'Nuff Said! needs your help.
In most English-speaking countries there is a long-standing (long-running?) prejudice against comic books. It was especially obvious in the McCarthy Era of the 1950s during the Kefauver hearings on "juvenile delinquency" and in the book "Seduction of the Innocent." That prejudice is still with us. Not as strong as it was then, but it still exists.
Comic books are surely the only art form known more by some of their content (super-heroes) than by their form. Most people don't think of a specific genre of books or movies when you mention those words to them, but when you say "comic book" they often think "super-hero." Not that all super-hero comics are bad, I have never said that.
When I heard 'Nuff Said! had been canceled after almost nine years, I had a strong reaction, of course (anger mixed with depression). I wasn't getting paid to do the show (very few people at WBAI are). Only a passion for the medium and art form of comics could motivate me to continue to spend the time and money necessary to do a good show. So of course, that very passion would evoke a strong reaction when faced with the loss of that show. But I was still surprised by my own reaction. I remember telling people that I obviously had too much self-worth tied up in the show.
As the days passed, Bernard White, WBAI's Program Director, gave me reasons why I was canceled, such as being "narrow focused" despite dealing with nearly every political, social and cultural issue there is. My first feeling was that such a reason was "insult to injury." Didn't he listen to the show before he made his decision to cancel it? Was he one of those people prejudiced against comic books? I didn't know him well enough to know whether that was true, but I couldn't help but think it. I quickly rattled off some of the topics we covered in the course of interviewing comics creators: racism, sexism, censorship, independent thought vs. corporate control, quite a few environmental issues, war and peace issues, gay rights, literacy, dozens of cultural and historical topics.
Since then, I've naturally thought of more topics we've covered, such as nationalism, religion, terrorism, education, freedom of speech, relationships, love, sex, language, foreign relations, copyright and trademark law, the internet, all types of music from opera to jazz to folk to r&b to punk, mass media, corporate responsibility, workers' rights, creators' rights, diversity and, of course, techniques in art and writing. My telling him this has not been enough to bring the show back. But since WBAI-FM is a listener-supported station, your phone calls, e-mails and letters have more impact than I do.
After doing the last show, I thought a lot of past shows that I'm proud of. Discussing the difference between spirituality and religion with Stan Lee, discussing the definition of super-hero comics with Harlan Ellison, linking Jamal Igle to a teacher who wanted him to talk to her class, listening to an anti-Viet Nam War comics writer and a WW 2 Veteran discuss writing war comics, various guests who said my interview was the best one they ever had, telling creators things about their own careers that they didn't know, exposing a few myths about the industry that fandom has believed in all these years…. There are a lot of shows I'm proud of, but my thoughts kept straying to the callers. Those who called on the air and those who called off the air. I don't know most of their names. Many of them turned me on to excellent comics that I might not have learned about without them. I've become friends with several of them.
But the listeners that were strongest in my memory in the first days after learning I'd been canceled were the non-fans I've touched.
There was one particular show where our guest, my radio partner Ed Menje, myself and the callers were discussing various artists, describing the gorgeous art of this person or the delicate linework of that person. One woman called off air to tell me that before hearing that show, she could never conceive that comic book art could be gorgeous, but after hearing the show was thinking that maybe it could be and perhaps she should stop discouraging her 17-year-old from drawing. I was floored! Did we do all that? Did we just affect some kid's life? I'll never forget that call and the memory was strong in my mind in the days after learning 'Nuff Said! was canceled.
I thought of all the people who told us they were inspired to create their own comics after hearing the show, despite hearing horror stories about distribution and printing. How many people get to inspire creativity? I've seen a lot of the results of that inspiration and I'm really proud of my role as a catalyst.
I thought about people who started buying comics for the first time or after many years because they kept hearing about comics they thought they'd like. They didn't know anyone was publishing the kind of comics they liked until hearing the show. Talking about the creative process, treating comics as creativity rather than as a commodity, actually increased interest and sales. I was right to resist turning 'Nuff Said! into a "commercial" for the guests' work, occasionally over the protestations of the guest.
I thought about the groups of protesters I met in front of the station during "the coup." They were fans of WBAI, of course (or why protest the changes?) and listened to the station during their demonstrations. One person told me she had never read comic books, but now she felt she missed something good. I was really moved by that. I realize now that I was moved because I had eroded one more person's prejudice about the art form. I was doing my part. With your help, I can continue to do my part.
'sfunny, but what I'll miss most is touching the non-fans. Oh, I'll miss talking to the guests, discussing my favorite medium every week, delving into the creative process, re-reading comics in order to prepare for the interview, chatting with the callers and so many other aspects of doing 'Nuff Said!
'Nuff Said! has been a vehicle to erode prejudice against an art form and its creators and a way to delve into the creative process. It's also been a look at history through popular culture and surely the history of popular culture is more of an indication of what the average person is doing and thinking than is the history of kings and presidents. With your help, it can be again.
The decision to cancel 'Nuff Said! or put it on hiatus belongs to the Program Director, Bernard White. He does indeed listen to reasonable input from listeners. E-mail him at email@example.com (not a typo) and/or call his voicemail at (212) 209-2834 and/or write to him at WBAI-FM, 120 Wall St., 10th flr, New York, NY 10005. I'd appreciate a cc at firstname.lastname@example.org just to look over your shoulder.
Over the years, I've heard a lot of talk about the average age of the WBAI listener, how it seems to get older every year and how we need to lower it so we don't lose our entire audience to old age. I would say that the average age of listeners to 'Nuff Said! is younger than the average age of a WBAI listener. What's more, it was taken off the air for the summer, when kids can stay up later!
People talk about a division, (perceived or actual is up to debate), between the arts department and the more political departments here at WBAI and 'Nuff Said! is a program that does both.
'Nuff Said! needs your help.TOP
Two months have gone by since I wrote those words. I do not know one way or another whether the situation regarding 'Nuff Said! has changed at WBAI-FM. I know that many people have written, e-mailed and/or called Bernard White. Whether he still has a gut reaction that comic books are "narrow-focused" and bought only by "white middle class males," I do not know; I suspect he does. I have become more sensitive both about prejudice toward comics I see or hear in mass media and about the sheer number of mentions comics have outside of comics fandom. Comics and comic art are just about everywhere, despite that prejudice. And prejudice is what it is. Comic books are judged without looking at the individual merits of individual comic books.
Every time I hear a news report about a comic book going for thousands of dollars at auction where the tone of the newscaster is derisive, I get angry in a number of ways at the same time. They, too, are showing their prejudice. (Ironically, they usually use the same derisive tones with abstract art, which is labeled "high art" to comics' "low art.") Of course, these expensive comics are expensive for historical rather than artistic reasons. Action #1 is not the best Superman or super-hero comic, it's the first one. Amazing Fantasy #15 is not the most artistic Spider-man, it's the first one. Comics is one place where history has monetary value. I don't think most people realize that, or at least think about it in those terms.
Most people deriding comic books (such as at WBAI-FM) have had their favorite music called "noise" by people who didn't like it, no matter what kind of music it is. Yet they are willing to call someone else's music "noise" or someone else's art "worthless" largely because they simply don't like it. Sequential art is often called "worthless" simply because it's comics. If I wasn't such a fan of "comic art," I'd find the irony quite amusing. But I can't be amused at prejudice. Not for a group of people nor for a style of communication.
Sometimes the government gets involved, such as when they try to legislate out of existence rap or heavy metal music or any form of art or literature they deem "pornographic." I remember when John Denver testified to Congress against censoring music (they were going against heavy metal at the time) and they asked, "What are you doing here? We LIKE your music" thereby admitting the hearings were about taste rather than protecting children or whatever they said they were about. Denver reminded them of when "Rocky Mountain High" was censored. A song about getting high on nature INSTEAD OF drugs was censored as being a drug song solely because of the word "high" in the title.
The irony seemed lost on the politicians. And on the mass media. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is kept quite busy defending the right of adults to choose to buy certain comics intended solely for adults and for the rights of retailers to sell them. Invariably, prejudices come out in court where people feel that all comic books should only be for children (in reality, very few are).
I have these thoughts because I keep thinking about the prejudice involved in canceling 'Nuff Said! I really can't get it out of my mind for too long a period of time. It makes me both angry and depressed.
Now I feel as if I know how Lenny Bruce felt being called obscene because some people have more extreme reactions about certain words than other people do. If those people are in power, it results in arrests and censorship regardless of the context the words are in. I haven't been arrested due to talking to and about comics creators, but I have, in a manner of speaking, been censored. I invoke Lenny Bruce because in his final years, all he talked about on stage and supposedly all he thought about was what they did to him. I feel like I'm going down that same path.
It shows the worth of merit if 'Nuff Said! was canceled solely due to it being about comic books, rather than on its merit as a radio show. Merit seems not to have any worth. Lenny Bruce was taken off stage not based on his merits as a performer, but on what words he used to make people laugh.
Now I'm involved in an ecological show on the same station (so obviously my worth as a producer and host is not in question). A "serious" show as opposed to the perceived frivolousness of a comic book show. But at some future date, a program director might cancel that show because "all environmentalists are tree-hugging new age weirdos and have no place on WBAI." Again, I'd be canceled not on merit, but due to prejudice.
One of the other producers said I shouldn't think about that and just put the necessary effort into making Eco-Logic as great a show as he knows I can so that a future program director would find it harder to cancel. When I pointed out the contradiction in the fact that 'Nuff Said! was canceled due to prejudice not merit and it had a nine year track record, he said there was no contradiction.
To me, the contradiction is obvious and I think about it much too often. Perhaps writing them here will be cathartic. Probably not, though.
Ken Gale, NYC, August, 2002