36. Gratitude for Love, Life, and Comics!

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This is page 3 from “The Awakening of Edzl, or Yes, We Have Some Nibbanas: Episode One: Spaced!” This will be the first story in the first issue of “Pause & Reflect Comics,” a work in progress. At least I think so –things may change before the comic is ready for publication. Edzl, the green guy with the worried expression, is fated to encounter the teachings of the Buddha, but first there’s the little matter of dealing with “the dreaded Klargog space pirates.” A goofy-looking extraterrestrial encounters the Dharma in a comic book (where else?). I want to get this right, so I’m in no hurry. Besides, I’m having too much fun to hurry the process.

On this Thanksgiving day, I’m feeling deeply grateful that I am healthy and have the time to make comics.

Above all, I’m grateful that I have a wonderful partner, Cameron, who is the love of my life and my best friend in the entire multiverse.

I am similarly grateful for the Dharma and for my comfort. Buddha taught that for people to even begin to grasp the Dharma, there were four requisites: food, clothing, shelter, and medicine. When your survival is in doubt, meditation and contemplation of the Dharma are not likely to be options. Sometimes, despite all the violence and suffering in this world, I feel like I’m living in a “heaven realm.” I’ve had the comfort and security that many lack and consequently I’ve been able to learn something of the Buddha’s remedy for unhappiness.

There’s an old Buddhist question I first heard from Stephen Batchelor: “Death is certain. Time of death is uncertain. What should I do?”

Make comic books? Really? Isn’t that irresponsible and childish? Bill Maher might think so. He recently spread some ire towards comic fans. On his blog he wrote:

Now, I have nothing against comic books – I read them now and then when I was a kid and I was all out of Hardy Boys. But the assumption everyone had back then, both the adults and the kids, was that comics were for kids, and when you grew up you moved on to big-boy books without the pictures.

His post was a response to the grief in the comics community over the death of Stan Lee, the comic writer, editor and collaborator behind many Marvel Comics. I understand that a lot of the old comics were about little boy power fantasies. I understand about Maher’s concern about a society that seems to him to avoid adult responsibilities. Bill Griffith, veteran comic strip and comic book artist and a wonderfully creative social satirist, has made some pithy comments on “kidult” culture.

But Maher actually blames Trump on people who like comics:

I don’t think it’s a huge stretch to suggest that Donald Trump could only get elected in a country that thinks comic books are important.

Sorry, Mr. Maher. That is a huge stretch –one that Jack Cole’s Plastic Man or Mr. Fantastic of the “Fantastic Four” (created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee), would have trouble making despite their super-powered elasticity. In this case I think Maher is following Trump’s example of spreading ill will by disrespecting something about which he obviously knows very little. I’ve written in previous posts about some of the people who are bringing comics up to new standards and feel confident that Maher is dismissing their efforts without having the slightest clue about them. And there’s nothing wrong (or necessarily right-wing) with comics as entertainment. Yeah, I know -gratuitous violence and sexism is in the superhero history. And I’m not too interested in a lot of the superhero stuff that’s going on currently. But I really do like the Black Panther movie. It’s got more going for it than explosions and spandex. It actually looks at racism and colonialism, but yes, mostly it’s entertainment. That’s OK!

Also, there are other countries out there who value comics more than in the U.S. Japan is one and there are strong comic traditions in most of Europe. I suspect there are others that I don’t know about as well.

My opinion of Stan Lee is colored by a bias. I tend to believe that Jack Kirby and other artists at Marvel did more of the work for considerably less of the credit than Stan Lee garnered. (Black Panther was another Jack Kirby creation, by the way.) This opinion mostly comes from being familiar with Kirby’s work. I could tell he was not only drawing a lot of the stories at Marvel, but writing them too. When Kirby moved to DC Comics, there was a story in his wonderful Mister Miracle series that obviously parodied Stan Lee. “Funky Flashman” was the name of the story and the Stan Lee-like character. Here’s a panel (unfortunately in black and white) that succinctly describes the character:

Mr Miracle

Funky is supposed to be a promoter, but is mostly interested in promoting himself. He’s in love with the sound of his own voice and oblivious to the reality around him. (Sound like anyone you know?) Funky is a phony, an arrogant egotist. But even when his schemes end in disaster, Funky is a survivor who lands on his feet and who’s high opinion of himself doesn’t falter. There is a grudging respect in Kirby’s comic take on Lee.

In the same way I honor Stan Lee. I never met the man and I’m sure he had facets to his personality and impact that I know nothing about. But he definitely had a part in shaping comics and helping them thrive.

I hope Bill Maher enjoyed the Hardy Boy novels when he was a boy. I think I read one or two of the series, but I don’t really remember them. But Will Eisner, Walt Kelly, Carl Barks and many others were making quality comics back then that were, in my opinion, more entertaining and, speaking of stretching, considerably more imaginative.

I’m an unknown comic artist making comics that probably will also be unknown after I’m gone, but I am still profoundly grateful to so many comic creators and cartoonists out there and to the fact that I’m free to do my best in this wide-open potentially mind-boggling field.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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