Thursday, May 28, 2020

Echoes of 1970, fear and anxiety in 2020.

Some of you have asked asked what moved me to make Kent State. Think about America 1970. An authoritarian regime and a brutal, often deadly, police response to anyone who stood up and raised their voice in protest.

Now think about America 2020.

Stand up to those in power, stand up to the cops, and you feel their full military force. Didn't take long for the Minneapolis cops to use gas and rubber bullets and clubs, did it? They murder a man in public, in front of a dozen witnesses who beg the smirking killer to let the man breathe. A day later cops attack a crowd of people protesting that murder. And the following night, the city was on fire. Well done, officers. You had a chance to ease tensions, to let people peacefully have their say, to demand justice and real systemic change. Instead you lit the fuse.

"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable." –John F. Kennedy
Wouldn't extreme police restraint be the order here? Let the people have their say. punish the criminal cops, reform your ranks, change your practices. Be better at your jobs! Does the Minneapolis mayor have any control over this police force at all?The great cautionary lesson of Kent State is that when protests threaten those in power, the price of dissent will be bitterly high.
Especially, then as now, if you're black.
One of the biggest issues of the Black Panthers in 1970 was police brutalizing the black community. The police and the FBI, under orders from Nixon, unleashed a secret war against the Panthers. Their leaders were arrested and jailed, forced into exile in other countries, or gunned down in cold blood. This war was then expanded to include Nixon's long list of enemies, virtually anyone left of the Republican Party. It involved every layer of the intelligence services, FBI, CIA, the IRS, Military Intelligence, and filtered down to state and local authorities. It's the same punishment Trump has vowed to unleash on HIS enemies.
This war on US soil was noted for its sweeping unconstitutional, often illegal, methods spread over nearly a decade of abuse. Thanks to the Patriot Act we foolishly allowed to become law, many of these things are now perfectly legal. That was the point of the Patriot Act! Dick Cheney, who started his political career in the Nixon White House, remembered the scandal of CointelPRO (the name of the illegal war) and wanted to ensure any abuses in his War on Terror would be excused.
"Mission accomplished."
The lesson then that the government learned from the Kent State era? Not what we had hoped. Law enforcement (from local to fed) has spent 50 years militarizing their forces, perfecting crowd control techniques, and arming up with weaponry specifically designed to crush protests. The government will never again allow the kind of mass unrest we had in 1970, which filled the streets of every city and roiled every campus, and forced US policy to change. If you try, as we're seeing in Minneapolis, they will immediately move against you with overwhelming force. They want people to be afraid to protest.
Unless, of course, you're a bunch of white far-right protestors waving guns and QAnon signs. That's different.
Gee, wonder why?
It's my fear, especially with an increasingly desperate, anti-democratic president who feels his grip on power slipping away, is that we have circled right back around to 1970. The partisan hatred is the same. So the story of Kent State is, sadly, as relevant now as it was in 1970. We've learned little as a society in those 50 years.
We are perilously close to another Kent State.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Fifty years, and one day later...

OK, so now what?

Yesterday, May 4, the mainstream media did their pieces on the 50th anniversary of the Kent State Massacre, and a day later has moved on.  Because of the lockdown and the cancellation of all the events at the university, it was, by my observation, half the coverage it would have received. That’s the last interest they’ll show in this event until the 60th, if even then. The media loves a good round number. Odd numbers, not so much.

I’m sad for all the survivors of May 4, the Students of 1970. This was to be THEIR richly-deserved moment. After a half century of cover-ups and lies, of the university trying to bury the past, of bloviators and apologists telling them to “get over it and move on,” this was– finally– their chance to receive their due. The slate of events at the university was incredible. I bet 15,000 people would have flooded the campus. There would have hugs and tears and embraces. The pain the Students of 1970 carry with them is palpable. It’s there in every one of them I’ve met, and I’ve met dozens and dozens. Many are still burdened with PTSD. That’s what happens when you see your friends gunned down in cold blood right in front of your eyes. Think of your own college experience, and how treasured that is for most of us, those heady, transformative years when you come of age, find yourself and lay the groundwork for the rest of your life. Then drop a government massacre in the middle of it. The students of 1970 are all in their Seventies now. They waited so long for this. How many more chances will they have? Not to be morbid, but I watched this happen with my Dad and all his WW2 comrades. Generations die out and vanish from the world. It’s the way of things. What a pity to have the indomitable Students of 1970 be cheated like this, by a fucking virus and the blunders of an incompetent, narcissistic oaf.

Mine was one of several books that were to be released in conjunction with the 50th. I won’t apologize for piggybacking onto the event. I make books to sell books, as has every author throughout history. This isn’t a hobby. It’s my career. It’s more than that, of course, it’s a calling, or perhaps an obsession, but it’s what I do. KENT STATE has been on a list of potential books for years. I had other books I wanted to make first, and, frankly, I didn’t have the drawing skills needed for this tale (and perhaps STILL don’t have those skills). Yes, the 50th looming on the horizon was the impetus for finishing the book, but the desire was there regardless.

KENT STATE is a book of which I’m very proud. It’s an important story, and one that the vast majority of Americans don’t know at all, or have misconceptions about. I think I’ve told it pretty well. Here's an EXCERPT. As we head into, I fear, a prolonged period of extreme partisan warfare, government repression, and the very real possibility of a victory by anti-democratic reactionaries, the story of KENT STATE is a relevant now as it was in 1970. Do you really think Trump and his oligarch enablers are going to slink off quietly? 

The plan all along was to launch the book in April and do as much mainstream media as could be mustered, up until May 4. Hopefully, that would have been a great push for the book, reaching far beyond the comics world, and generated lots of interviews, reviews, and, yes, sales. But after May 4, when the media moved on, the book was going to have to survive purely as comics. I always knew that. So we planned a two-tier promotional campaign. I had events stacked up in April for audiences that were only interested in the history, not in comics. After May 4, the tour switched gears to events that were for comics or books. That would have carried me into the Fall, for the second leg of the tour.

That plan went up in a puff of smoke a month ago when the pandemic hit and we all locked down.

Again, I realize this sounds crassly commercial, but hey, what good is doing a book that isn’t read? Coming up through indie comics, where I had to fight tooth and nail to be seen and heard and taken seriously, especially by the mainstream, I’m wired to sell my work hard. I’m old school. I don’t flounce in for a 2-hour signing at a comics festival, then disappear. I table for the entire 2 or 3 days and sell every damn copy I have. 

The release of the book is now delayed until September 8. So much for piggybacking onto the 50th. It’s the best of bad options. There’s no point in releasing a book right now if no one can buy it. The distribution system is running on half steam, and all the bookstores are closed. Yeah, Amazon is up and running, but y’know what? I don’t want to help make Amazon even more MORE dominant! Comics retail is totally shut down. The monopoly distributor has closed up and Marvel & DC aren’t even making new floppies. It’s a total stop. Maybe by September, the retail machine will be running again, what’s left of it and even if only at half steam. It’s also possible it WON’T be, but at least there’s a chance, as opposed to now, when there’s no chance at all.

Nonetheless,  the book got some nice coverage this past week. A great write-up in the New Yorker, and the piece for WKSU which found its way to NPR’s Morning Edition. Most of the rest who were planning pieces are holding off until the book release, if they have interest at all at that point.

It’s likely that the book is screwed, as is every book that comes out in 2020, and maybe every book in 2021. I can’t see book events and, especially, festival and cons returning for several years. Can you imagine San Diego Comic Con or the Angoulême Festival being held during a pandemic? We’ll need a cure for this fucking virus before those things happen again. Everything I planned on to promote the book is basically out the window. How will we sell books in the COVID world? Unclear. What happens if the carnage is as bad as feared and we plummet into another Great Depression? Also unclear. It was going to be an incredible year of travel and events. It is what it is. Thankfully, I still have the past decade of incredible memories to hold me until I can hit the road again.

I hope you’ve found the posts  of the past week on social media interesting and moving. We’ll fire up the promo campaign in August and I’ll pepper you all with posts and media once again. Until then, pre-ordering Kent State will certainly help. I recommend Bookshop, where the hardback (which is a beautiful edition) is currently on sale. Bookshop is a non-profit online service that hooks up buyers with indie bookstores who do mail order. Here's the LINK.

Stay safe, everyone. Be well.