Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Pollyanna posting

There's another blog fight making the rounds that seems to be dying out pretty quickly, and I'm grateful for that because, honestly? Sometimes you guys kill some of the joy I have for comics.

I'm not talking about this debate or the people involved in it, in particular. This is something that's been bothering me lately, even thought it's really nothing new. I'm talking about the people who seem to be fueled by nothing but anger, the people who seem to get a juvenile joy out of pushing other people's buttons, and the people who would rather jump to conclusions instead of actually listening to somebody else.

This isn't to devalue anyone's opinion, especially where it concerns an important topic such as race, women's issues or matters of sexuality. These are things that need to be addressed in the comics we read — but I don't think they need to be addressed in every comic we read. I think if we try to include every cause and concern we have into every title, we run the risk of excluding someone else, especially if we get caught up in the heat that flares up in some our cross-blog "discussions." Not all comics are going to satisfy everyone, but we've got choices about what we read, and we've got voices to express our displeasure — and yes, sometimes our anger — when something just flat-out offends us. As readers, these are our tools — not weapons — and it's up to us to use them responsibly.

Are there things that need to be changed? Without a doubt. I'm always excited that Blue Beetle is Hispanic, and a little saddened that the only other Hispanic character that made that kind of impact on me was from comics that are now at least 30 years old. But do I see improvement? Yes, even if it is slow and often hamstrung by the proverbial two steps back.

Gah — that's already more than I meant to say about this, but I hope it will be taken in the spirit in which it's written. Essentially, it's this: We all share a love of comics, and whether it's capes, indies, manga, what have you, we should remember that we have that in common.

EDIT to add:

It's been pointed out to me that this post (originally uploaded Feb. 18) might be a little unclear, so I wanted to make sure there's no misunderstanding. I'm not saying readers or bloggers should be passive consumers who should just be happy they're getting their comics — hell no. If nobody argues, if no one points out the ways readers are being taken for granted, then problems will never be solved.

What I am saying, though, is that arguments should be reasonable and intelligent, not just the garbled screaming of a raw nerve that's been touched. That's counterproductive and, frankly, bullshit. People should be able to debate as much as they want — just don't be an ass about it, whether you're leaving a comment or you're the original poster.

Finally, as I mentioned above, the idiocy of a simple mistake being somehow unnecessarily blown up into a back-and-forth about race wasn't what made me write this post. But, the misguidedness that led to it was a last straw for me. Luckily, a comment from David Brothers seemed to defuse the whole thing, which is a great example of what I'm talking about.

Basically, it's this: Just because we read comics, that doesn't mean we can't act like grown-ups.


The Fortress Keeper said...

Maybe I'm stepping into it now, but I think the problem is not that comics are racist (or at least, not any more racist than society at large) but that comics aren't willing to try much new and aren't rewarded when they do.

A book with all-new characters like The Order dies a quick death, but sticking Wolverine into another Wolverine or putting a person of color into an established identity (i.e. The Atom) is considered good business.

Comics, like pop, is eating itself and I'm not sure where super-heroes can go creatively if this cycle continues ...

Maxo said...

I think that's what it really comes down to; there is of course probably some unrecognized institutional bigotry going on (directed at people of different ethnic backgrounds, women, pretty much anyone in the minority), but I'd stop at calling it outright racism.

As you said, the main motivation for the decisions made by the Big Two (I think we can all agree smaller companies tend to do a little better) is money. And I have no doubt that there are editors and executives who sit around and tell each other, "We need to plug in an X, and don't forget to include a Y — those are hot right now!" But I think it's because they see an untapped market and cash they're not getting their hands on. Their methods are often crass (which is part of the problem of ignorance), but the motivation remains grabbing that money. It's more cynical than conspiratorial.

And I agree that comics are in danger of repeating a worn-out cycle, and I think readers are somewhat culpable in that, too. We all complain about there not being any new characters that look more like us, but we also make a lot of noise when any changes are made to characters that have been practically the same since the '30s. As readers, we need to be open-minded enough to preserve the characters and stories we already enjoy while making room for new ones.

It sounds like a cop-out, but publishers aren't going to produce something that isn't selling. Readers need to reward quality with sales, and publishers need to get out of the network TV mindset and give those titles a chance to grow.

I'm not sure where superheroes are going, either. Wolverine gets another one-note title, but a more nuanced and interesting character like Manhunter gets saved from cancellation and still goes AWOL for months. I don't get that at all.