Changing Culture

Higher education is a lot better at calling for reform than it is at enacting reform. And the calls are always top-down. Higher education organizations hold meetings and issue reports, arguing that the needed changes in culture follow from “best practices,” which are usually a pastiche of things (one from here, one from there).

This model is a nice hypothesis: tell the faculty to change practices to things that have been effective and you will fix the problems. You have done your job from up in the high tower.

A big investment of funds often follows, and all the big players run after it like kids pursuing the ice cream truck on a summer’s day, promising the moon if you just give me my well-deserved piece of the pie.

Money gets spent. Meetings are held. Proposals are made. And the reasons begin to percolate for why change is just so hard to do. Compromise proposals are made, a few intrepid adopters agree to do some stuff, and then the money runs out.

Rinse and repeat.

And it is happening again, right now, for graduate education.

I was a speaker at a symposium for Graduate Education Reform held at Tianjin University (Tianjin, CHINA) over the 2018 Thanksgiving weekend.

In my usual sermonizing way, I rejected the practices-lead-to-culture model, and suggested that the decision to change culture needs to come first. Then, it is obvious which practices need to change and how. Then, the culture changes some more, and course corrections can be made. Until you have optimized the changes through these iterations and you reach The New Normal.

And this costs nothing.

My three-part model for a functional culture is:

(A) everyone needs to agree to agree; it probably does not matter what you agree on, just that a group can meet and agree on anything important, in a public setting

(B) everyone needs to agree to act, in private, to the public agreement; this is the moral action component – if you agree to something in public and then turn around and just act against this anyhow, then that is an immoral decision within the context of the agreement

(C) everyone needs to be an open and transparent adherent to the cultural identity that has been agreed upon; with an agreement in place, the next members who are brought in (faculty, students) need to know what they are getting into, and that it is not a bait and switch falsehood (the corollary to this one is that in the first generation, there will be members of the community who do not agree and work against the change – the system needs to be sturdy enough to have some of these people, and patient enough to see them move on)

There are other things to say, such as what to agree to in graduate education and what sorts of practices follow, but these are what I propose are the pre-conditions for a change that can stick.

These days, if I am asked to come into a department and consult about education, I ask one question: can you sit down, as a department, and come to an agreement about anything important about an ideal an a practice related to the topic of interest? If yes, then I am happy to work with you; if no, then I really cannot help.

Ever since I figured this out, I have not been too active with these kinds of gigs.

“Tales of Suspense 92 p 7” (August 1967)

Tales of Suspense 92 p 7 (August 1967)
by Gene Colan (1926-2011) and Frank Giacoia (1924-1988)
13 x 20 in., ink on paper
Coppola Collection

“Within the Vastness of Viet Nam”

From the heyday of Marvel comics and Stan Lee’s sensibility for stories centered in real-world issues. Tony Stark is in munitions, and the Iron Man stories end up connected to the Viet Nam conflict, which was escalating both in its engagement and in the protests is the US.

In this story, Iron Man travels out to Viet Nam under the impression that he is to help the US Military test out bullets that chase their targets, however he learns that the military is seeking his aid with something else entirely. Iron Man has been asked to help the military deal with the Communist’s newest scientist: Half-Face, who is holed up in a castle not far from their position.

“Incredible Hulk 133 p 8” (November 1970)

Incredible Hulk 133 p 8 (November 1970)
By Herb Trimpe (1939-2015) and John Severin (1921-2012)
13 x 20 in., ink on paper
Coppola Collection

The follow-up page to page 7 in the previous entry.

Following a fight where the Hulk’s friend, Jim Wilson, is injured, the military arrives. General Ross approaches the Hulk, who is about to thump Ross when Wilson revives long enough to stop him. Ross tries another shot at reasoning with the Hulk, and is making headway when a trigger-happy soldier loses his cool and attacks the Hulk. The Hulk fights back and flees.

The Hulk ends up in a shipping yard where he seeks shelter in a crate destined for Morvania, and sleeps the entire trip there.

“Incredible Hulk 133 p 7” (November 1970)

Incredible Hulk 133 p 7 (November 1970)
By Herb Trimpe (1939-2015) and John Severin (1921-2012)
13 x 20 in., ink on paper
Coppola Collection

This is one of my favorite pieces of comic art from the standpoint of telling a story with pictures.

Herb Trimpe was the definitive Hulk artist for the early run of the character’s “Incredible Hulk” stand-alone series, drawing all but 2 issues between 106-193, including the two issues that introduced the Wolverine character (180-181). The issues with John Severin as the inker are memorable for the strength of their collaboration. Severin had a strong sense of weight in his drawing style, which matched up well with Trimpe’s dynamic and thoughtful compositions.

Following a fight where the Hulk’s friend, Jim Wilson, is injured, the military arrives. General Ross approaches the Hulk, who is about to thump Ross when Wilson revives long enough to stop him. Ross tries another shot at reasoning with the Hulk, and is making headway when a trigger-happy soldier loses his cool and attacks the Hulk. The Hulk fights back and flees.

The Hulk ends up in a shipping yard where he seeks shelter in a crate destined for Morvania, and sleeps the entire trip there.

“Torment” (Purple Edition) by FAILE, 2007

“Torment” (Purple Edition) by FAILE, 2007
by FAILE a/k/a
Patrick McNeil (1975-)
Patrick Miller (1976-)
(video interview)

Purple Edition print of 17.
Acrylic & Silkscreen on paper (hand finished)
Archival 140 LB Watercolor Paper.
Dimensions: 18 x 24 Inches.
Signed, Stamped & Numbered
by FAILE 2007 (28 March)

FAILE is the Brooklyn-based artistic collaboration between Patrick McNeil and Patrick Miller. Their name is an anagram of their first project, “A life.” Since its inception in 1999, FAILE has been known for a wide ranging multimedia practice recognizable for its explorations of duality through a fragmented style of appropriation and collage. While painting and printmaking remain central to their approach, over the past decade FAILE has adapted its signature mass culture-driven iconography to vast array of materials and techniques, from wooden boxes and window pallets to more traditional canvas, prints, sculptures, stencils, installation, and prayer wheels. FAILE’s work is constructed from found visual imagery, and blurs the line between “high” and “low” culture, but recent exhibitions demonstrate an emphasis on audience participation, a critique of consumerism, and the incorporation of religious media, architecture, and site-specific/archival research into their work.

“Captain America” 133 p 20 (January 1971)

Captain America 133 p 20 (January 1971)
by Gene Colan (1926-2011) and Dick Ayers (1924-2014)
13 x 20 in., ink on paper
Coppola Collection

“Madness in the Slums”

Written by Stan Lee at the height of Marvel’s first age of social consciousness.

The Falcon becomes Captain America’s partner at the end of this issue, and the comic is retitled “Captain America and the Falcon” beginning with the next issue. The Falcon will remain a recurring character until Captain America #222.

M.O.D.O.K. sends an android (“Bulldozer”) to Harlem to create havoc in hopes of drawing out Captain America. Captain America and the Falcon team up to stop the rampaging robot before he can spark a race riot.

Stan Lee (1922-2018)

Stan “The Man” Lee had a prominent role in influencing part of the popular culture.

Ten years ago (Dec 2008), the Hero Initiative (an organization devoted to helping comics creators in need) published the collected editorial run of “Stan Lee’s Soapbox,” the short column that appeared each month in every issue of Marvel comics from 1967-1980.

Stan Lee’s Soapbox: The Collection

The book also featured (and I quote): “a bountiful bevy of celebs also write about their most memorable columns, including: Marvel Editor in Chief Joe Quesada, X-Men movie producer Tom DeSanto, and a vast variety of great names from the fields of comics, literature, and academia.”

I was one of the “academia” members who contributed an essay about a recollection related to one of Stan’s editorials. The title of my essay was “1969”:


I do not remember some events from 1969: the publication of the last edition of the Saturday Evening Post, for instance, or the Stonewall Riots, or the opening of the Beijing subway. But there are plenty of days I do remember: Nixon taking office; the My Lai massacre; the first flight of the Concorde; the lunar landing; the murder of Sharon Tate.

Also in 1969, on summery Saturdays in rural New Hampshire, 12-year-old boys rode Schwinn bicycles into town to catch 50-cent double features.  Afterwards, with my dollar-a-week allowance, I would stop by the newsstand, two doors down from the theater, and kneel down in front of the wooden magazine display where I had been buying comics for 4 years. Fifty cents would buy 4 comics with a couple of pennies returned. Until thatday…

I remember that day: the worst day of 1969. The day when I bought 3 comics and went back to the dweeb behind the counter to tell him that he gave me the wrong change. Only he had not – comics were now 15 cents. I stared for minutes, looking and looking again, at the cover to Iron Man #16. I was sure it was some kind of mistake.

Today, we would have heard about this far in advance. In the information ago, our questions are answered before we even ask them. But in 1969, there were no spoilers. There was no direct communication between a mythical place called 655 Madison Avenue and a kid on a bike in New Hampshire, except for Stan’s Soapbox.

I remember reading (and re-reading) Stan’s explanation, as though written directly to me, about the price increase. And, perhaps for the first time, I thought about comics as something that actual people produced: “writers, artists, printers, etc.” People who needed to get paid for their work. I think that seemed an adult way to approach it; quite reasonable.

“But now, let’s look at the bright side,” Stan went on. “Today you can buy your majestic Marvel mags even faster … ‘cause you don’t have to fumble around with pennies!”

Adult life wears conflicting faces when it greets 12-year-old boys. Even without the word disingenuous in my vocabulary, this business about fumbling with pennies struck me as condescending. I recall that. In retrospect, though, maybe this was Stan’s biggest writing challenge, and the one that still faces comics today: audience.

In 1969, Stan was confronted with a new phenomenon: an audience that did not disappear at puberty. He had the kids, he had the tweens and teens, and he had a growing popularity on college and university campuses. Over the past 40 years, as prices have increased and comics have become more complex, the challenge remains: to recruit and speak to an audience of the youngest children while keeping the older crowd tuned in and not turned off.


Gold Ducat, Michael (Michele) Steno as Doge (1400 -1413)

Gold Ducat, Michael (Michele) Steno as Doge (1400 -1413)
Mint: Venice
3.48 g (0.995 gold), 19-20 mm (Choice AU or better)
Coppola Collection

Starting in the 13th century, the Republic of Venice minted the Venetian gold ducat, or zecchino. The design of the coin remained unchanged for over 500 years, from its introduction in 1284 to the takeover of Venice by Napoleon in 1797. No other coin design has ever been produced over such a long period of time.

The coin was initially called a “ducat” (ducato), for the ruling Doge (Duke) of Venice, who was prominently depicted on it. It was then called the zecchino, after the Zecca (mint) of Venice, from 1543. when Venice began minting a silver coin also called a ducat.

Obverse: Jesus in a standing position with a halo around his head and 2 columns of stars along the sides of his body.

Reverse: Saint Mark standing as the (prevailing) Duke of Venice kneels before him.

Michael (Michele) Steno (also Michiel Sten in Venetian Language) was born in 1331 and died December 26, 1413. Steno was a Venetian statesman who served as the 63rd Doge of Venice from December 1, 1400 until his death. An old and ill man in his late years, Steno died at 82, and was interred in the Basilica di San Giovanni e Paolo, a traditional burial place of the doges.

“Afternoon Landscape” (2018)

Afternoon Landscape” (2018)
by Neil Carroll (1966-)
6 x 8 in., oil on panel
Coppola Collection

Neil is a self-taught painter from London. He’s been painting in oils since 2011 and has developed this interesting impressionistic style. His still life paintings are strongly chiaroscuro, which makes an interesting combination with the loose brushstrokes.

Pear No. 9” (2014)
by Neil Carroll  (1966-)
6 x 6 in., oil on panel
Coppola Collection

“Two Pears on Blue Block from Patmos, Greece (Yin & Yang)” (2018)

“Two Pears on Blue Block from Patmos, Greece (Yin & Yang)” (2018)
by Abbey Ryan (1979-)
9 x 12 in., oil on linen on panel
Coppola Collection

From the artist:

This is from my Yin and Yang series – visual representations of “inseparable, interconnected, complements.” The pears are sitting on this amazing wood block, an artifact I found on Patmos during my month in Greece in June 2017. I carried it back home with me from Greece.