Have I been doing this almost a year now? Holy crap. It’s almost like actually sticking to something!
So, because I read exactly zero books last month,1 I figure instead of the usual books read recap I can do a “year-end retrospective” thing. Kind of like the Oscars. But for books. Where I’m the only judge. And with no actual awards per se. So… not like the Oscars at all, really.
Whatever. Let’s get on with it, then.
- I’ve been playing a lot of Guild Wars 2, though! And doing a bit of writing, so… meh. [↩]
It’s worth noting that I actually disagree with most of this article’s “good” examples; you might like Rat Queens or Wic+Dev for other reasons, but c’mon. Their characters look all the goddamn same, too.
Then again, my first comic was The Maxx, and Sam Kieth, well…
And, yeah. Kieth has very obviously got a style, and quite a distinct one. And some similar faces appear more than once in his work (Harley and Amy above, for example).2
That being said, I the thing that differentiates Kieth’s work is that he allows himself to draw (and write about) women who look ugly, awkward, and otherwise non-conventionally attractive. Which, yanno. It’s amazing what you can do when not 100% of everyone has to have pornstar face 100% of the time…
But the new criticism, the criticism that is largely coming from black and brown and Asian and Muslim and gay and trans and feminist circles and even more besides, doesn’t have an established place in comics yet. The culture is not used to it. The culture doesn’t know how to react to it, because it often comes from a deeply personal place and is accompanied by emotion instead of rote facts about first appearances and career milestones. The result is a constant diminishing of the concerns of the essayist and mocking of their context.
We talk about outrage culture and never stop to ask ourselves why someone saying “This hurt me, here’s why” is offensive, but a white man creating a comic where women are raped and non-whites are racially stereotyped is not. We scream “Free speech!” in the face of people who say “This is messed up.” We never examine why someone is angry before dismissing them for their anger. We demand perfection and eloquence from someone who has just been confronted with the unbridled contempt someone else has for them and everything they represent.
-Zainab Akhtar on offense.
[C]ultural narratives matter, and that mindlessly contributing to harmful cultural narratives is harmful.
In much the same way that my daughter is learning about Santa through passive cultural osmosis, other children are absorbing the dominant cultural narrative that glorifies rugged individualism and violent hypermasculinity because that’s how cultural osmosis fucking works. Games […] that mindlessly replicate depictions of hypermasculine violence without making even the smallest effort to be critical of that violence are contributing to the cultural background radiation that informs our lives.
–wundergeek on talking about Santa.
I’ve always liked hyper-violent media–videogames, comic books, and so on–and I also produce… maybe not hyper violent media, but certainly violent media, so for most of my life I’ve been right at the forefront of the “violent media doesn’t cause real-world violence!” brigade.
Except now I’m starting to think that soundbyte is a lie.
Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t believe the consumption of violent media on its own causes violence. Most people I know, after all, read and watch and play the same stuff I do, and they’re a pretty pacifist lot. But I think it’s getting harder and harder to deny that the proliferation in popular culture of what wundergeek calls “rugged individualism and violent hypermasculinity” has no effect on, if not individual violence per se, at the very least the social acceptance of violence–often lethal violence, at that–as an all-purpose problem solver.
This, incidentally, is why I can’t enjoy superhero movies any more. Avengers, and Pacific Rim were the nails in that enjoyment coffin; when your country has spent the better part of a decade engaged in a series of endless foreign wars, it starts becoming uncomfortable to realise all your popular entertainment has the plotline, “These people look funny and Hate Our Freedoms… let’s nuke ’em!”
Not to mention Tony Stark’s body count in Iron Man 3 because holy shit do you remember when superheroes killing someone used to be a Big Fucking Deal that would cause issues and issues worth of, well, issues?1 Because I sure as hell do. But nowadays we go to the cinema and laud white male vigilante violence and then wonder why so many young white men seem to think the mass murder of their “enemies” is a laudable solution to their life’s problems. ((For the record: no matter how many brown people Tony Stark blows up, he’s still a raging alcoholic asshole who has trouble maintaining even the most minimal friendships. Funny how people tend to… gloss over that one.))
And if Tony Stark is bad, then Generic Random Square-Jawed Videogame Protagonist Du Jour is inevitably worse. How many people does the game want you to kill to get to the end of its flashing quest trail? Does anyone even keep count any more? “It’s okay because they’re bad!” Really? Is it? How do you know they’re bad? Because the mechanics of the game allows you to kill them? You realise that thought has some kinda… fucked-up implications, right? I mean, really, really think about it. It’s fucked up.2
Like I said, I like hyper-violent media, both as a producer and a consumer. I’m not going to stop Killing Ten Rats anytime soon. But, increasingly, I think it’s important to at the very least take a step back and look at some of the fucked-upedness in the messages our media is sending us.
It’s okay to love something critically. Really, it is.
- Hell, this is why the GRIMDARK superhero deconstructions of the 1990s–the Alan Moores and the Warren Ellises of the world–exist in the first place. People tend to forget that the “point” of hyper-violent superhero comics like Watchmen and The Authority is to show the hypocrisy in the Silver Age ideal of the superhero pacifism. These comics are violent and bloody because that’s what vigilantism leads to. It’s not politely tying “bad guys” up and leaving them for the cops to find; it’s straight-up murder because some guy in a cape thinks you did a bad. There’s an unfortunate trend for modern comics adaptations–I’m looking at you, Marvel Cinematic Universe–to keep the “whee violence!” element while conveniently glossing over both the visceral reality of injury and the social commentary on just how fucked up the entire fantasy really is. [↩]
- There are some games out there that sometimes make a half-hearted attempt to deconstruct this. The Dragon Age series, for example, has done it with regards to both darkspawn and demons. However the mechanics of the game itself–where Kill Everything is the solution to 99.9% of all encounters–make the narrative efforts at deconstruction… fall a little flat, sometimes. [↩]
Violent disconnection from other humans doesn’t look brave to me anymore. It doesn’t look transgressive to hate and fear other people. It’s not edgy to depict the myriad abuses of power without critiquing those abuses. It’s childish. It’s immature. It is the thoughtless nihilism of people who are super-angry to discover that they are not the special center of the universe.
You’re not special.
Neither am I.
No-one is special, except in that magical way that we are all, all of us, irreplaceably special.
You are the center of nothing. But you are unavoidably connected to everyone else.
–Sigrid Ellis wants more than nihilism.
Ellis is specifically talking about the Sin City films here. As a side-story, I remember being super excited when the first Sin City film came out. I’d never read the originals–or anything by Frank Miller, for that matter–but I had a vague idea that Miller was one of the Great Old Men of comics, and really liked the aesthetic shown in the trailer (or, more specifically, the theme song). So I dragged my not-then-yet-husband along, we sat down, the film rolled, and when it was over we both looked at each other and said, “What. The. Fuck. Was that supposed to be?”
There are very few films I’ve seen–even bad ones–that’ve actively left me wanting the two hours of my life back. But Sin City wasn’t just bad. It viscerally repulsed me in some way I couldn’t then quite define.
Art and politics. Go figure.
I believe that it’s from this perspective that the “mainstream” comic book community appears to view the majority of the voiced concerns from minority readers—female readers, queer readers, readers of colour. From this viewpoint, fan criticisms of the Manara [“heart-butt” Spider-Woman] cover aren’t perceived as the vocalisation of the justified fear of cultural exclusion, erasure, or ignorance within comics. They aren’t recognised as cultural border skirmishes with social identity that go far beyond aesthetics to issues of objectification, sexual agency, and the marginalising of different voices. They aren’t understood as what they really are: a fellow fan saying, “This doesn’t make me feel comfortable. This does not feel like the character as I understand or relate to them.”
Instead, they’re perceived as nothing more than the inconvenience of a little sister banging on the “no girls allowed” sign of her brother’s boys-only clubhouse as she demands to be included in their grownup games. She may be allowed to play with his toys when he’s grown tired of them, but his action figures can’t wear make-up or ride Barbie’s dream horse; they have to subscribe to patriarchal understandings of gender roles. These are explicitly male-orientated toys that are only temporarily co-opted by minority readers to whom they don’t truly belong.
–Adam Sorice on flimsy justifications.