This morning, I woke up from a dream to answer nature’s call. My first waking thought was, “Whoa, I need to get back to that dream.” Because, in that dream, I was going to deliver an impromptu lecture to a packed loft-style apartment — with Joe Kelly, Gail Simone and, Jesus H. Christ, one of my all-time favourite comics writers Christopher J. Priest — about Deadpool and Quantum & Woody. I’m going to tell you about this dream, why I think I dreamed it and what I think it means.
In the Dream
In the dream, I had to use the bathroom too and reminded myself to use the voice recorder on my iPhone to preserve the brilliance that was to follow. I was gonna kill it in this room. I played a few levels of Drop7 as I tend to do when sitting on the porcelain throne. But I then reminded myself in the dream that people were waiting for me to talk to them about this comics stuff. I got back to the loft space and my iOS devices resisted multiple attempts to unlock them. The crowd parted for me in happy, uniform fashion, not quite Moses and the Red Sea-style but close but not like AI-controlled open-world pedestrians in a video game, either. (Some people actually broke down into pixels at the edges of the crowd.)
But they were people who, again, really wanted to hear what I had to say. I tried unlocking my iPad through a box that had a cheesy, all-over vinyl sticker on it, then I remembered that, 'duh, it’s a box.' Slid open the box and my iPad wasn't in there. It was back in some 'somehow connected but who knows how because it's a loft ' other room. I went back to get it. And in the back of my dream-mind, I realised that the refusing-to-unlock devices and the unexpected urge to use the bathroom was me subconsciously stalling, as I tried to decide what this lecture really was gonna be about. iPad back in hand, I walked confidently into the room. I knew what the theme of the talk was going to be. It was going to be 'Who gets to decide who you are?'
Then I woke up.
In Real Life
Where the hell did all that come from? Well, let’s see:
On Sunday night, I stayed at a friend’s place in Boston to cover Irrational Games’ announcement of BioShock Infinite’s DLC the next day. So that’s probably why the dream lecture happened in a loft.
The room was a friendly room, full of people cheering me on and eager to hear what I had to say. Maybe this weekend’s Twitter brouhaha — or more specifically the idea of what the opposite would be — was floating around in my mind somewhere. But the fact that I was getting ready to talk to a bunch of people jazzed to hear what I had to say clearly speaks to an anxiety about being heard.
Now, in the waking world, I generally hate Deadpool as a character. Or I don't like the following he's amassed despite being a character who's basically made up the component parts of other characters. Way back when I was a guest on the first episode of The Gameological Society's Digest show, I talked about the Wade Wilson conundrum the owner of Brooklyn Comics & More, the comics shop where that episode was shot. We agreed that the character's all too often played for cheap laughs. OK.
But I love Quantum and Woody. I have a half-written piece about the Q&W re-boot from the recently reborn Valiant Comics that's been sitting in my Documents folder for about two weeks. I’m guilty about it. I have things to say but haven't carved out the time to write them.
Joe Kelly was there, of course, because he helped craft Deadpool into the idol of millions. But the writer was also in my subconscious because the was in a featurette in the DC Comics animated movie Justice League: Doom about Dwayne McDuffie after the creator’s death. I cried while watching that featurette. I met Joe in real life last year at Comic-Con after watching that memorial extra. He was at a booth with his Man of Action co-founder Joe Casey and I walked over to Casey to tell him how much I'd liked his Intimates comic back whenever it came out. I also told him how much I'd appreciated him helping spread the gospel of Christopher J. Priest, as there was at least one interview years ago where he talked about his love of the writer's output.
I think about Dwayne — his humour, the little bop in his strut when I’d see him at New York Comic Con, the big-tent, beloved community ethos in his work and how he dealt with fans — in some way about three or four times a week. I wasn't friends with him. But, in that embarrassing way that fans often have, I wanted to be. He grew up kinda like I did: awkward, bookish, shy. Taller and funnier, though.
When I read comics as a teenager, you’d occasionally see photos or cartoons of John Byrne or some other artist hunched over drafting table, surrounded with crowds of characters that they've drawn or created. That was the scene in the dream. I wasn't the one drafting table though. That was Priest. He was silent. Huge. Bent over almost double, at work on something that no one would see. He might have been listening — or might not — but at least he was there.
Gail Simone was there because I was a little disappointed, in the dream, that I didn't see her re-tweet the interview I did with her about Tomb Raider during Comic-Con. I like her work a lot and wanted to her to share the interview with similarly-minded fans. Yeah, there was news in there about an assumed-but-unannounced Tomb raider sequel but it was really the parts about her own relationship to Tomb Raider over the years that I wanted people to take note of. And hey, she wrote Deadpool at one point, too. Gail, if you’re reading this, I’m not really disappointed.
As for Priest, the trailblazing comics writer/editor who used to be known as Jim Owlsley. I worry about him. A lot. I worry that, while he's alive, he'll never get credit for how genius and ahead of its time his work was. I really, really worry that he's depressed, that he thinks that nobody cares about his writing, when in reality thousands of people would love to have more of it. His website occasionally sputters to life a few times a year, teasing me with the sharpness of the guy who wrote Power Man and Iron Fist, Spider-Man vs. Wolverine, Black Panther and so much more. But, it’s been quiet for months. I know he must be doing something but it’s probably not comics. Priest represents to me the worry that you don't get to be a comfortably retired, lovingly embraced eminence grise in the nerdsphere when you're black.
That warm, uncomplicated group hug that Jerry Robinson, Jim Steranko or Stan Lee gets? I don't think I've ever seen a black creator get it on the same scale while they were alive. You're lucky if you get it if you're a person like Dwayne or Priest. You're lucky if you stay working, if you get to say something about being black, if you don't piss the wrong people off too much. I have never even seen a picture of Billy Graham. Ever. Have you ever seen Graham’s artwork on the seminal Panther’s Rage storyline?
Well, have you? This is not a man whose countenance should be lost to history. Where is Arvell Jones? What’s he up to? The names go on, people who are dead, alive, broke, hopeful, waiting: Bob Washington, Lance Tooks, Shelton Benjamin, Afua Richardson… And we’re still getting Miles Morales backlash? Still?
Writing about geeky stuff means constantly having to navigate the borders of my own fandom, constantly asking myself if I like someone's work because I could be them or because there's something special about it. It also means constantly having to grapple with the representation of black folks — or lack thereof — in the mediums I love.
Sunday, before I left to get on a train to Boston, I was brushing my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter’s teeth. Before I started, she looked up at me and said, clear as day, “Daddy, I'm black.” I… I’ve never taught her that. Neither has her mother. I don’t know where she got the notion from and, honestly, I don’t know what to do with that utterance other than to wait and see if she repeats it. And wait and see what she does with it. Still: Yes, baby. Yes, you are. Welcome to it. Daddy’s got dreams for you.