Nerds in High Places: Nell Minow

Tony Panaccio writes for Bleeding Cool

Nell Minow is one of the most compelling hyphenates in the media today.

By day, she's a hard-nosed expert on corporate governance. As Vice-Chair of ValueEdge Advisors, she is frequently quoted by news outlets like the Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post on critically important issues like outrageous CEO pay and corporate catastrophes from the dot.com bubble to Enron to the financial meltdown to We Work. She has testified before Congress, and some have argued her opinions and expertise have had a palpable impact on laws, policies and even prosecutions. Before her work in corporate governance, she was a lawyer in both the Carter and Reagan administrations. By night, she is an editor, critic, and feature writer for RogerEbert.com and writes all the reviews on moviemom.com. She formerly wrote reviews for Beliefnet and Yahoo Movies and appears on radio stations across the country every week talking about new releases in theaters, streaming, and DVD/Blu-Ray. She is equally comfortable fangirling at Comic Con in San Diego as she is hob-nobbing in the White House during President Obama's term in office.

Nerds in High Places: Nell Minow

None of this is a surprise to anyone familiar with her family — one sister was Dean of the Harvard Law School, the other sister is the leading expert in the country on laws applying to public libraries, her mother, Josephine Baskin Minow, is a prominent civic and cultural leader in Chicago, and her father, Newton Minow, helped create the Presidential Debates and PBS, got the original funding for Sesame Street, had Barack Obama in his law office as a summer intern — where he first met Michelle — and was President Kennedy's chairman of the FCC. History buffs may remember his "TV is a vast wasteland" speech in 1961, motivating irate TV producer Sherwood Schwartz to name Gilligan's shipwrecked skiff the "SS MIinnow." Nell's Facebook feed is followed by Washington insiders who are constantly updating her White House Deadpool, which has accurately predicted the departure of many of Trump's WH staffers.

Today, though, she is simply a nerd, one of us, talking about fandom as only a true believer can.

Nerds in High Places: Nell MinowQ: Let's start at the beginning. What do you remember as your first experience with fandom?

I think my gateway drug, around the time I was nine, was MAD Magazine. As soon as I saw my first issue I asked my parents to let me subscribe and was very proud to get copies with my name on the address label. While I liked comic books before that, mostly Archie, Richie Rich, and Superman, like so many others I think of MAD as the turning point because it made me think critically about culture and it made me ask questions about the news so I could understand the jokes.

Then, senior year in high school, I was lucky enough to meet a guy who not only had a fabulous collection of MAD and comics (a #1 Spider-Man!) and original comic art, but who had gone by himself to New York (from Chicago) at age 14 to attend a con, where he talked to Frank Frazetta, Al Williamson, and Neal Adams. In one of our early conversations, he was describing the National Cartoonists Society's annual Reuben Awards, and I said, "Named after Rube Goldberg!" We were clearly made for each other.

We have been married for more than 40 years and he is now a member of the National Cartoonists Society, so we get to see the Reuben awards ceremony in person. On the walls of our home are selections from his amazing collection of original comic strip, MAD, illustration, and comic book art, which make me very happy every time I look at them. And I will not confirm or deny that we named our son Ben after Ben Grimm, but he might tell you that!

Q: You recently posted pics on Facebook from a trip to a comic con. How many have you been to, and when did you start attending?

The first Cons I went to were in the late 70's, but I first went to THE Comic-Con, San Diego Comic-Con, in 2008 and have not missed a year since. I had always wanted to go, and one year when a group of corporate directors in San Diego offered to pay my way to come out to give a speech, I said I would if it was during SDCC. After my talk, I was so excited to get there I didn't stop to change my clothes. So, I walked out into the Exhibition Hall for the first time wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase. I'm sure some people there wondered whose secret identity I was trying to cosplay. Within minutes of my arrival, someone came up to me and said, "Would you like to have your picture taken on a corpse-stuffed mattress?" Would I! And that is why I have a picture of myself somewhere in a suit, with a briefcase, appearing to lie on a mattress stuffed with corpses. How awesome is that!

Q: What's your favorite thing to do at a comic con?

I love everything at SDCC! I love the panels, especially the behind the scenes ones, with costume designers, production designers, location scouts, visual effects people, voice talent, and people talking about the history and impact of comics and sci-fi. I love the people, not just the ones in costume but all the fans. It's one of the most purely happy places I know. Many people are like one person I heard once who said, "It's the rest of the year I'm in costume. This is the real me." Just about 99 percent of the time, everyone is so glad to be there and so happy to support not only what they love but whatever everyone else's special pop culture obsessions are, too. There's very little judgment. I don't know anywhere else that is so spaciously, generously accepting.

Also overheard once at Comic-Con: "What time is the Klingon wedding?" I am so happy to live in a world that has Klingon weddings. And I love SDCC's combination of cutting edge technology and fandom. Many years ago I saw my first 3D printer/hand-held 360 degree scanner combination there, and it was being used to print out action figures of Predator holding the individual bloody severed head of anyone lucky enough to get in line in time to get one.

I love the passion and fearlessness of the fans; the people who come to SDCC know what they like and do not wait for anyone to tell them what is cool. The people who did not want to sit with them in high school will not know two years from now when they're excited about the next Game of Thrones or True Blood that it was the fanboys and fangirls who saw them first and loved them without being told they were on anyone's "must" list. I always say it's the Iowa Caucuses of pop culture.

My most important rule at SDCC is this: if I can't get into something I want to see, I will open whatever door is nearby and go to that instead. And every year, that leads me to something I never would have known about otherwise and those are often among the best experiences of the Con.

Q: Are you binge-watching anything right now?

My last binge-watch was earlier this year — Russian Doll, which I loved. I watched the last three episodes when I was stuck at O'Hare and hardly noticed the delay. Looking forward to binge-watching season three of Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and catching up with two favorites I have not had time to binge yet, GLOW and Stranger Things.

Q: How and when did you first become Yahoo's Movie Mom?

I started writing movie reviews online in 1995, when there were thousands, not millions, of websites and not a single corporation or publication, and most websites were from students or military. Five years later, I got a call from Yahoo, which didn't even exist when I began, asking me to be their movie critic. They liked my family-friendly perspective — and my archive of over 500 reviews. Around that same time, my first movie book, The Movie Mom's Guide to Family Movies, came out, and I spent $200 to list myself with a service that recommends guests to radio shows. I went on dozens of radio stations to talk about my book and some of them asked me to come back every week to review new releases. I've been doing that ever since.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about your relationship with Roger Ebert?

I was a sulky teenager in the 60's and my mother was trying to get me to read the newspaper beyond the comics and Ann Landers (advice column). She said, "You like movies — the Sun-Times has a new movie critic who is only a few years older than you are. Why don't you read his reviews?" So, I began reading Roger Ebert right after he became the Sun-Times film critic and of course instantly fell in love with his writing. The Siskel-Ebert television series was local in Chicago at first, so I saw that from the beginning, too. Roger's reviews in the paper and on television had an incalculable impact on the way I see film and — importantly — on my writing as well. He inspired me to write my first movie reviews, for my high school paper, and later for my college paper.

Many years later, I got an email from Roger asking me to present a film at his annual festival, now called Ebertfest. That event is as important to me as SDCC. It is unique because everything takes place in one location, the spectacular Virginia Theater in Roger's home town of Champaign, Illinois. So, the sense of community that builds up over the festival as everyone sees the same films together at the same time is truly extraordinary.

Roger was a wonderful mentor and I am forever grateful for the vision and support of Chaz Ebert in maintaining rogerebert.com with a magnificent — and wonderfully diverse — group of writers. It is one of the greatest honors of my life to be a part of it.

Q: Martin Scorsese recently was quoted as saying Marvel's movies were "not cinema." What did you think of his comments?

My definition of cinema is: moving pictures on a screen. Everything qualifies, from YouTube videos to Oscar winners. So, much as I love Scorsese, I think conversations about what is and is not cinema are a waste of time. You can like or not like individual films and I will be interested in your reasons either way. But I would never dismiss an entire genre.

Q: What would you say are among your favorite genre movies of the last few years, and why?

I loved "Black Panther." Just a gorgeous movie in every category. For me, comic book movies make it or break it based on the villain, not the hero, and you will never get a better one than Eric Killmonger as played by the endlessly charismatic Michael B. Jordan. (My all-time second-favorite supervillain is Tom Hiddleston as Loki.) I also loved "Captain America: Winter Soldier," the "Ant-Man" movies, "SHAZAM," "Captain Marvel," "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" (in my opinion, the movie most replicating the experience of reading a comic book), and "Avengers: Endgame," which combines four of my favorite genres: heist films, time travel, superheroes, and getting the band back together.

Q: The fan world is oozing nerd-juice of CW's adaptation of Crisis on Infinite Earths. Any thoughts on this, or is it not on your nerd-radar yet?

Happy to see Brandon Routh back as Superman, but unfortunately being a movie critic means not being able to watch much TV, so I have not kept up with the Arrowverse.

Q; More and more, we are seeing the world of politics cross over with the world of comics. We've seen Rep. John Lewis win an Eisner for his graphic novel recounting his decades in civil rights, we have not one, but two Mueller Report graphic novels coming out, and Rep. Alesandria Ocasio-Cortez is about to appear in her second comic book. Seeing as you have a foot in each world, what is your perspective on this phenomenon?

I love it. I got to see a presentation at SDCC on the graphic novel version of the 9/11 report and it was truly thrilling to see how they made the best possible use of the format to present information, particularly timelines with simultaneous events, in a more compelling fashion than any word-only version could convey. The "March" series is outstanding. Our most important stories should always be told in a variety of formats.

Q: Similarly, has your fandom ever crossed over with your professional life outside of fandom?

Well, I do sometimes use movie quotes in describing bad behavior by corporate types. "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain" has come in handy. And the textbook for MBA students I co-wrote featured New Yorker cartoons illuminating corporate governance issues. One had two guys in a prison cell, one saying to the other, "I guess my accounting principles weren't as generally accepted as I thought."

Q: If you could see one comic book character run for president in their fictional universes, which one would it be, and why?

Superman! He remains my all-time favorite superhero. (My husband and I have a mixed marriage. In the DC universe, he prefers Batman.) I love Superman because (aside from versions I consider non-canonical) he has impeccable integrity and public-spiritedness, along with, of course, the all-time best combination of superpowers. Fortress of Solitude as the new Camp David, baby!

Q: How has your fandom enhanced your life?

See how I met my husband, above! And it has given and continues to give me a connection to a thrilling world of endless imagination that challenges and recalibrates my understanding of the world around me.

Q: Lightning round

Batman or Wolverine? Batman!

Marvel or DC? I could never choose.

Digital comics or hardcopies? Analog on paper always.

Star Trek or Star Wars? Oh…slight edge for Star Wars, but I love them both.

Gil Gerard or Sam Jones? Sam!

(Nell Minow's reviews can be found at roberebert.com.)

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