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 president crossed an important line when he canceled a meeting with the Danish prime minister.
Yesterday, President Donald Trump canceled a meeting with the new Danish prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, because she refuses to discuss the sale of Greenland. Greenland used to be a Danish colony but now belongs to the people of Greenland—the Danish government could not sell the island even if it wanted to. Trump likely did not know that Denmark is one of America’s most reliable allies. Danish troops, for example, fought alongside U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and suffered 50 fatalities, and Danish forces were among the earliest to join the fight against the Islamic State.
Many Americans may laugh off Trump’s latest outrage, but Trump crossed an important line. It is one thing to float a cockamamie idea that no one believes is serious or will go anywhere. “Let’s buy Greenland!” Yes, very funny. A good distraction from the economy, the failure to deal with white supremacy, White House staff problems, or whatever is the news of the day. It is quite another to use leverage and impose costs on Denmark in pursuit of that goal—and make no mistake, canceling a presidential visit is using leverage and imposing costs. What’s next, refusing to exempt Denmark from various tariffs because it won’t discuss Greenland? Musing on Twitter that America’s defense commitments to Denmark are conditional on the negotiation? Intellectual justifications from Trump-friendly publications, citing previous purchase proposals and noting Greenland’s strategic value and abundance of natural resources? (That last one has already happened.)
Meritocracy prizes achievement above all else, making everyone—even the rich—miserable. Maybe there’s a way out.
In the summer of 1987, I graduated from a public high school in Austin, Texas, and headed northeast to attend Yale. I then spent nearly 15 years studying at various universities—the London School of Economics, the University of Oxford, Harvard, and finally Yale Law School—picking up a string of degrees along the way. Today, I teach at Yale Law, where my students unnervingly resemble my younger self: They are, overwhelmingly, products of professional parents and high-class universities. I pass on to them the advantages that my own teachers bestowed on me. They, and I, owe our prosperity and our caste to meritocracy.
Two decades ago, when I started writing about economic inequality, meritocracy seemed more likely a cure than a cause. Meritocracy’s early advocates championed social mobility. In the 1960s, for instance, Yale President Kingman Brewster brought meritocratic admissions to the university with the express aim of breaking a hereditary elite. Alumni had long believed that their sons had a birthright to follow them to Yale; now prospective students would gain admission based on achievement rather than breeding. Meritocracy—for a time—replaced complacent insiders with talented and hardworking outsiders.
He understands men in America better than most people do. The rest of the country should start paying attention.
Every morning of my Joe Rogan experience began the same way Joe Rogan begins his: with the mushroom coffee.
It’s a pour-and-stir powder made from lion’s mane and chaga—“two rock-star mushrooms,” according to Joe—and it’s made by a company called Four Sigmatic, a regular advertiser on Joe Rogan’s wildly popular podcast. As a coffee lover, the mere existence of mushroom coffee offends me. (“I’ll have your most delicious thing, made from your least delicious things, please,” a friend said, scornfully.) But it tastes fine, and even better after another cup of actual coffee.
Next, I took several vitamin supplements from a company called Onnit, whose core philosophy is “total human optimization” and whose website sells all kinds of wicked-cool fitness gear—a Darth Vader kettlebell ($199.95); a 50-foot roll of two-and-a-half-inch-thick battle rope ($249.95); a 25-pound quad mace ($147.95), which according to one fitness-equipment site is a weapon dating back to 11th-century Persia. I stuck to the health products, though, because you know how it goes—you buy one quad mace and soon your apartment is filled with them. I stirred a packet of Onnit Gut Health powder into my mushroom coffee, then downed an enormous pair of Alpha Brain pills, filled with nootropics to help with “memory and focus.”
The debate has polarized Britain and normalized what was previously unthinkable.
Brexit isn’t what it used to be. In the months immediately after Britain voted to leave the European Union in 2016, two flavors were on offer—“hard” and “soft.” A soft Brexit generally meant leaving the bloc’s political structures but not its economic ones, such as the single market for goods and services. The hard version meant leaving those, too. Crucially, both versions would see Britain formally agree to a new relationship with the EU.
“In the summer of 2016, everyone was a soft Brexiter, really,” Anand Menon, a professor of European politics and foreign affairs at King’s College London, told me.
Now no one is. The political landscape is polarized. What was once considered “hard” is now denounced by the loudest Brexiteers as a squalid compromise. Instead, “no deal” has become the purest, truest form of Brexit—“No deal is the best deal,” the official account of the Brexit Party, the most doctrinaire of Brexit-supporting groups, recently tweeted.
Can straight men and women really be best friends? Their partners are wondering, too.
In 1989, When Harry Met Sally posed a question that other pop-cultural entities have been trying to answer ever since: Can straight men and women really be close friends without their partnership turning into something else? (According to The Office, no. According to Lost in Translation, yes. According to Friends … well, sometimes no and sometimes yes.) Screenwriters have been preoccupied with this question for a long time, and according to a new study published in the Journal of Relationships Research, the question is also likely to be on the minds of people whose romantic partners have best friends of the opposite sex.
For the study, Eletra Gilchrist-Petty, an associate professor of communication arts at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and Lance Kyle Bennett, a doctoral-degree student at the University of Iowa, recruited 346 people, ranging in age from 18 to 64, who were or had been in a heterosexual relationship with someone who had a different-sex best friend. When they surveyed participants’ attitudes toward cross-sex best friendships, they found that people who are engaged to be married look more negatively on those friendships than married, single, or dating people. They also found that people who are skeptical of cross-sex best friendships in general are more likely to “lash out” at their partner when they feel threatened by the partner’s best friend—as opposed to constructively communicating with their partner, or with the friend, about the situation.
“Wealth work” is one of America’s fastest-growing industries. That’s not entirely a good thing.
In an age of persistently high inequality, work in high-cost metros catering to the whims of the wealthy—grooming them, stretching them, feeding them, driving them—has become one of the fastest-growing industries.
Low-skill, low-pay, and disproportionately done by women, these jobs congregate near dense urban labor markets, multiplying in neighborhoods with soaring disposable income. Between 2010 and 2017, the number of manicurists and pedicurists doubled, while the number of fitness trainers and skincare specialists grew at least twice as fast as the overall labor force.
While there are reasons to be optimistic about this trend, there is also something queasy about the emergence of a new underclass of urban servants.
He’s unpopular, scandalous, and a bigot, and we may be sliding into a recession. But that might not matter.
There are many reasons President Donald Trump might lose reelection in 2020. He is deeply unpopular. Most Americans abhor his bigotry. His administration has been plagued by all manner of scandals. He has failed to live up to his many grandiloquent promises. The country may be sliding into a recession.
Put all of this together, and it’s easy to imagine Democrats riding a big blue wave to the White House next year. But I fear that it is somewhat more likely that Trump will be able to declare victory on November 3, 2020.
Trump’s approval ratings are the most commonly used metric for how likely he is to win reelection. At first sight, they hold a lot of comfort for the president’s opponents. According to FiveThirtyEight’s tracker, for example, more Americans believe he is doing a poor job as president than believe he is doing a good one: About 54 percent disapprove of his performance. Only 42 percent approve of it.
AM stations mainly wanted to keep listeners engaged—but ended up remaking the Republican Party.
No one set out to turn the airwaves into a political weapon—much less deputize talk-radio hosts as the ideological enforcers of a major American political party. Instead the story of how the GOP establishment lost its power over the Republican message—and eventually the party itself—begins with frantic AM radio executives and a former Top 40 disc jockey, Rush Limbaugh.
In the late 1980s, AM radio was desperate for new content. Listeners had migrated to FM because music sounded better on there, and advertising dollars had followed. Talk-radio formats offered a lifeline—unique programming that FM didn’t have. And on August 1, 1988, Limbaugh debuted nationally. At the outset, Limbaugh wasn’t angling to become a political force—he was there to entertain and make money. Limbaugh’s show departed from the staid, largely nonpartisan, interview and caller-based programs that were the norm in earlier talk radio. Instead, Limbaugh was a consummate showman who excited listeners by being zany and fun and obliterating boundaries, offering up something the likes of which many Americans had never heard before.
Just a few hours of therapy-like interventions can reduce some people’s anxiety.
The strange little PowerPoint asks me to imagine being the new kid at school. I feel nervous and excluded, its instructions tell me. Kids pick on me. Sometimes I think I’ll never make friends. Then the voice of a young, male narrator cuts in. “By acting differently, you can actually build new connections between neurons in your brain,” the voice reassures me. “People aren’t stuck being shy, sad, or left out.”
The activity, called Project Personality, is a brief digital activity meant to build a feeling of control over anxiety in 12-to-15-year-olds. Consisting of a series of stories, writing exercises, and brief explainers about neuroscience, it was created by Jessica Schleider, an assistant professor at Stony Brook University, where she directs the Lab for Scalable Mental Health. She sent it to me so I could see how teens might use it to essentially perform psychotherapy on themselves, without the aid of a therapist.
Hundreds of skeletons are scattered around a site high in the Himalayas, and a new study overturns a leading theory about how they got there.
In a kinder world, archaeologists would study only formal cemeteries, carefully planned and undisturbed. No landslides would have scattered the remains. No passersby would have taken them home as souvenirs, or stacked them into cairns, or made off with the best of the artifacts. And all this certainly wouldn’t be happening far from any evidence of human habitation, under the surface of a frozen glacial lake.
But such an ideal burial ground wouldn’t have the eerie appeal of Skeleton Lake in Uttarakhand, India, where researchers suspect the bones of as many as 500 people lie. The lake, which is formally known as Roopkund, is miles above sea level in the Himalayas and sits along the route of the Nanda Devi Raj Jat, a famous festival and pilgrimage. Bones are scattered throughout the site: Not a single skeleton found so far is intact.