Category: Brainiac On Banjo

Brainiac On Banjo #079: The Future of Comics?

Brainiac On Banjo #079: The Future of Comics?

In these disease-ridden times, it is quite natural for us to be preoccupied with matters of life, health, and continuity. But it is equally logical to assume that someday this will pass, and most all of us will be around the celebrate.

Well, I hate to be a buzzkill, but on that much anticipated day… that’s when we step into deep pile of fresh economic bat-dung. Lots of people are going to be hurting bad for money – I’m writing this on Sunday, so I can’t check out my retirement fund, and that is a relief. I suspect almost as many are going to be hurting for jobs.

This hurts all of us, but it likely will be devastating to Mom ’n’ Pop stores, cockroach capitalists, and to self-employed folks of all stripes. In other words, I’m talking about the network of maybe a couple thousand (on a good day) comic book stores. Therefore, I’m also talking about the future of the “smaller” comics publishers, their staffs, writers, artists, and the related backroom activities like distributors necessary to keep everything moving. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #079: The Future of Comics?”

Brainiac On Banjo 078: Self-Image For Fun & Profit

Brainiac On Banjo 078: Self-Image For Fun & Profit

Thank heaven for little girls / For little girls get / Bigger every day / Thank heaven for little girls / They grow up in / The most delightful way • Thank Heaven For Little Girls, written by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe for the musical Gigi, 1958.

I was a wee child, a kitchen table conversation happened that, I gather, was not meant to include me. My sister, seven years my senior, was talking about some sort of a problem with body tenderness. My mother suggested perhaps she should use a training bra.

I was confused. I knew what a bra was, but I failed to understand the “training” part. As far as I could tell, breasts kinda grew all on their own and there was no need for coaching. I probably asked a lot of dumb questions, because, well, that’s what I do. I got a lot of blank stares. Hey, it was the mid-1950s; adults didn’t even admit to having bowel movements back then.

As I grew into my role as a hyper-involved pop culture historian, I came across various articles and resources that explained to me that “training bras” were sold to girls so that they might grow into the self-image of womanhood while they were awaiting the more physical image of womanhood. Like it or not, they were gonna become consumers and that was what the “training” part was all about.

According to JSTOR Daily, the period between 1921 and 1930 (when the middle class had a few bucks) clothing manufacturers started pushing age-and-gender specific clothing. In order to sell their phony-baloney products, they had to convince the customers that they really needed to buy that which they never knew they needed. That’s capitalism for you: we’ll talk you into overpaying for something you don’t need, and then sell you something else when you figure out you’ve been had. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo 078: Self-Image For Fun & Profit”

Brainiac On Banjo #077: Disasterbaiting – The Lighter Side of Doom

Brainiac On Banjo #077: Disasterbaiting – The Lighter Side of Doom

I learned our government must be strong / It’s always right and never wrong / Our leaders are the finest men / And we elect them again and again • “What Did We Learn In School Today?” written by Tom Paxton, 1964.

It does not matter if your favorite movies and teevee shows and steamers have halted production – as most have. Theaters and binging parties and gas stations and toilet paper are history, at least for the nonce. Most sex workers are off the stroll but, hey, soft white gloves are impossible to find, so WTF.

Therefore, as a card-carrying obnoxious bastard (yes; I have a card – as does our Pop Culture Squad HBIC), I decided to bother a bunch of friends, contacts, and complete strangers who can mumble through their useless face masks. Hey, it’s a living. I asked them the following question:

“How does the ‘Hollywood’ shutdown affect you personally?” Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #077: Disasterbaiting – The Lighter Side of Doom”

Brainiac On Banjo #076: King Of Fame

Brainiac On Banjo #076: King Of Fame

There’s a blind man looking for a shadow of doubt / There’s a rich man sleeping on a golden bed / There’s a skeleton choking on a crust of bread / King of pain • “King of Pain,” written by Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner CBE, a.k.a. Sting. Fun Fact: Sting wrote this little ditty while staying at Ian Fleming’s former Goldeneye estate in Jamaica. If you don’t get the connection, hang on … you will.

As one can determine from my frequent incursions into Earth-Ether, when it comes to Tom King I’ve been a fan since “A Once Crowded Sky.” His work on The Vision, Mister Miracle, Batman, various incarnations of Robin, and a whole lot more screams for itself, to borrow from civil rights activist Clara Luper.

Because of these acts of commotion, I have had more than a few inquiries as to the heat of my appreciation for his brand spanking new Strange Adventures series, which is all about Adam Strange, who has been one of my very favorite DC characters since I first encountered Showcase #17. Seriously – I had just finished a check-up from my pediatrician back in 1958, and my mother had to fill a prescription at the drug store downstairs. No, I did not drive there. I took the bus. C’mon; I just turned eight. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #076: King Of Fame”

Brainiac On Banjo #075: Nice Guys Finish

Brainiac On Banjo #075: Nice Guys Finish

If you’re a regular reader of this slice of pop culture pie, you might be surprised by today’s week-opener. Perhaps you should get comfortable, put down the vape pen and pull over to the shoulder. We’ll discuss your driving habits later.

I’m very disappointed Dan DiDio is no longer co-publisher at DC Comics… even though I still don’t understand how you can have “co-publishers.” But that is not something we’ll discuss later. It’s Publishing, and that’s the next town over from Chinatown.

On many occasions I have used this vessel of bubbling hot ether to criticize Dan and DC – and Marvel, for that matter – for being too quick on the reboot pedal. I won’t repeat myself at this time (except in my sleep) because you get it. You might not agree, which is fine, you might agree, which is fun, or you might be somewhere in between. No matter. I remain disappointed.

As I have only a limited ability to convincingly blow smoke up a great many asses simultaneously, I shall share my reasons. First, and most important, as publisher Dan was not afraid of trying out new things and new approaches. Because necessity is indeed the mother of invention, this is – to me – is the most important skill set a publisher can have… and Mark Waid, who has just taken a similar position at Humanoids, Inc. should consider this license.

Wednesday Comics, the most ambitious endeavor DC had undertaken this century, was created by Mark Chairello when Dan was DC’s executive editor; he green-lit it, which is part of the job. Mark said Dan (and then-publisher Paul Levitz; DC goes through more publishers than CatCo) were constantly after him to edit something. He sure did.

I could cite many more examples – his interest in many of DC’s lesser-known characters led to some wonderful character revivals. Every such example entails risk, and if too many of those risks do not pay off, one’s job can be handed over to somebody else. It also provides fodder for Brutus when corporate politics goes nuts. Of course, corporate politics is a self-replicating virus that it is nuts – and almost always is anti-creative. Publishing is a very risky business.

It’s also one that does not inure to the expansion of your database of friends. Not everybody is going to accept your weird ideas, particularly when someone thinks that their toes are being tread on. Imagine how Curt Swan might have felt when he was offed from Superman.

Fact is, Dan has quite a reputation as a nice guy. From his many associates and his great many convention appearances, it is clear he is the real thing… unless, perhaps, you feel it is your ox who is about to be gored. Sadly, that comes with the job.

My personal experiences with DiDio are limited. He was overwhelmingly kind to me at his Suicide Squad movie pre-party and at the world premiere; I hadn’t worked for DC for a while, and he was under no obligation to be so swell. Sometime later, I was at my old pal Jamie Graham’s booth – Graham Crackers, get it? – at some comic book convention (after over a half-century, they all run together), and Dan was there, diving through the long boxes trying to complete his collection of Marvel ComicsWhere Monsters Dwell – which, after all, was a reprint title. He looked up, very slightly embarrassed, and pointed out that he was, after all, a comics fan and collector.

Damn straight, pal! That should be in every comics publisher’s job description. Every single one. And here’s the best reason: whenever corporate brings in somebody from Earth-Prime who thinks publishing comic books is the same as publishing greeting cards or hawking toothpaste, they fail. Always. They also make asses of themselves.

The good publishers only make asses of themselves when it sells comic books. That’s called “priorities.”

Should Dan have been fired? I don’t know. There are plenty of rumors, but decades ago I learned such rumors are at best untrustworthy and, more likely, complete bullshit. I don’t know. You don’t know. I wouldn’t be surprised if DiDio still doesn’t know the complete story. Did I mention corporate politics are so revulsive I wouldn’t be surprised if AT&T eventually hires Donald Trump for the gig?

I hope Dan remains in the comics racket. So many long boxes, so little time.

Brainiac On Banjo #074: Weed Thrills – The Stunning Conclusion!

Brainiac On Banjo #074: Weed Thrills – The Stunning Conclusion!

Previously… On Brainiac On Banjo: 52 years ago, a Chicago police sergeant coerced your writer, at the time not quite 18 years old, into purchasing a nickel bag of the Demon Weed marijuana at an anteroom of an L train station, upon pain of arrest for possession of same. This led your writer to a life of lawbreaking, senior delinquency and sarcasm. In describing the event, your writer indulged in dropping the names of architect Andrea Palladio and musician Rick Nielsen, so we should add “pretension” to that list as well. We now reenter our WABAC machine, throw an ancient knife-switch and flow up the timesteam to… 2019… starting with a song lyric from 1968.

The future’s comin’ in, now / Sweet and strong / Ain’t no-one gonna hold it back for long / There are new dreams / Crowdin’ out old realities / There’s revolution / Sweepin’ in like a fresh new breeze / Let the old world make believe / It’s blind and deaf and dumb, but / Nothing can change the shape of things to come • written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil

You can only imagine the magnificent confusion I felt fifty-one years later when my daughter and I made our post-legalization visit to Massachusetts. Yes, I brought my daughter to a legal weed shop. I don’t tell you how to raise your kids, do I? And, besides, she’s a full-fledged adult, easily more adult than I am.

It’s about a seventy-five minute drive to Northampton, MA, which is no big deal to me. I routinely drive much further for great barbecue, and, besides, Northampton has some great barbecue. It’s a wonderful town, home to Smith College, and sort of a flashback to those thrilling days of yesteryear. The town is littered with bookstores, cafes, good restaurants that are slightly underpriced, amusing earthy tchotchkes shops, and politically active and socially aware humans. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #074: Weed Thrills – The Stunning Conclusion!”

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”

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.

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…”

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!”