From the Mailbag

Jennifer M. writes:

I’d love to read in your blog how you feel (if anything at all) about Tom Cruise’s recent remarks regarding depression. I personally thought it made him sound incredibly ignorant —

Mostly, Jen, it made him sound like a Scientologist.

A bit of comics trivia before we proceed: Jennifer M. is the young lady after whom the character Jennifer Kale was named. See the interpretation of her comics persona below. (Can someone identify the artist?)


Now, back to the subject: I’ve noticed a number of skeptical comments regarding my posts on depression. At least a few of you aren’t even convinced there *is* such a thing, apart from the emotional lows that are brought on by external circumstances and that everyone experiences at one time or another.

As usual, there’s no simple answer. Depression *can* be situational. It can last for a day or a week or a month and then go away without the use of drugs or therapy. Depression can also be chemical in origin. That variety, too, can sometimes — though more rarely — go away by itself after a short time.

Chronic depression is typically a combination of *both* types, situational and chemical. A single event — or a lifetime’s worth — triggers the depression. If it deepens, one’s thought processes change. The physical brain is actually retrained to produce the combination of chemicals that perpetuate the depression. (I’m grossly oversimplifying, of course, but you get the basic idea.)

The next logical question is: “If the brain can learn to produce depression by itself, why can’t it be trained *not* to produce depression by itself — i.e., without the use of antidepressant drugs?” Well, in some cases, it probably *can*; it’s just infinitely more difficult. But that retraining is vital. For most people, the combination of antidepressants and therapy proves *vastly* more effective than the drugs alone.

Also, just to dispel another notion — antidpressants aren’t “happy pills.” Most require a few *weeks* to build up to effective levels in the bloodstream. There’s no buzz. There’s no high.

So please don’t think I’m saying that you can just take a pill and make your problems go away. If you’re depressed, something’s probably wrong in your life, and ameliorating the brain chemistry won’t solve your problem by itself. What antidepressants *can* do is keep the physical brain from undermining you while you pursue your therapeutic efforts.

Robert H., who accesses the net via WebTV writes:

if only marvel would of let you write the hulk he would killed bush junior for being the dummest president in our history and ruled iran by now.

Those WebTV keyboards are unforgiving. Anyway…not that I condone assassination or even assassination fantasies, but a left-leaning political Hulk *could* be sort of amusing: “Arrr!! The madder Hulk gets, the *greener* Hulk gets!!!”

Pablo E. writes:

Re-reading my old Howard comics, something struck me. Strangely, I had not noticed this before, but is that Nevada with her ostrich on page 16 in HTD #15 (the issue about Zen and comic-book writing)?

*Nevada* was inspired by all the requests I received over a couple of decades to “Bring back the showgirl and the ostrich!” The character Raphael Di Vesuvio in *Nevada* was a somewhat different take on the concept of the “Killer Lampshade.”

Nat Gertler of About Comics writes:

Just in case no one else pointed this out: Buffy The Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon briefly gave some of your work its props in an interview.

Neat. Thanks, Nat.

Finally, a fan named **Frank** writes:

I just wanted to say I think you wrote the best Shanna story that was in Hulk magazine # 9. I wish you wrote the new Shanna comic with art by Frank Cho. Frank Cho draws a great heroine but he seems to be missing some points of the Jungle Girl genre. Do you plan any new Jungle Girls stories?

The subject doesn’t come up much, but *Shanna the She-Devil* was among my very first writing assignments at Marvel, and the character remains one of my favorites. I can’t help it. She will always remind me of that blonde chick who, in 1956, slipped into my house via television and corrupted my little nine-year-old mind forever:

Irish McCalla as Sheena, Queen of the Jungle
Explains a lot, doesn’t it?

18 Responses to “From the Mailbag”

  1. Steven R Says:

    ya know it really is difficult for me to understand why there are folks who believe that depression is just folks faking feeling bad.

    and by the way: for a doctor to diaganose seomeone as depressed – you have to “feel bad” most of the time for several weeks (and even then it could be a situational) – one cannot be “clinicaly” depressed for just a day.
    and as far as anti-depressents, it takes a miniumn of several weeks to see if it might work at all. The old 1980s medications took a month to see if it would work at all (note that Im not saying to make you better – just to see if it might).

    Depression is not an illness for the impatient! 😉

  2. Claudio Piccinini Says:

    “So please don’t think I’m saying that you can just take a pill and make your problems go away.”
    I would have never allowed myself to say this of you, Steve.

    “If you’re depressed, something’s probably wrong in your life, and ameliorating the brain chemistry won’t solve your problem by itself. What antidepressants can do is keep the physical brain from undermining you while you pursue your therapeutic efforts.”
    While I still can’t see brain illness as a source for actual inner problems, what you say here is very important.

    Steven R. wrote “it really is difficult for me to understand why there are folks who believe that depression is just folks faking feeling bad”
    I think the more probable answer is, more or less, they never accepted inner malaise and additionally, maybe, they are scared of it to the point of refusing to acknowldege the existence of other forms of sufference besides their own.
    I consider Steve’s work so important for this reason (among others): his best stories are structured in a way that forces you to see the problems of the other, and act with compassion towards him. Bless you.

  3. Steve Gerber Says:

    And I haven’t even started talking about **sleep apnea** yet. If you think depression’s hard to believe…you ain’t heard nothin’!

  4. John R. Troy Says:

    There’s no way Frank Cho would want to work for Steve Gerber, based on what he said about his view of the SHanna series:

    To be quite honest, I’ve never read any Ka-Zar or Shanna stories in my life until couple of months ago. To prep me for Shanna, Marvel sent me a bunch of 1970’s Shanna comics and couple of 1980’s Shanna comics… Those Shanna comics were some of the worst comics that I’ve ever read in my life. So, I called up {senior editor} Axel Alonso at Marvel and told him that I’m completely reinventing her and build her up from scratch. No more B.S. animal rights or environmental message or stupid-ass stories about her being a daughter of a big game hunter or her being married to that Tarzan-lite, Ka-Zar. And Axel Alonso, bless that man, gave me his full support to radically redo Shanna.

    I wish I could read the originals. I’m sure they’re a lot better than the current series. Shanna barely speaks at all.

  5. Bob Kennedy Says:

    Re: Irish McCalla, did you know that her stunt double (well, at least one of them) was none other than Sergio Aragones? Hope some of those action sequences weren’t too big a thrill.

  6. Richard Bensam Says:

    In recent weeks, Keith Olbermann on MSNBC has been making the point — with reference to Tom Cruise and Karl Rove and others who decry treatment for mental health issues — that those who complain the loudest have issues they aren’t addressing. A sample quote:

    “As a veteran of eight years in therapy, and a fascinated student of the process, it should be noted that people who publicly deride it tend to actually be those who know they need it most. Latent On-the-Couch-iality or something. Somewhere from deep inside Mr. Rove is screaming ‘get me a shrink.'”

    From everything I’ve read about Hubbard, he was so terrified of what psychiatry might have to say about him that he needed to invent his own alternative in order to escape the sad truth. Just as the strident gay-basher is wrestling with fear of his or her own repressed gay feelings, the person who can’t abide open discussion of depression might be wrestling with massive denial…

  7. Claudio Piccinini Says:

    “Those who complain the loudest have issues they aren’t addressing”.
    This is not necessarily true. Besides, what makes you feel you’re morally better, or wiser, than a person unable to address an issue in his/her life in a specific moment?
    Open discussions are not always the best. Private ones are often a lot better.

  8. Claudio Piccinini Says:

    The best thing is that these “young” authors, especially those coming from “big” fields outside comics, think they are “improving” characters by erasing their previous existences or writing it off for the sake of “modernity”.

  9. Forrest Says:

    Now, here’s the Hulk on behalf of alternative energy sources.

    “Hulk says go solar! Hulk is solar! Hulk is loaded with chlorophyll. If Hulk were any more photosynthetic, Hulk could deliver quality prints in about an hour!”

  10. Steve Gerber Says:

    I’m sorry to hear Cho so intensely disliked the earlier versions of Shanna, but I’m not in *total* disagreement with him. I thought the pairing of Shanna and Ka-Zar ranked among the most boring ideas ever in comics. (Like attracts like. Right. Always.)

    On the other hand, I felt that Carol Seuling, who did most of the early development on the Shanna character, was absolutely brilliant to cast her as an animal rights activist. It’s really the only way the “jungle girl” concept can make sense in this day and age. It’s a shame Cho doesn’t seem to grasp that.

    I’d be curious to know what *he* did with the character.

  11. Steve Gerber Says:

    Sergio was one of Sheena’s stunt doubles, huh?

    Damn! I *knew* there was some reason I felt that odd tingle every time I picked up and fondled an issue of *Groo*.

  12. John R. Troy Says:

    Well, Steve, regarding Cho’s series, which is still being published, it’s probably not what you’d expect.

    Synopsis: This Shanna was found by an explorer team, floating in a vat in an abandonded Nazi headquarters, on an island apparently containing dinosaurs.

    She apparently is a genetically engineered being, a “vat grown” clone. She doesn’t speak much and we get no thought balloons or captions with her perspective. It’s written from the perspective of the explorers. It’s hinted that she has little humanity. I guess she’s sort of a Wolverine type with big boobs instead of the adamantium and claws.

    The explorers named her “Shanna” because she resembled “a certain comic book character”.

    Cho also falls into the pop-culture trap of making the Velociraptor the cunning and powerful prehistoric hunter-killer, where there is little scientific evidence for that.

    Ironically, the biggest on-line complaint was Marvel toned it down a bit. This was originally supposed to have nude scenes but they’ve been covered up a bit to aim for a wider audience–but it seems people want Cho’s work with “tits and all”.

    I must say I do like Frank Cho’s work on Liberty Meadows–he has a bawdy sense of humor. As long as he doesn’t stray too far into pop-culture references and “cameos”, I’m happy. His strip was one of the few “laugh out loud” strips. And he’s a good artist. But I wasted my money getting this series.

  13. Nat Gertler Says:

    That description of the Shanna series goes along with what I’ve read of Cho’s work. He’s a very good rendererer, has quite nice control of his line, but as a writer… well, his female characters seem to be defined solely in the effect they have on men. He draws women very three dimensionally but writes them one dimensionally. It makes his female characters boring, his male characters’ interest in the female characters vapid and hard to root for, and ultimately saps the entire experience for me.

  14. Bob Kennedy Says:

    I’ve got some history with Frank Cho. My printing company in Maryland printed his high school newspaper and both college papers he drew for, so I’ve been aware of this guy since he was, like, 17. He has always had God’s gift as an artist. While he writes in kind of a frat boy voice, he’s very polite in person (We were both students at U. of Maryland at the same time in, I think, 1995, and we both had comic strips debut in the same edition of The Diamondback; Mine did not benefit by comparison).

    The only really awful thing about him is the way he slags his elders in print. The guy does not hold back about his opinions and, while he often has a point, it was not wise of him to talk about what a tired old hack Charles Schulz was right before the old guy died.

    I also get a little tired of hearing him rant about how “da man” holds him back by not letting him draw hard-nipple voluptuaries in newspaper comic strips. I oppose censorship as fervently as the next guy, but I don’t think that really counts.

    That said, the guy’s an incredible artist and if he ever decides to embrace adulthood in his work, it will be a joy to behold. And while I don’t buy statuettes of comic book characters, I might make an exception for Brandy.

  15. Alex Krislov Says:

    I find Tom Cruise’s comments particularly irritating, because it was Brooke Shield’s post-partum depression that he focused on. Cure it with vitamins, my ass. My wife suffered from post-partum depression after our third child was born. Anyone who doubts the reality of the illness should consider this: she didn’t suffer so when our son died. It was triggered by imbalances after the birth of a healthy, hale child (who is badgering me to get off the computer and come picnic now, 13 years later).

    And the notion of a Scientologist, of all people, warbling about what is and is not “scientific” is enough to make me puke anyway. L. Ron Hubbard was a pretty fair hack writer, but his notion of science was to proclaim “facts,” assert that they were backed with data that rarely existed, and attack anyone who disagreed.

  16. Brian Spence Says:

    My dad needed a kidney transplant a few years ago. He had a condition where his kidneys were very slowly getting worse for 20 years. It was such a slow process, he didn’t realize how sick he was. Before he had the transplant, he was almost impossible to live with. I don’t know if it was depression exactly, or just major irritability. Whatever the case, his personality was horrible.

    Then he had the kidney transplant. The chemicals in his body corrected themselves, and for the first time in many years, it was like having my father back. His chemical imbalance literally made him into a different person.

    Hope your depression gets better. I’d suggest avoid reading the paper…

  17. Brian Spence Says:

    by the way, you now have ads for depression courtesy of google on your site.

  18. Bart Lidofsky Says:

    John Troy wrote:
    It’s written from the perspective of the explorers. It’s hinted that she has little humanity. I guess she’s sort of a Wolverine type with big boobs instead of the adamantium and claws.

    The explorers aren’t THAT big.