Politics and Comics with Gary Phillips

Politics and the Election:

Your reaction to the election?

I freely admit I drank the Kool-Aid.  I was shocked that Trump won.  Mind you, I should have known better, that a backlash fueled in part by racism was coming but I adhered to the old adage – which got tossed out the window -- that all things being equal, the candidate with the best ground game would win.  Like it or not, you have to hand it to the Birther-in-Chief, he is the master snake oil salesman.  He told them what they wanted to hear in simple, declarative sentences.  Like, you know, how I advise my mentees and their writing…ha.

I was reading this interview with Kenya Barris in the L.A. Times who created the TV show “black-ish.”  He said someone put it to him this way, “I have cancer, and Hillary is saying, “I’m going to increase the amount of cancer clinics. I’m going to increase your medicine so it can be cheaper. I’m going to increase cancer awareness.” Then the other candidate says, “I have the cure to cancer.” I’m going to listen to that person with the cure, even if in my heart I know it’s not true. Just the chance that it might be true — you can’t fight that. Trump offered a sense of change. “

Trump said, "What do you have to lose?" when addressing black voters. What do you think a Trump Presidency will do for the BLM Movement, inner-city school systems, race relations?

That’s a much layered question and I wouldn’t want to bore the reader with long-winded doom and gloom riffs on just how terrible it’s going to be in this country, in various sectors, in terms of race relations. I mean right now you have this trail in South Carolina for the now fired white cop who shot an unarmed black man, Walter Scott, running away from him and there was a hung jury.  The incident was captured on cell phone video including the cop planting a Taser then thinking twice about that.  And this is under a sympathetic administration.  Can you imagine the levels of indifference and out right hostility under the Trump administration.  Jeff Session as AG, a man who actively worked against civil rights.  Or DeVos as the education secretary who is out to dismantle the public school system.

Jesus, I could go on and on, but I’m more interested in what we do to fight back

As you've pointed out through some post-election posts, it's American to fight off Nazi's (Captain America, Indiana Jones--and the real-world WWII veterans, who literally fought Nazi's) Yet Trump's selected a leader of the Alt-Right, Steven Bannon, as his Chief of Strategy. Do you think Trump's presidency could be more Nazi like than people want to believe?

But let’s be clear in terms of political history, we don’t have to reach back too far to understand what has led us to this state today.  As Ian Haney Lopez pointed out on a piece on salon.com, “Reagan also trumpeted his racial appeals in blasts against welfare cheats. On the stump, Reagan repeatedly invoked a story of a “Chicago welfare queen” with “eighty names, thirty addresses, [and] twelve Social Security cards [who] is collecting veteran’s benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000.” 

Often, Reagan placed his mythical welfare queen behind the wheel of a Cadillac, tooling around in flashy splendor. Beyond propagating the stereotypical image of a lazy, larcenous black woman ripping off society’s generosity without remorse, Reagan also implied another stereotype, this one about whites: they were the workers, the tax payers, the persons playing by the rules and struggling to make ends meet while brazen minorities partied with their hard-earned tax dollars.”
Here we have eight years of Fox News promulgating that Obama wasn’t born here, there’s a secret Muslim cabal in the White House basement, whatever crazy ass, racist, paranoid-inspired notions that used to exist at the edges are now front and center.  Look at this clown who believed that a child sex ring run by Hillary Clinton was being run out of the back of a pizzeria in D.C.  He travels up there from the south with his assault rifle to “investigate,” like some vigilante form those men’s adventure paperbacks that used to proliferate spinner racks in the 1970s and ‘80s.    

Ke-rist, you can’t make this shit up.  

You know it’s bad when the other night I’m driving to fetch my wife at the airport, listening to Terry Gross on NPR, driving the family Prius – and can you get more brown rice lovin’, tree hugging that that?  Anyway, she’s got Megyn Kelly on, the Fox News stalwart, one of the ones that frankly is responsible for the rise of Trump.  But Kelly’s talking about the dangers of some members of the so-called alt-right.  Kelly, who now has armed guards as part of her contingent.  In this new book of hers she critiques Trump, and the Trump Trolls have loaded up Amazon with one star reviews to drive he sales down.  Further, as reported in the Guardian, she’s named names, she holds Trump's transition team member and campaign social media director Dan Scavino partially responsible for ginning these forces up.

Also, what do you think pop-culture, literature, comics, movies, can do to remind us what it is to be "real-Americans" and fight off oppression?

One part of that answer is to keep doing what we’re doing.  But are we only preaching to the choir?  It seems that particularly in these next four years, our work needs to reach into those red and rust and purple areas.  I mean, it already does I suppose to some extent.  It’s not like there aren’t freaks and geeks and nerds in those places.  They’re reading sci-fi, listening to Beyoncé or Sprinsteen for that matter -- part of whose audience is a Trump voter, and digging comics where Ms. Marvel is a young Muslim girl, but maybe we aren’t reading enough of what they’re writing, we’re not creating ties with those folks and going to where they are, engaging those audiences in readings and talks. That to me seems to be part of the fight back.  That for those of us in the blue areas, we can’t wall ourselves off, we have to reach out.  Use our expressions of pop culture to 

Look there’s plenty of places in California that voted for Trump so what do we do right here in our own backyard?  What about a writer doing a Kern County Diary?  Chronicling four or five different people form different walks of life who may or may not have voted at all.  How is there life looking six months from now?  A year?  What if such were the basis for a graphic novel or radio play?  Does that create better understanding on both sides of the line?  I’d like to think it does.    

What do you think were the main contributors to Clinton's electoral college defeat?

In the end, Clinton didn’t get the votes out Obama did, even despite winning the popular vote.  Trump’s margins of victory in three swing states, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and was not huge but strategic, in Michigan he won by less than 12,000 votes.  Had Clinton own those, she’d be president.  So was the main reason she didn’t excite enough voters unlike Obama?  Did the fake news or FBI business suppress the vote?  Was GOP chicanery to throw black and brown people off the voter rolls via Crosscheck as investigative reporter Greg Palast has written about the reason?  

Certainly those are all factors.




So you've been given the reigns to Vigilante!

Just a six-issue miniseries…but hopefully that leads to more.

How did that opportunity come about?

Dan DiDidio, the co-publisher of DC Comics and I had been discussing a storyline set here in the Southland for a few years.  He knew I write crime fiction, and having done a couple of efforts for their Vertigo line, had an interest in infusing that with a DCU character.  When True Detective 2 was running last year on HBO, and despite the valid criticism of its tortured sub-plots, Dan responded to the look and feel of the show given it was partially set in Southeast L.A., an area of town not seen a lot in television or movies. That was the impetus to finally get something going.   

What about the character draws him to you?

That I could take this old school comics character, the Vigilante was first a modern 1940s cowboy with a six-shooter and a motorcycle, and re-invent him as this twentysomething black man in today’s South L.A.  And not to forget his reinvention as a Punisher-like character in the 1980s – a hyped-up version of that seen on the Arrow TV show now.

You said in an interview with Newsarama that Donny Farchild is at least "superficially based" on your son? Did this help you shape the character? Has your son read it and is he still talking to you?

Heh, well, he doesn’t read my stuff so that shoe is yet to drop.

You set the comic in LA and give it a sort of street level crime feel, does this come from your experience in LA?

In the sense that I came of age in South Central and my baptism of fire as it were was as a community organizer around police abuse issues then the anti-apartheid movement.  And it’s the case that my first novel is set in the aftermath of the ’92 civil unrest or riots if you prefer, exploring the socio-political and racial landscape of that time as the private eye Ivan monk investigates the mystery.  But that L.A. is not the L.A. of today.  As I said many times before, like an archeologist, the writer still has to keep excavating,  neighborhoods change, the landscape is transformed by demographics and economics.  The more current I can stay, the better it shapes and shades my work. 

The DCU hasn't really had this type of crime feel, what about it made you want to bring that to Donny's experience? 

Hey, it’s my métier.

Do you find that LA became a character in this comic?

Oh no doubt.  Comics are a visual medium and the artist Elena Casagrande makes it all come alive.  You know, she and I communicated through emails because she's Italian - she's in Italy. But she just got it. She really got what we were trying to do. We talked about different reference materials and different films to watch, be it the aforementioned True Detective 2, Straight Outta Compton or Collateral — those kind of elements that show you a different kind of L.A., the type of L.A. we needed to put on the page.  I sent her links and pics, from our mass of cloverleaf freeways, the underpasses to humble homes in South Gate.  

What's your vision for Vigilante? Is he one of your favorite DC characters?

I hope sales warrant another go-round with the character, as there is more I’d like to show with Mr. Fairchild and his world.