Tag: Race

Race and April O'Neil

This post recycles some bits of previous posts I wrote on Brontoforumus (2013-11-15) and the Avocado (2017-11-06).

There's a new TMNT cartoon series coming, Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Here's a video introducing the cast:

I don't recognize any of those people except the guy who plays Big Head on Silicon Valley, but they look like a good group, assembled by new voice director Rob Paulsen (who played Raphael on the 1987 cartoon series and Donatello on the 2012 one).

An E! article aptly titled Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Makes History With Kat Graham as First African-American April O'Neil had this to say:

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are back—with a historical twist. Nickelodeon is returning to 2D for the new animated series Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with a new voice cast including The Vampire Diaries' Kat Graham as April O'Neil, marking the first time April has been portrayed as an African-American.

And while this is a first for cross-media adaptations of TMNT, and a milestone to be celebrated, it's not quite the whole story. In the original Mirage comics series, April's race is ambiguous.

In her first appearance, in issue #2, she looks like this:

April O'Neil's first appearance: straight hair

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #2
By Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird
© 1985 Nickelodeon
Scan courtesy of Ian Pérez Zayas

That look is clearly the basis for her design in the cartoon a few years later, which every subsequent version has been based on.

But in #4, she got a redesign:

April O'Neil redesign: curly black hair

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #4
By Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird
© 1985 Nickelodeon
Scan courtesy of Ian Pérez Zayas

And that's more or less what she looked like for the duration of the original Mirage run.

I cribbed both of those scans from Ian Pérez Zayas's website, Chasing Sheep, which has a seven-part series on this subject called A Visual History of April O'Neil. Those pieces are exhaustive and I recommend you read them; they go into far more detail than I'm going into here.

At any rate, many readers saw April's design in the Mirage comics and inferred that she was African-American.

So was that deliberate? Well, yes and no. Here's what co-creator Peter Laird had to say about it:

[I]t depends on which co-creator of the TMNT you ask. If you ask me, I always saw April O'Neil as white. If you ask Kevin, I suspect he would say -- as he has in a number of interviews -- that she was of mixed race, much like his former girlfriend (then wife, then ex-wife) April.

Unfortunately, I can't find any of those "number of interviews" online. (Warning: do not search for "April O'Neil" at work.) But here's the best reference I can find, from the Talk section on the April O'Neil Wikipedia entry:

I found a blog in which the writer talks to creators Eastman and Laird about April's look in the early Mirage comics. Eastman says that he thought of her as a fair-skinned Black woman like her namesake (and his first wife) April Fisher. The last name O'Neil and the later comic/other media look as a white redhead was Laird's vision. Eastman's drawing was what we saw due to his being better at drawing women. Source? http://the-5th-turtle.blogspot.com/2007/12/pieces-of-april.html?showComment=1199129280001

The 5th Turtle was Steve Murphy's blog. Unfortunately, it's been down for years, and the post linked above is not available at archive.org.

But there's a 1991 article from the Greensboro News & Record that says this:

[Eastman] settles into a sofa beside girlfriend April Fisher - the model for one of the characters in his comic books - and chats about how the turtles have changed his life.

So it seems pretty clear that Eastman based April's name and appearance on his then-girlfriend, April Fisher, and intended for her to be African-American, but that he apparently never mentioned this to Laird, who always thought of April O'Neil as caucasian.

Now, it does seem a bit odd that Laird wouldn't make the connection given April's name, but I've got a theory: he knew that April O'Neil was named after April Fisher, but didn't know that she was visually based on her. So, why wouldn't he have made that connection? Well, here's a picture of Kevin Eastman's second wife, Julie Strain:

Julie Strain has curly black hair

Courtesy of Wikipedia/Wikimedia Commons
Do not search for "Julie Strain" at work either.

So I'm thinkin' dude has a type.

At any rate, Kat Graham will be the first African-American actress to play April O'Neil. Congratulations to her, and I look forward to the new show.

Flake Out

Arizona Senator Jeff Flake announced last week that he wouldn't seek another Senate term. It's not at all clear what that means yet.

I didn't like Flake, but I thought he was a better choice than "Chemtrail" Kelli Ward, the Bannon-endorsed candidate who was running against him in the primary (and, according to current polls, was likely to beat him handily). I was strongly considering voting for Flake in the primary and against him in the general.

I don't agree with Flake on the vast majority of issues, but I think he really is sincere, honest, and principled. He helped save Scalise's life after the shooting in June, and never tried to make political hay of it. He defended a possible Democratic opponent against his own supporters when they smeared her for being Muslim. When other Republicans were canceling town halls, he faced an audience of protesters and even stayed late to talk to people one-on-one. Hell, here's a video where he holds the door open for someone following him around in a chicken costume.

All in all, I think Flake is probably a decent human being. I think his criticisms of Trump come from a place of genuine moral concern, not political calculation. (And if it was political calculation, oof, he sure miscalculated.) That said, his objections to Trump seem to be almost entirely on tone, not on substance; he agrees with Trump on economics, healthcare, choice, and government surveillance, to pick a few nasty examples off the top of my head.

But, non-trivially, he's strongly criticized Trump's racism. He vocally opposed Trump's travel ban, and for years he's one of a handful of congressional Republicans who's favored immigration reform. That doesn't excuse all the issues I disagree with him on, strongly, but I do think it's worth recognizing and praising a bad politician who does a good thing.

But I'm not gonna miss the guy. At least, not unless somebody even worse takes his seat.

Right now the frontrunners for the nomination are Kelli Ward (R) and Kyrsten Sinema (my rep, the most conservative Democrat in the House). But that could change.

FiveThirtyEight has a pretty good article called How Does Jeff Flake’s Retirement Change The Arizona Senate Race? and KJZZ's The Show had a discussion about Flake as well. Both pieces note that, while Ward's currently the Republican frontrunner by default, there's plenty of time for another candidate to enter the primary. In fact, that's almost certainly what Flake is counting on: he wants his seat to be filled by someone who's like him, but more electable. I see a lot of people saying Flake's a coward because he's quitting instead of staying and fighting, but quitting is honestly his best shot at keeping a Trump-friendly candidate out of his seat.

I think Sinema's got the best chance to win a Senate seat of any Arizona Democrat in thirty years. Just how good a chance isn't clear yet. Her conservative record, while deeply frustrating to liberal constituents like myself, will be an asset in a statewide election, she'll be running for an open seat instead of against an incumbent, and midterm elections usually favor the opposition party, especially if the President is incredibly unpopular. Flake's was the most vulnerable Republican seat in the Senate before he announced his retirement, and it still is.

But even assuming Sinema is the nominee -- and the primary's not until August -- we don't know who she'll be running against. I think she'd stand a good chance against Ward, but not decisively so; I'm legitimately worried that Ward could win.

And if it's not Ward, then who? We don't even know who else will enter the race at this point, if anyone. There's plenty of speculation -- Graham, DeWit, McSally, Schweikert -- but nobody's announced yet.

But shit, I'm getting ahead of myself. Never mind next year -- don't forget to vote next week.

Important Comics

Today's the anniversary of a couple of things.

It would have been Jack Kirby's 96th birthday.

And, more importantly -- as the King himself would surely have acknowledged --, it's the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington.

I was at a loss for precisely how I was going to tie these two events together in the same post -- and then I remembered Congressman John Lewis has a comic book out.

Stephen Colbert interviewed him a couple of weeks back:

Lewis discusses not only his new comic trilogy, March, but a comic that inspired him in 1957: Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story. An excellent summary by Andrew Aydin at Creative Loafing Atlanta says:

Richard Deats, [the Fellowship of Reconciliation]'s Director of Communications in the 1990s, laid out FOR's motivation and purpose behind the comic in a 1997 letter, saying, "The comic book was originally intended to convey to semiliterate persons the story of nonviolence and its effectiveness as seen in the Montgomery movement. The medium of the highly popular comic book was believed to be the best way to reach masses of exploited African-Americans."

And that's what comic books were: they were a way of reaching the masses. They were literature for the illiterate.

And as with all mass-media means of distributing information to the poor, this upset the elites.

When comics first appeared in American newspapers around the turn of the twentieth century, they were seen as gutter trash. In the decades that followed, they were scapegoated for society's ills, culminating in Senate hearings, the Comics Code Authority, and the devastation of an entire American art form.

In a way, Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story was exactly what the elites feared: it upset the social structure. It gave teenagers like John Lewis ideas.

It's ironic that the comics medium's greatest foe, Fredric Wertham, was also an ardent progressive in the Civil Rights Movement -- if he had never written Seduction of the Innocent, he would instead be best remembered for the doll study used in Brown v Board. Wertham was right, in a way, about comics' potential as a disruptive force, as a powerful tool for influencing young people -- but he chose to fear the imagined impact of fictional crime and horror stories, rather than see the true potential of comics as a force for good, for education, for organization, for social justice.

Kirby, of course, saw boundless potential in comics, in a way few people ever have. He used comics to advocate for social change, too, though he preferred fiction and metaphor, and is best remembered as a superhero artist (though his work crossed all genres and invented some). He saw superheroes as modern mythological figures -- as New Gods -- as aspirational avatars.

In the 1940's, Kirby co-created Captain America, advocating for US intervention in WWII when that was still a controversial position. In the 1970's, his Forever People were technologically-advanced, alien hippies. In the 1960's, The Fantastic Four gave us The Hate-Monger, a supervillain in a Klan hood who turned out to be Adolf Hitler himself. It also gave us this guy:

The Black Panther

That image is courtesy of Brian Cronin's Comic Book Legends Revealed, which notes that the Black Panther didn't look like that in the final published comic -- his half-mask was replaced with a full mask, making it less immediately obvious that the Black Panther was, in fact, a black man -- indeed, possibly the first black superhero. (Inevitably when you refer to a comic book character as "the first" of anything, that's going to lead to debate -- sometimes that debate can miss the point entirely and turn into mere nitpicking over comic book trivia, though other times, as in Who Was the First Black Superhero? by JV Halliburton II, it can explore the richness of comic history and highlight all the important characters who have helped to build and shape it and make it more diverse.)

Today Mark Evanier wrote a lovely remembrance of his friend and mentor, and among many other things he had this to say:

Jack was all about something new, something exciting and something that took whatever he was doing to the next level. [...] Jack was first and foremost interested in producing something that would take comics to some new plateau, creating new opportunities and new possibilities.

Kirby believed in comics. So did Martin Luther King and Alfred Hassler. So does John Lewis.

And so does Jillian Kirby. I've written before about her Kirby4Heroes fundraiser for the Hero Initiative, a charity that helps struggling comic creators. As we celebrate her grandfather's birthday, don't forget about the less fortunate who have helped shape the comics medium over the years and decades.

Private Prisons

I wrote something yesterday that forumgoer Mothra referred to as "a Thad mic drop", so I figured it might be a good idea to repost here. For posterity and stuff.

Mothra had brought up the Kids for Cash scandal, which has been in the news recently due to the Third Circuit's rejection of Mark Ciavarella's appeal.

The short version of the story is that two judges accepted bribes from the owner of a private juvenile detention center, in exchange for sending as many children there as possible.

I'm not a religious man, so when I say that there is a special place reserved in Hell for them, what I actually mean is "a minimum-security prison".

Anyhow, here's what I wrote yesterday; originally posted on Brontoforumus.

There are a lot of industries I hate. A lot I see as hopelessly, incurably corrupt, as industries whose very function is to profit from human suffering.

Health insurance. Investment banking. Oil and coal. Weapons. Newscorp.

But the private prison industry is the very worst.

The very proposition of creating a profit incentive for putting people in prison and keeping them there is one that should result in only two reactions: laughter that the notion is farcical; disgust at the realization that people are serious about it.

Have I mentioned the private prison lobby's role in crafting SB1070 lately? Because here, let me just link this again:

Prison Economics Help Drive Ariz. Immigration Law, by Laura Sullivan, NPR, 2010.

You who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears

On the Zimmerman verdict, I give these words by another man named Zimmerman.

Manchester, 1965; uploaded by godriczimmerman.

(A footnote: via Brian Cronin, Dylan took some creative liberties in the song. But the point remains: Zanzinger got off light.

But not as light as George Zimmerman.)

Maybe I'll have more on the Zimmerman story later. Or maybe I won't, because it's just too goddamn depressing.

Quantum and Woody and Complex Feelings

Quantum and Woody was something I loved when I was a teenager -- and then it went away. 13 years later it shows back up, but under less than ideal circumstances. It's not the book I remember, and I don't know if I should be happy it's back or pissed about it being something less than what I expected and hoped for.

Even if you've never read a Quantum and Woody comic before, I'm guessing that the previous paragraph was suitably unsubtle that you realized it was a metaphor for the plot of the comic.

I posted about the status of Quantum and Woody previously. The gist: the original comic was published by Acclaim, and the creators, Christopher Priest and Mark Bright, had a reversion clause in their contract that should have allowed them to buy out the copyrights to the comic after it went out of print. But Acclaim went bankrupt and the rights were sold at auction instead. They were eventually bought by a new company, Valiant (which takes its name from the Valiant Comics that Acclaim bought out in the first place, but is not the same company), which has opted to start a new series written by James Asmus and drawn by Tom Fowler.

Priest has said nothing about the new series, and Bright has said little -- but he did say that their relationship with Valiant is "amicable", and that was good enough for me to go ahead and pick up issue #1 of the new series.

It's...well, it's good, but it's not as good as the original.

First of all: it's not very funny.

I mean, I laughed a few times. But the biggest laugh was at a running gag from the old series. Technically it still counts as a joke -- they're invoking a running gag, not merely doing a Family Guy-style "Hey, remember that thing from that other thing?" -- but it's not Asmus and Fowler's joke, it's Priest and Bright's.

And the whole thing feels a little like that, really. The book doesn't just borrow the premise of the original, it borrows Priest's specific storytelling techniques -- it's got chapter titles with white text against a black background, and it jumps around and tells the story out-of-sequence. Yes, that's one of the things the original Q&W was known for -- but it wasn't a Q&W thing, it was a Priest thing. He used the same technique in Black Panther and Deadpool. For my tastes, this strays a little too far from the notion of a loving homage to the original series and too close to stealing another guy's bit. It's uncomfortable.

And it's also absurd, given that Valiant chose not to ask Priest and Bright to do the new series themselves, ostensibly because they wanted to do something different, that the new book hews so close to the old one stylistically.

And yet, for all that, page 2 passes up a perfect opportunity to use "noogie". What the F-word? I just don't understand how Asmus can crib so shamelessly from the original series (and Priest's general comics vocabulary) and yet draw the line at noogie, of all places.

...okay, that got a little inside baseball. Point is, the book, at its worst, feels like a cover tune that's uncomfortably close to the original without ever hitting the same notes quite right.

But at its best?

It's got heart, man.

Asmus may not have a good grip on Priest's gift for satire -- and couldn't get away with his brand of pointed commentary on race in America even if he did -- but what he does get is the relationship between the leads. It's real and it's raw -- these are two guys who really do love each other (but they're not a couple) but are so fucking furious at each other over something that happened a long time ago that it takes a near-death experience to even acknowledge it -- almost.

Asmus gets that. And it just so happens to be the emotional core of the book. More important than the jokes, and certainly more important than "Hey look you guys we put the goat on the cover!" -- it's the heart.

Aside from that, the plot actually hews pretty close to the original, despite an important change in apostrophe placement -- now, Eric and Woody are reunited after their father's murder, not fathers'.

That's been the change fans of the old series have been most nervous about -- well, the story change that fans of the old series have been most nervous about. But it works.

Ultimately, Eric and Woody's fathers weren't important to the original story; they were the McGuffin that got everything started, but we knew less about them than we knew about Uncle Ben (and only slightly more than we knew about Thomas and Martha Wayne in the original version of Batman's origin). Woody's father is only important because he's what got him to come back to town -- it's his mother who we see is mostly responsible for what shaped him as a child, for better or worse.

And all that would seem to be intact -- in this version, Eric's father took Woody in as a troubled foster child. And, while the circumstances of Woody's departure from the family are left as a mystery for now, I wouldn't be surprised if they were similar to what happened in the original series: he went to live with his mom, things went south fast, and he wound up living on the streets.

All of which is still entirely possible if Mr. Henderson was his adoptive father. Mr. Van Chelton is completely unnecessary to the story.

Through all this chatter, I guess I've focused on Asmus's writing over Fowler's art. Fowler's art is like Asmus's writing, I suppose -- it's solid but it hasn't blown me away, and unfortunately a whole lot of it seems to be just recreations of scenes from the original series (like the opening of Q&W falling out a window while the news media mock them).

Still -- it's good. It's not what I'd hoped for, but it's not bad.

It's good enough that I'll pick up #2. And hope that this generates enough interest that maybe someday we'll see something new from Priest and Bright. New Quantum and Woody, the release of the completed-but-unpublished issues of the original series, or something else entirely -- it doesn't matter, I'd be happy to see anything by them that I haven't seen before.

Because that's the real point, here -- yeah, I like Quantum and Woody. But not nearly as much as I like Christopher Priest and Mark Bright.

Star Trek into Idiot Plot

Major spoilers follow, I guess, albeit mostly stuff everybody's been expecting since roughly the end of the last movie.

So let me get this straight.

Eric Bana travels back in time and kills Kirk's father.

And this causes Ricardo Montalbán to turn into Benedict Cumberbatch?

Did that happen 300 years prior to the era Bana actually traveled to, or did it cause an already cryogenically-frozen Ricardo Montalbán to turn into Benedict Cumberbatch?

Like, was he really surprised when he woke up?

I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop and for the real Khan to be the guy in the pod they had to open up to save Kirk.

I mean, it's not like the plot reasons for Khan's ethnicity and national origin changing are that important. There is a rather strong argument to be made against the Hollywood trend of recasting minority roles with white guys (and no, trolls, casting Laurence Fishburne as Perry White is not "the exact same thing", because you see making a film's cast more diverse is not the exact same thing as making it less diverse), and, moreover, there are some rather regressive overtones in making the ultimate genetic model of a human being a pasty white guy. But as for the plot reasons? You could really handwave all that stuff. Whatever; it's just a movie; they recast the guy. Don't think too hard about it.

Which would be much much easier to do if the last act of the film weren't spent beating you about the head and shoulders with Wrath of Khan references.

After the first couple, I thought, You know, I'm getting way more out of this than people who haven't seen Wrath of Khan recently.

By the end of the film, I thought, You know, they're much happier for not getting all those damn references.

Hell, I was the only person in the theater who laughed out loud when Spock yelled "Khaaaaaaaaaaan!"

Anyway. I'm a casual Trek fan. I've seen a few episodes and movies here and there; I generally enjoy them.

I can definitely see the fans' gripes that the new movies are dumbed-down action flicks -- but what the hell, they've been pretty entertaining, and impeccably cast.

I still love Benedict Cumberbatch. Even if I don't think they should have cast him as a Mexican.

Arpaio Wriggles Free Again

The bad news is that the Arpaio recall effort has failed to collect enough signatures.

The good news is he's been convicted of racial profiling in Melendres v Arpaio.

The bad news is that so far his only punishment is a judge telling him he's not allowed to racially profile people anymore.

Additional punishment could be forthcoming. But at this point, I'll believe it when I see it.

Lost Interview Part 2

Continuing thoughts on McCarthy, and then a right turn to Elvis. And from there to the origins of Elvis's music in R&B and "race music" and the pernicious effects of good old-fashioned 1950's-vintage racism. Then Duck and Cover and politics in general, and more later...

Watch the Bigoted Shit Squirm

Heading south on the 17 tonight, I passed not one but two billboards exhorting me not to sign the recall petition for Sheriff Joe Arpaio. (Too late, asshole.)

This is a good sign. It means he thinks it's a real threat.

Hell, he seems to be taking it more seriously than I am. I signed the petition but I still expect him to wriggle out of this one, just like he's wriggled out of all the other attempts to hold him accountable at the ballot box or in the courts.

Obviously he's not really expecting anybody to choose not to sign the petition based on a billboard. He's just getting his ads in early so he'll be prepared for the real fight when it comes.

Still, seems like it might backfire -- how many people didn't even know about the petition until they saw one of those billboards?

And, not to put a fine point on it? The billboards are just south of Guadalupe, a town populated entirely by people who would vote to recall him. Seems like it might not be the best idea to put a reminder of the petition right in their backyard for them to see every day.