Author: Mike Gold

Brainiac On Banjo #073: Weed Thrills, Part One

Brainiac On Banjo #073: Weed Thrills, Part One

So, what’s it like to wake up one morning after a decade-long nap only to discover that you have to take your shoes off at the airport, same-sex marriage is legal and you can buy the demon weed marijuana over-the-counter in 17 states and counting?

I dunno. Go ask a Trumper.

Marijuana has been a major part of our popular culture for over a half-century and was a significant background aspect for at least another 30 years. It has ruined many lives: hundreds of thousands of largely young people have been arrested and imprisoned for using the stuff, particularly in America’s communities of color. Once imprisoned you are forever a convict and life after incarceration has been pretty well laid out for you: minimum wage jobs if you’re lucky, restrictions on your movements locally and internationally at least while you’re on parole, and ostracization by the masses of hypocritical assholes who think your private behavior is any of their business. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #073: Weed Thrills, Part One”

Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mind #076: Supremacists Aren’t Responsible For This One

Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mind #076: Supremacists Aren’t Responsible For This One

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” – William Shakespeare. As said by Cassius to Brutus in Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141), and as said by Edward R. Morrow to America, March 9, 1954.

As much as I’d like to blame the well-fueled white supremacists for everything from the disappearance of Liquid Paper to the snow I probably just drove through this morning in northern Ohio, I cannot blame this one on them. I mean, sure, I could, and I doubt they’re helping any…

In the past two weeks, the drop off in business at Asian restaurants and take-outs across the United States has reached at least as high as 60%. That means that if you owned a nice fusion joint in a shopping strip in a middle-class neighborhood and your rent is due soon, you may be screwed.

I get it. People are worried out of their skulls because of the rapidly-expanding coronavirus plague, and we do wacky stuff when we’re paranoid. We saw similar knee-jerk reactions to 9/11, which ruined Dennis Miller’s relationship with his centrist fans but, nonetheless, gave Joe Biden his all-time best joke: “There’s only three things he (Rudy Giuliani) mentions in a sentence: a noun, a verb and 9/11.” Ba-dum-bump. But as the fear subsided, so did the many of the more extreme reactions. Well, maybe not in Miller’s case. Continue reading “Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mind #076: Supremacists Aren’t Responsible For This One”

Brainiac On Banjo #072: Grave New World

Brainiac On Banjo #072: Grave New World

I dream of cherry pies / Candy bars, and chocolate chip cookies / We used to microwave / Now we just eat nuts and berries / This was a discount store / Now it’s turned into a cornfield / You’ve got it, you’ve got it / Don’t leave me stranded here / I can’t get used to this lifestyle – (Nothing But) Flowers, David Byrne

I have spent my entire life being a collector.

No, not a debt collector or a tax collector, not even a rubber band collector. I am a stuff collector, and I mean “stuff” in the George Carlin sense of the term. I collect music (over 43,000 tracks, thank you), I collect comic books, I collect books about comic books, I collect books in general. I collect movies, teevee shows, artwork… all kinds of stuff.

The question “now where do I put this?” spikes my second biggest fear. My biggest fear is having to move all my stuff from the house that has warehoused my collections for almost a third of a century, abetted by the many collections possessed by my daughter and my late wife. Comics collections from the three of us, a legion of statues, enough history books to fill a wing at the Library of Congress, flicks I am dying to see again but won’t live long enough to do so… All this has combined to define the most consistent and most dominant part of my life. But moving it all to another place will look a lot like photos of those ancient, beautiful houses that somehow get boosted onto a flatbed truck and taken cross-town so developers who bribed their way into eminent domain can turn the land into a parking lot.

This hasn’t been an investment thing, and in that I am lucky. If all this stuff was here to make money, I’d have to go down to Wall Street and jump out of a window. This is because, aside from the Daffy Duck “I WANT IT” syndrome, today nearly all that stuff, no matter what it is, is available digitally. A 30-terabyte hard disc drive will house it all in a box that is much smaller than the Collected Works of Michael Moorcock. Of course, with all the streaming services around covering virtually all media, you really don’t even need that disc drive.

It’s possible that moving or disposing my collections will not be my problem. It might become my daughter’s problem. Hey, none of us are getting any younger (you’ve probably noticed that) and, whereas that’s a nasty trick to play on her, she is merely 25 years my younger and I’d like to be around to see her have decide what to sell and what really neat shit to hold on to. Sort of a Sophie’s Choice… without the “wait; you’re going to kill one of my kids??” bit.

Overall, this is a rather minor concern. There are much more important things to be concerned about. I don’t wake up in a cold sweat thinking about this, although I’m certain I will if I ever have to move it. I’ve enjoyed this stuff and, besides, maybe the tons of dust my collections gather will cure cancer or the common cold or something. I mean, look, we do not know why the guy who first looked at penicillin in a petri dish said “Wow! Cool!! I think I’m going to hit this shit up!” However, I do wonder if, at that time, this cat had the clap.

You know the old phrase “Evolution Happens.” Well, okay, I poured some artistic license over that one, but you get the point. The focus should be on content and not possession. Buddha had tons of material possessions, as the story goes, but he gave it all away to charity. I wonder which charity would be most interested in my Steve Ditko collection.

Like most of us who have a strong sense of wonder but a short attention span, I always have endeavored to embrace change. But making plans for one’s personal end times is a whole ‘nother thing. I think it takes well over a decade to work all this stuff out but… Hello! Short attention span, remember?

The contradiction in this labor is that I’ve spent my entire lifetime acquiring all this stuff. My thinking about eliminating it, no matter how remarkably logical it is to do so, feels as though I am invalidating my mission, my passion for existence.

And you wonder why old men scream at the clouds.

Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mind #076: God Bless VespucciLand!

Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mind #076: God Bless VespucciLand!

The Indian went walkin’ ‘round and sat upon the hill to watch the sun go down / But he couldn’t find his people, he got up and walked away / And he sat beside the fire, and gave out a sigh / We’re all forgotten now / Where is my tomahawk? / My days are gone / Where is my tent? / Where is my planting ground? / Where is my land? / This reservation’s wrong / Who’s this white man? – written by John Michael Talbot and Terry Nolan Talbot, recorded by Mason Proffit.

The honest answer to the provocative question “Where are Indians from?” is “not from India.” Of course, I’m referring to the India near the Indian Ocean, and I’m referring to people whose roots go back to, or before, the 15th Century.

The area that we call India today consists of several hundred different historical kingdoms lumped into the name Bharat. I can argue in favor of the name Sindhu, which got corrupted into the name Indus. The fact is, Bharat was the unofficial united states of India. Or Hindustan, another faux name. If each individual kingdom that composed India were separate today, there would be some 600 more tables at the United Nations.

There’s a lot more I can say about all this, but the point is, India wasn’t commonly or exclusively called India until the British decided it should be. That was way back in the 17th Century, or about a century or so after Christopher Columbus’s death. So, when he talked about Indians, who was he talking about? Continue reading “Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mind #076: God Bless VespucciLand!”

Brainiac On Banjo #071: To Baldly Go…

Brainiac On Banjo #071: To Baldly Go…

Star Trek Picard started up a couple days ago, so if you know any ViacomCBS executives, now it a good time to hit ‘em up for a loan.

I can’t say I’m a huge Trekker. I saw the first episode at broadcast and thought it was decent but not particularly compelling. The next day, a young lady who held my interest told me she thought it was the Citizen Kane of television (I paraphrase) so, in order to show her how hip I was, I became a regular viewer. Look, I was hardly the first 16-year-old whose hormones determined his television-viewing decisions.

Sadly, the show held my attention longer than my puppy lust. There were some extremely weak episodes, particularly in the third season, and often I was afraid Captain Kirk was going to leap out of the boob tube and run away with my dinner. But as television went back in those days, it was pretty good and, at times, excellent.

Two decades later, Paramount launched Next Generation. I thought it was a very interesting idea, but I saw the broadcast at a Brandeis University comics convention under less-than-perfect circumstances, in a room filled with college-age fans who were pre-ordained to perceive every fart as a rose – and vice versa. I liked the show, loved the tribute to the original series, and found much of the cast to be first-rate. The writing was a bit weak in the beginning, but it improved around season three.

But this Patrick Stewart guy who headed up the show was magnetizing. In a room filled with Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts graduates, Stewart could grab your attention and imprint himself onto your synapses. I’m not a sucker for the British accent – at least, not when deployed by the male gender – but this man fit the Del Close definition of subtext. And most things Star Trek have a lot of subtext. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #071: To Baldly Go…”

Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mind #075: Fake History, Real Heroes

Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mind #075: Fake History, Real Heroes

Last Saturday saw the fourth annual Women’s Rights Day with demonstrations all over the nation, many in very inclement weather. This year’s march was fueled in part by the calendar: 2020 is the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, expanding the ability to vote to those without that icky Y chromosome.

I have slightly mixed feeling about that. Every egalitarian victory should be celebrated, but, damn, why should we get all enthused over 144 years of denying half of our population the right to participate in our vaunted democracy? Whereas I can hold a grudge until it screams, we should be educating citizens current and future to all the limitations we have placed on women, including those many that have not been sliced from our massive national discrimination pie.

However, the National Archives celebrates that victory by layering it with a purposely misleading patina of truthiness. They maliciously chose to alter it, and in complete contradiction to their mission, they celebrated women’s suffrage under a veil of lies. Continue reading “Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mind #075: Fake History, Real Heroes”

Brainiac On Banjo #070: When In Space, Dress For Success!

Brainiac On Banjo #070: When In Space, Dress For Success!

Before I start, I want to point out that I know today is Monday and it’s time for “Brainiac On Banjo,” where I wax on and on about comics and pop culture. I realize it is not Thursday, where, in “Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mind,” I do my seditious and sometimes salacious political rants. So, given today’s location, I’m going to do something I rarely do in “Weird Scenes.” I am going to let Donald Trump off the hook.

For a week now, the wires and tubes have been buzzing about the new, official costume of the new, official U.S. Space Force. Allegedly our sixth branch of the armed forces, it’s merely a part of the U.S. Air Force, the way the Air Force – then called the Air Corps – used to be part of the U.S. Army. But don’t bother Mr. Trump with that. Right now, he’s busy.

Yes, I know that some people call them uniforms but my pal, writer, former DC Comics editor and New Jersey bon vivant Jack C. Harris called ‘em costumes when he was in the Air Force, and so, I’ve absconded with it. If that pisses you off, well, no disrespect is meant… to you. Unless your last name is Westmoreland or Schwarzkopf. Damn, I am getting political. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #070: When In Space, Dress For Success!”

Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mind #074: Let’s Work Together?

Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mind #074: Let’s Work Together?

Together we’ll stand / Divided we’ll fall / Come on now, people / Let’s get on the ball / And work together / Come on, come on / Let’s work together / Now, now people / Because together we will stand / Every boy, girl, woman and man – Wilbert Harrison, “Future Blues”

As I was watching the seven House managers march across the Capitol Building to deliver the impeachment papers to the Senate, I was wondering how many people felt this was just the latest parade before End Times. Not the biblical End Times where Putin and Netanyahu paint “666” on Trump’s forehead, but an indication of America, as we know it, coming to an end.

The best way, in my opinion (shared by several others) to prevent America’s End Time is to be rid of the aforementioned Great Evil, Mr. Trump – if not in the highly unlikely event of a guilty verdict in the impeachment trial that begins Tuesday, then at the polls this November. That will be tough as well, because already several hundred thousand likely Democratic voters already have been tossed off the rolls. The Republicans firmly believe they can do what the Russians can do, but without all those tubes and wires. Maybe so. Probably so, unless, as Wilbert Harrison wrote decades ago, we work together to make our stand against the greatest evil America has ever faced on its own shores. Continue reading “Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mind #074: Let’s Work Together?”

Brainiac On Banjo #069: Breathtaker – Now It Can Be Told!

Brainiac On Banjo #069: Breathtaker – Now It Can Be Told!

In my career as a comic book editor-provocateur, I have had the privilege of assisting the birth of several remarkable projects. Two such projects were offered to me by the same team: writer/artists Mark Wheatley and Marc Hempel. Oh, sure, they went on individually to do brilliant stuff such as Blood of the Innocent, Tarzan, The Sandman, Gregory, Frankenstein’s Mobster and The Escapist, but all that happened after I received their pitch for Mars.

I was editor-in-chief at First Comics, and I was specifically looking for a project that was completely original and produced by “newcomers” (quotes are due to that “overnight sensation” thing). Joe Staton and Bruce Patterson, our art director and production manager respectively, tossed the Mars proposal onto my lap and said “read this.” Not “read this, please” or “I think this is what you’re looking for;” nope, just read this.

I did, and then I called Wheatley and Hempel. As I recall, their agent was noted comics writer, marketer, publisher, and all-around swell guy Mike Friedrich. Quite rapidly, we had a deal.

After the first issues were finished and we started our promotion work, one of the major comics distributors – there actually used to be over a dozen! – told me I was making a big mistake. Nobody heard of these guys. I pointed out that nobody had heard of Mark Twain until he got published. I was told the story lacked commercial appeal. I responded, “how do you know they aren’t mutants?” Yeah, back in those days I could be quite stubborn or, as I prefer to think of it, an asshole for the cause of good.

We published the series and it became a cult classic. My definition of a cult classic was a highly regarded comic book whose sales were outflanked by the comp list. Mars did well enough and if it sold in those same volume today it would be a twice-weekly book, but the numbers weren’t likely to confound Alan Turing. It had enormous word-of-mouth going for it as well, and that inured to the benefit of the First Comics legend.

Flash forward six years to 1990. Despite the fact that Hempel was hospitalized during his time on Mars, they pitched me another project. By this time, I was a group editor and director of editorial development at DC Comics, and my job was to boldly acquire weird shit that no one had acquired before. I heard their pitch for Breathtaker in a backroom at some huge comics convention. I went for it in a heartbeat, my boss Dick Giordano was ecstatic about it (Dick had a great eye for weird shit), and we produced and published Breathtaker… Despite Hempel’s return to the hospital.

But that’s when things got dicey. Our publisher, Jenette Kahn, a fine person who had earned my respect several years before she got into comics, took one look at the cover and said it seemed like we were mocking concentration camp victims. It’s 30 years later, and I still don’t get that. But word got out that Jenette didn’t like the book. Well, that’s not true. She didn’t like the cover, and she could have called for a new one, or she could have canned the book outright. She did not, but our crack marketing department saw the onus as clear as day.

DC’s marketing director had a reputation for not putting much muscle behind comics that didn’t have a batcape and didn’t kill off anybody important. When Breathtaker was released the only people who knew about it were Wheatley and Hempel’s relatives and those friends of mine who remained amused by my incessant bitching. Despite this, the books sold well, and it got itself a trade paperback collection, which I believe went through a few printings.

Still onus-laden, Mark and Marc got the rights back – eventually. We reprinted it over at IDW in 2005, which was about the time something really interesting happened. The Normal Rockwell Museum was putting on an exhibition of some two dozen graphic novels, and Breathtaker was among those selected. We had an entire wall in their truly breathtaking museum. We were invited to the opening and they even threw us all a wonderful feast – after which many of the museum curators brought out their personal comics for us to sign.

From time to time, the museum put together a travelling version of the exhibit, and it’s still going on. According to the press release,

“Wheatley and Hempel’s Insight Studios Group will mount the “Breathtaker Exhibition,” which was created by the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts and will appear at McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. With more than 90 original works of art, the exhibition explores the creative and physical processes that were undertaken during the original production … The exhibition will be on view August 24, 2020 through October 30, 2020.”

I should point out that McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland is just outside of Baltimore, near the abodes of the Breathtaker creators. That is sweet.

I should also point out that Breathtaker is being rereleased in collected edition by my old, old buddy Nick Landau (thanks for the sexy Hitler comic, Nick!) and his Titan Books imprimatur. Oh, and while I’m at it, I will point out that Titan is issuing an all-new companion comic, I guess for those of us who have all-new companions.

For me, this is seriously cool. Mark and Marc have been two of my closest friends, and I remain in awe of their work. If you haven’t read Breathtaker, Landau is about to make it easy for you to correct that.

Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mind #073: Holiday In Tehran

Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mind #073: Holiday In Tehran

It’s time to taste what you most fear / Right Guard will not help you here / Brace yourself, my dear / Brace yourself, my dear – Holiday In Cambodia by the Dead Kennedys, 1980.

It was great fun watching Donald Trump and his Stooges run their victory lap yesterday. Let me paraphrase their comments: “Iran blinked.” Trump may very well be as stupid as his dangerous, but even I have a hard time believing the Great Orange Turd wasn’t knowingly lying through his teeth.

After Iran’s massive missile attacks that served as warning shots, followed by statements from Iranian leaders blatantly saying their response was just that, Trump says Iran blinked. If he really believes that, then he will continue to keep in jeopardy the lives of over 100,000 American troops – as well as that of his alleged best-bud Benji Netanyahu. Maybe Trump thinks that, since the Jews are the ones responsible for his impeachment (source: statement made January 6 by Delaware Republican Party official Nelly Jordan), he can get back to his family’s legacy of hating the Hebes so, hey, screw Benji.

Iran bombed the shit out of two of our bases in Iraq Tuesday night. They were meticulous in not killing Americans, Iranians, or (I take it) Iraqis. Then they said, and again I paraphrase, this town isn’t big enough for the two of us, and if we don’t get out or if we assassinate any more Iranian leaders, they will move their bombsites a little bit to the right and blow our troops to kingdom come. That is the textbook definition of a warning shot. Stop listening to the babblings of Trump’s lying toadies: the absolute truth is that, Wednesday night, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made Donald Trump dance in a hail of missile fire. Continue reading “Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mind #073: Holiday In Tehran”