Scalpel 2015 FF&F

I am surprised at how long it has taken me to write this follow up post to the #HoFS end of year awards. I needed to take some time to look at the responses and provide a cohesive report of public opinion. It was harder than I imagined because there is a fair amount of negativity to address, unsurprising given the nature of the questions. As always there was a range of answers, which I like to think, cover a representative sample of readers, but only you can tell me that. I apologise for the delays but I hope you enjoy it and found it worth reading. Thank you once again, one and all for your responses, time and patience.

What has disappointed you most about comics this year?

Online fan discourse           19 votes

Secret Wars                                                             8

Convergence                                                          6

Crossovers                                                              5

Price hikes/Variant covers/Director cuts   5

Reboots                                                                    4

Delayed stories                                                     4

Big two problems                                                3

X-Men mistreatment                                          3

Creator indulgence                                            2

You can easily see how these answers can be divided up into a couple of categories. The biggest problem remains the responses and interactions of comic readers online. This is thoroughly unsurprising given the year we have had and the multiple indiscretions that have occurred over this time. I have spent many a word discussing this topic on this very blog and it is incredible that nothing has really changed over the years. It is not just that the recognition of the problem is the starting point in trying to fix it, no, not at all. This is a very longstanding problem, as long as people have been having discussions. We have a way of interacting now that is instant and of high exposure, but this was not always the case. I equate the Twitter timeline to a playground where people discuss things in groups or wander around shouting trying to get attention. The way in which people treat one another is the problem, not the forum in which it is. No matter where the discussion is had, there will be people who shout the loudest, those who are too scared to speak and those bullied into silence. I refuse to believe that anyone out there has not experienced this in person. All that happens is that now we have social media, the playground has increased and where it was initially a place to find commonality, it now suffers the same strains as any social circle. With the added factor of anonymity.

I have always found it simple to engage with people because I learnt a long time ago how to convey my opinion and handle difficult conversations. If you deconstruct all the issues you are about to read comments upon, then a single premise comes to the forefront: Respect. Respect for the creators who may be reading your comments, respect for the contrary opinions that most certainly exist and respect that everyone has a right to voice them. There needn’t be a passionate and angry response to differences in opinions, but sometimes that is certainly where we all end up. Multiple times I have been outraged at certain comments and instead of a vitriolic response, I post a restrained but clear retort. And then once I have made my point, and if there are no new aspects of the disagreement to explore, I leave the conversation. It is not a personal affront to my own person that people may disagree with me. That can be a difficult concept to really understand and incorporate into your behaviour. There are always people that will provide deliberate idiotic messages and will “troll” you to get a reaction, but it is easier to leave that conversation. The respect denominator applies to everything in positive and negative ways. This includes the new fans talking about the first Bat book they have ever read, the creator that responds badly to criticism and the readers that love “their” superhero and argue against the way they have changed. This even applies to those social justice warriors that admonish heavily those who are politically incorrect or argue the mistreatment of minorities to the death. Bullying is still bullying no matter its form and there are ways in which enlightening people and education is carried out. I am very conscious in appearing preachy with this writing, but I also appreciate it may come across naïve. The playground mentality has existed from when people started to spend time together, it isn’t going to go away and neither will differences in opinion. It is about how you handle the differences in subjective arguments and keeping your own sanity. It damn sure took some time for me to decide how I was to behave in real life, let alone online! I must add an important caveat to this. There are many well-established campaigners/organisations out there fighting for particular violations of human rights. I am not addressing those particular people; this is generally for the social media engaging comic reader. However if the behaviour of representatives of those establishments is reprehensible then they join us all. Those are enough thoughts from me, let us read your comments.

“I think there is a growing divide in comic fans, almost as though there is some kind of hierarchy based on what you read and enjoy. Comics are there to be enjoyed and not everyone enjoys certain titles that are popular, but they certainly shouldn’t be criticised for their reading choices. People should be able to choose what they read and communicate about it freely without being ostracised from conversations because what they are reading is deemed not to be the ‘in’ book etc.”

“I don’t like that new readers to comics are deemed by some to be ‘beneath’ them. The fact that comics are so heavily across pop culture in the modern era is a fantastic thing and new readers are bound to be attracted due to the films and television shows, these new readers should be welcomed not chastised for being influenced to read comics after seeing a film.”

“I could say event books but it’s the fan community on social media. In over thirty years as a reader of comics, I’m really disgusted at people’s behaviour on various forms of media and how they interact with creators. This year I’ve seen a writer quit a book over the way he was hounded, to me that is intimidation. These types of “fans” are the worst lot. I wonder how the “Outrage” culture will develop, I’ll have nothing to do with this type of movement it’s useless getting into arguments online. I really don’t know what to make of the younger generation of comic readers, which sounds curmudgeonly!”

“The problem is that every single issue that seemed to pop up in 2015 was handled the same way, all the time. The problems that, you know, something like a creator abusing people, was handling with the same outrage as a variant cover…”

“There is a very small number of people in the comics community who seem to be on a constant crusade whether I agree with their view or not. It has made talking about comics almost impossible and I hate it. Tagging creators in long rants about their political views, tagging creators to tell them their books are terrible, it’s exhausting.”

“There is no happy middle ground in a world of extremes. This year the comic fandom on social media has been difficult to say the least. Of course there are wonderful people on it, but every week there is a new outrage or controversy that brings out the loudest and worst the fandom has to offer, with rational people being lost in the fray.”

“Growing up, comics were always a subversive genre: They mirrored the eras they were created in. Green Lantern took on topics like racism and drug abuse. Iron Man was a deeply troubled alcoholic. You name it, comic books dealt with it either directly or in some metaphorical way. These days, it hurts my heart and soul to see the medium I grew up with, one that taught me valuable life lessons about doing the right thing in the face of adversity, be maligned by special interest groups. Books called racist and misogynist by those who have never read a classic like “This Man, This Monster” and dragged through the mud for some political agenda or ideology.”

“The fans, and particularly the middle to old guard fans: To hear them in person or read their words, you’d believe that everyone expressing a view or opinion about disliking a work had no problems at all, that people are faucet valves which need to be simply tightened to “off.” “Outrage” and “sensitive” are rotated in consistently as if thesauruses were never printed or digitized, even as the same people end up being the most sensitive individuals I ever converse with. The advantage to the newer fans is that they have the self-consciousness to realize that they are openly sensitive. The closed fear of the former however creates a faceless mob view, feeding back into making for a proving ground impression that then often risks impeding conversation with the [micro-aggressed to pieces] newer fans, feeling guilty for not already knowing everything there is to know about say, the entire Justice League or some other impossible-to-cram knowledge goal.”

“I feel minimal anxiety or fear about any of that, and have tweeted about it sporadically. I dislike the way that people discuss boycotts at times, as it often ignores the results for published comics creators and staff who are women and/or people of colour. I get the feelings expressed however, and as per my own remarks above, try to discuss the underlying and historical contexts for the emotions.”

The second category of answers was specifically related to the comic companies stories and superheroes. There are many people fed up with the behaviour of the big two. This is not so much the difference in opinion that I allude to above, but the blatant abuse of love the comic readers have. Classic examples include unmissable crossovers, multiple tie-ins, variant cover must buys, director’s cut editions and probably worse of all these days; reboots. Comic fans love what they love but they don’t deserve Marvel or DC to try and clean out their purse or wallet. Do you want to know why this happens? Because it is a business. We would all like to think that the superhero property had a degree of sanctity but clearly the corporate side will sell their soul for a quick buck. Just look at how popular Grayson has become and then the multitude of Robin centric books and crossovers that have followed. Hickman’s Avengers run was fantastic from the beginning but I wonder how many other superheroes were dictated from above to become part of the story. This would be interesting to find out whether Hickman had planned for an X-Men infinity tie in or a AoU Secret Wars supplement. The desperation to push DKIII is so tragically handled and I am shocked at how many variants and extra releases they have planned. It isn’t even a Frank Miller book anymore. It is disgusting and we don’t deserve to be treated like this. Once again though and as sad as I am to say it, this has happened in all walks of life and will continue to do so. The way around it is to consider your own purchasing habits and deciding what is important to you. I bought every single Hip Hop variant because those were personal to my own adoration of the music genre, but there were so many that just did not need to be in existence. I still purchased them all though and am not regretful in any way. As always you gave some fantastic comments so let us get to them:

“A growing trend towards price-gouging from both the publishers and local comic books stores. Things like “Directors Cuts” of books reselling after the fact for much higher prices, expensive over-sized issues with nothing but bad backup stories to pretend to justify the prices. Also obscene amounts of variant covers and the continued trend of pricing digital comics the same as print versions fit into this awful behaviour.”

“The sheer amount of crossovers, tie ins and reliance on interlocked issues and events. DC and Marvel seem to see this as a way of unlocking people’s wallets and consequently the quality of their books suffered for it. I can’t afford to read a title and buy its fifty or so accompanying issues, and I shouldn’t feel that I have to do that to continue my enjoyment. Therefore this year I sidestepped both major events – Secret Wars and Convergence – and my pull list from the ‘big two’ reduced because of it.”

“On the whole though, I find the lines between media, comics, tv, and films, seem to be blurring, especially for the big two comic companies, quite alarming. Maybe it’s just my imagination, but TV and film adaptations of our favourite comic characters seem to be influencing the look and stories of the comics themselves now. Just about every Marvel comic looks and feels the same as their movie counterparts. Look at The Flash TV series, his dad gets out of jail, oh, and in the comics, The Flash’s dad gets out of jail… Zoom is the main enemy ALL THE TIME. The comics used to inspire the films and TV, now it seems more and more like it’s the other way around. The times they are a changing, but not always necessarily in the right way.”

“The X-line being down-sized to less than half of what it was while Marvel inflates every other family of titles they have, regardless of sales. Mostly I hate the Inhumans being pushed in the way of the X-Men, to the point of them now being a major editorial-enforced storyline in the remaining X-books.”

“The changes to status quos for Batman and Superman. I’m not one who likes to bitch about changes and/or evolution. And I sincerely gave both of these a chance. But it isn’t the changes that bothered me, it’s the stories. I just find both the Bat and Super books incredibly boring right now, which I hate to say.”

“I think the general backlash from the Big 2 in regards to what fans want. Marvel’s PR has consistently underrated its LBGTQ representation. DC continually pushes The Killing Joke (Batgirl cover, the animated movie) despite fans asking for something else they feel better represents comics NOW. Its time for comics to recognize there are new groups reading and make comics that appeal to them without taking two steps backwards each time. Also, in general outrage over outrage. Yawn.”

Not all the problems this year can be grouped in the above categories. I wanted to add another couple of comments that addressed further issues that need to be relayed to you all.

“For me I just find it baffling that there are people so against diversity. I’m pretty sure this will be my answer no matter what year this question is asked unfortunately. I truly hope one day people who have negative things to say about diversity keep it to themselves. The one thing I’ll never understand is people who buy books just to complain about them. I cannot fathom why they wouldn’t just spend their money on a book, which they enjoy.”

“Rampant Sexism. Its 2015, and yet female fans of comics are still met with swim-suit covers, shallow characters with crap motivations, unrealistic body proportions and rape threats in the comment sections of blogs. We are moving forward, and all it seems to do is drive a further reminder into our heads that some people are being felt behind in their ignorance and like to remind us in their sketch covers.“

“Creator behaviour, bad “apologies” and [negative] name searching abound: It’s nice when a creator shows up and does a positive click or a “thank you” and such, I do believe that. But to Kool-Aid Man burst through the wall so as to start jeering and arguing, that is incredibly disappointing. There’s a middle ground by which constructive criticism is invited and overtly listened to, but many seem to be unaware of it. I would not be surprised if the “Big Two” have or end up with some kind of social media policy clause for their contracts at this rate.”

Which has been the most socially representative comic of 2015?

326261._SX640_QL80_TTD_Ms Marvel                15 Votes

Captain America                              4

Batgirl                                                =3

Saga                                                   =3

 

As you can see there was quite an overwhelming winner in this category. Though to be honest there cannot really a winning comic for this question, because it is so subjective and dependent on what people want from their comics. I worded this question for selfish reasons: to understand what people understood by social representation and what it meant to them. There have been so many books that seem to deliberately entice political correctness. This has pleased many readers but also angered many too. Is it an aspect of comic culture we should be trying to address or is the superhero art form so far removed from life that it shouldn’t even try? I have always disagreed with the latter notion because comics are art, imitating life, imitating art, imitating comics. In the last twenty years the world has become a very different place and so have the comics. The transition is natural because as behaviours change, so do the art forms in which they interact with. Some people may find the heavy handed approach to change a little to forceful and others find the subtle underhanded technique a little too insulting. It is the balance I was trying to engage with and a few of you picked up on that and responded in turn:

“This is far to broad a question to answer Kulbir! There are books out there that produce a preferred status quo, where minorities are treated equally, but does it represent society? Also what society am I to want to be represented, mine from the UK, the society I am told to like by SJWs or the unchanged status quo of the bigots?“

“Tricky question. Does the award go to the book that showcases the most underrepresented groups, or to the one that explores one or a few most deeply? Overall, there’s just been a positive, continuing trend of emphasizing & naturally incorporating diversity across a wide range of books.”

“Should comics represent the times we live in, or should it be just pure escapism? To quote a friend “Comics are a wonderful escape from reality. I don’t necessarily want or need the real world in my monthly books…”

“I’m choosing to interpret this as a book open to racial diversity, gender diversity and queer diversity. There’s no perfect book that you could call a catch-all, nor do I think there should be. Instead of putting the whole rainbow of human uniqueness in every book, it should exist across lines, across publishers. There should be multiple titles that hit these marks. And especially given the composition of global demographics, there should never be another superhero team that’s all male and all white.”

“It’s impossible to designate something as MOST, because it creates some sort of false competition for diverse representation, when representation should be the norm. It doesn’t mean shelving Steve Rogers or Bruce Wayne; it means spending more time with Sam Wilson and (hopefully) Kate Kane (seriously where the hell is she???). It’s not a contest, but an overall movement in the direction of more responsible, inclusive storytelling. All three of the big 3 publishers could be doing more to hire writers and artists who aren’t white, but I’m not sure where that goes in a discussion of “socially representative books,” beyond my own personal desire for representation both on AND off the page.”

“WHO CARES! Socially representative, BAH! I don’t want socially represented! I want POW BANG ZOOM OMG HE’S BROKEN IN HALF! I don’t want a comic that is PC and can’t be awesome. Give me a good story, great art and something that grabs me. Not his hand holding BS we are seeing more of.”

“I’m not sure I can answer this. As a straight white male I can throw a dart at any rack in any store and hit a book that I’m represented in.” 

“Depends upon which society, or strata/s of it, you’re discussing, m’man. Can’t trick an old Social Science teacher that way, you know.”

There are some well-written and nuanced answers there right? None of these responses are incorrect because they represent a spectrum of opinion and thoughts, and there is no correct answer. I hope these demonstrate the subjective nature of the question and how difficult it actually is in moving comics forward socially. Before we explore this further, here are the some of the answers to the actual question.

“Southern Bastards is a great book that touches very deeply on institutional and social racism in the South, though much of the story this year followed white men – a story much more relevant given the violence experienced by black communities all over the US in 2015. Though Saga’s cast is, on its face, more diverse, the story is deeply focused on one family. Both books deserve recognition for adding to the discussion about diversity and social representation in different ways.”

Oddly enough, it is Saga. Despite the fact it is a sci-fi title, the way it seamlessly addresses racial, sexual and discriminatory issues without ever sounding preachy cements it as the front-runner in this category as far as I am concerned.

I think Nailbiter is socially representative without ever explicitly being. It is a comic that shows both the good and bad sides of society, a comic were the main characters are faced with choices and quite often difficult choices are made that perhaps don’t have the best outcome. Perhaps this is a representation of society today, is the best choice always utilitarianism or sometimes is it better to be a bit selfish?

“Supercakes by Kat Leyh, published by Yeti Press. As I wrote about it, “Leyh shows that issues of racial and sexual diversity don’t have to be shoehorned into comics as if they are something added on in hopes of placating naysayers or tapping into a market. Supercakes succeeds because, although it is about superheroes, it is about real people first.”

“Midnighter. Not due to the volume of represented groups within the pages, but due to how well the represented groups are written & pencilled.”

“Ms. Marvel. It takes the best of superhero comics and makes something modern, representative, clever, heart-warming, and a book that any comics fan can be proud of as representing the best of what mainstream superhero comics has to offer.”

“The Wicked + The Divine has not only been representative of gender, race and sexuality, but also age: rare among most comics, the teenagers sound younger than the adults.”

“It has to be Ms Marvel. What stands out from a social point for me is that Kamala is a member of the Muslim community but is not defined by religion. She is a woman, a friend, a sister, a daughter and a hero. She is not defined by the deity she worships or the colour of her skin. Proof that a person can be more than just the skin tube they display to the outside world.” 

“I think The Vision or Sam Wilson: Captain America are the more socially representative comics of 2015. The Vision due to the fact that it represents how people act to the unknown in society, how fear and distrust can seep through and taint even the most well meaning people around. Sam Wilson: Captain America has a minority character fighting for his beliefs, but is down trodden by the media and people with political power. These are depressing realities we face and unfortunately represent society as we know it.”

“Tokyo Ghost: Yes, it takes place in the future and the world may not look like ours… yet. The thing is that our world could very well develop into the dystopian future we see in the comic. The series taps in to our very real addiction to technology, and how it is changing the way our brains are wired.”

“Deadly Class: I’d be willing to wager that nobody reading this has ever been enrolled in a school for assassins, but I’d make that same wager that we’ve all been teenagers. Remender takes the heightened, high stress, violent world of King’s Dominion to illuminate the near universal issues that come with being a teenager. Friends, fighting, fucking, betrayal, finding a place to belong, and finding people you can call your friends are all things we’ve been through, and the team of Remender and Craig capture it perfectly.”

The most fundamental difference between all these answers is what people wish to see represented. Whether there is more diversity in race, sexuality, gender, religion or family, all those aspects were mentioned. This makes it even harder to approach the evolving world we live in, and I agree no single comic can achieve all of this. So how does the corporate comic company approach this? Should they make an active effort? Just let it happen naturally? Or keep on with the status quo there has always been? As I said above there are strategies that people will engage with and those that will be met with animosity. The only insight I can provide from these answers is that of an open mind; try some thing different, take baby steps. Let Thor be a woman, let Cap be African-American, and let Iceman be gay. If the characters are written well enough then the book will be good no matter what. Don’t be upset that the character you once loved is no longer a character you recognise. And I certainly appreciate nostalgia is a tough nut to crack. There will be times where the decree of the company office is to change things because bigger financial opportunities are on the horizon, such as the new Captain America movie. As upsetting as it may be for some people that Steve is wearing the uniform again, the opportunity to make more money seems to override the desire for social representation. Welcome to the real world. I may go on a Twitter tirade about…actually lets just take a breath.

There are many things we would all like to see more in comics. Where do you even begin? I never asked for a comic based around Punjabi culture and I certainly never imagined it would bring such joy. It is an understatement to say Ms Marvel took me by surprise. The subtle character writing, as her father missing chai tea is delightful to me as that is my father, but that isn’t what makes the book good for me personally. The writing and characterisation is exceptional and is understandable by everyone, even if the Islamic culture represented is unfamiliar to many. You may need to have been raised in an Indian/Pakistani culture to understand the jokes, but not the core values of the book. Whatever a comic company decides to do, it must be met with an open mind but sadly with a touch of cynicism too. Trying to appeal to new audiences or a popular trend is nothing new, we must accept that. You may feel that there is a directive being shoved down your throat but if it is something that you might like, then read it. Give the creators a chance because it is those people that are trying their damnedest to make a book that you might enjoy. It doesn’t matter the reason for existence and sometimes it’ll work and sometimes it won’t. Just say goodbye and trying something else, as long as there is something new to try. If there isn’t then the future is dark and the comic art form will fade into history.

Until next year…

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