed that he skewed towards the empowered members of society, meaning that the saying “history is written by the winners” is as old as history itself. This past week in comics, we got the rude awakening that it’s history is currently being written by the winners of the Marvel No-Prize.

For reasons unknown to anyone with a lick of sense, a panel consisting of Todd McFarlane, Len Wein, and Gerry Conway were assembled to publicize a forthcoming PBS documentary about superhero comics. While already dubious choices compared to more genuinely influential and knowledgeable prospects like Trina Robbins, Mark Waid, Karen Berger, or that mysterious Twitter account claiming to be Steranko, the trio put on an astounding display of jamming their entire legs up to the knee down their own throats. Todd McFarlane, creator of one of the best selling black superheroes in history, seems to believe that increasing diversity in comics will only lead to tokenism. Of course in 2006, when Robert Kirkman crashed McFarlane’s panel at the SDCCI, the Spawn creator had no idea who he was until he was informed by another panel member that Kirkman was “the guy who writes that zombie comic you like,” a comic published by McFarlane’s own Image Comics at the time. McFarlane also went on, during the same incident, to say in defense of having not done anything significant in comics since Spawn that “once you’ve created your Mickey Mouse or your Donald Duck, you don’t really have to do anything else.” So it isn’t as if McFarlane’s complete indifference to anything in comics that isn’t related to his personal legacy is a closely guarded secret or new information. Nor is it that he’s a noted hypocrite after having lost a lengthy legal action by Neil Gaiman to regain control of the characters he contributed to Spawn after years of McFarlane crowing about how the founding of Image was a victory for creator’s rights in the industry.

Gerry Conway was adamant that superheroes are strictly for men and boys, using a bizarre self defeating anecdote about his daughter’s disinterest in “guy stories,” mentioning Faith Erin Hicks who writes The Adventures of Superhero Girl. Of course Conway is responsible for the two most exploited fridgings in Marvel history, if not superhero comics as a whole; The Punisher’s self justification for his antics based on the death of his wife and child as well as the death of Gwen Stacy. If Conway’s own daughter is disinterested in what he calls “guy stories” and McFarlane wouldn’t use superheroes if he wanted to write a story catering to his own daughters, it has to be noted that Conway’s body of work is one of the chief culprits in disillusioning potential female readers. Of course Len Wein is the real elephant in the room, given that Alan Moore disclosed in 2006 when he approached Wein for permission to cripple Barbara Gordon in The Killing Joke, Wein told him “Yeah, okay, cripple the bitch.” Inviting Len Wein or Gerry Conway to talk about gender in comics is basically like asking Don Imus to talk about racism in sports.

At around the same time that this nonsense was unfolding, a beautiful and moving thing that happened in Japan was being circulated by Sailor Moon fans on Tumblr. The second live event detailing the festivities for the 20th anniversary of Sailor Moon and the forthcoming series was being translated, capped, and analyzed by the fervent western fans of the pop culture juggernaut. However, instead of updates on the timeline for the new series, what dominated the fan discourse were the statements by the director of the 2013 edition of the live action stage show, whose cast is entirely female. By way of explanation, he related that his understanding of Naoko Takeuchi’s manga was that it was written by women for women and so it was only natural to put on the show using only women. Not satisfied with those bold and endearing statements, he went on to say “I feel like Takeuchi Naoko’s work flew in the face of the atmosphere at the time. It said ‘women are strong, there’s nothing wrong with being strong and we should be stronger’ and as a result in these twenty years, women have become stronger in our society. That part of her work has everlasting value and I feel like now we should remind society again of the same message.” While I’m not sure that twenty years of gains for women in Japanese society can be chalked up entirely to the influence of Sailor Moon, it is heartening to hear, especially from a man in this context, the fervent belief that comics can in fact inspire positive social change. It isn’t hard to see that same belief among the western fans, as it’s an unmistakable fact that a large segment of young women active in fighting for representation in western comics are Sailor Moon fans, and the most ardent supporters of Sailor Moon are staunch feminists. Sailor Moon also continues to deeply influence female creators to this day, most notably Adventure Time contributor and Bee and Puppycat creator Natasha Allegri, whose genderbent world of Fionna and Cake rests on Sailor Moon as it’s foundation from the rabbit ears on her hat to her feline companion and even her formal gown patterned after the future Silver Millennium version of Usagi.

That Conway feels comics follow instead of lead culture is no actual reflection on the real state of the world’s last living mythology, it’s a reflection on three men who never pushed themselves or their work to a level beyond what could be most comfortably and easily sold. None of them put their careers on the line with bold statements like Dwayne McDuffie’s infamous Teenage Negro Ninja Thrashers memo or created entire critical frameworks for discussing women’s place in popular fiction like Gail Simone’s Women in the Refrigerator polemic or Alison Bechdel‘s eponymous test. It also really begs the question if any of them are aware that Captain America punched Hitler a full year before the United States entered World War II. In every decade that superhero comics have existed, they’ve lead culture. In a landscape where Orange is the New Black’s Laverne Cox, (directed by Jodie Foster in the episode revolving around her character), is making headlines and shattering the long history of cis actors being cast as trans* people, comics are leading culture. Matt Fraction is currently surfing the crest of the wave of positive portrayals of trans* people in a team book that is three quarters female. Gail Simone is poised alongside him selling out her Batgirl title in which Babs’ roommate is a trans woman. The critical importance of all three narratives cannot be underscored any stronger than by Chloe Sevigny’s current shameful behavior wearing a prosthetic penis to portray a trans woman and throwing around slurs that demean real trans women behind the scenes. Which is just one singular issue, one singular anecdote in a sea of progressive storytelling in comics that has taken the lead on issues as diverse as addiction, sex work, homophobia, racism, sexism, and domestic violence to name a few. The true history of comics isn’t a soulless echo chamber of privileged men writing exclusionist power fantasies for each other. The true history of comics is as queer and beautiful as it is ugly and heartbreaking, when it’s told by people who actually participated in and benefited from it’s queerness and beauty. Sadly many including Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, and Dwayne McDuffie have passed away but there do remain several other creators and commentators who, if given the chance, would gladly sing the praises of those and other trailblazers.

PBS’s Pioneers of Television Takes on Superheroes

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This past week PBS ran an episode of their Pioneers of Television dedicated to television shows based on superheroes. The episode was fantastic filled with small nuggets of information that might have been new to even the most dedicated of fans. And for folks who don’t know history, it’s a great overview of what’s come before.

Almost American
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