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Mike Dang
Editor-in-chief, Longreads | Editorial, Automattic and WordPress.com

Stan Lee: 1922-2018

Stan Lee in his office in 2002. Photo by AP Images

Stan Lee, the legendary comic book writer, editor, and publisher of Marvel comics who co-created some of our most iconic superheroes, died today at the age of 95. Nat Freedland profiled Lee for the New York Herald-Tribune in 1966, and in it, a 43-year-old Lee describes how astonished he is at Marvel’s growing popularity:

Pre-college Marvel fans at times have taken to assembling on the corner of Madison and 58th Street, waving wildly with home-made signs whenever anybody appears at the second-floor windows of Marvel’s three workrooms. “Like we were the Beatles or something,” Lee muses.

In terms of the real world, all this adulation means that Marvel circulation has tripled in three and a half years. With an annual circulation of 35 million, Marvel (which puts out 17 super-type comic books) is now a comfortable number two in the comics industry, gradually edging up on the long-established Superman D.C. line. No other comic book publisher can show anything like Marvel’s phenomenal sales growth in the sixties. A secondary harvest of promotion tie-ins is starting to bloom, too. Forty thousand Marvelites have come up with a dollar for their Merry Marvel Marching Society kits. In the works are plastic models, games, a Spider-Man jazz record and a television cartoon series.

“We really never expected all this, you know,” Lee admits. “I mean it started out as a gag mostly. I just thought maybe it would be worth trying to upgrade the magazines a little bit. Audiences everywhere are getting hipper these days. Why not the comic book audience too? And then all of a sudden we were getting 500 letters a day about what great satire these stories were, and how significant. We used to get about one letter a year … before.”

Fifty years after this profile was written, Marvel superheroes are bigger than ever before. Thanks for all the stories, Stan.

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Thank You for Making the 2018 Member Drive a Success

A few weeks ago, we launched our annual Member Drive with the ambitious goal of raising $50,000 from readers in 14 days for our story fund — twice the amount we aimed to raise last year.

Thanks to the incredible generosity of our readers, we received $30,391 in contributions and membership subscriptions. With WordPress.com matching every dollar with $3, we raised a grand total of $121,564 for our story fund — every dollar of which will go directly to pay writers, photographers, illustrators, translators and many others who work on our investigative stories, essays, audio projects, and more.

We’d love to hear what kinds of stories you’d like to see more of on Longreads — send us a note at hello@longreads.com. And if you haven’t given yet but would like to, you can always support us by becoming a member here.

We’ve got a lot of exciting projects coming up, including a weekly podcast and our annual year-end “best of” collection. Thanks again for all of the support you’ve given us over the years.

— Mike Dang, Editor-in-Chief

Announcing the 2018 Longreads Member Drive

I’m Mike Dang, editor-in-chief of Longreads.

Today we’re launching the 2018 Longreads Member Drive with the goal of raising $50,000 from readers by November 2. All of this money will go directly into a story fund that’s exclusively used to support work from writers, photographers, and illustrators from all around the world.

In addition, for every dollar you give, WordPress.com will generously match with $3. This means that if we raise $50,000, we have the potential to add $200,000 to our story fund for upcoming writing and investigative projects. This is why your support during our drive is so crucial. Read more…

Naomi Osaka Deserves to Have Her Moment

Naomi Osaka speaks to the media after winning the 2018 U.S. Open women's singles finals match. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

I love tennis. So much so that in lieu of a vacation this summer, I stayed in New York and bought a bunch of tickets to the U.S. Open instead. During Thursday evening’s women’s semifinals, I watched Serena Williams come back from a break down in the first set to decisively win her match against Anastasija Sevastova. Naomi Osaka then played a flawless match against American Madison Keys, even with the crowd cheering against her. Osaka pulled off an awe-inspiring feat, saving 13 break points to ensure her place in the Grand Slam championship — her very first.

The stage was set for a history-making match: Williams, a living legend, on one side of the net, going for her twenty-fourth Grand Slam title to tie Margaret Court’s career record a year after giving birth. On the other side was 20-year-old Osaka, the first Japanese woman to reach a Grand Slam final who was poised to be the first Japanese tennis player, man or woman, to win a Grand Slam championship. To witness this, I sold my seat in the nosebleeds and spent way too much money to sit just a little bit closer in the middle section. Read more…

The Dark Side of Amazon’s Job Creation

Applicants wait in line to enter a job fair, Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017, at an Amazon fulfillment center, in Kent, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Amazon’s announcement that it would invest $5 billion and create 50,000 jobs in the location where they choose to build their second headquarters set off intense competition among cities hoping to lure the e-commerce giant. But Alana Semuels reminds us in The Atlantic that cities desperate for jobs have welcomed Amazon before in the form of warehouse work at distribution centers. These jobs have typically started at $12 an hour and are so grueling that very few workers “make it to two years of continuous service.” Despite this, locals say any job is better than no job, but the adverse effects of low-paid, high turnover work on a depressed city have been clear:

San Bernardino is just one of the many communities across the country grappling with the same question: Is any new job a good job? These places, often located in the outskirts of major cities, have lost retail and manufacturing jobs and, in many cases, are still recovering from the recession and desperate to attract economic activity. This often means battling each other to lure companies like Amazon, which is rapidly expanding its distribution centers across the country. But as the experience of San Bernardino shows, Amazon can exacerbate the economic problems that city leaders had hoped it would solve. The share of people living in poverty in San Bernardino was at 28.1 percent in 2016, the most recent year for which census data is available, compared to 23.4 in 2011, the year before Amazon arrived. The median household income in 2016, at $38,456, is 4 percent lower than it was in 2011. This poverty near Amazon facilities is not just an inland California phenomenon—according to a report by the left-leaning group Policy Matters Ohio, one in 10 Amazon employees in Ohio are on food stamps.

Nearby, unionized warehouse workers at grocery chain Stater Bros. have jobs that start at $26 an hour and full benefits, a sign that things could be better at fulfillment centers whose boss at the top is currently the richest person in history.

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Ellen Pompeo on Negotiating Her Way to Becoming TV’s Highest Paid Actress

(Amanda Edwards/WireImage)

Ellen Pompeo is now television’s highest paid actress, earning more than $20 million a year in a new deal as star of the long-running medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy.” But as a new story in The Hollywood Reporter reveals, this milestone wasn’t easy to come by. Pompeo had to learn to become comfortable with negotiating for more money and navigate being pitted against her co-stars:

For me, Patrick [Dempsey] leaving the show [in 2015] was a defining moment, deal-wise. They could always use him as leverage against me — “We don’t need you; we have Patrick” — which they did for years. I don’t know if they also did that to him, because he and I never discussed our deals. There were many times where I reached out about joining together to negotiate, but he was never interested in that. At one point, I asked for $5,000 more than him just on principle, because the show is Grey’s Anatomy and I’m Meredith Grey. They wouldn’t give it to me. And I could have walked away, so why didn’t I? It’s my show; I’m the number one. I’m sure I felt what a lot of these other actresses feel: Why should I walk away from a great part because of a guy? You feel conflicted but then you figure, “I’m not going to let a guy drive me out of my own house.”

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Longreads Best of 2017: Investigative Reporting on Sexual Misconduct

Photo treatment by Kjell Reigstad, Photos by Jeff Christensen (AP) and Joel Ryan (AP)

It was a year in which investigations loomed over us as we woke up each day and absorbed the news. Former FBI director Robert Mueller began investigating whether Donald Trump’s presidential campaign had any links to the Russian government and its efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election. The opioid crisis was covered by a few outlets wondering who, exactly, is profiting while countless people are dying. But it is the investigations into sexual misconduct perpetrated by powerful men across several industries that has had the most significant impact in 2017. And much of the reporting has been led by The New York Times. Read more…

For the Love of Sturgill Simpson, Country Rocker Ignored by Country Music

Sturgill Simpson performs onstage during the Boston Calling Music Festival (Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

Oxford American’s winter issue is dedicated to music, and Leesa Cross-Smith writes lovingly about her appreciation of Sturgill Simpson, who won a 2017 Grammy award for Best Country Album despite being largely ignored by country radio and the country music establishment (Simpson was not invited to the Country Music Association awards and spent the evening outside the event busking for donations for the ACLU).

I’m also a huge fan of Sturgill Simpson’s music and the way it seems to defy all genres while still maintaining a clear country sound. Cross-Smith describes it perfectly:

I liked him from the jump but got super-attached to Sturgill when I was editing and trying to sell my novel. That anxious in-between. I listened to A Sailor’s Guide to Earth on repeat, absorbing it. First listen felt a bit like solving a complicated word problem. I couldn’t process it. It feels from another time—the seventies. It’s tense and dramatic one moment, the next, languid and dreamy. It’s awash with blue, a country concept album—earnest letters to his wife and son, sea-moonlighting as songs. He sings common-sense dad lines like “Motor oil is motor oil, just keep the engine clean” and “Don’t let them try to upsell you, there’s a reason they make chocolate and vanilla, too.” He makes “stay in school, stay off of the drugs and keep it between the lines” sound fetching and profound when backed by his army of snap-punchy brass. He offers up his grunge-country version of Nirvana’s “In Bloom” and changes the “don’t know what it means and I say yeah” lyric to “don’t know what it means to love someone.” According to an interview with the New York Times, he misremembered the lyrics and inadvertently changed them, literally adding extra love to the song. The second track, “Breakers Roar,” defies its title and is instead a placid prayerlike lullaby. A Sailor’s Guide to Earth is a pristine, indefectible album that’s hard to categorize, although Sturgill’s voice is clearly country, clearly Kentucky—as Kentucky as Chris Stapleton’s voice, as country as Loretta Lynn’s.

Feast your eyes on what many consider to be a musical-taste unicorn: me, a black woman who knows and loves country music.

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Thank You For Making the 2017 Longreads Member Drive a Success

A month ago, we launched the 2017 Longreads Member Drive with the goal of raising $25,000 from readers by November 16 for our story fund. Thanks to the incredible amount of support and generosity from readers during our drive, we received $35,190 in contributions and membership subscriptions.

For every dollar given, WordPress.com matches with $3, which means we raised a grand total of $140,760 — all of which will go directly into a story fund to pay writers, photographers, illustrators, and many others who spend months working on stories for Longreads (speaking of which, have an idea for a story? Pitch us here!).

If you weren’t able to contribute during our drive and would still like to, you can always do so here.

Thank you again to all of the support you’ve given us over the years. We’ve got a lot of exciting projects coming up, including our annual year-end “best of” collection. Stay tuned!

Mike Dang, Longreads Editor-in-chief

The Town Where Trump Can Do No Wrong

Donald Trump arrives to speak at a campaign rally in Johnstown, Pa. in October 2016. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

It’s been one year since Donald Trump was elected president and he hasn’t fulfilled many of his campaign promises, like building a wall or repealing Obamacare. For Politico, Michael Kruse visited a town in western Pennsylvania where voters helped win Trump the presidency and learned that many of them don’t care about what he has or hasn’t been able to achieve in office — they will support him no matter what. Here’s Kruse talking with Maggie Frear, a retired nurse:

He said he was going to bring back the steel mills.

“You’re never going to get those steel mills back,” she said.

“But he said he was going to,” I said.

“Yeah, but how’s he going to bring them back?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “but it’s what he said, last year, and people voted for him because of it.”

“They always say they want to bring the steel mills back,” Frear said, “but they’re going to have to do a lot of work to bring the steel mills back.”

He hasn’t built the wall yet, either. “I don’t care about his wall,” said Frear, 76. “I mean, if he gets his wall—I don’t give a shit, you know? But he has a good idea: Keep ’em out.”

He also hasn’t repealed Obamacare. “That’s Congress,” she said.

And the drug scourge here continues unabated. “And it’s not going to improve for a long time,” she said, “until people learn, which they won’t.”

“But I like him,” Frear reiterated. “Because he does what he says.”

What might account for this kind of devotion? As Kruse puts it, “his supporters here, it turns out, are energized by his bombast and his animus more than any actual accomplishments.” They feel angry, and identify themselves in Trump’s anger.

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