Thursday, June 4, 2009

Mark Evanier Squirrels Llakor

It has been a surreal two weeks for me.

Big Sexy-I set up an interview with Kevin Nash for Tim Baines of the Ottawa Sun.
This led to:
Kevin Nash calling me at my office.
A full page article in the Ottawa Sun, reprinted in SLAM! Wrestling.
A full page article in the Journal de Montreal liberally translated from Tim Baines article.
The Journal de Montreal tabloid has the most widely read sports in a rabid sports market, so getting a full page article from them was huge.

-The Xth Anniversary show was a huge success. We had the second biggest crowd at the Medley ever and because of the Kevin Nash vs. PCO match with its controversial finish, wrestling fans all over the world are talking about us, including a full page review of the show on SLAM! Wrestling written by Pat Laprade.
And always a bonus, no one got seriously hurt despite Manny and Phantom's best attempt to kill each other.

Plus I got name-checked on the internet three times in less than a week.

-Bryan Alvarez of the Wrestling Observer called my press release for the IWS Xth Anniversary "Fantastic". The Wrestling Observer is the oldest and most reliable of the wrestling newspapers or "dirt sheets".

-Chris Sims of The Invincible Super-Blog name-checked me in his review of Inter-Species Wrestling's Slamtasia 2.

-Mark Evanier of News From Me name-checked me on his blog.

WHUH? Mark Evanier?

There are a lot of reasons to like Mark Evanier. He writes a blog that I read obsessively; he is an expert on ton of things that I care deeply about - comics, cartoons, cartoon voices, broadway musicals, Las Vegas, magic and more; he writes faster than I read and I read fast seriously, he writes fast enough that I suspect that he was standing nest to Barry Allen when the lightning hit the chmicals only in Marks' case the lightning and chemicals hit just his hands; he has either met, worked with, interviewed or been mistaken for everyone worth knowing; and, perhaps most importantly, he is one of my favourite comics book writers ever.

Cousin to The Spirit, Masked Man and 'Mazing ManI would say that even if all he did was write the dialogue for Sergio Aragones' brilliantly funny Groo. But Mark is also responsible along with artist Dan Spiegle for the criminally underrated Crossfire. It falls into a category of comics that I love, protagonists who fight crime wearing a costume, when there is no real reason for them to need a costume. This includes Will Eisner's The Spirit, CC Boyer's Masked Man, and I would argue Bob Roazakis' 'Mazing Man.

Today the pitch for Crossfire is easier. It's Dog the Bounty Hunter fights crime in Hollywood. Back in the Eighties when I was buying comics at Wilkie's Wonderful World in Halifax from Ken Hwang before I started running the Wilkie's Dartmouth branch in 1990 it was a harder sell.

"You should buy Crossfire."

"What's it about?"

"Bounty hunter who fights crime in Hollywood."

"Don't all bounty hunters fight crime?"

"Well, yes."

"Why is he wearing a costume? Isn't he a bounty hunter? Aren't all bounty hunters supposed to catch crooks? Why does he need to hide his identity?"

"It's a Spirit thing."

"Nice try, you're not going to convince me to buy this book, just so that you can convince me to buy a book that was published in the 1940's. Who's the girl?"

The girl with the rainbow hair? Yup, that's Rainbow, Crossfire's girlfriend."Rainbow. She's a member of the DNAgents."

"What are the DNAgents?"

"Sort of a cross between The Metal Men and the X-Men."

"The Metal Men?"

"Series by Robert Kanigher, remember he did The Haunted Tank war series that I convinced you to buy back issues of? The idea of Metal Men is that they are intelligent robots built by a mad scientist with powers based on the metal that they are designed from. Lead is strong and heavy, Gold is the leader, Mercury is liquid at room temperature. And because they are robots, they pretty much get destroyed at the end of each and every adventure."

"OK, as awesome as that sounds, before you send me scrambling to collect another old DC series that will take me years to complete, explain what the DNAgents are like without making abscure references to series that aren't published anymore."

"Well, they are like the X-Men in that they have different super-powers because of a genetic mutation. Unlike the X-Men though it wasn't an accidental mutation. They were made in a lab."

"That I will buy."

Cue Llakor banging his head. Note that in the Eighties, without cheap Showcase reprints, back issues were the only way to know about books like the Metal Men or Haunted Tank, The Spirit was available in reprints from Kitchen Sink, but convincing people to buy them was a struggle.

Since Mark Evanier ALSO wrote DNAgents only with Will Meugniot on art instead of Dan Spiegle he did better no matter what, but it always drove me crazy that I couldn't sell the series that I loved, but I could accidentally sell the related title that I honestly was kind of MEH about.

All of which explains why in a store that would sell 100 copies of X-Men a month, they would also sell 40 copies of DNAgents, but only 3 copies of Crossfire.

Long story short. Too Late. I am a big fan of Mark Evanier's writing. I have e-mailed him about stuff that he has written before and never gotten a response. Wasn't expecting one, he probably gets gobs of e-mails, but a recent post of his about Jesse Ventura prompted me to write to him.
The first time I saw Jesse Ventura lecturing people about truth and integrity, I did a double-take that would have seemed excessive on The Benny Hill Show. The man's first claim to fame was in professional wrestling, an occupation where you can't utter five sentences without lying in at least two of them. But he parlayed the skills from that profession into a brief career in politics, where I suppose they came in handy...
Now Jesse Ventura has always been a bit of a hero of mine. If for no other reason, no one has ever encapsulated the philosophy of the Heel as succintly as him, "Win if you can. Lose if you must. But always cheat!"

That sentence probably doesn't sound like much of a contradiction to what Mark is saying, except that when Jesse Ventura says that he is doing so as part of a performance. Because as I will argue at any opportunity, wrestling is a story-telling art form.

So, I wrote to Mark expressing thoughts along those lines and he decided to quote me in full and verbatim.

Here is what I said:

I am not going to try and convince you of the merits of professional wrestling. Speaking as someone who writes about it and for it and helps promote shows in Montreal, it can frequently be a sordid world where the talent is ruthlessly taken advantage of by the promoters putting on the shows, much like the rest of show business in fact except without even the fig-leaf of union protection that writers and performers like you have.

And this is why you are wrong about Jesse Ventura, specifically about this: "The man's first claim to fame was in professional wrestling, an occupation where you can't utter five sentences without lying in at least two of them.

OK, yes technically this is correct, the same way that it is true of any actor. Unless you would like to suggest that June Foray is in fact a flying squirrel? Would you have said the same thing about Norm MacDonald?

Jesse Ventura played a role on camera. His famous line was "Win if you can; Lose if you must; But always Cheat!" But that character was not him.

(Sure wrestling had a huge advantage of other show business professions that the suspension of disbelief is easier if people believe from the outset that what they are watching is real, an advantage that wrestling no longer has. And you may not necessarily believe this, but wrestling is a story-telling art form. Like any such art form it can be brilliant or wretched.)

From all that I have heard from wrestlers of that time period, Jesse Ventura was a gentleman backstage. Opinionated with an ego like any star, he nonetheless was one of the few wrestlers to stand up to promoters famously with Vince McMahon to argue for the protection of all wrestlers not just the well-paid stars. That the promoters should provide health care and other benefits for the wrestlers and that they should allow the wrestlers to form a union. Rare among his peers, he said this publicly and openly while he was a star and in fact Vince fired him from the WWF as a result. (He landed another gig with WCW soon after.) Unfortunately, wrestlers are as hard to organize as cats and no one has ever been successful at organizing a wrestler's union, but no one ever risked as much when they were a star to try and bring one about.

One quick note, I didn't mean Norm MacDonald. I meant Al Franken whose race and never-ending recount for the Senate seat in Minnesota both Mark and I have been following closely. And yeah, Al Franken and Norm MacDonald are so much alike. The lesson as always: I'm an idiot.

Mark's response:

Having once produced a special for CBS with a cast of pro wrestlers (and Vince McMahon as exec producer), I know a fair amount about that world...and all you say about working conditions is true. All you say about Mr. Ventura's rabble-rousing to improve them is also probably true. But when I wrote about wrestlers lying, I was referring to one key part of their job and it's where your analogy to June Foray or Norm MacDonald doesn't work.

There is no one alive who thinks June is really a flying squirrel and if you ever asked her, she'd tell you that every line she utters that suggests that is fiction. On the other mitt, there are actually people on this planet who think that the outcome of most pro wrestling matches is not predetermined...or at least think the games are a lot less scripted than they are. And whenever I've seen someone ask Jesse Ventura if his old wrestling matches were rigged or planned or fixed, he changes the subject, attacks the questioner, and generally fudges the truth as baldly as any politician he condemns for the same kind of tap-dancing.

Now, granted: Lying about whether a wrestling match was rigged is nowhere near the same sin as lying about C.I.A. intelligence or the circumstances of war. And I suppose a case could be made that since Jesse's wrestling days are behind him, he's just trying to not piss on his old livelihood and perhaps disminish it for those still working in those salt mines. My point was just that his old job afforded plenty of practice at avoiding the truth and fighting dirty...two skills that come in handy when one runs for elected office.

I like Jesse in a way. I don't always agree with him and I don't feel qualified to say if he was as poor a governor as the polls in Minnesota would seem to indicate. But I like that he's not out there parroting Talking Points or hedging his views to protect his political options. I also think it's great to have a few loud Libertarians out there, especially of the kind that don't compromise their views of the Constitution for the sake of personal expediency or gain. He adds a lot more to the public debate than any dozen Democrats or Republicans...even when I think he's wrong. I just think that back in his wrasslin' days, he did an awful lot of fibbing.

A few thoughts:

1. Getting into a name-dropping contest with Mark Evanier would be like trying to out-stare a cat. Vince McMahon? Oh yeah, I wrote a CBS Special he executive produced.

2. Bringing up June Foray was a bit of a cheap shot, a bit like flicking a towel on a lion's nose to get his attention. That said, I imagine that every time June Foray makes an appearance and is announced as the voice of Rocky the Flying Squirrel, there is at least one person in attendance who freaks out because Rocky's a Girl?!?

3. I probably would have been better off comparing wrestlers to magicians. They both come from a carny background. They both are protective of their secrets. The difference of course is that magicians may not be willing to explain their trick, they do at least acknowledge that there is a trick involved. The problem for wrestlers is that the biggest secret is that there is a secret; the biggest trick is that there is a trick.

4. As Mark does mention above, "Lying about whether a wrestling match was rigged is nowhere near the same sin as lying about C.I.A. intelligence or the circumstances of war."

Which Lie Did I Tell? INDEED!I think that I would go further than that. Lying about wrestling is an almost harmless lie, designed to preserve an illusion for those who want the illusion to be preserved. It is on par with Disneyland insisting that their animators stay in character until they are out-of-sight of the general public. Mickey does not take his head off in front of the kids.

Leave aside the CIA. Mark lives in a town populated by people whose only problem with lying is that they sometimes forget which lie that they are telling. No lie, no performance that Jesse Ventura has ever hoodwinked the public with can compare with one of those pit vipers. Wrestling fans want Jesse Ventura to lie to them. I am fairly confident that neither James Garner nor Jack Klugman are impressed with the magic trick where NBC and Universal hid the profits of The Rockford Files in Quincy and the profits from Quincy in The Rockford Files, somehow managing to turn two profitable series into two money-losing series in the process.

Or as William Gibson says in Spook Country:
People who didn't know the music industry, Inchmale said, believed that the movie business was the ne plus ultra of vicious, asshole-chewing, hyena-like behavior.
Remarkably accurate description of music executives, wrestling promoters or Hollywood executives, probably one that Gibson earned through bitter experience. Not that having your best ideas ripped off (in films like The Matrix) or having one of your best short stories (Johnny Mnemonic) turned into the very definition of puerile crap should make anyone bitter or anything!

Jesse Ventura's level of mendacity simply doesn't seem proportional to what Mark encounters on a regular basis. Not that I am going to win an argument with Mark Evanier. Nice to be invited to spar with him publicly though.

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