Robot 6

Brandon Seifert on why he doesn’t write rape scenes

Witch Doctor“Rape is violence. But that’s not all it is. It’s also defilement — having your body violated and desecrated. And it’s an interruption over your agency, your control over your body and your life. On top of all that, rape victims often end up feeling that they were complicit in their own attack (‘I should’ve told him no again,’ or ‘I should’ve tried to fight him off harder,’ or ‘I hate myself because I just froze up while it was happening.’). It’s awful, it’s scarring, and for a lot of people it sticks with them very vividly, for a very long time. And for a lot of people, those memories are very easily triggered… by, for instance, seeing a rape scene on TV or reading one in a comic.

Rape is also ridiculously, sickeningly common. One in six women in America reports having someone at least try to rape her. But honestly, in my experience? I feel like it’s more like one in four women. Or one in three. There have been times in my life when it seemed like every women in my life had been roofied at a bar, or followed into a bathroom by a guy at a party, or got forced to do things she didn’t want to do by a boyfriend, or was date raped, or was molested by a family friend, or… Or… Or…

And the very least I can do? As a friend, and as a responsible adult? Is not to write comics that cause people I care about to relive some of the most horrific events of their lives.”

Brandon Seifert, co-creator of Witch Doctor and Spirit of the Law, explaining why he doesn’t use rape as a plot device.

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24 Comments

I wholeheartedly agree with this guy. I don’t think rape scenes in fiction should be banned or censored, but just using it as a plot device, just to show how bad your one dimensional villain really is, is distasteful and offensive.

I disagree. If it’s relevant then include it in your, obviously, adult comic. It’s adult content so should be handled in an adult manner. Not sensationalised. Using his theory you limit yourself and your creativity. What next – refusing to write about vehicle-related deaths, death by gun violence, or death by drug overdose because you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings? Crazy.
One of the many reasons rape, and molestation is so shrouded in mystery and indemic to society is because it’s seldom exposed to the light. I have known a number of rape victims who felt validated and recognised when the subject was raised – but in a sensitive, realistic, and worthwhile manner. My personal opinion is that Millar’s “throw-away” sensationalised use of the subject matter is not recommended, but the subject matter shouldn’t be wrapped up in cotton wool because it’s “too sensitive.”

@John,

The problem is how to handle it correctly. There are relevant places to talk about rape. Places that are working for prevention, recovery and healing. A comic book is not the best forum to address such a topic without accidentally glorifying it. Good comics are stark, compelling, and visually interesting. it is nearly impossible to show a comic image of rape without seeming to be exploitive.

I agree art is the place society best confronts some of it’s demons. But not this time. This time rape must be combatted on the field of untarnished reality – when mothers teach sons, and men encourage other men, to value women and their sexual choices. When Redditors start saying “Dude, that joke isn’t funny – rape is wrong.” Then perhaps society will be ready to discuss this visually.

John;

He is saying he doesn’t do it and explaining why. A self-imposed limit isn’t really that damning to creativity (limits usually increase creativity.)

He didn’t say it should never be discussed or used in fiction – he said that such things can and do cause some to relive a horrific experience, which is a reason he chooses not to use it.

And it’s worth considering that maybe a comic book where people have super-powers (or at least wear costumes) isn’t the place to raise the subject in a, y’know, “sensitive, realistic, and worthwhile manner.”

It’s possible you confused his point with “this should be banned from fiction.”

His explanation is reasonable and personal. He doesn’t seek to censor others. So why should he be criticized?

I’ve read Witch Doctor. It is magnificent. If Seifert can enact self-imposed limits on his writing, and still turn out a comic that good, then I’m all for it.

And bravo to him for the reasons and the stance on rape in his comics. Can someone forward this quote to Dan Didio, Brad Meltzer and Judd Winick? I think they need to get the message…

@matthew: Because he seems to ONLY be handling rape with these “kid gloves.” As John points out, there are a LOT of other tragedies that happen to people in both real life and in comics. Children get abducted very often–does that stop the “entertainment’ industry from doing stories centered around child abductions? No. How do you think that the parents of an abducted child will feel when they hear about the upcoming movie, “Prisoners” (in which a couple of abducted children set off the main plot of the story)? Cops die in the line of duty all the time, often very violently. Does that stop police dramas from TV or films like “End of Watch?” No. People get shot outside a movie theater but does that stop comic book stories featuring gun violence from being published? No. (Maybe delayed a month or so, but cancelled? Not so much.)

I can understand where Brandon’s coming from but he’s using a really convenient case of tunnel vision here if he’s willing to allow all other kinds of violence to be on potential display in his stories but, for some reason, rape is crossing the line. I am, however, completely appaled at his complete and total lack of sensitivity to MALE victims of rape. (All of his examples featured women. And the statistics he mentioned ignore male victims. It’s that frequent dismissal of male victims that makes it all the more difficult for men–no matter the age–to report when they’ve been raped. If he thinks that women have it tough, he needs to talk to gay men who’ve been laughed out of police stations and turned away from shelters because “men can’t get raped.” And the feelings of “should’ve fought harder” are incredibly magnified when it comes to male victims. I’m not suggesting that he would write a story featuring male-on-male rape or sexual abuse but, as the saying goes, “rape is rape.” And as a writer, he’s supposed to know the power of words.)

Brigid — thank you for making my blog post the quote of the day! I was pretty surprised when I loaded CBR this morning and saw that. Also, thank you Benjamin Sawyer, Jerzy, Kellie, Erik, matthew, and Andrew Collins for the nice comments!

John — “Using his theory you limit yourself and your creativity. What next – refusing to write about vehicle-related deaths, death by gun violence, or death by drug overdose because you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings? Crazy.”

John, there is no “next” here. I’m not standing on a slippery slope because I’m not interested in writing rape scenes out of consideration for the 1 out of every 6 female readers who has had someone at least attempt to rape them. Saying that I’m “limiting myself creatively” because I won’t write rape scenes… seems like a very strange argument to me.

“One of the many reasons rape, and molestation is so shrouded in mystery and indemic to society is because it’s seldom exposed to the light. I have known a number of rape victims who felt validated and recognised when the subject was raised – but in a sensitive, realistic, and worthwhile manner. ”

I agree 100%. Rape is horrible and incredibly common, but what it is and what it does to people doesn’t get talked about that much.

That’s why I chose to talk about it in a manner I thought was appropriate — in a blog post. Remember, all I said in my blog is that I won’t write rape *scenes*. I didn’t say I’d never bring up rape in my comics. I will absolutely discuss rape inside comics I write — as long as I can find a way to do it that I feel is constructive and realistic. But out of respect to the many, many survivors, I’m going to try very hard to not remind comics of the trauma they experienced.

JosephW — I don’t agree that not showing scenes where women get raped is handling the topic of rape with “kid gloves.”

And sure, there’s lots of bad, traumatic things that happen to some people. But very few are as common as rape — and very few of the common traumas seem to consistently cause the emotional wounds that rape does.

“I can understand where Brandon’s coming from but he’s using a really convenient case of tunnel vision here if he’s willing to allow all other kinds of violence to be on potential display in his stories but, for some reason, rape is crossing the line.”

Rape IS crossing a line. I explained my feelings about that. It’s not just violence, like the other things you’re talking about — as I addressed in my blog.

It also wasn’t my intent to exclude male rape victims. I was just speaking from my personal experience. I’ve had many, many female friends let me know that they’ve been raped, molested or otherwise sexually assaulted — but none of my male friends have talked about it with me. Men being raped is ABSOLUTELY an issue — but it’s not the epidemic that rape is for women. 91% of rape victims are female — 1 in 6 women. Only 9% of rape victims are male, according to the Bureau of Justice. Again, I’m not trying to minimize or trivialize a very real problem — I’m just focusing more on a problem that’s literally 10 times more common.

@ Erik

No confusion here. And comics aren’t just about spandex-clad heroes and villains these days. There are a lot of other comics out there that deal with adult subjects.

@Brandon

I respect your feedback, and it seems that I misinterpreted your stance to not touching on the subject at all. My mistake. My comments about limiting creativity were not specifically in regards to not wanting to write rape scenes per se, but not touching on such delicate subject matter. I remember back in the day when Speedy was revealed as a drug addict, and back then the uproar over such a delicate subject being discussed in a comic was pretty intense. But it was IMO handled realistically for the time and opened the doors for discussion. Marv Wolfman and George Perez also handled delicate subject matter in the Teen Titans book and it really gave them opportunities to explore characters and create change in them as well as educate.

Rape is disgusting and I can understand writers not wanting to write graphic rape scenes.

However it’s very difficult to reconcile that stance when so many writers have no problems writing graphic scenes about children having their parents murdered in front of them (Batman) decapitating people (Red Hood, Suberboy) impaling children on swords (Batman Incorporated) and so on, and so on.

It’s like, “having your parents being gunned down in front of you is OK, but dammit, I draw the line on writing graphic rape scenes!!”

Something to ponder Erik about your superhero comics.

christianizcool

August 15, 2013 at 12:40 am

@ John

The difference is, a sidekick doing drugs was about as non-superhero as one could get with the current superhero comic paradigm. Rape, on the other hand, is actually extremely common in media. I am very aware about how underrepresented actual rape is by actual survivors of rape. However, if you go and watch Comedy Central and keep your ear open, there will be a lot of jokes about rape that we are kind of desensitized to.

In other words, no matter how Brandon would write a rape scene, there really wouldn’t be anything new about it. Unless, he made it so disgustingly exploitative. Writing about rape is not really edgy at this point, in fact most the time it is exploitative and demeaning.

Also, there are probably a thousand things that Brandon never plans to write, but you aren’t criticizing him for those.

All those things he mentioned, that is why rape is an interesting subject to write about. Fiction thrives on concepts that have a sort of connection to the readers. And one with so much depth, and so much ambiguity certainly is worth exploring. JUst like nurder stories. And war stories. And serious illness stories. And so on…

Of course it is not everyone’s cup off tea. No subject ever is. And especially for people that have suffered dierctly or indirectly, it may be off-putting, or exceptionally interesting, even theraputic. I know I get a bit weird whenver I read/watch a story that involves cancer due to personal experiences. Should we ban such stories? Of course not. Who would be stupid enough to have such a claim? So please, stop with the generalisations. What you like or don’t, is not something to dictate to others. And ban or censor? Really? How about not reading the actual story? Initiative, critical thinking, choices and all that which comes with being an adult of at least average intelligence.

I respect Seifert’s decision not to write stories that deal with rape. And I respect every writer that feels similarly; in the same way that I respect writers that do write about it.

@christianizcool

I didn’t criticise Brandon as a person, just put my opinion out there, which I assume is the point of this blog so get off your high horse please.

I’m not sure what you’re going on about with your ideas regarding writing rape scenes as “edgy.” I don’t see what Comedy Central’s treatment of the subject has to do with anything related to this article either.

I’ve made my point so I don’t feel the need to repeat myself. I suggest you read my comments a little more closely before going off on a rant/ tangent.

Cheers.

@ Drithien

I agree. Well said.

@ christianizcool

“Also, there are probably a thousand things that Brandon never plans to write, but you aren’t criticizing him for those.”

This doesn’t even make any sense.

There probably are a thousand things that Brandon never plans to write. Unfortunately he hasn’t listed them on this blog or any blog I am aware of. Thus I am unable to comment on them at all. Nor “criticise” any of them.

When he lists any of them on a new blog, and if I disagree or agree with them, I probably will write a comment. That is the purpose of this medium y’know. However until he actually identifies what they are I have nothing to say. How could I? I’m not exactly omniscient nor do I have a doorway into Brandon’s mind ala Being John Malkovich? Please think before writing.

@Drithien

While I think I get what you’re trying to say, the fact that you’re talking about having a topic that connects with readers in such unconnected language is a good example of what people DON’T want to see in their fiction. Would you really say “that is why child molestation is an interesting subject to write about” or “that is why hate crimes are an interesting subject to write about” the same way?

Epidemic social issues by their very definition don’t exist in a vacuum and any writer worth their salt will consider the implications when including them in fiction. Using them as a quick and easy means of establishing villains/motivating heroes is just plain crap writing. Acting like such topics are just another building block and don’t have larger social implications is also crap writing. “This rape thing is fascinating, isn’t it?” = exactly the opposite of treating it in a thoughtful manner.

If writers avoid scenes that could trigger unpleasant memories, then they would have to avoid writing altogether.

@Nathania

No one is denying anyone’s right to produce crappy, tone-deaf writing. The point is that if you’re going to handle topics with huge real-world social and political implications, not putting any thought into that aspect means you’re almost always producing crappy , tone-deaf writing. And you’re very likely to get called out for it.

If I’m understanding Mr. Seifert correctly, his choice to avoid depicting rape is twofold:
– Sexual violence (particularly against women) is very common, and many of his friends have been assaulted.
– Sexual violence leaves unique emotional scars of a kind not often seen in other types of common violence.

And there’s a third element, which Brandon didn’t bring up: sexual violence in media is often depicted in an exploitative way intended to appeal to straight men. Mainstream comics have mostly male writers and mostly male readers — and consequently, a huge number of series are pulpy stories full of titillating fantasies about violence and sex. I don’t consider that kind of indulgence inherently bad. But use of rape in such stories typically serves a dual purpose of galvanizing our hero for revenge and giving some forbidden reptile-brain pleasure to the reader (who, the writer assumes, has never been a victim of sexual assault). It is very easy to write rape with a revelry in detail that is alienating and upsetting to people who HAVE experienced sexual assault.

I don’t think most writers intend to be hurtful, and that’s all the more reason to be cautious about writing this type of scene. So if a writer doesn’t need to write a rape scene to tell their story, why should they include one?

I really identify with Brandon’s view here, and agree with him . Rape is a sickening and lazy means of characterization. It’s lazy . There are better ways to build suspense, to “demonstrate the absolute horror” of the villain in your story (as Millar seems to want to) then rape. It’s absolutely disrespectful to a female readership which is almost always under assault via the patriarchy and the seemingly endless stream of misogynistic dudes in streets , in bars, etc.

As a writer and human being the absolute LEAST you can do for your female readership is not create work that glorifies and perpetuates their abuse.

Honestly, I refuse to involve myself in a story that I know has a rape scene in it (or even an implied rape scene that cuts off). I see a lot of people say something like “if it’s handled well…” Unfortunately 999 times out of 1000, it isn’t going to be, and that one time people generally agree that it is, I still find myself asking “why?”

The fact of the matter is that, as ‘tasteful’ as you can make it, rape is endemic. An enormous portion of your audience is going to relive some of the worsts moments of their lives, some of them are probably going to be fresh from the experience. Not only that, but rape is like the boogeyman that seems to loom over women constantly: when they walk to their car at night in a parking garage, when they go to a party and consider how much they should drink, when they want to take a piss at a club but decide not to leave their drink unattended. I’ve been looking over my shoulder for a rape since I was 12, and from the female friends I’ve spoken to, it’s the same thing. For a villain to do something totally depraved, like a slow decapitation, there will be very few people that have a lived experience with that act, very few people who will trigger, and very few people who live their lives with the threat of decapitation looming over them every time they’re walking alone at night or going on a blind date.

As a writer, I would never want to hang that over the head of my readers once again, and as a reader, I’m not going to subject myself to any media that sets out to do it either.

You really know your own stuff… Maintain the good operate!”

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