Being and Time: An Interview with Michael Netzer
By Thom Young
A few months back, Jason Brice asked me if I would interview Michael Netzer to get the details for a news item about the new website Mr. Netzer had been working on. The idea was to do a quick interview that would touch on his return to the comics industry-and then for me to simply type up a news report. However, after making my initial contact with Mr. Netzer, I suggested to Jason that I conduct a full-length interview-and he agreed (but I don’t think he realized how long it was going to be-both in word count and before I could get it turned in). The result of my interview with Mr. Netzer was a back and forth conversation that covered a much wider variety of topics than what Jason initially assigned-including Mr. Netzer’s hopes for the comic book industry and his relationship with Neal Adams from their initial working relationship to Mr. Netzer’s lawsuit over ownership of Ms. Mystic to their recent reconciliation. Much of the interview, though, is a lengthy discussion (with tangents) on how comic books have the potential to influence social, political, economic, scientific, theological, and philosophical views throughout the world.
Thom Young: I’m not sure how many of our readers are familiar with your career. I’ve just become aware of your re-emergence through Jason Brice [SBC’s Big Kahuna] and the work he’s doing for your Web site (www.FlamingSword.biz) I have fond recollections, though, of your early comic work on Batman in the mid- to late-70s when you used the name “Mike Nasser” and your style was very reminiscent of Neal Adams’s style. Could you comment on the evolution of your career and artistic style, including any specific aspects of your career that you would want to address as a way of introducing (or perhaps re-introducing) you to our readers?
Mike Netzer: Surely. Maybe I’ll first touch on why my comics career appears to have been so short lived, and what’s driven me back to comics today. Aside from being very sensitive to the natural tendency we all have to stagnate in our life and work-and wanting to see and do as much as possible in my lifetime before a proverbial curtain attempts to drop on it-I suppose I’ve always felt that we can, and perhaps should, use our presence in the world to help make it a little better for all of us, especially in the face of such a strong downward spiral as we’re living through today.Though I could settle for a simpler ambition and try to only take care of my family and immediate environment, I’ve found this to be relatively futile within a wider world community that has a profound effect on the people and goings-on closest to me. So, I’ve found myself driven, at certain times in my life, totakegrasp of the more global picture we live in and look for a way to help steer things into a more favorable direction. This has led me to leave comics for two extended periods, nearly a decade each, in the 1980s and then again in the 90s-with only short stints of comics work in-between. Several years ago, I felt it was time to put all of this experience together and return to my first love: comics.
Young: How’s your return to comics progressing? Have you been able to pick up where you left off?
Netzer: No, it’s not the same industry that it was when I left. It’s not so easy to navigate a return to comics activity today as it was the last time I returned. So, I’ve been working from the outside, establishing a Web presence with ideas and projects that could inspire my fellow comics creators-and also open a door for a more active involvement for me within it. I have a lot of experience in digital productions, web design and technologies, advertising and visual media, 3D animation, film productions, and publishing. For instance, after leaving American comics, I produced and published Israel’s first full color comic book, Uri-On.
Young: It seems odd that the industry isn’t just accepting you back eagerly. In the initial phase of your comics career, you were a very high profile artist who also helped draw attention to what was then considered the alternative or “ground level” publications.
Netzer: I don’t know if I was a “high profile artist,” but I was fortunate to have drawn a lot of the high profile characters at both DC and Marvel: Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Arrow, Legion of Super Heroes, Supergirl, Hawkman, Martian Manhunter, Captain Marvel, Black Canary, Challengers of the Unknown, Kobra, Spiderman, Fantastic Four, Avengers, and the Hulk-to name a few. And, as you mentioned, I also worked on books for less mainstream publishers of past eras: Charlton, Western, Star-Reach, Hot Stuff [the “ground level” comic book publisher of the 70s, not the li’l devil from Harvey Comics], Continuity, and Teckno Comics along with others. You mentioned earlier how much my art in the 70s was reminiscent of Neal Adams’s work. In many ways, it actually still is. I’ve been labeled an Adams clone and even “master cloner” for being able to emulate other artist’s styles. I don’t, however, know of an artist whose work isn’t reminiscent of, or built upon the work of others who preceded them. It may be a matter of degree, but we can see it in most everyone. It took Bill Sienkiewicz, for example, a few years to develop an illustrative style that moved away from the heavy Adams influence of his Moon Knight work.
Young: Yes, I agree. Sienkiewicz’s early work on Moon Knight-especially in the black and white back-up stories in the magazine formatted The Hulk comic in the 70s was almost identical to anything Adams could have produced. But both you and Sienkiewicz have moved on to your own styles. When I look at your work now, I can still see an Adams influence, but no longer an imitation. Similarly, I know Sienkiewicz developed his style by incorporating the styles of the political cartoonists Ralph Steadman and Ronald Stearns into his approach to comics.
Netzer: And even a few illustration techniques from the likes of Bob Peak-which had also been explored, incidentally, by Howard Chaykin in his color work. Bill was hailed with awards and accolades for his work in the 80s for developing a more sophisticated art style within the comics-and rightly so. Yet the underlying structure of his art remains strongly Adams-influenced. What changed was his finishing technique-which, as you say came from Steadman and Stearns, among others-and which was enough to present a more personal approach. In the same way, Frank Miller drew heavily from South American comics, Jack Kirby’s power, and Jim Steranko’s noir approach-all of which still show in Frank’s work today.
A collective creative influence will always be there for all of us-and that’s fine. I suppose it’s important to keep pushing the envelope and bring something new to one’s art. A good look at my own work shows that I’ve made some serious efforts in this direction over the span of my career. However, at first glance, the relatively small amount of comics work that I’ve produced (and the long period of time it spans) might make it difficult to perceive the progression. I’ve extended myself past the study of Neal’s draftsmanship and applied what I’d learned from other artists in very different ways, as far back as 1977-78, when I produced two visual stories-one in Star*Reach and the other in Hot Stuff, that put together my artistic experience in a very personal way and had a very different look than my traditional comics work. I also have several unpublished works that sport a very unique storytelling approach which is perhaps a little more digestible today than they were back when I produced them. I’m not comfortable with having too many consecutive works with the same look and feel. Since 1995, I’ve used the computer in place of conventional drawing tools, and I’m exploring a range of ways to put forth an image and tell a story. Creatively, it’s a vibrant time for me.
Young: Going back to the work you did in the 70s during your first stint in the industry, you were working with Adams at Continuity Associates and you were also involved with the Comic Creators Guild that Adams and a few others were trying to get started back then-mainly on the issue of the work-for-hire contract that prevailed in the industry at the time. Did those guild-forming (or unionizing) efforts have anything to do with you leaving comics at that time? If I remember correctly, a number of creators who were involved with the guild had trouble getting work at DC and Marvel-which fed into the alternative comics activities of Mike Friedrich’s Star*Reach Productions and Hot Stuff.
Netzer: Yes, I was involved in the Comics Guild effort with Neal at the time, and we tried to positively influence the plight of comic creators-which undoubtedly weighed heavily on the course of my life and career afterwards. The problem was that while Neal was pointing to the blatant inequities that creators work under, we really didn’t have enough support to form the guild and attempt to change the situation. I don’t know if any creators were actually ostracized by DC and Marvel-although that was the feeling they had. There had been, and still is to some degree, an intimidation factor in the publisher-creator relationship in the comics industry. But it’s more of a psychological factor, and not necessarily an operative policy. I know the creators have legitimate concerns, but I don’t believe that attempting to form a guild should be detrimental to the creators’ job security. I don’t believe we need to form the guild with a contentious attitude towards the publishers. We can present it as an endeavor that will actually benefit the publishers-and I truly believe this to be the case. These fears and concernsare among the main culprits that held us back till now. I believe we can allow ourselves to begin to put them behind us so we can look ahead to the kind of comics industry we want for the creators, publishers, distributors, retailers, and fans alike. I believe the creators have the ability to bring about far-reaching changes that others in the industry can’t. To this end, I’ve established Flaming Sword. Not as any one man’s enterprise-though it appears to begin that way.
Young: Which gets us to what you’re currently working on: Flaming Sword. I know Jason has been working with you on the Flaming Sword Web site. What is Flaming Sword and what are your goals for it?
Netzer: My hope for Flaming Sword Productions is that other comics creators willstep forward, participate, and eventually take over the effort to help establish an economic and creative base for The Comic Book Creators’ Guild. The creative community, for the most part, has been greatly compromised since the inception of the industry, and I believe we need such a collective entity in order to balance the disenfranchisement many of us suffer due to the conditions in comics publishing. Flaming Sword will set the tone for a new model in creator-publisher relationships and establish a norm that justly compensates the creators for their contribution to the medium. The projects now in the works at Flaming Sword have come about spontaneously through a renewed involvement in the thriving Internet comics community. These are strictly initial products, however, and don’t necessarily reflect the type of projects a wider creators’ community would put together.
Young: One of those projects is the “A to Z Superhero Poster.” Could you talk about what it is, what prompted you to do it, and how you plan to use it?
Netzer: Well, the A-Z Superhero Poster is a project that began as a private commission for Clifford Meth, who chose the characters it features. When Clifford realized that I don’t work on paper anymore, and that the commission would be a digital production from sketch to finish, we decided to supplement its production witha set of prints that would launch Flaming Sword’s project base. These prints are perhaps the digitally produced equivalent of original art.
This poster perhaps embodies the essence of what Flaming Sword intends to achieve in the comics industry. It follows the model of many sketchbooks or art re-creations by popular creators in that it depicts copyrighted characters from both DC and Marvel. It’s become an accepted norm in the comics industry that it’s okay for creators to use these characters as long as the work remains low key and doesn’t go through the major distribution channels. That’s how, for example, a renowned comics artist can sell a re-creation of one of his DC covers for more than $40,000-or how so many comics artists can produce and sell an endless amount of commissioned work depicting other publishers’ copyrighted characters.Many comics creators have given their all in order to excel in their profession-but now find themselves disenfranchised from being able to make a living in the one career they’ve cultivated. So they turn to more “underground” avenues to supplement their income. Flaming Sword is attempting to turn this revenue avenue into a legitimate one-protected by the “fair use” stipulations of the international copyright laws-in order to allow creators to legitimately depict a publisher’s copyrighted work in projects that don’t infringe on the comic book sales or the merchandising of the copyright holder. It could be argued, for example, that the appeal of the A-Z Superheroes is primarily in the artist’s work rather than in the characters it depicts.
Young: Hmmm. Regarding the “fair use” policy, there was an academic book on Batman published in 2000-Batman Unmasked by Dr. Will Brooker-that ran into some problems when DC denied the publisher, Continuum Books, permission to use any trademarked material in the book-including the use of several panels that were under discussion. Apparently, DC refused permission because the book addressed the homosexual subtext of the Batman and Robin dynamic that had first been broached by Dr. Fredric Wertham in Seduction of the Innocent. In the academic community, it was largely regarded that Brooker had a legitimate right to use art panels under the “fair use” provision-as all academic critiques of literature have always done. However, Continuum Books shied away from going to press with any trademarked art without DC’s permission since they didn’t want to risk the expenses that a court battle would entail. Anyway, that’s a long way for me to go to ask whether you are at all concerned in this area of “fair use” when it comes to dealing with a large corporation and their army of lawyers.
Netzer: You bring up a good example of the problems I see throughout the media and journalism industries. For instance, if comic book reviewers write especially negative critiques of certain titles, they could conceivably find themselves in a similar situation for using an image to illustrate the review. I would actually prefer to publish the poster with the agreement and co-operation of both DC and Marvel-but that may be a little difficult at this time since both companies appear to have declared a policy of not allowing their characters to appear with those of the other. Instead of producing a different poster, however, I’m interested in exploring why it is we’ve come to this peculiar state. Both companies have reaped great profits from joint ventures they’ve produced in the past, beginning with the Superman-Spiderman crossover in the late 70s. A fiercely competitive attitude has, however, settled into the corporate world since. A more separatist spirit now moves the publishers-who appear to be more concerned with devouring their competition than they are with their own fiscal prosperity. The result is a continued dismal showing of comic book sales for the second decade in a row-nowhere near the average six digit figures of two decades ago.
Young: Yeah, I remember when I was a kid in the 70s I would read the “Statement of Ownership” box that had to be included once a year for the Post Office. It would indicate that such books as Batman or Detective Comics had circulation rates as high as 100,000 to 200,000-and, of course, that was down from the circulation of over a million readers for a title during World War II. Sales go down when you aren’t selling books in bulk to the military or stocking them in convenience stores and supermarkets.
Netzer: Absolutely. All this has come about because comics have disappeared from the public eye into the specialty bookstores that the common consumer doesn’t frequent.In the case of the scholarly Batman book you mentioned earlier, there was never an exploration of whether the publisher was legally entitled to use the images of Batman in the book. They most likely would have had a legal right under the fair use provision. The issue was put to rest, apparently, due to DC’s intimidations and Continuum Books backing off. The question we should be asking is whether we wish to allow ourselves to be governed by a sense of truth and justice (as the comics have tried to instill in American culture), or by the intimidation of a publisher threatening to use an army of corporate lawyers in order to distort the law through the blatant abuse of their economic strength.I would prefer not to engage DC and Marvel with a legal entanglement over Flaming Sword’s right to publish and sell the poster. On the other hand, I don’t intend to allow intimidations to infringe on our intrinsic right to publish it under the fair use provision of the international copyright law. The precedents in the low profile publishing arena and commissioned artwork sales only strengthen our position and provide strong supporting cases for a copyright issue of this type. I’d hope that we can begin to see a change in how the subject of fair use is perceived in the comics community, and to give back the right that the creators have in how they choose to present the work that they’re primarily known for-namely, as writers and artists of the iconic characters, initially created by comics creators, not by publishers.
Young: I hope you’re successful. Coming from an academic background, I was upset that DC apparently intimidated Continuum Books into not using any art simply because DC’s management objected to one very small discussion of the homoerotic undertones of the Batman stories of the 1950s. Of course, DC and Marvel shouldn’t find anything objectionable in your depiction of their characters-but I imagine it’s also a good thing that you aren’t putting all your efforts into just one project.
Netzer: That’s right, the next project after the poster is the Heroes & Villains and Other Celebrities Sketchbook,which began as
Young: I’ve actually been reading through parts of your daily blog, and I noticed that you mention that you recently mended your relationship with Neal Adams after almost 12 years of not speaking to each other. For me, that’s almost like the time Frank Sinatra brought Dean Martin on stage during one of Jerry Lewis’s telethons so Martin and Lewis could mend their relationship (I know many of our readers may not get my reference, but they can look it up). Anyway, after a big build-up in the blog about the anxiety you were experiencing about approaching him, you didn’t report on the actual meeting where the two of you made up. Would you want to add anything to that here or did you leave it out of the blog because it was too personal and something you weren’t needing to share?
Netzer: You’re right in that it was a very personal encounter and that may be the reason I omitted it. It’s interesting that you liken it to the Martin/Lewis reconciliation on stage, because it also happened, albeit with a little less fanfare, on a stage at the NY Big Apple convention in the fall of 2004. It’s important to note that the incident took place within days of my sending out press releases for The Comic Book Creator’s Party web site that includes a long essay, Blood Which Flows from the Heart, that explained for the first time the circumstances that led to the litigation I brought against Neal in the mid 1990s. As I said in that article, Neal had only wanted that I understand his intentions behind the issues that led to the litigation. By explaining it all in the article, I hoped that Neal and his family would accept the regret expressed there. I went to the convention with all this in mind, and was in a somewhat emotionally charged state upon arriving there. Neal and his entire family were at their table and this made the situation even more precarious for me. It’s important to understand, in light of the relationship Neal and I have had, that the action I brought against him was a serious blow to the trust between us, especially with regards to his family. I actually approached the table several times and was warmly received by everyone there-but had virtually no communication with Neal, who was very busy with the crowd coming to see him. The next day, at the panel where Neal was interviewed by Frank Miller, I simply stepped up to the stage and approached him after the interview extending my hand and congratulating him on the excellent discussion. Neal reciprocated by also extending his hand in return. The handshake had pretty much answered my question as to whether my plea was heard. I did the same with Frank, by the way, who’d also previously pointed rather harsh criticism my way over the same subject. Later that day, towards the end of the con, I spent some time with Neal and his family at their table after sitting in on his Science Project presentation. To say the least, the whole affair was for me a good-sized helping of the special Adams family grace that I’d missed for so long-and I wouldn’t be truthful if I said it wasn’t accompanied by a few tears. We later bid each other farewell, and I made my way back to Israel the next day.
Young: Thank you. That satisfies my curiosity on the subject and I’m glad to hear that you and Adams have returned to being on friendly terms with each other. Thinking of the two of you together again on friendly terms makes me recall those great depictions of Batman you and Adams are known for from the 70s. Are you working on any more traditional comics work. I’d love to see you on Batman or some of the other DC characters again.
Netzer: Nothing for DC at the moment, but I’m involved in a few projects with Aardwolf Publishing that I can’t yet talk about. I’ve also recently inked some pages for Mr. T #3 for APComics. The pages may not see print, however. The publisher, Richard Emms, has since closed down APC operations and moved to Markosia. In light of the difficulties he was having, Rich decided not to compensate the artists who chipped in to help finish the work on time. The three of us involved in the affair-Michael Kelleher, James Taylor, and myself-attempted to resolve the issue amicably, which led to a somewhat heated exhange at a Newsarama thread announcing Rich’s move to Markosia. Rich eventually agreed, to his credit, to settle the issue with us. It’s again these types of publisher-creator encounters-and the ease with which the creators’ community can be compromised-that accentuate a need for a strong guild or union of comics creators.
Young: Given your interest in bringing about positive changes in the world and in championing the rights of creators in the comics industry, do you have any predictions or insights regarding the direction the industry is headed?
Netzer: Well, first I would hope that Flaming Sword, or some similarly motivated entity, will eventually become the home for the creators who’ll manage it as a collective enterprise. I offer my own experiences and perceptions of the role comics play on the world stage as an inspiration for a gloriousrevival of the entire medium-for creators, publishers, and fans alike. The wheels of this revival are already in motion, though perhaps not yet widely perceived as such.While the superheroes and comics properties flourish in Hollywood, it appears that the comics industry itself remains in a longtime sales slump. I’ve said repeatedly that the major publishers appear to be content with this situation that allows them to reap enormous profits from the comics properties while keeping the creators’ community at bay, perhaps inadvertently, with claims of low comics sales. To me, this situation clearly perpetuates the disenfranchisement of the comics creators-but it’s also holding back the flourishing of the comic book form. I have no doubt that DC and Marvel know how to sell more comics if they truly needed to.
Young: Perhaps by not limiting themselves to the direct-sales market? I would like to see monthly comic books back in convenience stores, drug stores, and supermarkets. My first comic book “purchase” was when I was a little kid at the supermarket with my grandmother. While she went through the checkout line, I went to the comic book rack and looked through various titles. After paying for her groceries, she found me reading a copy of Detective Comics # 350 and went back through the checkout line to buy it for me. I think the obvious problem is that the industry isn’t bringing in new readers in large numbers. Sure, a few new fans find their way to the comic book specialty stores after getting hooked by a movie or in some other fashion, but the young kids at the grocery store with their mothers or grandmothers are no longer camped out in front of the spinner racks. Instead, the publishers seem intent on selling the monthly books to a limited readership and then re-packaging a six-month story arc as a “graphic novel” with additional material so they can basically sell the same story to the readers who bought it the first time but who now believe they need the additional material. This essentially incestuous business plan relies on the limited readership supporting the industry with more and more money-and, based on the sales of compilation “graphic novels,” the fans seem to be going along with the idea. But the bottom has to eventually fall out, and traditional comic books will effectively cease to exist.
Netzer: It is amazing that the simple points you make, which are obvious to many laymen in the industry today, appear to escape the perception of the major publishers. On the one hand, they’ve painted themselves into a corner by milking the direct market dry, as they did in the late 80s to early 90s-and limiting the distribution system to its present proponents and methods. Yet in the overall picture, this is apparently not a big detriment to the publishers who haven’t, for a long time, relied on strong comics sales in light of the merchandising power their properties have.
The comics industry has changed greatly since the days of the spin racks in the drug stores, however. The comics have become more mature and many of them cater to a more selective audience. It’s not so easy to roll back the clock and return to those days of yesteryear with the comics being produced today. Under the current situation, it’s perhaps difficult to imagine an open distribution system that will get most of the comic books being published now into supermarkets and drug stores. So we’re getting a shift of efforts to place graphic novels in bookstores, which is a welcomed venue, in and of itself. It’s perhaps a good start, but not quite enough. When I hear Mark Millar or Warren Ellis overjoyed at sales around 35,000 copies for independent non-superhero comics they’ve produced, which appear to have a wider popular appeal than many of the superhero comics published today, I wonder why we’re not seeing these books selling in the range of 300-500k. The entire direct market has apparently fallen into the service of the major comics publishers who feed the incestuous and self-destructive system they propagate.
The Indies have actually attained the place they have in the industry, in spite of the established distribution system which caters to the mainstream superhero genre-and against overwhelming odds. It would behoove the movers behind the direct market to realize that a great source of revenue also awaits them outside of DC and Marvel. It would also serve the major publishers well to release their stranglehold on comics distribution. To do this, however, they’d need to first decide that it’s important to produce the kind of comics that have a wider popular appeal-whether superhero or otherwise, this lack of effort on the part of publishers leaves it up to the creators to take the ball and run with it. First and foremost for their own benefit-for procuring fair compensation for the enormous contribution they make to the industry, and for securing a better future withinthe neglected environment that the major publishers have fermented. For creators, the primary key for generating interest in comics lies in the stories and art they produce-the aspects that they can control. Comics creators need to begin to address the issues pertinent to the buying market- issues that primarily center around the plight of our troubled world that’s taking its toll on each and every one of us. When comics creators begin to take an active role in steering public perception and raising a hope for a better tomorrow through their comics, the revival I speak of will begin to be more evident.
Young: Are you advocating didactic comic book stories or simply the depiction of events in a story that revolve themselves in a “politically correct” outcome-or do you mean something else entirely?
Netzer: I wouldn’t purport to suggest to any creator what they should be producing in their comics. I would, however, strongly support the advice that Alan Moore gave in one of his interviews when he suggested that we need to connect with a long-buried inner truth within us in order to put forth our strongest work creatively. He was basically evoking the creative philosophy of the German and British Romantic poets of the 18th and 19th centuries, which is appropriate as you will know since comic books have primarily focused on those Romantic ideals since their inception.
Young: Batman as the Byronic hero, Superman as the Nietzschean overman, and stories that are essentially an expression of the significance of individuation over compliancy and assimilation.
Netzer: Exactly. Because of these Romantic themes, it’s natural that comics should connect with an inner truth that Alan and the Romantics before him suggest has been lost to us since childhood. However, this approach is not so simple in a world that strong-arms our creative process and then discards us like a bloody rag. The creators themselves must be Romantic heroes because it takes individual courage in the face of social conformity to reach deep inside and connect with the truths we had at the onset of our lives. In that sense, whatever it is we arrive at through applying individual courage to our creative process is much more preferable than scratching the surface in the way we’ve become accustomed. If the prosperity of the comics and our ability to help the industry get back on its feet is of any concern to the creators, then it would be prudent to understand through marketing patterns what interests the buying public. My perception is that the audience, and a wider potential readership, are interested in stories relevant to the plight of our troubled world.
Young: I think you’re correct. We need only look at the success of the “meta-superhero” form in such books as The Watchmen, Marvels, et cetera to see that we essentially have an aging readership that is demanding greater verisimilitude from its superhero stories.
Netzer: Perhaps that’s part of it, but the Romantic element is still there as well. In whatever way creators can address the issue of “inner truth” and communicate it, they’re more likely to capture the interest and imagination of the public. The more direct and true to their deepest inner feelings, the more this will translate to a growing interest in their work-and eventually into higher sales. The most profound and commercially successful comics in the industry’s history have shown a strong presence of these elements in the stories they embodied.
Young: You’re right. While Miller’s Dark Knight Returns is often lumped together with Moore’s The Watchmen, the only thing they really have in common is a strong sense of the individual vision of their respective authors. Miller’s book actually lacks verisimilitude at times as it hypes up the Romanticism.
Netzer: Yes, it’s the strength of those individual visions for a work by the creators that will save the industry. Back in 1978, I wrote a line in Shout of the Archangel that foretold of a united comics empire eventually coming intosocio-economic prominence in world culture. The comics have evolved greatly since, and it’s perhaps easier now to see the veracity of such a statement. I believe that when these wheels that are now in motion begin to become more evident, the events surrounding them will escalate in both scope and speed so as to bring about a major upheaval in the stature that comics have within the entertainment world.There’s no doubt that the proper fueling of the human spirit and the giving of new hope for the world will bring about changes previously unimagined in our lifetime-including our collective sojourns into space and a new beginning at our next station in the solar system. I’ve repeatedly touched on this belief, since the Star*Reach story I produced in 1977. If I might digress to illustrate the point, The Cassini-Huygens Mission to Saturn and Titan returned breathtaking photographs of Titan showing it has an atmosphere, clouds, a rich topography, and rivers and oceans-providing evidence for what has long been hoped would be found on Titan. It’s been the subject of such speculation for centuries by visionary artists and writers. Kurt Vonnegut Jr., for example, amongst many others, expressed such sentiment about Saturn’s moon in one of his less prominent works, The Sirens of Titan from 1959. What is it about the artistic vision that finds as much veracity, sometimes even more, than the scientific one? For example, in the case of Titan, the scientific community was genuinely curious about Saturn’s moon, but found itself surprised at the images and information that the Huygens probe was transmitting. When the first images from Titan came through, indicating land masses amidst an oceanic body, the first reactions at the mission center echoed such sentiments as “we don’t know what we’re looking at here.” The speculation was that, even though Titan was expected to be somewhat Earth-like, the extremely low temperatures and perceived methane structure of the atmosphere led to a theory that Titan was a frozen moon which isn’t likely to have the type of topography that was discovered there.
Young: They did, though, expect to find oceans of liquid methane on the planet. Methane is a gas on Earth, of course, but at the temperatures on Titan it’s a liquid-and they expected to find it (or I should say they had hoped to find) what they did actually find.
Netzer: If that’s so, why were they so surprised at what they found?
Young: I took those statements as an expression of trying to figure out what was being depicted in the initial black and white images-rather than surprise at what they found in the depictions. Spectrographic analysis long before the mission told them that a great deal of methane existed on Titan-and, due to its distance from the sun, the temperature of Titan made them expect that the methane might be liquid rather than frozen. Methane freezes around minus 297 degrees Fahrenheit and scientists had calculated Titan’s temperature to be around minus 290 degrees Fahrenheit-so I think they expected the planet to be frozen but hoped that the methane might still be in a liquid state.
Netzer: Hopes and expectations aside, my point is that declared statements and theories posited with the certainty of almost absolute fact are working to the detriment of the scientific community. Having talked and written about Titan being the next intermediary station in our colonization of the solar system-and having included it, to this end, in several comic book stories that I’ve produced since 1977-you can imagine my interest in this mission from the day it launched. I closely followed the events and information coming from the mission center for about a year before the probe landed. The prevailing assessments that I read on the mission’s Web site expressed an expectation of finding a mostly frozen gaseous moon with little hope, if any for the type of terrain they discovered there. I’d even note that the scientific community has made a habit of locking itself into ideas that it later finds difficult to climb down from-even when strong evidence suggests it should. I’d note Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, the Big Bang theory, and the joint theories of Pangea and subduction as prime examples of theories that the scientific community is locked into despite evidence that contradicts these theories. For instance, on that first night of the image transmissions from the Huygens probe, I heard a mission representative speculate that Titan must have been hit by a giant meteor that contributed to un-freezing it and creating the channels of rivers flowing into the ocean. They were startled by the rivers of what they believe to be methane that flowed into the oceans-and by a coastline that could have easily been mistaken for say, the coastline of Scandinavia or the Eastern United States. The reason they were startled was that they’d prematurely locked themselves into ideas that they didn’t have enough evidence for. As an example, even as far as the composition of the Titan’s ocean and rivers being methane, it’s still too early to make such an assessment with the absolute certainty that the scientific community does. We still have not received any definitive corroboration that the liquid we see on Titan’s surface is composed of methane. We know that rivers of water on Earth originate from the mountain run-off of melting snow and rainfall, but how do we explain the origins of a supposed methane river? Is there methane rainfall or melting glaciers of methane? Do we yet know under which conditions methane might evaporate on Titan to form methane rain clouds? Have we performed such large scale experiments with methane in order to understand how it would behave under such circumstances? Do we even know if such a phenomenon is possible under the atmospheric conditions Titan has? Do we know what these conditions are? Do we know what Titan’s air – AIR-is composed of? Do we know how methane interacts with it? Can we conclusively say the clouds we saw in the photographs are composed of methane? There are still way too may unanswered questions to prematurely jump to the conclusions that scientists have arrived at concerning the methane composition of Titan’s ocean.
A composite NASA image showing the intricate system of the supposed methane rivers along the coastline of a supposed methane ocean on Titan.
Young: The only answer I have to your questions is “spectrographic analysis” of the atmosphere-including the clouds. However, I’m not that familiar with the theorized atmospheric dynamics other than to say that learning the answers to those questions is partly what the mission hoped to help accomplish.
Netzer: It’s curious to me that in the past eight months, NASA hasn’t released any exhilarating color photographs of Titan-such as those that we saw with the Mars missions. We’ve had a probe sitting there for nine months now, in the midst of the most wondrous discovery ever to be found in our solar system, and yet we see no photographs and hear no discussion of the information the probe is sending. The longer this situation persists, the more suspect the scientific community will be for not addressing it forthrightly.
Young: As I understand it, the probe was expected to stop working after landing. It didn’t involve a Mars rover style of probe. Just a probe that would transmit as it descended through the atmosphere until it crashed into the surface. Remember, the Mars probes not only had parachutes to slow their descent through the thin Martian atmosphere, but they were also encased in those big balloon pads to cushion the landing. The Titan probe only had a parachute to slow its descent enough to get instrument readings-but it still was a crash landing. Still, getting back to your initial point, it’s surprising that they haven’t color-enhanced the black and white Titan photos they way they color-enhanced the black and white Mars photos.
Netzer: Yes, these areas of human exploration can and should be shared by everyone alike. Science is not for scientists alone. I wouldn’t scoff at a scientist who showed an interest in arts and even ventured into producing a few comic book stories, yet artists who show an interest in areas that are deemed the “realm of science” are generally shown little respect by the scientific community.
Young: Yes, I find a great deal of skepticism when I point out that a great deal of William Blake’s The Four Zoas (written in 1797) contains direct correlations to quantum mechanics and superstring theory. In fact, I find that the best writers of “speculative fiction”-to use Harlan Ellison’s phrase-are able to “predict” what science will actually discover or develop. For me, I’m amazed at how closely the society in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World so closely resembles today’s society. As a dystopian or anti-utopian novel, it’s far more reflective of American and British society than is Orwell’s 1984-though George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld seem to be doing their best to bring about Orwell’s vision as well. Likewise, Arthur C. Clarke’s invention of communications satellites in his fiction predated their actual development by at least 10 to 15 years. And despite it not being some of Kirby’s best graphic arts work, some of the ideas contained in the original Omac are becoming more and more likely each year-from genetically-engineered super-soldiers directed by spy satellites to the extremes that people will go to look younger in an ever-more-entrenched youth-oriented culture.I imagine this is what you’re thinking about in what you see as the connection between artists and scientists in the discovery process to understanding our universe.
Netzer: Absolutely. I’d cite Neal Adams’ science project as strong support for this idea. Dismayed at the conclusions that the scientific community reached regarding the model under which our planet formed and evolves, Neal has put to question a basic principle that I believe the scientific community needs to re-examine-namely, whether the creation of matter is an ongoing process or not. It appears that modern science, perhaps having its origins in 17th century kabalistic Christianity, reacted reflexively to Creationism, skirted the issue all together and has been in denial of the need to address it ever since.
Young: Hmmm. If I may, let me explain for our readers what you’re referring to for a moment so that they’ll understand the context of your statements-and so that you can clarify some connections you seem to making that I’m not seeing . . . or perhaps not agreeing with.Concerning your statement that modern science is rooted in 17th century kabalistic Christianity, and that this origin is responsible for the reaction of science to Creationism: let me first admit that I’m not familiar with 17th century kabalistic Christianity. However, coming from my studies of modern and postmodern philosophy, I’d say that modern science has two non-kabalistic origins. I’m not certain, but the first might be related to what you refer to as a kabalistic origin in that certain scientific disciplines evolved from pre-modern “mystical pseudo-sciences.” For instance, as their names reveal, chemistry evolved somewhat from alchemy, and astronomy has some associations with astrology. However, with the “second origin,” the notion of “scientific thought” and the “scientific process” can be traced back specifically to 17th century empiricism-specifically the British Empiricism of the 17th and 18th centuries that developed under John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume. In a nut shell, this philosophical movement emphasized an acquisition of knowledge through direct experience and personal observation-which developed into the scientific method (or empirical method) of proving theories through repeatable experiments in which the same results can be personally observed to recur each time the experiment is conducted. Hume is sometimes considered a British Philosophe (the “r” was not left off the end of that word), and it is actually the Philosophes (such as Voltaire) whose views caused 18th century modern philosophy (and, thus, modern science) to break from the Church and a Creationist view of the universe. Namely, since God cannot be directly observed or physically experienced, there is no basis for believing in God. Similarly, then, there is no basis for the belief in miracles nor for a Creationist origin of the universe.
Netzer: We’re basically pointing to different events that occurred simultaneously during the same period. Seventeenth century British Empiricism and the rise of the Philosophe movement associated with Voltaire were also accompanied by a movement within the Christian world that sought a more sound structure to Creationist theology and turned to the ancient Jewish Kabala for this support. The movement was labeled as Kabalistic Christianity and was not warmly embraced by mainstream Christians. During an approximately 150-year period, this movement attempted to bring the emerging scientific fields of astronomy, chemistry and physics within its fold of astrology, alchemy, and divination-as irrefutable proof of the divinity of Christ based on ancient Jewish mysticism from which he emerged. This contention between the new studies of the Sciences and kabalistic Christianity appears to have contributed greatly to emerging scientific theory, which perhaps went a little too far in seeking the opposite extreme of anything remotely resembling Creationism-including the entire issue of the creation of matter. Interestingly, both sides appear to have resorted to theologies based on superstition, magic, and sorcery while ignoring the basic visible phenomenon in our world and the observable laws inherent in nature. Religionists, on the one hand, insist on a quasi-literal interpretation of the scriptures in support of Creationism. They insist, for example, that the six days of creation in the Book of Genesis actually refer to six 24 hour days-even though, according to the text, the sun and moon were not yet present for the first four of these days. They insist that Adam was the first man created in the world, even though the text clearly states that he was created only after the general creation of the human species.
Young: Don’t forget that the word adam in Hebrew simply means “man” or “mankind.” The statement “God created Adam” simply means “God created Mankind.”
Netzer: Yes, that’s correct. Likewise, religionists hold onto a belief in divine magic and supernatural sorcery in order to explain the miracles in the Bible, even though the writers of the scriptures often referred to the allegorical meanings of these miracles-the metaphoric interpretations based on the poetic license and intent that are inherent in a writer’s work for events (such as Moses parting the Red Sea and Jesus walking on the water).
Young: And, actually, the whole “Red Sea” story is due to a transcription error that occurred several centuries ago and that has persisted. In the Hebrew text, Moses and his people crossed the yam suph-which translates as “the sea of reeds.” It would appear that Moses actually crossed the “Reed Sea” rather than the “Red Sea.” During the Middle English period, the word reed could be spelled with either a single or double e-so, when it was transcribed in English, the monk working on the transcription spelled “reed” with only one e (and thus began the problem).
Netzer: Which makes perfect sense if you know the geography of that area north of Suez in what has historically been a very marshy area. Once we strip these “miracles” of their supernatural trappings-allowing us to get away from the quasi-literal interpretation of divine magic and sorcery that religionists adhere to-the intended metaphors actually reveal far deeper insights into these principal players and their actions. In a similar way, modern science has become attached to a set of theories that have no sound basis under the laws in which our universe operates. All matter magically exploded into being at the moment of creation-and then even more magically, ceased to generate. The continents, through some force of sorcery danced around the planet like a burlesque ensemble changing from one formation to the other. And the ocean floor, through “a process not fully understood,” sinks into the denser magma and acts like a conveyer belt eternally regurgitating itself from the center of the earth. These theories hold within them a similar reliance on “mysterious” forces that have no basis under the laws of physics and visible phenomenon inherent in our observable universe. Most of these scientific postulations are founded on the Theory of Relativity and the notion that matter ceased coming into being at the time the universe initially exploded with what is called The Big Bang. Without any connection to Creationism, this does not appear to be a sound basis for scientific discovery. As an example, when it was discovered that the ocean floor was much younger than the continents, and that the youngest material in it formed ridges along certain lines, a group of scientists proposed a notion that the Earth may have expanded since it came into being-and that it continues to do so. They were promptly ridiculed and ostracized in the scientific community because this notion smelled of Creationism. The scientists had no model under which new matter could be spontaneously generated and cause the Earth to grow, so they conjured up a mechanism under which the ocean floor re-cycles itself in a conveyor belt-like contraption called subduction. There was (and still is) no strong evidence for this theory that has many serious inconsistencies with what we know about the laws of physics. It’s only merit is that it allows scientists to continue assuming that new matter is not generated into the universe. This issue is at the crux of Neal Adams’s science project.
Young: If I may, let me explain for our readers what you’re referring to for a moment so that they’ll understand the context of our discussion here. First, the theory of subduction holds the view that one tectonic plate is pushed beneath another plate into the underlying mantle. The opinion is that the denser plate slides under the other and creates a fault line where the plates overlap. As the plates slide under and over each other, earthquakes occur and the friction causes a great deal of heat. From this friction-generated heat (along with the heat from the mantle and from radioactive decay), it is believed that the subducted plate melts and that magma rises through fractures in the crust-eventually reaching the surface to form volcanoes. In the end, the heat may be so intense that large areas of the crust are melted, forming granites just below the surface.This, then is the conventional scientific theory as to how new land masses are formed (such as the Hawaiian Islands) and why parts of the ocean floor are younger than the continents.
In contrast to this view, Adams has suggested that the Earth (and, indeed, all solid planets and planetoids) are spontaneously increasing in size. He supports this theory with graphic animation that shows that the continents were indeed once connected along the coastlines of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans (which scientists have named the super-continent of Pangea). However, Adams demonstrates that the coastlines of the Pacific and Arctic Oceans also interlock. I can see the interlocking of the coastlines of the Atlantic and Indian Ocean, but have difficulty following the twists and turns in the animation where he shows the Pacific and Arctic coastlines match up.
Anyway, his view is that the only way that all of the coastlines could interlock in this manner is through the expansion of the Earth’s surface-and he makes the same argument regarding Mars, Luna (Earth’s moon), and Europa (one of Jupiter’s moons). I’ve seen his four videos demonstrating his theory on his Web site (www.nealadams.com), and they are very compelling. It’s a very intriguing observation he’s made, but he doesn’t seem to offer any explanation as to how the Earth, other planets, and moons could expand. It seems unlikely that new matter is being spontaneously generated in the core of these spheres-but I’m willing to accept the idea that planets and moons are capable of expanding without increasing in mass-much as stars and the gaseous planets are capable of doing. It’s even possible, I suppose, that the planets are expanding on the surface but becoming hollow in the interior-though conventional science would probably disagree with that notion as well.
Netzer: You’ve pointed to the heart of the problem, and rightly so. Before addressing this, however, allow me to also note that no part of the ocean floor is as old as the continental crust. It’s not just a matter of some parts. None of it even comes close. The difference between the age of the ocean floor and the continental crust is so great that it leaves no doubt that there is no connection between the time spans of their formation. The oldest part of the ocean floor is no more that 180 Million years old, while the continental crust is between 3-6 Billion years.
The crustal age map I provided here is based on a 10 year sampling of the ocean floor by geologists, beginning in the 1960s. Notice that the youngest areas, in red, are the widest and most expansive-implying that there’s an acceleration of the magma being pushed out at the rifts (an acceleration of the growth process, if you will). Now, let’s talk about new matter being formed at the core of the planets. Neal has actually addressed this issue very eloquently in his writings. He puts forth a very plausible theory for how matter can be spontaneously generated under certain conditions based on the interaction between neutrons and electrons in the simplest atoms from which the basic elements of the universe are composed (beginning with Hydrogen). Neal is at least showing enough humility by repeatedly stating that he might be wrong, but that’s how things appear to him. Would that the scientific community could show only a small fraction of such integrity.
To me, the basic question at this time is not necessarily in showing conclusive evidence for how this mechanism can work. Rather, it’s in the acceptance that such a mechanism may well be inherent in how the universe functions based on the overwhelming evidence we have for it. The basic issue we face today is the superstitious belief (bordering on the zealous fanaticism of the scientific community) that there can be no such phenomenon. Scientific discovery is an ongoing process. The theories it puts forth must be based on the acceptance of the fact that we have not yet discovered all the mechanisms under which the universe operates. By accepting this simple notion, based on the humility of the human evolutionary experience, scientists must become more receptive to new ideas and theories that the observable evidence is suggesting, which may negate their previously postulated theorems- especially when said theorems have been built on a house of cards which doesn’t hold up to sound reasoning. The contention science has with religionist Creationism should have nothing to do with basing their entire model of the universe on a faulty assumption that matter cannot be propagated under certain conditions. Such a change within the scientific community should at least allow the Growing Universe theory to live side by side with the Big Bang-at least until we discover more conclusive evidence for the veracity of either.
Now, to address the point you make about the origin of modern science being founded on the acquisition of knowledge through direct experience and personal observation-through repeatable experiments in which the same results can be personally observed to recur. Well, it’s one thing to arrive at actual discovery through personal observation and experiment-such as the discovery of atomic structure that led to the development of nuclear reactors. It’s quite another thing to formulate theory based on assumptions that have no irrefutable observable evidence-or when the evidence also suggests other negating theory-such as in the Big Bang, Pangea, and subduction. These two channels of discovery are quite different from one another, and the latter is not based on the same sound scientific method that the former is based upon.
Young: Well, not to get into an argument since I have definite problems with the Modernist assumptions on which the scientific process was founded, but the Big Bang theory came about in part as a way to explain the observable phenomenon of the Doppler effect of galactic objects. Similarly, the theory of Pangea arose in part because of the observable interlocking of coastlines in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans as well as movement along fault lines. And subduction was theorized as a way to explain movement along fault lines, the newness of the ocean floors, and the eruption of volcanoes. However, if the interlocking also occurs along the Pacific and Arctic coast lines, then an alternative theory like Adams’s may provide an answer. You see, I’m not convinced that the Earth is growing due to the spontaneous generation of matter-but I’m willing to entertain the idea.
Netzer: Good. Keeping an open mind is the first step.As to the belief in God, miracles, and the Creationist origin of the universe-I frankly don’t see what those issues have to do with our present state of scientific discovery. I personally believe, for example, that the presence of the all-encompassing intelligent force behind the creation of the universe will be the last thing we’ll all have conclusive and convincing evidence for in our collective discovery and understanding of how the universe works. What’s more important-and I say this to everyone who blatantly waves their flags of faith-is that faith in God that requires the denial of our observance of the powers and phenomenon that we can clearly see in nature is not true faith at all. In such a case, religious faith becomes a crutch to those living in denial of the condition our world is in. True faith in the evidence God has given us for his presence, through the scriptures, should lead us to accept the fact that the Bible was not given in order to replace scientific discovery but rather to support it. Anything less, points to a severe lack of faith in what God has created and in how the universe operates under a preconceived structure that has a sound logic as to the mechanisms that drive it. True faith does not rely on miracles of supernatural magic, sorcery, and witchcraft-it rather perceives the real miracle inherent in the sound structure which holds our universe (and all life within it) together.
Young: You sound like a Deist-which is a good thing. I have a great deal of respect for the Deist views of Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine.
Netzer: Yes, it’s true that all this is more a matter of a deep personal conviction for me than it is an issue of scientific discovery. It has little to do with understanding the mechanisms under which the universe operates. When science begins to accept this notion, it will be able to confront the issue of how matter came into being and see the evidence for the spontaneous process in which it’s generated. Until it does, it will continue to ride the crest of confusion at the hands of faulty theory that attempts to skirt this most fundamental problem it faces. I believe it’ll be easier for scientists to arrive at new discovery when they become accepting of the possibility that the spontaneous generation of matter is possible without any connection to a belief in God.
This is at the heart of Neal Adams’s science project and the great gift he’s giving the world. Through it, Neal is exhibiting the perceptions of such renaissance masters as Leonardo DaVinci in pushing the envelope of scientific thought in our time.
I point to this type of work, and to many other far-reaching ideas I’ve talked about, concerning the future of the comics industry, as very strong supporting evidence for the veracity of the role that the comics creators play amidst unfolding events in our time. We’ve been dealt a rather incredible hand in the evolution of our species, and we mostly behave as if we’re not even aware of it. We sit at the hub of the entertainment and communications industries of the modern world, and we command the only medium that still gives its creators the freedom to create freely and disseminate our work to the people. The creators’ community is spearheaded by a large number prolific writers and artists who have pertinent statements to make about the state of our world-and know how to lead a charge and inspire people with their work. Each and every comic book creator has the ability to reach within themselves for the type of ideas and statements that can influence change to a measure previously unimagined-even by such lovers of fantasy and fiction as we are.
I call on all comics creators to come and take freely ofthe life-giving inspiration that Flaming Sword Productions offers. I call on comics creators to be brave and strong and to cut the umbilical chord that feeds us with the need for social conformity in our close circles and to become truly born again with a new freedom that gives life and hope to the world. I call on the creators community to take a deep look at the story of my life and career in the comics and draw inspiration from it in order to find that inner truth within themselves and help set them free from the false shackles and needs of the world-to first find that inner voice and to shoot it out from within them like an arrow aimed at the bulls eye-to find that voice and to allow it be heard. As time slowly runs out for us, it’s becoming more imperative that we begin to make a collective stand as one voice of reason in a world overrun by confusion and despair.
Young: Do you have a timetable for the changes you’d like to see in the industry?
Netzer: I prefer not to put the aspirations I see for the comics industry into a timetable. I’ve done this, however, in The Comic Book Creators’ Party Web site because of the existing framework for political change in America.I believe it’s better to build with what we have now and to keep a clear eye on the present.
However,I do believe that time is quickly running out for all of us, and that we need to exert a concerted effort to help heal our world while we still can. The 2008 and 2012 dates that I mentioned there perhaps give us a time-frame within which to attempt to influence certain changes in the global community.
For now, I believe it is incumbent on everyone in the comics community who has a passion for life to ask themselves what they can do to help accelerate the chain of events and contribute to the rise of this movement from within the comics industry. The major reason why all this must come about is because we are a species that wants to live. We stand at the crossroads of mass destruction or a glorious revival of our civilization. Would that we could be secure in knowing that the powers-that-be actually held the best interests of civilization at heart, but it’s become painfully clear that this is not necessarily the case. America and the world need a new spirit and a new hope. The world community needs to stand tall and take the initiative for its own survival. If there’s anything that superheroes have taught us, it’s that the Romantic creative spirit and heroic deeds are manifest in all of us.
I’ve put my life, career, name, reputation, and family’s well-being on the line in order to help bring this revival to the comics industry-and it’s all only the beginning. If we want to help save ourselves and our world from the calamities we suffer today, then perhaps it’s wise for all of us to draw some inspiration from this story and begin the long road to redemption together. Glorious events await the comics industry-we need only take a good look at ourselves to understand that we have the proper spirit with which to help bring them about. Our collective will to live should be enough reason to take all this to heart and begin to act on it.
Young: I certainly agree that the industry needs to be revitalized and that we need to have a better grasp of the political changes that are occurring in the world and why they’re occurring. I hope Flaming Sword Productions and the Comic Book Creators political party is able to help facilitate those events. Thank you for your time and for sharing your experiences and views with us, Mike.
Netzer: Thank you, Thom, for the vision and excellent guidance and contributions to this discussion.You’ve helped make it an eye opener for me as well.
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