Monday, September 8, 2014

What do comic books and the Supreme Council have in common?

The summer travel season is winding down and we are returning to the weekly mix of Masonic meetings and presentations here at the PA DeMolay office. However, I was able to get one last excursion in this last weekend. "Dad" Zack Panitzke and I went to the Baltimore Comic Con for a day of general "geekery and nerdom."

The Convention attracted more than 15,000 people across three days, from all walks of life. Guests included up and coming artists and writers, right along side of the more venerable names in the industry. We also saw pro-wrestler Jerry "the King" Lawler and Peter Mayhew, best known for playing Chewbacca in the original Star Wars trilogy. In between seeing stars, walking the Convention floor, and chatting with folks, we attended some panels on a variety of topics, including censorship in comics, what comic companies are doing in the next year, and one for a comic that is ending. It was during these panels that I was struck by something I hadn't anticipated - the comics industry is run by old men.
This is DC Comics Organizational Chart. Click to see it larger.
With a little research, you'll see the ages of those involved.

Perhaps it was a perception issue for me, or perhaps I just didn't think about it before the Convention, but to me, the comic book industry was one full of young, creative, talented people. The reality is that many of the comics you read are written, drawn, inked, and lettered by men nearing the end of their careers. While there were plenty of youthful creators at the event, the comic books that everyone has heard of or knows about are generally helmed by seasoned men with glasses, gray hair, and years in the industry. They, in turn, are hand selecting the new talent they want to work with and assisting them in the learning the ropes by giving them work. For every 20-something writer or artist that manages to get a steady gig at Marvel or DC Comics, there are dozens that will never make a living in the business.

It was on my drive home that I compared the revelation I just had to the way our DeMolay International Supreme Council works. As a young DeMolay, I thought the Supreme Council was full of old men who had forgotten what it was like to be an active member. I felt they were out of touch and couldn't make a decision without spending months debating meaningless semantics and fine points. Even today, as I talk to Jurisdictional Officers, they have this same feeling.
Jim Starlin has been involved with comic books
professionally since the late '60's. He's still regarded
as an industry pioneer today.

I liken it how people feel about Congress. Rarely are our members unhappy with the individual Supreme Council members from their jurisdiction. Rather, they are upset with the representatives from other Jurisdictions with views contrary to their own. It's the nebulous concept of "the Supreme Council" as a whole, rather than individual persons that drive ideas or viewpoints. To me, this means that the organization is doing its job (at least on some base level) as representatives are supposed to convey the views of their constituency and fight for what they would want. People in California want different things than people in Mississippi. That's why the system is set up the way it is.

But, what does this all have to do with comic books? Just as the comic industry has matured and is being helmed by long time creators, the Supreme Council has also aged, being steered by men with decades of experience in DeMolay. While DeMolay is, at its core, a youth organization, we also must recognize that for it to survive in the long run, we need the veteran's input, providing guidance as we chart courses through troubled waters. Their experience keeps the ship seaworthy. It's up to the young men to choose where the ship goes.

The veterans of the comic book industry identify young talent, cultivate them, provide them support, and turn over their work to them for the future. That is what happens on the Supreme Council. It's easy to forget that "Dad" Labagh spent his time in the trenches as the State Master Councilor of New Jersey, or that "Dad" Sprague, our current Grand Master, was once Master Councilor his Chapter. At some point, during their careers, members of DeMolay International took these young men under their wings. Today, "Dad" Sprague and "Dad" Labagh are now the leaders, cultivating the next generation of talent to become leaders in the future.

While the comic book industry and the Supreme Council may seem like they are filled with old men, realize that those men are young at heart. They are the ones who have seen the organization change. They are now looking to the younger generation to find the leaders who will be with DeMolay for the next 50 years. No comic book creator wants to hand his character over to an unknown talent. In the same way, no DeMolay wants to hand the leadership of our group over to an unknown quantity.

Frat! ~ "Dad" Seth Anthony (now a Deputy Member of the Supreme Council, otherwise known as a "curmudgeon in training.")

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