In my preview of Black Panther for the April issue, I talked some about what it was like collaborating with a great artist like Brian Stelfreeze. When I was kid, I paid very little attention to the names behind the art. I had this odd notion that the writer dictated what happened and the artist robotically followed it. As an adult fan, I came to understand how wrong that was. But it wasn’t until collaborating with Brian that I could really really see the error.
I’m hesitant to make a general declaration about all writer-artists teams. From what I can tell the process differs from team to team. In my case the best way I can explain our process is this: I am the screenwriter and Brian is the director. To get some sense of how this might work, I figured it’d might help to compare a page from the script and a page illustrated by Brian.
Here is my direction from the script:
Here is what Brian actually did:
The basic gist of the scene is here. But it’s much better dramatized. The usage of the spear, for instance, to bring T’Challa’s men back to attention is a big and important addition. The constant question with comic script writing is “How does it look?” I always offer an answer to that question because I think it’s easier to brainstorm from something bad, then from nothing at all. Still, sometimes the answer just isn’t very good. It takes a great artist not just to realize that T’Challa “waving and telling his forces to fall back” is insufficient, but to actually come up with something better.
There will be more notes later this week on Issue #1 of Black Panther, on working with Brian, and comics in general. Stay tuned.
Above we have a sketch of T’Challa dabbin’ on dem folks courtesy of Brian Stelfreeze. Obviously, I can’t really take much credit for this sketch. Brian has this great ability, not just to interpret script direction, but to actually add on and make something new and beautiful.
With that said I’d like to talk some about T’Challa’s major challenge in this first season of Black Panther. (Here’s hoping there will be more.) When I accepted the task of writing the new Black Panther comic, I was faced with an obvious question—Who is this guy? There was the obvious and the known—T’Challa is the ruler of the mythical African nation of Wakanda. But to write, I needed to develop a grounded theory of T’Challa’s great loves, small annoyances and everything in between. The grounding came from past depictions of T’Challa by writers like Don McGregor, Christopher Priest, Reginald Hudlin and Jonathan Hickman.
I also had to create some sort of working theory about Wakanda, and to the extent to which I came to one it is this: Wakanda is a contradiction. It is the most advanced nation on Earth, existing under one of the most primitive forms of governance on Earth. In the present telling, Wakanda’s technological superiority goes back centuries. Presumably it’s population is extremely well educated, and yet that population willingly accedes to rule by blood. T’Challa descends from an unbroken line of kings, all who’ve taken up the mantle of the Black Panther. But if you’ve ever studied monarchy, it becomes immediately apparent that the aptitude, or even the desire, to govern isn’t genetic.
Leaving aside the problems of reconciling absolute monarchy with ultra-modernism, there are the actual events in Wakanda which have happened under previous writers. In recent years Wakandans have endured a coup courtesy of the villainous Achebe, another courtesy Dr. Doom, the murder of two of T’Challa top lieutenants, a cataclysmic flood courtesy of Prince Namor, the subsequent dissolution of a royal marriage, and finally decimation and conquest at the hands of Thanos’ Black Order. Wakanda had always prided itself on having never been conquered. This is no longer true. What, then, is the country if it is as vulnerable as all others? And what happens to a state when its absolute monarch can no longer fulfill the base requirement of any government—securing the safety of their people?
It’s obviously not the case, but T’Challa—the Black Panther and mythical ruler of Wakanda—has always struck as the product of the black nationalist dream, a walking revocation of white supremacist myth. T’Challa isn’t just a superhero in the physical sense, he is one of the smartest people in the world, ruling the most advanced civilization on the planet. Wakanda’s status as ever-independent seems to eerily parallel Ethiopia’s history as well as its place in the broader black imagination. Maybe it’s only me, but I can’t read Jason Aaron’s superb “See Wakanda And Die” and not think of Adowa.
Comic book creators, like all story-tellers, get great mileage out of myth and history. But given the society we live in, some people’s myths are privileged over others. Some of that is changing, no doubt. In the more recent incarnations of T’Challa you can see Christopher Priest invoking the language of the Hausa or Reginald Hudlin employing the legacy of colonialism. These were shrewd artistic decisions, rooted in the fact that anyone writing Black Panther enjoys an immediate, if paradoxical, advantage: the black diaspora is terra incognita for much of the world. What does the broader world really know of Adowa? Of Nanny and Cudjoe? Of the Maji-Maji rebellion? Of Legba and Oshun? Of Shine? Of High John The Conqueror? T’Challa’s writers have always enjoyed access to a rich and under-utilized pool of allusion and invocation.
I would not have always considered this an advantage. When I first started writing, I was anxious that I would be pigeon-holed into the “race-beat.” Eventually I realized that the “race beat” was actually the “humanity beat,” and that questions about “racism” are really questions about the exercise of power. Perhaps more importantly I realized that “race” was an essential thread of American society, and questions about race were questions about the very nature of the Western world. I wasn’t pigeon-holed, I’d fallen into a gold-mine. America is the most powerful country in the world. You simply can’t understand how it got that way without understanding “race.”
And beneath that political conversation about “race,” swirling around it, sometimes directly related, and sometimes tangentially related, are the incredible myths and world-views of black people and the black diaspora at large.To the extent that this society has not been able to engage with those myths, with that world-view, it has not only lied to itself, but it has also robbed itself of some beautiful art. Racism isn’t just morally wrong, it makes for poor story-telling.
Incidentally, so does didacticism. T’Challa won’t be yelling, “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!” There will be no policy papers on the slave trade, nor any overly-earnest, sepia-tinged “Black History Month” style of story-telling. The culture and politics can’t be on top; they have to baked in. So yeah, you might see some Walter Rodney in the royal library, or a sample from Robert Hayden. Or you might get a variant cover that pulls from our present moment. But there’s no need to over do it. The facts are in: T’Challa is black. This is not a declaration. It’s an opportunity.
“Ta-Nehisi, Brian, colorist Laura Martin, letterer Joe Sabino, assistant editor Chris Robinson, and I have been working on this series for months already, so we’re happy to have a launch date as we’re all anxious to start getting this book out in front of people,” series editor Wil Moss told Marvel.com. “We may be biased, but we think it's something pretty special!”
A few months ago, I was fortunate enough to be contracted to work on Marvel’s Black Panther. I didn’t want to say too much before I got started, but now, with a few scripts in, having gotten comfortable with my editors, and having been blown away by Brian Stelfreeze’s art (early sketches of which you see here), I’m feeling a little better. With that in mind, my hope is, from time to time, to update you guys on the process of making the thing.
I guess I should start by saying I’ve never done this before. I expect that there will be stumbles and screw-ups on my part. My nightmare basically involves this turning into some sort of stunt or vanity project. I did not take this on to look pretty, or add a line to my CV. I took it on for the same reason I take on new stories—to grow intellectually and artistically. In this case it’s another genre—fictional, serial story-telling—one a good distance away from journalism, memoir, and essays.
Still I find myself falling back on old principles. I’m a writer who really values organization. I value it even more when saddled with the relatively high probability of failure. In that regard, my basic approach has been as follows:
1.) Read a ton of back issues and try to think about what I find interesting (Ramonda) and what I find less interessting (M’Baku.) 2.) Get a detailed outline done of all the issues I was contracted to write. 3.) Write those scripts early in order to give Brian, and my editors, a chance to tell me what I am doing wrong. 4.) Revise the outline regularly, as events (and finished scripts) dictate a need to change. That has been the plan. Having a plan doesn’t guarantee success. But not having a plan probably guarantees failure.
One thing I did not count on was the extent to which the art would shape the story. Brian’s thoughts on T’Challa, and his supporting cast, have been invaluable. You can see the fruits of collaboration in the image above. After talking back and forth we came up with some new ideas for how T’Challa’s famed Vibranium-weave suit might work—in this case, absorbing kinetic energy and allowing him to fire that energy back out in short energy bursts. “Energy bursts” almost gets it wrong—think “force-push” not “optic blast.” All the old powers are there—enhanced senses, agility, peak-human strength, etc. But this idea (and others) really came out of Brian’s thoughts—not just on the suit—but on the properties of Vibranium itself.
Writing, for me, is a lonely exercise. I pitch an idea to my editors and then I disappear for awhile. There are a few regular check-ins, but generally the next thing they see from me is a draft. Black Panther has been different. There’s a lot more collaboration and conversation. Barely three days go by in which I don’t talk to Brian or my editor, Wilson Moss.
I’ll have more to say about that process as the days go on. For now, enjoy some of Brian’s (awesome) concept art. I’ve seen some of his penciled pages already. They’re glorious. I’m trying to keep up.
The reflections of more than a dozen people who did dedicated cleanouts of their living spaces years ago
For Martin Law, Marie Kondo’s tidying regimen was life-changing, until it wasn’t. Law, a 32-year-old Ph.D. student at the University of Cambridge, went through with most of Kondo’s popular tidying method two years ago. “I managed to get rid of a great deal of items that I previously had found difficult to let go of,” he told me, including about half of his clothing.
After Law’s big cleanout, though, the stuff gradually crept back in. His kitchen gained a series of useful but not vital devices: a new cookie cutter, a larger whisk, a machine for making peanut butter. The accumulations of the past two years have added up. “The house is probably no better than it was—perhaps marginally better, but in reality probably no better,” he says. His commitment to having very little has, he confesses, petered out.
The former deputy director of the FBI explains why the bureau felt obligated to investigate the president—and how the Mueller probe might end.
In the months before President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, FBI counterintelligence agents investigating Russian election interference were also collecting evidence suggesting that Trump could be compromised by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Andrew McCabe, the former FBI deputy director who oversaw the bureau’s Russia investigation, told me in an interview conducted late last week that concerns about Trump had been building “for some time”—and that he was convinced the FBI would have been justified in opening a case against the president.
“We felt like we had credible, articulable facts to indicate that a threat to national security may exist,” McCabe told me. And FBI officials felt this way, he said, even before Trump fired Comey. That firing set off a chain of events that, as McCabe put it, turned the world “upside down.” McCabe wrote contemporaneous memos describing “key” conversations he had during that chaotic period—with the president, with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and others—that are now in the hands of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Never gratuitously annoy the person who is deciding how long you’ll spend in federal prison.
Roger Stone, the trash-talking, Richard Nixon–tattooed Donald Trump adviser recently indicted for lying to Congress and threatening a witness, had an eventful Presidents’ Day. In the space of time you or I might enjoy a leisurely brunch, Stone posted an online attack on United States District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is presiding in his case, then altered the post, deleted the post, offered a defense for the post, and finally had his lawyers file a “notice of apology” for the post in federal court. None of this is normal, not even in 2019.
This surreal chain of events began—as many do—on Stone’s Instagram page, where he has been relentlessly decrying his prosecution and soliciting defense funds. “Through legal trickery Deep State hitman Robert Mueller has guaranteed that my upcoming show trial is before Judge Amy Berman Jackson, an Obama appointed Judge who dismissed the Benghazi charges against Hillary Clinton and incarcerated Paul Manafort prior to his conviction for any crime,” Stone proclaimed. He added a picture of Jackson with a small symbol in the upper-left-hand corner—a cross in a circle, or, according to some, crosshairs.
At the Munich Security Conference, Europe and the Trump administration stopped pretending to respect each other.
Europe and the Trump administration have stopped pretending to respect each other. For the past two years, we have been treated to a transatlantic charade. Everyone knows there’s a problem, but publicly the leaders proclaim that nothing has fundamentally changed. But at the 2019 Munich Security Conference, which took place over the weekend, the charade ended. The American position is collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions. The Europeans are defaulting to nostalgia for a multilateral order. Meanwhile, the true challenge of a rising authoritarian bloc goes largely ignored.
The mood of defiance was summed up by Wolfgang Ischinger, the chairman of the Munich Security Conference, in his opening and closing remarks. Ischinger, who is 72, opened the forum’s proceedings sporting a hoodie emblazoned with the EU flag—a gift from his grandson, and a not-too-subtle rebuke to an American administration that has reversed a 70-year policy of support for Europe. Three days later, in a suit and tie, he offered his closing observation: “As this conference concludes, critics might argue that some speakers were less interested in putting the pieces back together than in creating more disarray in our international system.”
I can’t stand cucumbers, but I’m ready to change if I can.
Cucumbers are my nemesis. I want to fight every food in the melon family and many melon-adjacent foods, but melons avoid my primary disdain because they usually take their rightful place as easily avoidable fruit-salad filler. Cucumbers, though. Cucumbers. They hide in all kinds of things that otherwise seem safe to put in my mouth: sushi rolls, salads, sandwiches, the takeout “lunch bowls” that restaurants near my office sell for $14.
As far as I can remember, I’ve never liked cucumbers, mostly because they taste bad. If they’re present, they’re the first thing I notice, and it’s like someone has sprayed a middle schooler’s eau de toilette from 2002 on my food. Most other people appear to live on slightly different planes of cucumber reality from mine, which I’ve learned over several decades of watching people somehow eat them voluntarily.
He has grades and test scores that I think should qualify him for the Ivy League—but he’s also white and upper-middle-class.
My son is in the middle of the college-application process. He has very good grades and very good SAT and ACT scores; he is an Eagle Scout and a captain of the cross-country team. He is also white, male, and upper-middle-class—and that is the problem.
According to all of the statistics and reports, he should be accepted at Ivy League schools, but he has not been. He will eventually get into a “good” school, but it is my guess (based on what we are seeing with his peer group) that he will be overqualified for the school he ends up at.
He is very frustrated and very upset. How do you explain to a bright, eager boy that the system is rigged against him? For example, his twin brother, who has similar grades and an almost identical resume, is going to the U.S. Naval Academy, and his application process, though difficult, was smooth and straightforward.
It doesn’t matter how much he made from the settlement announced on Friday; he bested the league.
Technically, Colin Kaepernick withdrew his collusion case. Technically, the NFL did not admit that it conspired to blackball Kaepernick from the league after he began taking a knee during the national anthem to protest racial injustice. But nontechnically speaking, the NFL lost. Massively.
The terms of the settlement, announced on Friday, were not disclosed. But it doesn’t matter how much money Kaepernick ultimately receives from the NFL; what matters is that he bested a league that has a long history of pummeling its opposition in court, especially players.
In a way, the NFL had no other choice. Last August, arbitrator Stephen Burbank rejected the NFL’s request to have the case dismissed. That meant he believed Kaepernick’s team had compiled enough receipts to present their case. With another hearing reportedly scheduled for next month, did the NFL really want to let Kaepernick’s legal team expose those receipts in court?
What science can tell us about how other creatures experience the world
Amid the human crush of Old Delhi, on the edge of a medieval bazaar, a red structure with cages on its roof rises three stories above the labyrinth of neon-lit stalls and narrow alleyways, its top floor emblazoned with two words: birds hospital.
On a hot day last spring, I removed my shoes at the hospital’s entrance and walked up to the second-floor lobby, where a clerk in his late 20s was processing patients. An older woman placed a shoebox before him and lifted off its lid, revealing a bloody white parakeet, the victim of a cat attack. The man in front of me in line held, in a small cage, a dove that had collided with a glass tower in the financial district. A girl no older than 7 came in behind me clutching, in her bare hands, a white hen with a slumped neck.
The Supreme Court seems poised to affirm that it can be displayed on public land—but a great deal rides on its rationale.
Could the United States put “In Jesus Christ We Trust” on its coins?
Justice Antonin Scalia asked the conservative lawyer Charles Cooper that question during an oral argument on November 6, 1991, in a high-profile Church-state case called Lee v. Weisman.
“I don’t think we would put that on the coins,” Cooper replied. “But I think that is because, at this stage, that would not be politically possible …”
That answer—which startled even Scalia then and is still startling today—is in the background of American Humanist Association v. American Legion, which will be argued in the high court on February 27. Formally at stake is the fate of a 40-foot-high concrete Latin cross, designated as a memorial to the local World War I dead, which sits on public land in the midst of a busy traffic circle in Prince George’s County, Maryland. The result may help resolve disputes over local memorials around the country. Beyond that, it will tell us a lot about the new conservative Supreme Court majority’s approach to the First Amendment’s establishment clause.
Bernie Sanders is running for president again, hoping to improve on his surprisingly successful 2016 campaign. Who else is running, who’s not, and who can’t decide? A quick guide to the crowded field.
The Bern is back.
Vermont’s democratic-socialist senator is running for president again, he announced Tuesday morning. With Joe Biden still waiting on the sidelines, Sanders immediately becomes the highest-profile Democrat in the race—even though, as his detractors like to point out, he’s actually an independent who caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate. Given Sanders’s strong showing in the 2016 race, it was easy to think of his second run as a foregone conclusion, but Sanders hesitated before jumping into the already crowded field of Democratic contenders.
Some pundits deemed Sanders the 2020 Democratic frontrunner as early as 2017, but there are plausible cases for both a positive and negative outlook. For the former, Sanders has shown that he can run a big-time campaign and draw astonishing grassroots support and fundraising. And while Sanders’s campaign centered around his sometimes meandering, hectoring advocacy for leftist policies, he proved able to turn his gruffness into a sort of anti-charisma that captivated many Americans. There’s no reason to believe any of that has changed in the last few years, and this time there’s not an anointed party pick like Hillary Clinton in his path. Moreover, Sanders showed that anyone underestimating him does so at his or her own risk.