Biff! Pang! Zoom! comics aren’t just for white dudes anymore!

Howard Chaykin is the best example this side of Steve Brust of the nominally leftist guy who keeps showing his ass in public:

For the record, the cover depicts the horrific wish dream of some 45% of their fellow Americans. Perhaps if they spent a bit more time paying attention to the fact that the world they were born into is on the brink of serious disaster, they might have less time to get worked up about an image of genuine horror that depicts an aspect of that impeding disaster.


And of course, that left has evolved into a culture and community that feels that a white, cisgendered male has no right to tell stories of characters who are not white cisgendered males. Beyond its obvious and ridiculous limitations, this is just one more variety of fascism with a sympathetic and friendly face–from a left that still hasn’t figured out a cohesive way to save itself, the country and the world from the crushing monster that my country has become.

The mistake Chaykin makes here is thinking it’s still 1987 and you could pretend comics are read only by white male nerds. Chakyin wants to pretend he’s the voice of the voiceless enlightening an audience somehow ignorant of the plight of trans women or Muslims in Trump’s America, that just depicting atrocities is a courageous stand against injustice. And perhaps in 1987, what Chakyin is doing in The Divided States of Hysteria, when you compare it to e.g. Chris Claremont’s hamfisted lynching analogies in X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills, where “muties” stand in for Black people. But it’s 2017, not 1987 and you have to do better than that.

Because biff, pow, zap comics are not just for well meaning white dudes anymore.

Not that they ever were.

There’s a huge, diversive audience out there, some of which actually have first hand experience with the issues Chaykin writes about. So the bar is higher than if you are writing for a well intentioned, but largely clueless white nerd audience. Get things wrong and you will be criticised, even if you’re a Big Name Leftist cartoonist like Chaykin. And he fails at the first hurdle by falling right into the victim trap. Got a gay or lesbian character in your story? The victim trap has him dying of aids, her getting raped and all of it is oh so inspiring for their straight friends and the straight audience watching. Same of course goes for trans characters, whether or not they “power up” from their rape or abuse trauma and become angels of vengeance. Given that Chaykin has previous with regards to trans characters in Black Kiss — which wasn’t the most subtle of characterisations — it’s not suprising people won’t cut him slack with a new series that opens with the rape and assault of a trans protagonist.

It’s not that you don’t have the right to write characters other than white, cisgendered males — and didn’t John Byrne already complained about not being allowed to create anything other than white villains back in 1992 — it’s that you have to get it right. Don’t fall into the same victim narratives white male cis writers always fall in when writing about characters unlike themselves. And perhaps listen when people criticise your writing, rather than brag that you didn’t read it?

Your Happening World (26-06-2017)

  • the Mangaka who came in from the cold — Below is a small selection of four manga artists and one writer who are being overlooked by American publishers. They work, by and large, within the field of seinen, a loosely defined category of manga anthologies ostensibly geared towards young adult males in Japan. Admittedly the sample’s homogeneity is partly a result of my own preference as a reader towards this niche, but seinen takes on a special relevance these days as well.
  • On VidCon, Harassment & Garbage HumansTo kick off the Women Online panel at VidCon last Thursday, the moderator posed the question: Why do we still have to talk about the harassment of women? I replied, “Because I think one of my biggest harassers is sitting in the front row.”
  • Beowulf and the Comic Book: Contemporary Readings — This paper explores the appropriation of the Old English poem by modern popular culture in such a distinctive 20th-century art-form as the comic book, which proves that a heroic, legendary story already old for the Anglo-Saxons —it was set in geardagum, “the ancient days”— still elicits the interest of the audience in the modern world.
  • This week’s Bookscan chart is a wake-up call for the comics industry — Let me spell it out for you: girls and women, black and white, cis and trans alike, are the driving force behind comics readership expansion. This has been happening for a while, but it’s a full on avalanche now. It’s also something I saw coming 25 years ago. (No one else is gonna pat me on the back so I gotta do it myself.) Seeing the devoted fandoms that female content-consumers developed for anything that interested them, ESPECIALLY genre material like paranormal romance, horror and fantasy – I had a hunch that once they turned their spotlight on comics, the full force of female fandom would bowl over the fragile shreds of male safe spaces like a Mack truck through a pile of empty Axe cartons.

Friday Funnies: grief is weird

This comic reduced me to a sobbing wreck.

always distressing to see a loved one in a dream knowing they are dead

I had those dreams in which it turned out that Sandra isn’t dead, but still in hospital, or she’s just there as we go about our daily business, only to wake up and realise that of course it’s all a lie. There’s nothing as nerve wrecking, as guilt inducing and soul crushing as waking up from that sort of dream and Sara Goetter captured it well. All three of her comics dealing with the grief over the death of her mother are excellent depictions of what it feels like to lose someone dear to you in fact, hard to read because of it. It’s been a while since I had to cry this hard over Sandra, it having been five year since she died after all, but this went through all of my defences like a punch to the gut.

(For something lighter by her, this comic about spotting and wanting to befriend a fellow geek in middle school is adorkable.)

Is diversity killing Marvel sales?

Short answer: no. Long answer:

Good gods do I hate most of what Marvel has been doing in the 21st century, from the debased widescreen storytelling to the shitting on everything its characters stand for, but what it has done right is providing space for more diverse superhero comics, both character and creator-wise. I stopped being a regular comics buyer, let alone a superhero floppies buyer since, well, the start of this century and getting a view of what the industry is like a decade and a half later I’m glad I did. Everything this dude listed as being more of a problem than Marvel pushing diversity is shit I’ve already seen in the nineties, then secondhand in the naughties, just more chaotically and more intensive. Pushing more titles, an obsession with events, an overwhelmingly short term focus at the cost of a long term vision: we’ve seen that all before. It’s just the speed that’s different.

The end result is a constant churn that just zaps all of my will to invest time and effort into the Marvel Universe — and I’ve been a Marvel fan for thirty years now. Best I can do currently is reading the “fringe” books: the Hawkeyes and Ms. Marvels that do new things at the edges of the Marvel universe, but even these get weighted down by events and extraneous shite. What I wouldn’t give for having a gimmick of just having twelve issues of a series coming out in a year with the same creative team, without crossover events or other crap cluttering it up.

None of which has much to do with diversity and its supposed flaws. Diversity is actually, as any fule should know, Marvel’s greatest selling point. Every time a white, male hero is replaced by a hero of colour, a woman, or both, it’s an immediate attention grabber in the way “the death of…” stories were in the nineties. Each new diverse hero creates immense goodwill among non comics readers, if done right because there’s such a hunger for heroes that look like America in the 21st century, Trumpian backlashes nonewithstanding. And if only Marvel could have a coherent, respectful way of marketing this diversity and not let it be buried under an avalanche of shite only diehard floppy readers care about, things like the Miles/Gwen romance would set the world alight, rather than being a one-week wonder…

Worrying about Valerian

Is it just me, or does this trailer sound too Hollywood?

To be fair, Luc Besson has already created a perfect save for the absence of the heroes themselves Valerian et Laureline movie in the form of The Fifth Element, but I’m still worried about how well the actual Valerian et Laureline movie will do. There are so many danger signs here. Most worrying is that the actors playing Valerian and Laureline look and sound dreadful here, but equally worrying is the plot as shown in the trailer, which looks dreadfully generic.

Which might be a fakeout, as the movie seems to be loosely based on Ambassador of the Shadows, from which it borrows its setting. The original had an ambassador kidnapped there and Valerian but especially Laureline coming to the rescue, chasing the kidnappers across all sorts of exotic, alien settings. In fact, Laureline did most of the heavy lifting there, with Valerian absent for long stretches. I have a feeling that won’t be the case in the movie.

In all, I’m somewhat skeptical that one of my abso;ute favourite nerd things will be translated correctly into film, but hopefully it will at least be a decent summer blockbuster to go see with the cow-orkers.