"I don't battle anymore! I uplift motherfuckers!" - GZA
Tuesday, December 25, 2007,11:10 PM
Pat Martino: Consciousness
By Andrey Henkin

“I’ve always had an individualistic relationship to the instrument, almost to a degree of isolation with it.” This is a heady statement from guitarist Pat Martino and it seems obvious, coming from a player with such a discernable voice. But, on the other hand, Martino has been often assigned roles and cut facets that are at best limiting and at worst inaccurate. His relationship with Wes Montgomery is well-known, but hardly defines him. Martino is dubbed a Philadelphia guitarist but made his career instead in New York City, having left the former at fifteen. His battle with a nearly fatal brain aneurysm is jazz lore, but he has been an active musician for a longer period after his recovery than before.

Yet Martino is ultimately unperturbed. His demeanor is remarkably focused, his appearance impeccable, his words measured and deliberate, all very much like his wonderful playing. Pat Martino has achieved the enviable state for a musician, or indeed for anybody, where he defines his work rather than it defining him.

Martino, two years shy of his 65th birthday, speaks often about intention. The word reappears throughout his conversation, demonstrating a great deal of time spent in thought about what it is to be a musician, to be a creative person. From childhood, Martino took a particular interest in the personas of those around him. “…from the age of twelve on,” he says, “I found it difficult to adhere to the demands and responsibilities that an instructor normally projects into students that are under their guidance. I always found it more interesting to study the person than to study what they were projecting as important education.”

One such person was the legendary Wes Montgomery, of whom Martino speaks reverently and who had an enormous impact on the young musician; in fact, Martino’s latest album, Remembering (Blue Note, 2006), is a unique tribute to the man. “I found it much more interesting and much more rewarding to take note of his presence as a warm human being, a wonderful person than as guitarist, primarily because his ability to play was so second nature so that there was nothing technical about it,” Martino remembers.

When discussing the recent tribute--10 tunes written by or associated with Montgomery, yet played in Martino’s equally inimitable style, such as “Four on Six,” “Groove Yard” and “Road Song”--he states, “Remembering as a project primarily was based upon a culmination of an intention that initially emerged at the age of thirteen. When I was thirteen years old I sat in front of a record, Groove Yard [1961] on Riverside Records, the Montgomery Brothers, and I sat listening to it on my father’s lift-the-top record player… I sat there on the floor trying to copy solos and as a child, I hoped that one day I could play like this. I wish I could play like that. And that’s what I intended to do when this project came to the forefront. It was to accomplish what I had set out to do when I was a child now that I do have the ability to do so.

“And it’s more than just dedication to Wes Montgomery as tribute on the basis of musicianship and respect. It’s much more than that. Much deeper than that. …I was a child trying to figure out what these men were doing and why they did it so well and how they did it so well because that’s what I wanted to experience as a dream come true as a child. And so that is what this project has been. It’s been the culmination of my own childishness and not only that, the reactivation of it.”

In his own educational experiences, Martino approaches teaching the same way he approaches learning. Just as Martino never became one of the many Montgomery clones, he would be loath to unleash any Martino copies into the world. “I find it extremely essential to remind the individual that I interact with how in many ways he or she is completely compatible with some difficult technicalities in their everyday living.” He goes on to describe, in even tones and carefully, almost painstakingly, chosen words how he feels that practicing the guitar is like driving a car, something that ultimately must become second nature: “How long did it take you to learn how to drive? And once you learned how to drive, did you ever practice learning how to drive, keeping, as musicians refer to it, your chops together? …that’s what the guitar is for me. It’s very much like a pen. It’s very much like any of the other utensils in my home.”

Martino’s pen was first dipped in the ink of saxophonist Willis Jackson, with whom he spent part of the early 1960s, and organist Jack McDuff, in whose group he replaced George Benson, one of the many players to whom Martino is invariably, and simplistically, compared. Shortly after those experiences, Martino became a leader with his El Hombre (1967), the first of several records the twenty-something made for Prestige Records. Many more albums, as well as appearances with other precocious young musicians as diverse as Eric Kloss and Stanley Clarke, followed and, by the 1970s, Martino, shortly after Montgomery’s premature passing, became an advanced voice on the instrument, releasing exploratory albums like East! (Prestige, 1968), Baiyina (The Clear Evidence) (Prestige, 1968) and Consciousness (Muse, 1974).

He was involved peripherally in the fusion movement of the 1970s that seemed to sweep up most guitarists, though his approach was tempered by his early experiences with the original electric instrument, the organ. Like many other players of the era, Martino’s approach can be conceptually, if not aesthetically, linked to that of another instrumental giant who passed too early, John Coltrane. “I was influenced by John Coltrane primarily because I found it much more profound than the technicalities of his musicality,” he says. “I found it much more profound to look closely and think deeply about A Love Supreme (Impulse!, 1964) than about the scalar modes and the time signatures that this was taking place in. I was more interested in the source of where the music brought this individual in terms of consciousness.”

The cover of Martino’s 1974 album Consciousness finds the guitarist seated in the middle of a pond, looking intently at the camera, almost past it. On the album are pieces by Coltrane and Martino as well as the Eric Kloss-penned title track. The name would be almost prophetic as, a few years later, Martino lost his ability to play after suffering a brain aneurysm. When asked the controversial question if he is frustrated to be defined by that event, Martino responds with typical zen: “It’s much easier to find compatibility with all walks of life and individuals in each of these confronting confrontations physical and psychological throughout life. And to be able to recover is something that we share together in general in terms of our species, under these conditions that we are confronted with in terms of crisis.”

In fact, when discussing the years of recovery he underwent, during which time he resettled permanently in Philadelphia after decades of absence, Martino distilled the conversation through terminology. “The years of recovery is not the proper way to define it,” he says. “It’s much more refined. To go back to the past is a loss, to be honest with you, compared to a refinement and a redefinition, in other words a metamorphosis. So it wasn’t recovery; it was evolution taking place.”

Since Martino’s literal and titular return (the 1987 Muse album which saw him reengaged to music fulltime), he has entered a second, almost more successful era of his development. His style is still hyper-charged and his melodic ideas are still challenging but there is an appealing calm that comes of weathering crisis and being stronger for it.

No one can say what Martino’s playing would have been like if it had gone uninterrupted and flashes of old licks are more referential than nostalgic. But one statement, probably the most technical of the conversation sums up this fascinating individual and his current state of mind: “Most guitarists study the instrument through formal architecture which is the study of scalar forms, the study of modes, the study of quite a number of things in terms of sight-singing and everything that goes with the seven clefs in terms of the social musical community. …I’ve learned it from a completely different dimension. I’ve learned it as multiplication, when the piano is taught as addition; I see the guitar as multiplication. And I’ve learned it self-taught from that perspective. So there are a number of things that are quite different in terms of the reduction of the instrument and its technical demands to simplicity as quickly as possible so that it can reside and take its place as being second nature, no longer offering any interference with your intentions. To use it for what purpose it’s important to you for.”


posted by R J Noriega
Permalink ¤ 0 comments
,10:28 PM
Stories, Not Facts, Engage Consumers
BY: Vanessa L. Facenda

NEW YORK Want to market your brand better? Then tell a story. That's the top finding from an intensive three-year study, "On the Road to a New Effectiveness Model," released this month.

The New York-based Advertising Research Foundation and American Association of Advertising Agencies set out to measure consumers' emotional responses to TV advertising. What they discovered is advertisements that tell a branding story work better than ads that focus on product positioning.

Thirty-three ads across 12 categories -- from brands like Budweiser, Campbell's Soup and MasterCard -- were analyzed by 14 leading emotional and physiological research firms. The research tools varied from testing heart rate and skin conductance of the ad viewer to brain diagnostics.

"We were trying to identify patterns that could be used," said Bill Cook, svp, research and standards, ARF. "We saw powerful pieces of evidence for the impact of advertising."

One such pattern was that a campaign like Bud's iconic "Wassup" registered more powerfully with consumers than Miller Lite low-carb ads that essentially just said, "We're better than the other guys." Why? Because Bud told a story about friends connected by a special greeting.

The report contends that in many ways advertising is stuck in the past. In the 20th century, it was dominated by a one-way, transactional focus where ads were pushed at consumers. Today, consumers interact with ads to "co-create" meaning that is powered by emotion and rich narrative.

"Advertising has been standing on the sidelines, stuck on the language of positioning," said Randall Ringer, managing director and co-founder of Verse Group, New York. "Telling a story about the brand is more engaging, memorable and compelling than telling a bunch of facts. What worked 30 years ago with a 30-second spot doesn't work today."

Other ads that struck a chord positioned the brand in the archetypal role of hero. In Campbell's "Orphan" ad, in which a woman and her foster child are brought together, ad research firm Gallup-Robinson in Pennington, N.J., said that the spot -- which showed the girl's sadness and anxiety melt away once she was given a bowl of soup -- generated 80 percent purchase intent. Most viewers measured said it was believable. A similar study from Ameritest in Albuquerque, N.M., said the ad received 42 percent purchase intent compared to a category norm of 33 percent.

Another ad that scored a high emotional response was Southwest Airline's "Want to Get Away," which showed a woman accidentally destroying a man's medicine cabinet while snooping. Eighty-four percent of respondents said the humor came through loud and clear.

But for such storytelling ads to be truly effective, the plots need to tie in to a positive brand message. "When the emotional peaks align with the presence of the brand, or the impact of the brand in the story, the emotional connection with the brand is greatest," Cook said.

Not all storytelling ads work. A United Airlines spot that told the story of a businessman returning home was deemed unimaginative by 68 percent of those surveyed by TNS Ad Eval.

And a Toyota Maxima spot also failed. In it, it seems a couple is talking about sex, but in fact they are talking about the car. "Negative levels were so high for many people over the brashness of the guy and his seemingly erotic proposal that they were unable to switch over to more positive feelings once the Maxima appeared," said the report.

The study does not discuss the ads' return on investment for marketers. Mark Truss, director of brand intelligence at JWT, New York,
Enhanced Coverage LinkingJWT, New York, -Search using:
Company Profile
News, Most Recent 60 Days
said the storytelling theory is correct, but the industry still lacks a way to prove it. "Without the tools to measure and link back to business metrics, marketers and advertisers are not going to embrace [this approach]," he said.
posted by R J Noriega
Permalink ¤ 0 comments
Saturday, December 15, 2007,4:37 AM
The Tipping Pointdownload pdf

Malcolm Gladwell

Why is the city suddenly so much safer---
could it be that crime really is an epidemic?


As you drive east on Atlantic Avenue, through the part of New York City that the Police Department refers to as Brooklyn North, the neighborhoods slowly start to empty out: the genteel brownstones of the western part of Brooklyn give way to sprawling housing projects and vacant lots. Bedford-Stuyvesant is followed by Bushwick, then by Brownsville, and, finally, by East New York, home of the Seventy-fifth Precinct, a 5.6-square-mile tract where some of the poorest people in the city live. East New York is not a place of office buildings or parks and banks, just graffiti- covered bodegas and hair salons and auto shops. It is an economically desperate community destined, by most accounts, to get more desperate in the years ahead-which makes what has happened there over the past two and a half years all the more miraculous. In 1993, there were a hundred and twenty-six homicides in the Seven-Five, as the police call it. Last year, there were forty-four. There is probably no other place in the country where violent crime has declined so far, so fast.

Once the symbol of urban violence, New York City is in the midst of a strange and unprecedented transformation. According to the preliminary crime statistics released by the F.B.I. earlier this month, New York has a citywide violent-crime rate that now ranks it a hundred and thirty-sixth among major American cities, on a par with Boise, Idaho. Car thefts have fallen to seventy-one thousand, down from a hundred and fifty thousand as recently as six years ago. Burglaries have fallen from more than two hundred thousand in the early nineteen-eighties to just under seventy-five thousand in 1995. Homicides are now at the level of the early seventies, nearly half of what they were in 1990. Over the past two and a half years, every precinct in the city has recorded double-digit decreases in violent crime. Nowhere, however, have the decreases been sharper than Brooklyn North, in neighborhoods that not long ago were all but written off to drugs and violence. On the streets of the Seven-Five today, it is possible to see signs of everyday life that would have been unthinkable in the early nineties. There are now ordinary people on the streets at dusk-small children riding their bicycles, old people on benches and stoops, people coming out of the subways alone. "There was a time when it wasn't uncommon to hear rapid fire, like you would hear somewhere in the jungle in Vietnam," Inspector Edward A. Mezzadri, who commands the Seventy-fifth Precinct, told me. "You would hear that in Bed-Stuy and Brownsville and, particularly, East New York all the time. I don't hear the gunfire anymore. I've been at this job one year and twelve days. The other night when I was going to the garage to get my car, I heard my first volley. That was my first time."

But what accounts for the drop in crime rates? William J. Bratton-who as the New York City Police Commissioner presided over much of the decline from the fall of 1994 until his resignation, this spring-argues that his new policing strategies made the difference: he cites more coördination between divisions of the N.Y.P.D., more accountability from precinct commanders, more arrests for gun possession, more sophisticated computer-aided analysis of crime patterns, more aggressive crime prevention. In the Seven-Five, Mezzadri has a team of officers who go around and break up the groups of young men who congregate on street corners, drinking, getting high, and playing dice-and so remove what was once a frequent source of violent confrontations. He says that he has stepped up random "safety checks" on the streets, looking for drunk drivers or stolen cars. And he says that streamlined internal procedures mean that he can now move against drug-selling sites in a matter of days, where it used to take weeks. "It's aggressive policing," he says. "It's a no-nonsense attitude. Persistence is not just a word, it's a way of life."

All these changes make good sense. But how does breaking up dice games and streamlining bureaucracy cut murder rates by two-thirds? Many criminologists have taken a broader view, arguing that changes in crime reflect fundamental demographic and social trends-for example, the decline and stabilization of the crack trade, the aging of the population, and longer prison sentences, which have kept hard-core offenders off the streets. Yet these trends are neither particularly new nor unique to New York City; they don't account for why the crime rate has dropped so suddenly here and now. Furthermore, whatever good they have done is surely offset, at least in part, by the economic devastation visited on places like Brownsville and East New York in recent years by successive rounds of federal, state, and city social-spending cuts.

It's not that there is any shortage of explanations, then, for what has happened in New York City. It's that there is a puzzling gap between the scale of the demographic and policing changes that are supposed to have affected places like the Seven-Five and, on the other hand, the scale of the decrease in crime there. The size of that gap suggests that violent crime doesn't behave the way we expect it to behave. It suggests that we need a new way of thinking about crime, which is why it may be time to turn to an idea that has begun to attract serious attention in the social sciences: the idea that social problems behave like infectious agents. It may sound odd to talk about the things people do as analogous to the diseases they catch. And yet the idea has all kinds of fascinating implications. What if homicide, which we often casually refer to as an epidemic, actually is an epidemic, and moves through populations the way the flu bug does? Would that explain the rise and sudden decline of homicide in Brooklyn North?


When social scientists talk about epidemics, they mean something very specific. Epidemics have their own set of rules. Suppose, for example, that one summer a thousand tourists come to Manhattan from Canada carrying an untreatable strain of twenty-four-hour flu. The virus has a two-per-cent infection rate, which is to say that one out of every fifty people who come into close contact with someone carrying it catches the bug himself. Let's say that fifty is also exactly the number of people the average Manhattanite-in the course of riding the subways and mingling with colleagues at work-comes into contact with every day. What we have, then, given the recovery rate, is a disease in equilibrium. Every day, each carrier passes on the virus to a new person. And the next day those thousand newly infected people pass on the virus to another thousand people, so that throughout the rest of the summer and the fall the flu chugs along at a steady but unspectacular clip.

But then comes the Christmas season. The subways and buses get more crowded with tourists and shoppers, and instead of running into an even fifty people a day, the average Manhattanite now has close contact with, say, fifty-five people a day. That may not sound like much of a difference, but for our flu bug it is critical. All of a sudden, one out of every ten people with the virus will pass it on not just to one new person but to two. The thousand carriers run into fifty-five thousand people now, and at a two-per-cent infection rate that translates into eleven hundred new cases the following day. Some of those eleven hundred will also pass on the virus to more than one person, so that by Day Three there are twelve hundred and ten Manhattanites with the flu and by Day Four thirteen hundred and thirty-one, and by the end of the week there are nearly two thousand, and so on up, the figure getting higher every day, until Manhattan has a full-blown flu epidemic on its hands by Christmas Day.

In the language of epidemiologists, fifty is the "tipping point" in this epidemic, the point at which an ordinary and stable phenomenon-a low-level flu outbreak- can turn into a public-health crisis. Every epidemic has its tipping point, and to fight an epidemic you need to understand what that point is. Take AIDS, for example. Since the late eighties, the number of people in the United States who die of AIDS every year has been steady at forty thousand, which is exactly the same as the number of people who are estimated to become infected with H.I.V. every year. In other words, AIDS is in the same self- perpetuating phase that our Canadian flu was in, early on; on the average, each person who dies of aids infects, in the course of his or her lifetime, one new person.

That puts us at a critical juncture. If the number of new infections increases just a bit-if the average H.I.V. carrier passes on the virus to slightly more than one person-then the epidemic can tip upward just as dramatically as our flu did when the number of exposed people went from fifty to fifty-five. On the other hand, even a small decrease in new infections can cause the epidemic to nosedive. It would be as if the number of people exposed to our flu were cut from fifty to forty-five a day-a change that within a week would push the number of flu victims down to four hundred and seventy-eight.

Nobody really knows what the tipping point for reducing AIDS may be. Donald Des Jarlais, an epidemiologist at Beth Israel Hospital, in Manhattan, estimates that halving new infections to twenty thousand a year would be ideal. Even cutting it to thirty thousand, he says, would probably be enough. The point is that it's not some completely unattainable number. "I think people think that to beat AIDS everybody has to either be sexually abstinent or use a clean needle or a condom all the time," Des Jarlais said. "But you don't really need to completely eliminate risk. If over time you can just cut the number of people capable of transmitting the virus, then our present behavior-change programs could potentially eradicate the disease in this country."

That's the surprising thing about epidemics. They don't behave the way we think they will behave. Suppose, for example, that the number of new H.I.V. infections each year was a hundred thousand, and by some heroic aids- education effort you managed to cut that in half. You would expect the size of the epidemic to also be cut in half, right? This is what scientists call a linear assumption-the expectation that every extra increment of effort will produce a corresponding improvement in result. But epidemics aren't linear. Improvement does not correspond directly to effort. All that matters is the tipping point, and because fifty thousand is still above that point, all these heroics will come to naught. The epidemic would still rise. This is the fundamental lesson of nonlinearity. When it comes to fighting epidemics, small changes-like bringing new infections down to thirty thousand from forty thousand-can have huge effects. And large changes-like reducing new infections to fifty thousand from a hundred thousand-can have small effects. It all depends on when and how the changes are made.

The reason this seems surprising is that human beings prefer to think in linear terms. Many expectant mothers, for example, stop drinking entirely, because they've heard that heavy alcohol use carries a high risk of damaging the fetus. They make the perfectly understandable linear assumption that if high doses of alcohol carry a high risk, then low doses must carry a low- but still unacceptable-risk. The problem is that fetal-alcohol syndrome isn't linear. According to one study, none of the sixteen problems associated with fetal-alcohol syndrome show up until a pregnant woman starts regularly consuming more than three drinks a day. But try telling that to a neurotic nineties couple.

I can remember struggling with these same theoretical questions as a child, when I tried to pour ketchup on my dinner. Like all children encountering this problem for the first time, I assumed that the solution was linear: that steadily increasing hits on the base of the bottle would yield steadily increasing amounts of ketchup out the other end. Not so, my father said, and he recited a ditty that, for me, remains the most concise statement of the fundamental nonlinearity of everyday life: Tomato ketchup in a bottle-None will come and then the lot'll


What does this have to do with the murder rate in Brooklyn? Quite a bit, as it turns out, because in recent years social scientists have started to apply the theory of epidemics to human behavior. The foundational work in this field was done in the early seventies by the economist Thomas Schelling, then at Harvard University, who argued that "white flight" was a tipping-point phenomenon. Since that time, sociologists have actually gone to specific neighborhoods and figured out what the local tipping point is. A racist white neighborhood, for example, might empty out when blacks reach five per cent of the population. A liberal white neighborhood, on the other hand, might not tip until blacks make up forty or fifty per cent. George Galster, of the Urban Institute, in Washington, argues that the same patterns hold for attempts by governments or developers to turn a bad neighborhood around. "You get nothing until you reach the threshold," he says, "then you get boom."

Another researcher, David Rowe, a psychologist at the University of Arizona, uses epidemic theory to explain things like rates of sexual intercourse among teen-agers. If you take a group of thirteen-year-old virgins and follow them throughout their teen-age years, Rowe says, the pattern in which they first have sex will look like an epidemic curve. Non-virginity starts out at a low level, and then, at a certain point, it spreads from the precocious to the others as if it were a virus.

Some of the most fascinating work, however, comes from Jonathan Crane, a sociologist at the University of Illinois. In a 1991 study in the American Journal of Sociology, Crane looked at the effect the number of role models in a community-the professionals, managers, teachers whom the Census Bureau has defined as "high status"-has on the lives of teen-agers in the same neighborhood. His answer was surprising. He found little difference in teen-pregnancy rates or school-dropout rates in neighborhoods with between forty and five per cent of high-status workers. But when the number of professionals dropped below five per cent, the problems exploded. For black school kids, for example, as the percentage of high- status workers falls just 2.2 percentage points-from 5.6 per cent to 3.4 per cent-dropout rates more than double. At the same tipping point, the rates of childbearing for teen-age girls-which barely move at all up to that point-nearly double as well.

The point made by both Crane and Rowe is not simply that social problems are contagious-that non-virgins spread sex to virgins and that when neighborhoods decline good kids become infected by the attitudes of dropouts and teen-age mothers. Their point is that teen-age sex and dropping out of school are contagious in the same way that an infectious disease is contagious. Crane's study essentially means that at the five-per-cent tipping point neighborhoods go from relatively functional to wildly dysfunctional virtually overnight. There is no steady decline: a little change has a huge effect. The neighborhoods below the tipping point look like they've been hit by the Ebola virus.

It is possible to read in these case studies a lesson about the fate of modern liberalism. Liberals have been powerless in recent years to counter the argument that their policy prescriptions don't work. A program that spends, say, an extra thousand dollars to educate inner-city kids gets cut by Congress because it doesn't raise reading scores. But if reading problems are nonlinear the failure of the program doesn't mean-as conservatives might argue-that spending extra money on inner-city kids is wasted. It may mean that we need to spend even more money on these kids so that we can hit their tipping point. Hence liberalism's crisis. Can you imagine explaining the link between tipping points and big government to Newt Gingrich? Epidemic theory, George Galster says, "greatly complicates the execution of public policy. . . . You work, and you work, and you work, and if you haven't quite reached the threshold you don't seem to get any payoff. That's a very tough situation to sustain politically."

At the same time, tipping points give the lie to conservative policies of benign neglect. In New York City, for example, one round of cuts in, say, subway maintenance is justified with the observation that the previous round of cuts didn't seem to have any adverse consequences. But that's small comfort. With epidemic problems, as with ketchup, nothing comes and then the lot'll.


Epidemic theory, in other words, should change the way we think about whether and why social programs work. Now for the critical question: Should it change the way we think about violent crime as well? This is what a few epidemiologists at the Centers for Disease Control, in Atlanta, suggested thirteen years ago, and at the time no one took them particularly seriously. "There was just a small group of us in an old converted bathroom in the sub- subbasement of Building Three at C.D.C.," Mark L. Rosenberg, who heads the Centers' violence group today, says. "Even within C.D.C., we were viewed as a fringe group. We had seven people and our budget was two hundred thousand dollars. People were very skeptical." But that was before Rosenberg's group began looking at things like suicide and gunshot wounds in ways that had never quite occurred to anyone else. Today, bringing epidemiological techniques to bear on violence is one of the hottest ideas in criminal research. "We've got a hundred and ten people and a budget of twenty-two million dollars," Rosenberg says. "There is interest in this all around the world now."

The public-health approach to crime doesn't hold that all crime acts like infectious disease. Clearly, there are neighborhoods where crime is simply endemic-where the appropriate medical analogy for homicide is not something as volatile as aids but cancer, a disease that singles out its victims steadily and implacably. There are, however, times and places where the epidemic model seems to make perfect sense. In the United States between the early sixties and the early seventies, the homicide rate doubled. In Stockholm between 1950 and 1970, rape went up three hundred per cent, murder and attempted murder went up six hundred per cent, and robberies a thousand per cent. That's not cancer; that's aids.

An even better example is the way that gangs spread guns and violence. "Once crime reaches a certain level, a lot of the gang violence we see is reciprocal," Robert Sampson, a sociologist at the University of Chicago, says. "Acts of violence lead to further acts of violence. You get defensive gun ownership. You get retaliation. There is a nonlinear phenomenon. With a gang shooting, you have a particular act, then a counter-response. It's sort of like an arms race. It can blow up very quickly."

How quickly? Between 1982 and 1992, the number of gang-related homicides in Los Angeles County handled by the L.A.P.D. and the County Sheriff's Department went from a hundred and fifty-eight to six hundred and eighteen. A more interesting number, however, is the proportion of those murders which resulted from drive-by shootings. Between 1979 and 1986, that number fluctuated, according to no particular pattern, between twenty-two and fifty-one: the phenomenon, an epidemiologist would say, was in equilibrium. Then, in 1987, the death toll from drive-bys climbed to fifty-seven, the next year to seventy-one, and the year after that to a hundred and ten; by 1992, it had reached two hundred and eleven. At somewhere between fifty and seventy homicides, the idea of drive-by shootings in L.A. had become epidemic. It tipped. When these results were published last fall in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the paper was entitled "The Epidemic of Gang-Related Homicides in Los Angeles County from 1979 Through 1994." The choice of the word "epidemic" was not metaphorical. "If this were a disease," H. Range Hutson, the physician who was the leading author on the study, says, "you would see the government rushing down here to assess what infectious organism is causing all these injuries and deaths."

Some of the best new ideas in preventing violence borrow heavily from the principles of epidemic theory. Take, for example, the so-called "broken window" hypothesis that has been used around the country as the justification for cracking down on "quality of life" crimes like public urination and drinking. In a famous experiment conducted twenty-seven years ago by the Stanford University psychologist Philip Zimbardo, a car was parked on a street in Palo Alto, where it sat untouched for a week. At the same time, Zimbardo had an identical car parked in a roughly comparable neighborhood in the Bronx, only in this case the license plates were removed and the hood was propped open. Within a day, it was stripped. Then, in a final twist, Zimbardo smashed one of the Palo Alto car's windows with a sledgehammer. Within a few hours, that car, too, was destroyed. Zimbardo's point was that disorder invites even more disorder-that a small deviation from the norm can set into motion a cascade of vandalism and criminality. The broken window was the tipping point.

The broken-window hypothesis was the inspiration for the cleanup of the subway system conducted by the New York City Transit Authority in the late eighties and early nineties. Why was the Transit Authority so intent on removing graffiti from every car and cracking down on the people who leaped over turnstiles without paying? Because those two "trivial" problems were thought to be tipping points-broken windows-that invited far more serious crimes. It is worth noting that not only did this strategy seem to work-since 1990, felonies have fallen more than fifty per cent-but one of its architects was the then chief of the Transit Police, William Bratton, who was later to take his ideas about preventing crime to the city as a whole when he became head of the New York Police Department.

Which brings us to North Brooklyn and the Seventy- fifth Precinct. In the Seven-Five, there are now slightly more officers than before. They stop more cars. They confiscate more guns. They chase away more street-corner loiterers. They shut down more drug markets. They have made a series of what seem, when measured against the extraordinary decline in murders, to be small changes. But it is the nature of nonlinear phenomena that sometimes the most modest of changes can bring about enormous effects. What happened to the murder rate may not be such a mystery in the end. Perhaps what William Bratton and Inspector Mezzadri have done is the equivalent of repairing the broken window or preventing that critical ten or fifteen thousand new H.I.V. infections. Perhaps Brooklyn-and with it New York City-has tipped


posted by R J Noriega
Permalink ¤ 0 comments
Friday, December 14, 2007,2:26 PM
Japan, Ink: Inside the Manga Industrial Complex
When the chimes sound at 10:30 am, the young men pour through the doors. First a few dozen. Then a few hundred. Then, in a matter of minutes, a few thousand. Mobile phones pressed to their ears, empty backpacks flapping on their skinny shoulders, they tear across the floor of the Tokyo Big Sight convention center as if pursued by demons.

"Hashiranaide!" cry the blue-shirted security officials. "Hashiranaide!" Don't run! But it's no use. The collective force of so many men fed on a combo platter of anticipation and desire is unstoppable. Call it the running of the otaku. For what has stoked their fires isn't flesh or cash but stack upon precious stack of manga.

As you may have noticed, Japanese comics have gripped the global imagination. Manga sales in the US have tripled in the past four years. Titles like Fruits Basket, Naruto, and Death Note have become fixtures on American best-seller lists. Walk into your local bookstore this afternoon and chances are the manga section is bigger than the science fiction collection. Europe has caught the bug, too. In the United Kingdom, the Catholic Church is using manga to recruit new priests. One British publisher, in an effort to hippify a national franchise, has begun issuing manga versions of Shakespeare's plays, including a Romeo and Juliet that reimagines the Montagues and Capulets as rival yakuza families in Tokyo.

Yet in Japan, its birthplace and epicenter, manga's fortunes are sagging. Circulation of the country's weekly comic magazines, the essential entry point for any manga series, has fallen by about half over the last decade. Young people are turning their attention away from the printed page and toward the tiny screens on their mobile phones.

Fans and critics complain that manga — which emerged in the years after World War II as an edgy, uniquely Japanese art form — has become as homogenized and risk-averse as the limpest Hollywood blockbuster. Pervading the nation's $4.2 billion-a-year industry is a sense that its best days have passed.

Which ought to make what's happening here at Comic Ichi — a manga market the size of several airplane hangars that will attract some 25,000 buyers — so heartening. The place is pulsing with possibility, full of inspired creators, ravenous fans, and wads of yen changing hands. It represents a dynamic force that could reverse the industry's decline.

There's just one hitch, one teensy roadblock on the manga industry's highway to rejuvenation: Nearly everybody here is breaking the law.

This spring I spent two months in Japan looking under the hood of the manga industry. I met with key players in the supply chain — from the artists who create the work and the editors who polish it to the retailers who sell it and the fans who devour it. I argued with manga critics in Tokyo, hung out at the country's only college manga department in Kyoto, and paid homage to the God of manga in Osaka. I was hoping to get a sense of why Japanese comics have become so insanely popular around the world. What I got instead was a tantalizing peek into what might be the future business model of music, movies, and media of every kind.

To understand manga's place in Japan, you must begin with its ubiquity. Even though the popularity of manga has fallen in recent years, it still comprises about 22percent of all printed material in Japan. In many parts of Tokyo, you can't walk more than two or three blocks without encountering comics. (Trust me. I checked.) Most omnipresent are the magazines — Weekly Shonen Magazine, Weekly Shonen Jump, Young King Ours, Shojo Comic, and countless others. They're teetering in messy piles at convenience stores, stacked in neat slabs at every subway station, and for sale just about anywhere someone might be inclined to pull a couple hundred yen ($2 to $4) from their pocket. Published on flimsy newsprint and often as thick as a Baltimore phone book, these magazines can contain 25 different serialized stories that run about 20 pages each. The most popular series then get repackaged as paperback graphic novels. These books dominate long stretches of Japanese bookstores, and their sales figures would make American authors and publishers weep with envy. One example among many: The paperback editions of Bleach, a series about a ghost-spotting teenager that has been running in Weekly Shonen Jump for the past six years, have sold some 46 million copies (in a country of 127 million people).

And manga, unlike most American comics, isn't reserved for freaks, geeks, and pip-squeaks. Ride the Tokyo subway and you'll see passengers peering at their mobiles. But you'll also inevitably spot gray-haired businessmen, twentysomething hipsters, and Japanese schoolgirls alike paging through a manga weekly or a graphic novel. The city of Hiroshima even has a bustling public library devoted entirely to manga.

Yet the role of manga in the broader economic ecosystem is perhaps more important than its actual sales figures. Japan's vaunted pop culture apparatus, it turns out, is really a manga industrial complex. Nearly every aspect of cultural production — which is now Japan's most influential export — is rooted in manga. Most anime (animated) movies and television series, as well as many videogames and collectible figures, began life as comics. Dragonball — now a multibillion-dollar international franchise comprising movies, games, and cards — debuted as an installment in Weekly Shonen Jump in 1984. Uzumaki Naruto, the protagonist of the mega-property that bears his name, first showed his blond ninja head in the pages of the same magazine eight years ago. Trace any of Japan's most successful media franchises back to their origins and you'll likely end up inside a colorful brick of newsprint, where 20 pages of exquisitely matched words and drawings tell the inaugural story.

But manga has become a bit like network television in the US. It reaches a wide but inexorably shrinking audience. Weekly magazine circulation is on a steep and steady downward slope; book sales are no higher than they were a decade ago despite a rise in population. Still, manga is more influential in Japan than network television is in the US. Comics occupy the center, feeding the rest of the media system. If they dry up, other media players risk losing their deepest and most vital source of material. If manga gets creaky, and by all accounts it is heading that way, it could undermine Japan's entire pop culture machine. What the industry needs is something that can rescue it from decline — a force that can reenergize its fans, restock its talent pools, and revive its creative mojo. The sound of those flapping backpacks may herald the arrival of that savior.

A few days after visiting Comic Ichi, I returned to Tokyo Big Sight for Super Comic City, another manga market, this one held over two days to accommodate even larger crowds. Although Comic Ichi was from Mars — the male-to-female ratio, by my rough count, was about 300 to 1 — and Super Comic City was from Venus, with several hundred women for every man, both markets were selling material from the same planet: nonprofessional self-published manga known as dojinshi. At Super Comic City, for instance, 33,000 amateur artists stuffed themselves into six huge halls, each the size of a professional basketball arena, stationed themselves behind card tables, and sold their own home-brewed comics.

Markets like these started to appear in 1975, when a few hundred fans with an artistic bent gathered to trade their work. Today, dojinshi has become a sprawling enterprise. The comics markets — comikets, for short — held in December and August attract about a half-million people. Most of the material for sale at those markets, as well as the ones I visited, have the look and feel of professional work. Their creators often spend weeks meticulously drawing and inking their comics. Then they typically scan those pages onto computers and refine them with Photoshop and other software. Finally, using one of an array of print shops that cater to dojinshi, they produce limited editions of the work (as few as 20 copies, as many as several thousand) on high-quality paper, bound between glossy covers.

I spent two days at Super Comic City. But an American intellectual property lawyer probably would not have lasted more than 15minutes. After cruising just one or two aisles, he would have thudded to the floor in a dead faint. About 90 percent of the material for sale — how to put this — borrows liberally from existing works. Actually, let me be blunter: The copyright violations are flagrant, shameless, and widespread. For example, in both Japan and the US, one of the past decade's most successful manga series is Fullmetal Alchemist. The story pivots around a group of people with the ability to transmute matter into new substances. The main character is Edward Elric, a young man who possesses these powers. Another character is a father-figure type named Colonel Roy Mustang. At Super Comic City, there were at least 30 tables where amateurs were selling 20- or 30-page stories in which perfectly drawn, instantly recognizable Elrics and Mustangs discover their forbidden love for each other. (In all, 1,100 Full Metal Alchemist dojinshi groups had registered to sell their wares.) In many of these comics, the drawings are so precisely rendered that the characters are indistinguishable from the originals. Some of these tales portray chaste affairs full of yearning and unrealized passion. Others depict sexual encounters grunting and graphic enough to make Larry Flynt blush. Though nobody was merely reproducing existing Fullmetal Alchemist stories, everybody — by swiping the characters without consent and selling the resulting work to others — was trampling intellectual property rights. And Japanese copyright law is just as restrictive as its American cousin, if not more so.

It was the same everywhere I went: acres of territory in which the basic tenets of intellectual property seemed not to apply. True, some dojinshi collectives, which are known as "circles" even if they have only one member, were selling works based on their own original characters. At Comic Ichi, one of the longest lines was for drawings of a rabbit-eared maid created by Ice and Choco, a circle made up of one woman named Naru Nanao. But most offerings plucked characters from popular manga series and dropped them into new scenarios. The authors told me they were uncovering hidden potential in their favorite stories — revealing themes, relationships, and plot lines that were gurgling just beneath the surface of the official narrative.

At the edge of one hall, I saw a young woman wearing a short skirt, white shoes, and stylish blue leggings pulled over her knees. She was sitting on a folding chair behind a card table greeting a modest but steady stream of customers. She is 24 years old and lives with her parents in the Kyushu region of southern Japan, about 500 miles away. She works at a bank. "It's a lame job," she said with one of her frequent giggles, "which is why I'm spending my life drawing these comics." Nobody at work or at home knows about her hobby; her parents think she came to Tokyo to visit friends. Because of that, she asked me to use only the first letter of her last name.

Three years ago Ms. O produced her first work, a story about Chibi Maruko-Chan, a sassy third grader — think Sally from Peanuts inflected with Lisa Simpson — who's a mainstay in a long-running kids' series. Since then, she has created nine more short books that reveal what happens in the alternative universe where the series characters actually age. Much of Ms. O's oeuvre concerns an up-and-down love affair between a late-teen version of Chibi Maruko-Chan and another character. "It's so bizarre that Chibi Maruko could be grown up and think about women's things in the first place," she told me. "But we all know deep in her heart that she longs for this." Does Ms. O aspire to be a professional manga artist? "No. I'm happy just to draw." Is she making lots of money? "I don't make any money." What's driving her? "Nobody else is doing this. I had to show this aspect of Chibi Maruko and get it out there."

Guided by a 440-page catalog with tiny blurbs about each circle, buyers — many of them pulling wheeled suitcases — could find all manner of reimagined, copyright-defying manga peddled by people like Ms. O. Yaoi, or "boys' love," was popular among women. Hetero porn remixes were popular among the men. And although sex and romance titles predominated, buyers could also choose from action, adventure, supernatural, and other genres, most selling for 500 to 1,000 yen (about $4 to $8) apiece.

Now think back to our American lawyer — the one lying on the cement floor. After the smelling salts arrived, he no doubt would have picked himself off the ground, thumbed a cease-and-desist letter on his BlackBerry, and phoned in a temporary injunction to close down the joint. Imagine Disney's response if some huge comics convention in St. Louis or Houston were selling exquisitely rendered, easily identifiable comic book versions of Mickey Mouse and Goofy falling in love. Picture the legal department at United Feature Syndicate hearing about someone selling $6 books that show a buxom teenage Sally and a husky teenage Linus canoodling on a beach. The violations at Super Comic City were so brazen and the scale so huge — by day's end, some 300,000 books sold in cash transactions totaling more than $1 million — that just about any US media company would have launched a full-metal lawsuit to shut the market for good.

Why aren't Japanese publishers doing the same? I posed that question to two of the main organizers of Japan's dojinshi gatherings, Kouichi Ichikawa and Keiji Takeda.

"Obviously, there are copyright issues at play here," Ichikawa said. When the markets expanded beyond the clutch of early adopters in the 1980s and 1990s, publishers and authors made threatening noises, and some accused successful dojinshi circles of violating copyright law. But lately, as the markets have reached such enormous scale, the big publishing houses have taken a different approach.

"This is something that satisfies the fans," Ichikawa said. "The publishers understand that this does not diminish the sales of the original product but may increase them. So they don't come down here and shut it down."

"Is that something publishers have told you?" I asked.

No, he said, not exactly. "This is something very Japanese. It's an ancient sensibility — like the wabi-sabi of the tea ceremony."

In case you missed the wabi-sabi lecture back in high school, it means something like "aesthetic transience." I asked Takeda about it.

As recently as a decade ago, he told me, creators of popular commercial works sometimes cracked down on their dojinshi counterparts at Super Comic City. "But these days," he said, "you don't really hear about that many publishers stopping them."

"Why not?" I asked.

They have an understanding, he said, using a phrase I'd encounter again and again: anmoku no ryokai, meaning essentially "unspoken, implicit agreement."

"The dojinshi are creating a market base, and that market base is naturally drawn to the original work," he said. Then, gesturing to the convention floor, he added, "This is where we're finding the next generation of authors. The publishers understand the value of not destroying that." And as the manga weeklies falter and decline, new talent is more important than ever. Meanwhile, Takeda said, the dojinshi creators honor their part of this silent pact. They tacitly agree not to go too far — to produce work only in limited editions and to avoid selling so many copies that they risk cannibalizing the market for original works.

"Obviously," Takeda said, "this is something that no one comes out with a bullhorn and states."

What's less obvious is that anmoku no ryokai isn't just a deft way to avoid conflict. It's also a business model, one that's exportable to the US.

If you want to snag your own little piece of Japanese cool, come to Mandarake. This chain of 11 retail stores sells tons (literally) of used artifacts — manga, trading cards, figures, games, posters, costumes, and dojinshi — that can satisfy the deepest pop culture urges. At the helm of Mandarake is its founder, a failed manga artist named Masuzo Furukawa. By Japanese standards, Furukawa is an iconoclast. His black hair is kinked into curls and colored brownish red. He wears a shiny tracksuit rather than a salaryman's coat and tie. He jokes about his many failures. He opened Mandarake 27 years ago, well before the dojinshi markets began growing more popular — in part to provide another sales channel for the work coming out of them.

At first, publishers were none too pleased with his new venture. "You think I didn't hear from them?" he tells me in a company conference room. But in the past five years, he says, as the scale and reach of the markets has expanded, the publishers' attitude "has changed 180 degrees." It's all a matter of business, he says.

To illustrate what he means, he reaches across the conference-room table and takes my notebook. On a blank page he draws a large triangle. "You have the authors up there at this tiny little tip at the top. And at the bottom," he says, drawing a line just above the widening base of the triangle, "you have the readers. The dojin artists are the ones connecting them in the middle."

In other words, where there was once a clear divide between producers and consumers and between pros and amateurs, the boundaries are now murky. The people selling their wares at the comics markets are consumers and producers, amateurs and pros. They nourish both the top and the bottom. If publishers were to squash the emerging middle, they would disrupt, and perhaps destroy, this delicate new triangular ecosystem. And remember: If manga craters, it could drag the entire Japanese pop culture industry down with it.

However, because permitting — let alone encouraging — dojinshi runs afoul of copyright law, the agreement remains implicit: The publishers avert their eyes, and the dojinshi creators resist going too far. This anmoku no ryokai business model helps rescue the manga industrial complex in at least three ways.

First, and most obviously, it's a customer care program. The dojinshi devotees are manga's fiercest fans. "We're not denying the viability or importance of intellectual property," says Kazuhiko Torishima, an executive at the publishing behemoth Shueisha. "But when the numbers speak, you have to listen."

Second, as Takeda put it at Super Comic City, "this is the soil for new talent." While most dojinshi creators have no aspirations to become manga superstars, several artists have used the comic markets to springboard into mainstream success. The best example is Clamp, which began as a circle of a dozen college women selling self-published work at comics markets in the Kansai region. Today, Clamp's members are manga rock stars; they have sold close to 100 million books worldwide.

Third, the anmoku no ryokai arrangement provides publishers with extremely cheap market research. To learn what's hot and what's not, a media company could spend lots of money commissioning polls and conducting focus groups. Or for a few bucks it could buy a Super Comic City catalog and spend two days watching 96,000 of its best customers browse, gossip, and buy in real time. These settings often provide early warnings of the shifting fan zeitgeist. For instance, a few years ago several circles that had been creating dojinshi for the series Prince of Tennis switched to Bleach, an indication that one title was falling out of favor and another was on the rise. "The publishers are seeing the market in action," Ichikawa says. "They're seeing the successes and the failures. They're seeing the trends."

Taking care of customers. Finding new talent. Getting free market research. That's a pretty potent trio of advantages for any business. Trouble is, to derive these advantages the manga industry must ignore the law. And this is where it gets weird. Unlike, say, an industrial company that might increase profits if it skirts environmental regulations imposed to safeguard the public interest, the manga industrial complex is ignoring a law designed to protect its own commercial interests.

This odd situation exposes the conflict between what Stanford law professor (and Wired contributor) Lawrence Lessig calls the "read only" culture and the "read/write" culture. Intellectual property laws were crafted for a read-only culture. They prohibit me from running an issue of Captain America through a Xerox DocuColor machine and selling copies on the street. The moral and business logic of this sort of restriction is unassailable. By merely photocopying someone else's work, I'm not creating anything new. And my cheap reproductions would be unfairly harming the commercial interests of Marvel Comics.

But as Lessig and others have argued, and as the dojinshi markets amply confirm, that same copyright regime can be inadequate, and even detrimental, in a read/write culture. Amateur manga remixers aren't merely replicating someone else's work. They're creating something original. And in doing so, they may well be helping, not hindering, the commercial interests of the copyright holders. Yet they're treated no differently from me and my hypothetical Captain America photocopies. The result is a misalignment between the emerging imperatives of smart business and the lagging sensibilities of old laws.

How to bring matters into alignment, without undercutting the "read only" protections, has been a vexing issue for American music producers and music studios as well as platforms like YouTube. One possibility, of course, is to change copyright law to make it flexible enough for a read/write culture. Good luck. In the past few decades, the copyright winds in the US have been blowing in the opposite direction — toward longer and stricter protections. It is hard to imagine Hollywood, Nashville, and New York agreeing to scale back legal protection in order to release the creative impulses of super-empowered fans, when the gains from doing so are for now only theoretical.

Another possibility is something akin to Lessig's Creative Commons licenses. Copyright holders could voluntarily reserve only some of their rights or perhaps create a special dojinshi license that allows fans to reproduce and remix works in limited ways. That's probably the ideal option. And perhaps some day Big Media will see its virtues. But the use of Creative Commons licenses so far has been extremely limited. Again, it's difficult to envision large publishers or giant movie and music studios relinquishing control over their products when the benefits are indirect, distant, and as yet unproven.

In anmoku no ryokai, manga publishers might have found a tentative, imperfect, but ultimately more promising answer — a business model that could help media companies in both Japan and the US begin to navigate these potentially treacherous new waters. Instead of rewriting a national statute or hashing out separate individual contracts or crafting special licenses, it leaves everything unsaid in order to simply give the new arrangement a test drive. It takes the situation out of the realm of law and plops it into the realm of economics and game theory. It places the established publishers and the dojinshi creators in something resembling the prisoners' dilemma: If they cooperate — that is, if they honor the terms of anmoku no ryokai — they both gain. But if one overreaches — if publishers crack down aggressively or if dojinshi creators go too far — they both suffer.

Instead of negotiating a formal pact, both parties can advance their interests through the deterrent of mutually assured destruction. What that accommodation lacks in legal clarity, it makes up for in commercial pragmatism. If the experiment fails, then everyone reverts back to the legal status quo. But if it endures, and if everyone comes to realize that the interests of the copyright holders and the fans are aligned, it could become the prelude to wider adoption of Creative Commonsstyle licenses and a more coherent set of rules for a remix culture around the world.

One afternoon in May, I walked into K-Books, a third-floor bookshop in Akihabara, a neighborhood of flashing lights and moving bodies that is the epicenter of Tokyo's otaku culture. In one section of the store, I found graphic novels by Clamp, that circle of women who went from amateurs to best-selling pros. I bought a copy of Chobits, their series about a young man who has a friendly female android assistant; a volume of xxxHolic, about a high school student who works for a witch (despite the trio of x's in the title, it's not porn); and a hardcover edition of Card Captor Sakura, about a girl with magical powers. And in a nearby section of the store, I bought dojinshi versions of those same titles. For 210 yen ($1.80), I picked up Hacker Chobits, in which the female android expands the frontiers of "friendliness." For 630 yen ($5.40) I bought a yuri, or lesbian, version of xxxHolic featuring the two main female characters of that series. And for another 630 yen, I purchased the 70-page, sprightly illustrated Sakura Remix, wherein the heroine encounters a strangely amorous frog and later discovers a hidden video camera in her classroom at an especially inopportune moment.

The official versions and the remixed versions weren't side by side. But they were for sale perhaps 10 yards away from each other. In the same store. Think about that in a US context. You walk in to Barnes & Noble and walk out with a copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — as well as an unauthorized remix of a May-December romance between Hermione Granger and Professor Minerva McGonagall. Our American IP lawyer is starting to get woozy again.

A few weeks later, I tossed these books into my backpack, hopped on a train to the outskirts of Tokyo, and entered a castlelike building that is the headquarters of Clamp's media empire. There I met with Ageha Ohkawa, the very smart and refreshingly down-to-earth head of this monumentally successful manga machine. In the late 1980s, before they started to create original work, she and her colleagues produced some remixed versions of Captain Tsubasa, a series about a soccer team, and sold them at dojinshi markets. Today, she's on the other end of the anmoku no ryokai détente.

During our conversation, I reached into my backpack to show her the three Clamp dojin titles I'd bought at K-Books. Her handlers — a few managers and a guy from legal — winced and exchanged worried looks. But Ohkawa burst into a delighted laugh and then flipped through Sakura Remix and Hacker Chobits. "Any popular manga is going to have this treatment done," she told me. "It is by people who are truly in love with the work, and you have to respect that."

So, I asked, is Hacker Chobits actually good for the real Chobits?

She paused. "I think it's good because they are expressing love for the work. And, of course, we come from the dojinshi world, so I understand this." Fans even sometimes send her their dojinshi, and what she admires about these works is the dedication and the innovation they show. "There is originality here. There are new stories. It's not a copy."

Still, she's not entirely comfortable having the black-and-white world of manga governed by the gray zone of anmoku no ryokai. "It's very vague," she says. "It's always pushing the edge of whether it should be forbidden. Should someone actually make a pirate version instead of a remix, this whole thing could collapse." Yet she can't think of a better approach. Holding up a copy of Hacker Chobits, she says, "It's not something I'm going to stand up and rail against."

The manga industrial complex has seen the future. And it works. For now.


posted by R J Noriega
Permalink ¤ 0 comments
Thursday, December 13, 2007,2:40 PM
Marketing at the Dinner Table: An Interview with Anne Elizabeth Moore
Like Naomi Klein’s No Logo, Anne Elizabeth Moore’s excellent book Unmarketable: Brandalism, Copyfighting, Mocketing and the Erosion of Integrity (New Press, 2007) exposes the spread of corporate marketing into previously untapped areas of our lives. Because many young consumers consider themselves immune to advertising, corporations have responded with a bewildering array of new techniques to get us thinking about – and buying – their products. This includes everything from the illegal (commissioning underground artists to work on graffiti campaigns is a well-used tactic) to the insidious (BzzAgent, a website where users sign up to promote products within their social networks, their only compensation being free products.)

Her focus is how countercultural movements – from punk and riot grrl to skateboarding and graffiti – have all been used by companies like Nike and PepsiCo to effectively sell their products to the anticorporate crowd. There’s an occasional success story, like photographer Tom Forsythe, who won Mattel’s lawsuit against him thanks to the Fair Use Doctrine. (Tom photographs Barbie dolls in compromising positions as a comment on consumerism.) It is shortly followed by the story of a Minor Threat poster, so resonant with the band’s fans that Nike used it, without permission, to advertise a product tour. After the poster had been widely circulated for two days, Nike removed it and issued an apology. No lawsuit or compensation followed. The author, a co-editor of the now defunct Punk Planet, doesn’t spare herself from scrutiny, either. She describes being ejected from a toy store for “shopdropping” messages mocking consumerism, and her dismay over finding out at the last minute that a zine-making workshop she was hired to teach was sponsored by Starbucks.

Irina Ivanova: You write about the major shift that happened from an overt onslaught of advertising into “small media and word-of-mouth techniques” that now make up a lot of marketing. Would you talk about when that shift happened and what caused it?

Anne Elizabeth Moore: I think the best example in the book, of course, is the Star Wars campaign, because Star Wars is the most overmarketed product on the face of the earth. A lot of that is because people of my age who were six or seven when the movie came out grew up with Star Wars as our defining mythology, and so a lot of it seems natural. But there are no other ways of getting a message out that Star Wars hasn’t already tried. Putting your message on a bag of potato chips in the grocery store is pretty extreme for a film, but they did that a really long time ago. And so when Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith, came out, I think they were like, “We still need to find a way to get in with the kids. You know, kids love graffiti and they love zines so let’s do that.” So they tapped into the underground. And now the messages weren’t just everywhere in mainstream America, but they were everywhere that mainstream America wasn’t really willing to go, either. And that’s where it gets really scary and really gross. Because you literally can’t escape Star Wars. And now that you have government in on the marketing of Star Wars [with Star-Wars themed mailboxes], it’s become frightening. The promotion machine behind this film is unstoppable.

II: So the state and the underground are both in on it…what’s left?

AEM: Well that’s the thing, right? There’s not much else left to go. Except, of course, they could realize that somewhere there are people having Thanksgiving dinner where they’re not actually going to talk about Star Wars. So then we move into this strategy of word-of-mouth marketing. If you control people’s conversation, ultimately you influence their pocketbooks. And that’s where all of the BzzAgent stuff and the word-of-mouth stuff and the youth intelligence agency come in, because those are the spaces that are left free, sometimes, of marketing. Except for that they’re not, anymore, because people are being given the incentive to market into our normal one-on-one relationships.

…The problem is that once corporate messaging has become normalized for the next generation, they won’t even realize there is a base of dissent against this stuff. And once we’re able to remind them that this might not be OK all the time, they can come up with really pretty amazing ways of fighting it.

II: Let’s back up a little bit and talk about the difference between marketing and advertising.

AEM: People will say that the difference between marketing and advertising is that marketing is creating a general system of support for products or goods or services, usually on behalf of a client. And then they will say that advertising does that but is specifically a sales pitch to try to convince people to buy these specific goods or services. But I also think that these discussions started in earnest in the 1940s or 50s with Vance Packard’s book, The Hidden Persuaders, and that was where people who work in the corporate world, in what we [now] would call marketing, sort of tried to distance themselves from advertising. They weren’t actually going to let go of the sales pitch aspect, so the sales pitch became more subtle and became integrated into the idea of marketing. And so even though most people who work in marketing and public relations will not say that they actually do advertising, most of what [we receive] now are consumerist messages that do have a sales pitch buried within them.

There are a lot of decisions that go into trying to get us to buy stuff, and most of them aren’t decisions that we’re being offered on a consumer level at the same rate as we’re being offered all these things to buy. … There’s been a veritable assault on our integrity, especially for people who work in the anticorporate ethos, in order to normalize the marketing of corporate products as an everyday activity. And there’s been a series of deliberate decisions that went into that, and that basically does mean that there’s been a plan to erode our integrity for quite a while, ever since that was identified as barrier to marketing appearing in all venues at all times.

II: What is integrity, anyway?

AEM: What I think of when I think about integrity is making sure that when you perform an action or create something, that all the way through from your conception to production you’re keeping it in line with your original goals, and you’re aware of what the implications of that are. And, if part of your thing is to make yourself into a brand that sells really well on an international level – if you know you want to do that, you’re following your own integrity. But when you’re not thinking about that stuff, that’s when it starts to become an issue, and when people start telling you, hey, it is totally in line with your integrity to wear these Nike shoes to the anti-Nike protest, and you do it, that’s when it becomes a real big issue.

I also don’t want to get caught in the trap of actually being able to define what is or isn’t integrity. You can work anything that you want into your intentions and your plans and your decision-making skills, and I don’t really care what those things are. And you should probably think about all of them before you start running around the world willy-nilly accidentally marketing things you hate.

II: Do you think corporate products and corporate messaging can ever be fought effectively on their own grounds? I’m thinking specifically about the example you had in your book about Dischord and their refusal to sue Nike over Nike’s theft of a Minor Threat poster for an ad campaign.

AEM: That’s an interesting question, because what it does address directly is that the corporate world dominates the playing field. They set up the rules, they set up all the terms of engagement and they basically started all of the fight. So, there isn’t a way to engage with them or even to respond to them and still win. Because even if you win, you’re winning on terms that they’ve defined. So, if Minor Threat had gone to court, and had sued Nike, and retained control of its copyright, then – what? Then Minor Threat would have made it clear that Nike wasn’t allowed to use their copyright, and what good does that do someone who’s not interested in making a legal claim over copyright based on these ideas in the first place? And then, of course, the issue of money comes into it – can you put a price on something that you did not intend for sale?

I think what we have to do is re-separate the legal world from the corporate world. Even though we know that these things aren’t really separate, we have to find a way of making the legal precedent without necessarily falling for the financial trap of it. The legal system is the only system we have. That’s the catchall for everything that we participate in in this society. And so, you can set a legal precedent, like Tom [Forsyth] did with the Mattel case, you can maybe get your fees covered, and have the corporate players who are involved in creating this system in the first place cover all the finances of it, but maybe walk away with nothing. And maybe just say, ‘well, this was a big fuckin’ waste of my time, but I did have to set a legal precedent so they know they can’t do it to other people.’ Those are the terms we have to start thinking about.

II: Corporations’ appropriating of “free” culture is a catch-22 situation for creators who want to let other artists use their work but don’t want it usedby corporations. What do you think of practices like copylefting/Creative Commons as effective alternatives to copyright?

AEM: Creative Commons and the practice of copylefting are both great ways of rethinking how we might reconsider image or content reuse in our culture, but they are not alternatives to copyright, which remains the law. I think, I hope, that we’re heading for a time when all the Creative Commons kinks will be worked out and we can pass it as law, I think it’s an incredibly smart and well-articulated system of thinking about content, but I think it hasn’t been tested yet by the forces that are most going to oppose its legal use, which are the corporate.

But outside of those communities who use Creative Commons, it is rare to find artists that don’t want their work used in marketing campaigns, which is the audience I want to read this book. That “debate” is controlled entirely by mass media, who will argue, as they borrow your work for their ad campaigns, that it is important for all unique voices to be heard by the widest possible audience. They will argue that *that* is democracy, that their control of the means of distribution of all culture provides the variety of voices we demand from democracy. But that is the thing we have been overlooking about democracy, since at least the Telecommunications Act of 1996: That democracy can not be provided to us. It is not the same thing as consumer choice. It is a participatory system that requires we have access to it.

II: You mention several times that corporations used Naomi Klein’s No Logo to get new marketing ideas. Are you worried that Unmarketable will be used in this way?

AEM: Oh, I wrote the book specifically wary of that audience. Naomi Klein knew it too: consumer culture consumes. And of course, if you write a book stating “some culture must be kept free of commerce,” people who do not want any culture to be free of commerce are going to read it, to game it, figure out that strategy’s weak spots, use it as fodder for an edgier marketing campaign. But in a way, I want to position the theories forwarded in this book in the same way that I want to position the culture of independent production, as important to democracy. And so requesting marketers leave it be then becomes not only an issue of respect, but also one of civil rights. Unless they repealed the First Amendment. I don’t know, maybe they did.

Marketers do know something that the rest of the world has forgotten: that criticism can only strengthen projects and approaches. In art, books, film, music, real engaged criticism—people writing about the deeper issues that underly content and production—has totally fallen away. I mean, that’s happened through a long, drawn-out process of corporatizing media whereby anything less than relentless positivity is labeled counterproductive to the selling environment supposedly sought by journalists today, so it’s not exclusively the fault of the writers. But once again, we’re allowing a field based in commerce—marketing—to preserve something of vital cultural importance—a space to analyze our culture. Why aren’t the rest of us freaking out about it? And don’t tell me it’s because we’re all on the dole, because that will just depress me.

II: What was the hardest part of writing this book?

AEM: Doing it while I was feeling the effects of it in the loss of my magazine. Like, literally watching the things that I was writing about during the day erode my financial stability at night. And then on top of that, like – who can write a book when they’re just going through the loss of their entire career in independent publishing, or any career? It was really – it was really affecting.

But that’s also something that makes it so gratifying that people are so excited about it. I’m totally out of a job because these [corporations] think that they can take over everything! And frankly, a lot of people have let them. A lot of friends of mine have let them. And so, really being able to have this fallback position of ‘no, I’m not crazy, this is actually happening, and here’s the proof,’ has been one of the most gratifying things about people [reading this book.] It’s just been amazing.

II: Do you see any sort of resurgence for independent publishing in print, or should we be looking elsewhere?

AEM: No – not until some of this stuff changes. I think that bigger fights need to happen before there is a resurgence of print publishing, but I also think that people who work in print should just hunker down and make it happen for the next couple of years until that happens, because the Internet is not the savior.

As we were closing up Punk Planet, you know…I mean, I’ve been doing this stuff for 22 years. Since I was 15 I was publishing or self-publishing. So I’ve been around this stuff for my entire adult life, and as Dan and I were closing up Punk Planet, it was like “you know, we could do this – we could just hunker down, move it back into our basements and just put it out every other month, scale it all back, eliminate the heavy reliance on advertisers, really focus on our subscribers, and just make it work, but I don’t have the energy anymore.” You know. I’ve done that for over two decades; I couldn’t do it for one more second.

So the people who can, should. For sure. But it’s not gonna be easy.

II: What can we people who make media and consume media do to protect physical and mental spaces from corporate marketing?

AEM: Christ, this is such a good question. Because as I’ve done these interviews and events more and more, and talked to people who are getting fired up about this book, really getting excited about the ideas in it, I’ve also gotten kind of bummed at how many people don’t look at their own actions within the structure I’m trying to describe. Like the guy who was just railing about how horrible the shoe company is for encroaching on his culture, but then staunchly defended his own decision to allow a beer company to sponsor an alternative art space. And I know what that’s about, because I rationalized my decision to do the work for the coffee company as something that I had earned. That I deserved. But some of the consequences of that I allude to in the book too, and I don’t even go into the really truly insane cultural production sponsorship strategy that coffee company seems to have formulated since, either. You know? We are all culpable in this now. Start by not being culpable anymore. Don’t wear the shirt, do the design job, print the brand name, get the tattoo, or use the logo on the flyer or placard. Start there. Let’s see what that alone can do.


posted by R J Noriega
Permalink ¤ 0 comments
Wednesday, December 12, 2007,8:30 AM
Before Lonelygirl15, There Was William Gibson
"Pattern Recognition" is an Industry Thriller of the Best Kind: Indicative
Posted by James Arndorfer

Recall the summer of 2006, when YouTube sensation Lonelygirl15 (a.k.a. "Bree") was all the rage with the MSM and bloggeratti. From epistemological discussions of Bree's identity to big pronouncements of What It All Means, it was difficult to escape the web phenom back when You were named Time magazine's Person of the Year.

Amid all the hubbub of a "new form" of online interaction, novelist William Gibson must have been smiling.

That's because Gibson's socio-techno-comic thriller "Pattern Recognition" serves up a first-class mystery with all the makings of the next Lonelygirl15 saga...only the book hit shelves in February 2003, more than three years before anyone had heard of Bree and her many woes.

It's not surprising that Gibson anticipated a pop culture watershed (though he denies belief the creators of Lonelygirl15 were inspired by his book). After all, this is the guy who coined the term "cyberspace" in the early '80s. A science-fiction writer by trade, he's as much a social scientist, whose novels have long forecasted global communication trends by at least a generation or two.

Gibson's sharp observations of the intersection of technology and marketing in a post-9/11 world and the resulting interaction between consumers and brands make this, the author's ninth novel, one of the better marketing books of recent years.

"Pattern Recognition" tells the story of Cayce Pollard, a "cool hunter" who prowls the world for the latest in street fashion, from London's Camden Town to the streets of Los Angeles' Dogtown and beyond.

Her powers are practically supernatural. She can tell at a glance whether a logo will inspire or repel. ("Blink" that, Malcolm Gladwell!) But her gift comes with a price: She's literally "allergic" to fashion. Indeed, some icons (the Michelin man) or brands (Tommy Hilfiger) induce illness.

Cayce is also enrapt with a series of film fragments that have appeared mysteriously on the internet. The webisodes (135 and counting) star a man and woman from no apparent time or place and appear in no apparent order. "He might be a sailor, stepping onto a submarine in 1914, or a jazz musician entering a club in 1957," Gibson writes.

Gibson makes clear that the mystery and ambiguity of the films resonate so deeply with Cayce because she's still grappling with the disappearance of her father, who vanished in New York on 9/11. She shares her theories on the fragments' authorship with fellow cultists on the bulletin board, Footage:Fetish:Forum.

Cayce's online obsession soon draws the attention of the inscrutable Hubertus Bigend, CEO of marketing agency Blue Ant, a "high-speed, low-drag life-form in an advertising ecology of lumbering herbivores." Bigend sees the footage as the "single most effective piece of guerilla marketing ever." Naturally, he wants in on the action, and dispatches Cayce to find the creator.

The quest takes Cayce from Tokyo to Moscow, where she encounters characters ranging from embittered ex-cryptographers to Russian mafia kingpins. Naturally, she's not the only one scheming to get her hands on the footage, and not everyone is who they appear to be.

For the real-life strategist, Gibson's narrative is packed with foresight on industry hot topics, from deep-niche consumers to word-of-mouth marketing. The author casts his eye on the ways brands attempt to tell their stories in an increasingly digital world that is fragmenting even as it becomes more closely integrated. Viral, video games and has-been spokes-celebs are all part of the discussion.

Gibson's works are among the few that deserve the moniker "prophetic." "Pattern Recognition" is a powerful exploration of how 21st-century marketing works -- and just might offer suggestions as to where it's going.

Labels: ,

posted by R J Noriega
Permalink ¤ 0 comments
,7:55 AM
posted by R J Noriega
Permalink ¤ 0 comments
Monday, December 10, 2007,3:25 AM
Hero deficit: Comic books in decline
Brad Mackay

The superhero comics that kids once knew (and perhaps loved) are in trouble. Notwithstanding Hollywood's recent infatuation with big-budget superhero movies, for much of the past 30 years the monthly comic book adventures of Spider-Man, Batman and their kind have been suffering from shrinking readership and slumping sales.

For example, during the heyday of the late 1970s, a bestseller from DC or Marvel Comics, two of the biggest publishers, could expect to sell 300,000 copies. These days a similar title would be fortunate to move more than 50,000.

For an industry famous for tales packed full of muscles and melodrama, the situation has prompted an unusual amount of soul searching. The would-be villains are many. Some have blamed the sales slide on cultural upstarts, like video games, manga and the ever-present Internet. Others point to the increased popularity of bookstore-friendly graphic novels, sales of which have recently surpassed traditional comics.

But there are those who have begun to ask more complex questions, like how characters that are 40, or even 70, years old can remain relevant in an increasingly diverse society. This raises one of the oldest and most uncomfortable truths about the superhero genre: its surprising dearth of non-white heroes, particularly black ones.

Take Marvel Comics, home to such super-powered luminaries as Spider-Man, Captain America, Wolverine and the Fantastic Four. For more than 40 years, the New York-based company has modelled itself as the more progressive half of a superhero industry dyad, the other half being DC Comics. But on closer inspection, Marvel's catalogue tells a different story. According to their own figures, the Marvel universe contains more than 5,000 characters, yet even a generous count reveals that only 100 or so of these are black – less than two per cent of their fictional population. This pales in comparison to the nearly 14 per cent that the U.S. Census says makes up American society at present (the number is more like 12 if you expand the numbers to include all of North America).

The rest of the mainstream industry doesn't fair much better. Of the 300 comics published monthly by Marvel, DC, and a clutch of other companies, only a half-dozen or so titles feature a black hero in a starring role. And according to the industry website Icv2.com, none of these titles – which include the Black Panther, Blade and Spawn – sell well enough to regularly crack the Top 50, which on most months is a realm reserved for an all-star (and all-white) cast of heroes like Spider-Man, Superman and Captain America.

Female superheroes, meanwhile, haven't fared much better in the pages of mainstream comics. While there have been many notable super-heroines in comics – including DC's Wonder Woman, who was among the first to debut way back in 1941 – their ranks are far outweighed by the men.

But for those working in the estimated $400 million mainstream comic business, the homogeneity of heroes is becoming harder and harder to ignore.

Just ask Reginald Hudlin. The writer and director behind such films like House Party and Boomerang and TV shows like Everybody Hates Chris has been frustrated for decades by what he sees as the gross under-representation of black heroes in comics. A comic fan since he was a kid (he owns more than 30,000) and the current writer behind Marvel's Black Panther title, Hudlin is perplexed by how one of the oldest and most "pop" of all popular cultures could remain so whitewashed.

"In every other medium, the most successful concept or product is black. Whether it's music, movies, TV shows: out of the top 10, four of them are black," he says from his office at Black Entertainment Television, where he is an executive. "Who are the biggest movie stars? Jamie Foxx, Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Eddie Murphy. Only in comics are blacks so under represented. Somehow, in this medium people are so out of touch with popular culture that they don't understand that black culture is popular culture."

To understand how this came to be, a brief history lesson is in order. This one starts in the summer of 1938. That's when a fledgling company called National Allied Publications (later to become DC Comics) published the first issue of Action Comics, featuring a rejected newspaper strip about a super-strong bully who could leap "an eighth of a mile." That character was Superman. Co-created by Toronto-born Joe Shuster, he served as a bolt of creative energy in a young medium populated by lacklustre adventure stories.

The success of this ur-superhero spawned a cast of similar DC characters, from Batman and Wonder Woman to the Green Lantern and The Flash. By the 1940s, superhero comics were a certified pop phenomenon, with single issues of Superman selling a million copies and dozens of companies sprouting up to cash in. In this Golden Age, the first black comic book characters mirrored attitudes of the day – simpleminded sidekicks with names like Sunny Boy Sam and Whitewash Jones. One of the companies that emerged during the initial superhero book boom was Timely Comics. It unveiled its first heroes, The Human Torch and The Submariner, in 1939's Marvel Comics No. 1. Timely would eventually take its name from that comic, rebranding itself Marvel Comics in the early 1960s not long before the appearance of another epochal comic title, Fantastic Four No. 1. Written by Stan Lee and drawn by Jack Kirby, the November 1961 debut of the super-powered team launched a second Silver Age of superhero comics, one in which heroes were flawed, often spending as much time fretting as fighting.

From this formula came a series of new superheroes and super anti-heroes, like Spider-Man, the Hulk, Daredevil and Iron Man, who caught on with a new generation looking for a change. But as society continued to progress, comics began to fall into a rut, relying on the same old characters, the majority white, that initially proved so popular.

"Comics in the last 30 years have been heavily vested in catering to nostalgia for a fan base," Regina-based cultural historian Jeet Heer said via email. "That is to say, the audience for superhero comics has gotten smaller, older and more intense over the last three decades."

As a result, most successful superhero comics continue to have roots in either the Golden Age or the Silver Age. "As it happens, both these time periods were really pre-Civil Rights (or at the very cusp of the civil rights movement), so the comics done in the past didn't really address multicultural or black issues, and the ones being done now that hearken back to the past don't deal with these issues either."

In their defence, the mainstream companies have endeavoured to inject a little diversity into their books over the years. Some would argue the results have been less than super. Marvel was the first out of the blocks in the mid-1960s when, inspired by the civil rights movement in the U.S., they unveiled several visible black heroes to their universe. Among the first were Black Panther, the tribal leader of a fictional African country, and Black Goliath, a ghetto-raised scientist who, in a freak lab accident, gains the power to grow by 15 feet.

DC didn't really get into the game until the 1970s, when the industry began to take its inspiration from blaxploitation films. Memorably, in 1972 they introduced John Stewart, an architect who becomes an emergency replacement for the Green Lantern of the day, Hal Jordan. By resisting a suggestion to name him Isaiah Washington (a stereotypical slave name), artist Neal Adams struck a blow for diversity at DC.

Another arrived later that same year, when Marvel introduced Luke Cage (a.k.a. Power Man), the first black superhero to get his own eponymous title. It would also prove to be the longest lasting, running an admirable 125 issues.

The track record of ensuing black superheroes is dominated by disappointment or dismal failure. There were spectacular flops, from DC's multi-racial "Planet DC" line to Spike Lee's best-forgotten "Comics With Spike" line. The mainstream comic industry's pitiable, and even outright embarrassing, track record on diversity comes as no surprise to retailers like Peter Birkemoe.

"Everything that these companies do is in complete isolation from true market forces. They are not now, nor have they been for 30 years, part of the mass media," says the co-owner of Toronto's most discerning comic shop, The Beguiling. "Companies run by fans with comics drawn by fans rarely think of catering to anyone but themselves, which unfortunately means comics aimed primarily at adult men who still want to read comics featuring characters suited to children's entertainment."

If they're truly unable to recruit younger readers, superhero comics are destined to whither and possibly die within a generation or two. It is entirely possible that our grandchildren will know of Spider-Man or Batman only through other iterations, like Hollywood, cartoons, or video games.

Leopold Campbell, a 34-year-old vice-principal and die-hard superhero fan, has an easy solution: write better stories. Campbell, who has been reading comics since he was "a working-class black kid" in Toronto, says comic fans of all colours get hooked on them for one reason, the addictive nature of serialized storylines – many of which involve complex plots and take years to resolve.

Most black comics, on the other hand, "are insulting to the intelligence," he says. "The problem is, black characters always have to be protest characters... They're always arguing about something or they're always angry, and it always has to do with race. So they're fixed within one specific subject."

The worst recent example of this was Steel, a 1994 Superman spin-off that featured a black engineer-turned-superhero. "The stories were insulting. [Here's] this guy that's supposed to be highly intelligent and makes weapons for the military, and he's fighting people in the ghetto. It just made no sense." This is especially frustrating for Campbell who runs a book club for boys (many of whom are black) at Toronto's Fisherville Junior High School.

"The black students are very much intrigued by the black characters, they want the black heroes. They feel a sense pride and they relate to them... but it's the story that will keep them coming back, and often the problem is the stories aren't great. They'd rather go out and buy a hip-hop CD than go buy a bunch of comics."

If anyone is going to take the black superhero out of the ghetto, it just might be Marvel's executive editor, Axel Alonso.

A veteran of Marvel and DC, Alonso has championed controversial projects, including a 2003 miniseries that re-imagined the 1950s western hero Rawhide Kid as a leather-clad gay cowboy, and the 2004 series Truth: Red, White and Black. It recounted the untold story of the first Captain America, an African American who endured brutal tests that echoed the real-life Tuskegee syphilis experiments that were conducted starting in the 1930s on a group of American men who were black and poor.

Both series were praised by many outside of the comic industry, yet Marvel weathered intense – and often racially charged – criticism from fans.

"The comic book industry is a little bit like the music industry before hip-hop," Alonso says. "When hip-hop broke, it was embraced almost 100 per cent by a black and Latino audience, and it took quite a while for it to get the inroads that it did to a white audience. There were some quantum leaps in the music industry as hip-hop found its footing and arguably supplanted rock as the cultural mainstream. Within comics we haven't had that kind of thing yet."

To help get there, in 2005 Marvel mounted a high-profile launch of a title starring their marquee black hero, the Black Panther. The series debuted in February – Black History Month – and landed at the No. 27 spot on the monthly bestseller list (above the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man).

But in the two years since, sales have dropped 50 per cent and Hudlin has been the target of venomous criticism. One early scene that depicted Black Panther beating Captain America in a fight provoked online critics to accuse him of "shameless race-card playing" and "promoting an exaggerated super Negro."

It got so bad last fall that the website Comic Book Resources temporarily suspended all discussion of the comic on its message boards, citing an "unacceptable level of vitriol."

"I won't lie," says Alonso. "This is a title that we need to fight to keep alive. I mean, I've yet to see a writer take more hits from the right people than Reggie."

He adds that Marvel is committed to keeping the book alive, even if it means ignoring low sales figures.

"If we can't have the Black Panther as a major player in the Marvel Universe then we're not doing our job. This isn't affirmative action – it's just the facts. This is a character that we feel has legs, and if it takes an extra commitment to making that be the case, then so be it."

Last summer DC Comics unveiled its own diversification gambit that it hopes will win over fans, however calls to DC comics publisher Paul Levitz, seeking further comment were not returned by press time. As part of a larger shake-up of its fictional universe, DC introduced radical reboots of some of its stock superheroes, including an African American version of Firestorm, a Hispanic Blue Beetle, and a new Batwoman, resurrected as a gay socialite. It's not much, but if it convinces even a few kids to put down their PSP or step away from their computer long enough to get lost in a good, old-fashioned, four-colour power fantasy then there may be hope for superhero comics after all.

"I like to think," says Alonso, "that there'll always be a place in our universe where a kid can look and see reflected in the mirror an idealized form of themselves."

A dearth of black heroes pt 2
. . . count the major ones on one hand; meet them below, plus a milestone comic company

» Black Panther

Acknowledged as comics' first black superhero, the Black Panther (a.k.a. King T'Challa of the affluent nation of Wakanda) first appeared in July 1966 in Marvel Comics' Fantastic Four No. 52 – several months before the militant civil rights group appeared. Two years later, the "Sidney Poitier" of superheroes became the first black member of The Avengers and later earned his first starring role in a 1973 issue of Jungle Action. In the year since he has had several different series and miniseries, including the current ongoing series penned by filmmaker Reginald Hudlin.

» The Falcon

Born and raised in Harlem, Sam ``Snap'' Wilson became Marvel's first African American superhero after his debut in Captain America No. 117 in 1969. A long-time partner of Captain America, The Falcon, once quit The Avengers after he learned he had been hired to fill a super-quota.

» John Stewart (Green Lantern)

An architect turned intergalactic protector, John Stewart was one of the first black superheroes to not be saddled with a code name that began conspicuously with the word "black." His first appearance came in the January 1972 issue of the socially minded series Green Lantern/Green Arrow, where he was selected as a substitute for the then-injured Green Lantern, Hal Jordan.

» Luke Cage (Power Man)

A trash-talking ex-con with super-strength and steel hard skin, in July 1972 Luke Cage became the first black superhero to get his own self-titled comic with Marvel's Luke Cage: Hero for Hire No. 1. The streetwise series ran for 125 issues, making it the longest running comic ever to date featuring a black superhero. A young Nicolas Cage was such a big fan of the character that he used him as inspiration when searching for a replacement for his famous surname, Coppola.

» Black Lightning

DC Comics' first black superhero, Black Lightning, debuted in his own self-titled series in April 1977. Lightning, a.k.a. Jefferson Pierce, an Olympic athlete turned inner city school teacher, toted a voltage-generating belt and a white mask with a unique afro attachment. He once turned down an invitation from Superman to join the Justice League of America.

» Milestone Comics

Created in 1992 in partnership with DC Comics, Milestone Comics was likely the most high-profile comic company to feature a complete line of African-American and other ethnically diverse superheroes. Owned and operated by African American writers and artists (and featuring early work by Toronto artist Ho Che Anderson), it published a series of comics, including Static, Hardware and Icon, before closing up shop in 1997. – Brad Mackay

Labels: ,

posted by R J Noriega
Permalink ¤ 0 comments
Oriental Trading Company