gene nation

Spotlight #2: Lana Del Rey and The Nexus
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All Images: © Nicole Nodland, Aug. 2010

London-based writing and production duo James Bauer-Mein and David Sneddon became The Nexus in July 2009. Within a year the duo had begun to make a name for themselves as the place to go for new artist development; enter Lana Del Rey

Spending a large portion of 2010 in London with other writers and producers such as The Rural, Del Rey added a further five songs to her repertoire as a result of her sessions with The Nexus.

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Reading Without Walls: A Conversation with Gene Luen Yang and Dr. Carla Hayden
This virtual program brings together

The National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Gene Luen Yang will be discussing Reading Without Walls with Dr. Carla Hayden today at 10am EST! Link above takes you to the livesteam. 

We in the book community are in the middle of a sustained conversation about diversity. We talk about our need for diverse books with diverse characters written by diverse writers. I wholeheartedly agree.

But I have noticed an undercurrent of fear in many of our discussions. We’re afraid of writing characters different from ourselves because we’re afraid of getting it wrong. We’re afraid of what the Internet might say.

This fear can be a good thing if it drives us to do our homework, to be meticulous in our cultural research. But this fear crosses the line when we become so intimidated that we quietly make choices against stepping out of our own identities.

After all, our job as writers is to step out of ourselves, and to encourage our readers to do the same.

I told you the story of Dwayne McDuffie to encourage all of us to be generous with ourselves and with one another. The Black Panther, despite his flaws, was able to inspire a young African American reader to become a writer.

We have to allow ourselves the freedom to make mistakes, including cultural mistakes, in our first drafts. I believe it’s okay to get cultural details wrong in your first draft. It’s okay if stereotypes emerge. It just means that your experience is limited, that you’re human.

Just make sure you iron them out before the final draft. Make sure you do your homework. Make sure your early readers include people who are a part of the culture you’re writing about. Make sure your editor has the insider knowledge to help you out. If they don’t, consider hiring a freelance editor who does.

Also, it’s okay if stereotypes emerge in the first drafts of your colleagues. Correct them – definitely correct them – but do so in a spirit of generosity. Remember how soul-wrenching the act of writing is, how much courage it took for that writer to put words down on a page.

And let’s say you do your best. You put in all the effort you can. But then when your book comes out, the Internet gets angry. You slowly realize that, for once, the Internet might be right. You made a cultural misstep. If this happens, take comfort in the fact that even flawed characters can inspire. Apologize if necessary, resolve do better, and move on.

Let your fear drive you to do your homework. But no matter what, don’t ever let your fear stop you.

— 

Gene Luen Yang on how to create a diverse universe of characters, speaking at the National Book Festival gala

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REPRESENTATION MATTERS

Diversity Is Reality

Entry 012 - Maggott

Art by Joe Madureira

  • Name: Japheth
  • Code Names: Maggott
  • First Appearance: Uncanny X-Men #345 (June ’97)
  • Powers: External Mutated Digestive System, Psychometry
  • Teams Affiliation: X-Men, Generation X

About

Some mutants see the X Gene as a gift, others as a curse. It turned Warren Worthington III into a beautiful Angel but transformed Jono Starsmore into a handicapped Chamber of flame. Beyond all else the X Gene give its recipient great power. Claremont looked at this idea with the Morlocks, but it wasn’t until Grant Morrison’s New X-Men that weird, useless mutations really got examined. Characters like the three-faced and unattractive Ugly-John or the chicken-like Beak had mutations that weren’t gifts, they were scars that made their lives worse. They didn’t look like the next step in human evolution, they looked like jokes. Great characters can come from these unlikely places, handicaps can become strengths, and the most misunderstood X-Men like Maggott deserve to be vindicated.

Art by Joe Madureira, Tim Townsend, & Steve Buccellato

Maggott is a perennial winner of weirdest and worst X-Men lists, and he only deserves one of those titles. Created by Scott Lobdell and Joe Madureira, the strangest mutant of them all was first shown as a hulking blue monster followed by two slug-like creatures named Eany and Meany who could give Matter-Eater Lad a run for his money, as well as possessing low level psychometry. Maggott was introduced as a mutant on a mission to find the man known a Joseph (who at the time was believe to be a deaged, amnesic, Magneto). Maggott’s quest took him from Guatemala, to South Carolina, to New York City where he crossed paths with Psylocke and Archangel. As oft happens, the heroes fought first and introduced themselves later. Psylock was able to defeat Maggott but was intrigued by what she sensed in him. Against Warren’s wishes Betsy took the unconscious Maggott with them to Antarctica for the trial of Gambit.

Art by Chris Bachalo, & Digital Cameleon

The mystery around Maggott grew more and more as the mutants were separated in Antarctica. Not only was it revealed that his skin tone could shift from blue to that of a black man, Joseph told the mutant that he had never met him. Maggott told Joseph that after what Magneto had done for him, he would always call him a friend before a mysterious figure attacked Joseph, urging Maggott to trust him. The issue’s end revealed the mysterious figure to be the real Magneto, further adding to the mystery of Maggott. At this point there were a lot more questions than answers, who was this guy? What was relationship to Magneto? How were matter eating slugs a mutant power? Why did he go from an Australian accent to a South African one? Why did Lobdell think we cared? All valid questions and most would end up not mattering if one writer didn’t take the opportunity to take Maggott and make him great. Enter Joe Kelly.

Kelly decided to start his run of X-Men with a pretty fresh plate. Classic X-Men Storm, Beast, and Wolverine led the team, supplemented with former New Mutant Cannonball, and three new recruits, the former Morlock and Gene Nation terrorist group leader Marrow, medical doctor Cecilia Reyes, and Maggott. This was quite an interesting and diverse line up, having a mix of some the most well know and newest mutants around, and Maggott made an impact almost immediately. When Juggernaut threatened the school during an emergency medical procedure on Cyclops, Maggott didn’t hesitate to stand against the unstoppable force. Though he was quickly defeated, the X-Men were impressed with his heroism and bravado. Maggott earned his place on the squad when he saved the team’s lives by having one of his slugs eat the bomb that had been planted inside of Cyclops with a shocking amount of swagger.

Art by Carlos Pacheco, Art Thibert, & Chris Lichtner

While he stayed at the X-Mansion, Maggott became notorious for being a flirt. He wasn’t skeevy about it, like Gambit had been, he was sincere and heartfelt if not a little cocky. Artists began portraying him much smaller, though part of that was just having people who weren’t hyper exaggerated like Joe Madureira or Chris Bachalo drawing him. The other X-Men grew fond of the young mutant but often wondered why he never seemed to eat with them and why he often spent a long time in the lavatory. He stood with his fellow X-Men against Sauron and Alpha Flight, showing the same strong will and courage he had against Juggernaut. Joseph tried confronting the South African mutant to finish their conversation in Antarctica, and Maggott revealed that he knew Joseph wasn’t the real Magneto but their chat was interrupted by the Israeli mutant Sabra who called the young mutant by his birth name, Japheth.

Shortly after Maggott appeared at the school, the nearby town of Salem Center experienced a rash case of serial killings where the victims looked to have been eaten. Japheth was distraught when his slugs left him much longer than usual. He often waited for them to return, reeling over in pain. One day, after they had been away they returned covered in blood. Maggott was horrified to think that his companions could be perpetrating the murders and ran off in shame. Wolverine was also investigating the deaths and suspected Eany and Meany. The feral mutant went to confirm his suspicions but was ambushed, vivisected, and later found by the other X-Men. He led his team on a search for Maggott but they were captured by the Ru’tai, a race of demons who were previously slaves to long time X-Men foes the N’Garai, and looked very similar to Maggott’s slugs. It was revealed that the Ru’tai and their leader Pilgrimm were behind the killings and the X-Men, including Maggott who was also captured, were able to defeat the demons.

Art by German Garcia, Scott Hanna & Digital Chameleon

This chain of events rocked Japheth to his core, and he began avoiding his teammates more and more. When Maggott skipped out on a routine physical, Wolverine made it his mission, not just to track the young mutant down, but to understand his issues. Maggott finally confided in the veteran X-Man. He was born in South Africa and raised during the waning days of the Apartheid with three brothers. Japheth was a sickly child and the doctors simply claimed the boy had stomach cancer, his father refused to accept that and poured his wages from the gold mines into medical expenses for the boy. One night the child overheard his mother praying that her son would be taken soon to spare him, and his family, from more hardship. This hardened Japheth and he decided he could no longer be a burden on his family, he took their Jeep and drove into the desert till he ran out of gas, unaware that his younger brother Daniel was asleep in the back. Japheth was horrified at the thought that his actions could lead to the death of his brother and they tried to walk to civilization. It took less than an hour for the sickly Japheth and the young Daniel to collapse in exhaustion. In his darkest hour, Japheth found salvation in a man who appeared before him draped in a red cape.

Art by Mat Broome, Sean Parsons and Aaron Sowd, & Liquid!

Magneto explained that Japheth wasn’t sick, he was something more, as he laid hands on the boy’s stomach. Suddenly two slugs burst forth from Japheth’s abdomen and closed the way behind them, the boy’s pain was gone and when the slugs returned, so was his hunger. Magneto explained that Japheth was Homo Superior and the South African’s gift was that of an external digestive system of the form of the two slugs. When they ate he grew in strength and his skin turned a light blue hue. As Magneto returned the boy’s home they were horrified to see the events that had transpired in their absence, the pro-Apartheid militia attacked and their older brother Lot was killed in the process. Magneto, seeing reminders of his history in the Holocaust, encouraged Japheth to go after the militia with him and right this injustice, and the boy reluctantly agreed. Magneto did not hold back his wrath on the soldiers, murdering all of them. Japheth realized he was not a man of war, he denounced Magneto’s ways and vowed to find a better path. This history brought answers to the most pressing questions about Maggott and added layers to a character who could be perceived as a joke.

Art by Mat Broome, Sean Parsons and Aaron Sowd, & Liquid!

With this new information known, Beast thought it might be wiser for the young Maggott to join the Generation X team. He never fit in there and left after one issue, showing up for Joseph’s funeral but then disappearing for a while. He next appeared in the Weapon X series as a mutant in the Neverland concentration camp. He could sense the plans they had for the mutants there and gave one of his slugs to another prisoner so that at least part of him would live on. The Weapon X Program executed Maggott in a gas chamber, he did not die afraid. He was resurrected during the Necrosha event, along with thousands of other mutants and the text of that event would imply that he went back to being dead, but comics are funny sometimes and what was intended can get accidentally retconed. He was drawn as a joke in a couple of issues of Latour’s Wolverine and the X-Men run because, I assume editorial forgot he was dead. This allowed Chris Bachalo to draw him in Cyclops’ Million Mutant March during Uncanny X-Men #600. The beautiful bastard cheated death by being obscure!

Must Read

Maggott hasn’t appeared in much and that makes finding a must read difficult. Lobdell’s run trails off by the time Japheth shows up and frankly he isn’t too engaging in that. Kelly’s short run is a mixed bag but you can tell that Maggott is a character that Joe really connected with. The highlight of the run is a story called A Boykie and His Dinges from X-Men #76 with pencils by Mat Broome, inks by Sean Parsons and Aaron Sowd, and colors by Liquid!. It chronicles Maggott’s tragic origin and does a fantastic job making him sympathetic. By tying him to Apartheid (which in 1998 was very relevant) it gave him a great foil for Magneto. Maggott lived through real racial discrimination, though admittedly less horrendous than the Holocaust, so when he condemned Eric’s action it rings much truer than someone like Xavier who has never been exposed to such raw hate. The art does a great job servicing the story but it was a strange transition period in styles in the late 90’s and I don’t think it is anything amazing but there are some dynamic panels like Marrow getting examined and the slugs first bursting out. I wish I could tell you where to read it but pretty much everything with Maggott has remained uncollected and isn’t available on Marvel Unlimited or Comixology. Luckily this era of X-Men is a staple of most comic shop back issue boxes so I would try there.

Art by Adam Pollina

Ranking

This is going to be controversial because I love Maggott and I think he has a lot of potential for a writer (*cough* @cullenbunn *cough*) to bring him back and redeem his reputation. He was always enjoyable to read about but he sadly doesn’t have much material. Maggott is a young kid, forced to act way older than he is, dealing with a debilitating mutation that isn’t all that great. He is cocky, charming, brave, and just the right kind of weird. The most comparable character on this list so far is Glob Herman and I think Maggott is better. I do think that Chamber beats out Maggott as far as best characters go and that just leaves Rachel Grey. This is where it gets tough. Rachel is a more established character with a stronger arc, who has been in better stories. She is also pretty bland. If I am being honest I would be way more excited to walk into the shop on Wednesday and see Maggott staring at me on the cover than Rachel. So start writing that hate mail because Maggott is going about the second Phoenix as the new number 4 in the Xavier Files.

Maggott was requested by an Anon on tumblr, /u/elvnsword on reddit & me because it’s my blog and I can write about what I want sometimes damn it! Thanks for the request, it was a blast! If YOU have a character you want me to do, send me a message on my Ask Box and I’ll get it added to the list. If you send it anonymously I can’t respond privately to you which means if there is an issue or something I think you should know, I can’t tell you and who wants that. I am pretty well booked with requests till August so don’t be shocked if it takes a little bit to get to yours, I am on it! Thanks for reading!