Robot 6

Sex and violence in comics: When is it too much?

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Not the scene discussed here; this is more like the outrageous version of ‘football to the crotch’

There’s been a lot of talk about the appropriateness of violence and sexual violence in comics. It’s a good discussion to have, particularly for creators who take their art seriously.

I saw a quote from the Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat in The Guardian that seemed apt, although the context of what he was talking about was different: “If there is no mission or message to my work I might as well be a [house] painter and decorator.”

At some point, creators have to decide what their work is about in a larger sense –  what’s their mission statement, if you will. In defining that, everything they produce serves that goal on some level. It’s probably not apparent to anyone other than the creator, and some probably do it on a subconscious level, but it gives their work a unified essence that makes it undeniably them.

Or maybe that’s just me, and I’m projecting that onto everyone else.

Even so, creators have to live with their work; it represents them. And everyone is going to have different comfort levels regarding what they want to represent them and their ideas, just as those that experience the work will have different levels of comfort. For some, it’s run-of the-mill to use sexual violence as shorthand to establish a one-dimensional villain; it’s a go-to device

For others, it’s cheap, exploitative and unnecessarily triggering. It doesn’t make any kind of statement about sexual violence or take into consideration the effects of such an experience on the victims.

While I’m framing this as a generic example, it’s of course a scene from Kick-Ass 2 by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. that’s recently come under some scrutiny. As I mentioned, it’s not a unique scene, but Millar’s seemingly tone-deaf comment defending his creative choice has stirred some overdue conversation. He told The New Republic, “I don’t really think it matters. It’s the same as, like, a decapitation. It’s just a horrible act to show that somebody’s a bad guy.” While both the quote and the scene are incredibly disappointing, I can’t say the depiction is a significant departure from his work. To my knowledge, Millar has never shared any kind of mission statement for his work. However, another quote from that same profile suggests he has one, even if it wasn’t consciously formed. In explaining the appeal of the first comics he ever read, he admits, “There’s part of me that wants that outrageousness.” His comics are nothing if not a constant barrage of attempts, some successful, some less so, at being outrageous. So, sure, you could have a villain mug someone or rob a bank. Or you could end a scene with a villain saying something outrageous like, “You’re done banging superheroes, baby … It’s time to see what evil dick tastes like.” And be sure to include a shot of the villain unzipping his pants.

It’s outrageous, it’s extreme, it’s meant to provoke. Or it’s insulting, offensive and insensitive. But I guess that’s provoking, so it’s still mission accomplished.

Don’t get me wrong: Being outrageous is a completely acceptable goal as a creative person; there’s a long tradition in that arena. I don’t consider it particularly lofty or ambitious, but we all have our own yardsticks.

Romita’s response to this topic probably won’t help matters: In a somewhat-rambling answer in an interview with The Beat, the veteran artist said, “There was an intimation of what could happen and what happened but you never saw a rape scene. It was foul language and it was violence to a lady, she gets hit. But there was no rape scene.” He later points out that while he acknowledged it made him uncomfortable, saying, “there’s nothing that we did that was so outrageous,” although maybe at that point he’s talking about a different scene; it’s not the most concise response. He also says that it’s no worse than what is depicted in TV, movies and elsewhere. That may be true, but does he want to be part of that culture?

Romita admits it made him uncomfortable, but not enough to not do it. Writer Brandon Seifert is choosing differently for himself, saying that those types of scenes makes him uncomfortable, too, and so he’s choosing not to include them in his work.

To be clear, this is a personal choice for every creator — there’s no hard and fast rule here. They just have to live with themselves. I can’t help but respect someone like Seifert who takes that position. However, others won’t understand the big deal.

And some readers will be buying every torture variant cover for Crossed, no matter how disturbing. Hey, there are comics for everyone. I can appreciate the twisted creativity and black-comedy ridiculousness of it, although I don’t know if there’s any redeeming quality to the works. Part of me feels that after a while, whatever meager point about the excesses of human savagery (or whatever we can come up with) was made about three covers ago, if not two miniseries ago.

A level of redeeming quality is probably the key element to me. Warren Ellis wrote about this, talking about how it can help us to understand the deviant behaviors in our culture. Although he was talking strictly about the use of violence in stories, in the end I don’t think you can address one without the other. I’m fine with the depiction of sex, violence and sexual violence in comics and elsewhere, but I want it to actually get me to think about it in a different way, beyond just the train-wreck fascination of seeing an unthinkable or unspeakable act. Whether it’s rape, or whatever you would call the acts that happen in Crossed, merely being outrageous isn’t enough.

The tricky part is that everyone will have a different gauge on what qualifies as a redeeming quality. It may not always be as clear cut as the “I’ll know it when I see it,” and that’s why we have to keep talking about it. The more we understand how people respond to sexual violence in comics and other forms of entertainment, the more the creators of those stories can understand the messages they’re sending. Then they have to choose whether that’s part of what they want their work to be.

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60 Comments

violence? yeah getting kinda funny.
but sex? you sure youre talking about US comics?

You’ve hit it on the head with Crossed, I think. Any point to be made was made a long time ago. Now it’s just pornography.

The thing with Kick Ass and its ilk, isn’t just that its rape. It’s that it’s rape as lazy writing device. I’m as offended by the lazy, cheap schlock writing methodology as I am by the rape itself. You don’t need to censor sex and violence. You don’t need to demand that creators have some didactic or “inspirational” message they are trying to impart. You just need to hold writers accountable when they use violence and degradation for cheap thrills in hackwork power fantasies aimed at the lowest common denominator.

The thing I was always disagree with when I read discussions about violence and sex in the media, is that it’s almost always focused on DEPICTION, not on any “message” the story may have.

For instance, I remember that lots of people criticized David Fincher’s SEVEN when the movie was released. But from my perspective, SEVEN was a lot less objectionable than almost every action movie ever made, like DIE HARD.

Because SEVEN, in all its gore, showed violence as ugly, disturbing, unsettling. You could walk away from SEVEN and think “God, I wish the world were less violent, that was some fucked up I’ve just saw!”

Now, with DIE HARD, the violence is cool, it’s a sanctioned way to solve your problems, and you walk away from it thinking “Man, I wish I was as cool as Bruce Willis, he kicks ass!” You might walk away thinking it’s great fun to shoot the bad guys up and to watch things exploding.

Now, I ask, which of those two parting thoughts is the most objectionable?

We can’t have it both ways. Some people condition their kids, particularly their male kids, to be competitive to the point of cutthroating, to be tough, to not be crybabies, in short, to be a “man”, and in an older society that means to be a warrior. But then we don’t like it when a movie shows the extremes of violence in all its nastiness? I don’t get it, it sounds like moral cowardice.

Andrew Allenpeat

August 21, 2013 at 5:17 pm

“The thing with Kick Ass and its ilk, isn’t just that its rape. It’s that it’s rape as lazy writing device. I’m as offended by the lazy, cheap schlock writing methodology as I am by the rape itself. You don’t need to censor sex and violence. You don’t need to demand that creators have some didactic or “inspirational” message they are trying to impart. You just need to hold writers accountable when they use violence and degradation for cheap thrills in hackwork power fantasies aimed at the lowest common denominator.”

Bravo! Couldn’t have said it better myself!

Andrew Allenpeat

August 21, 2013 at 5:27 pm

@Rene. I partially agree with you. As I got older, this was one of my biggest problems with Schwarzenegger’s movies. In some of his movies, like Commando, Sixth Day, and True Lies, he’s presented as a likeable family man…at least until the bloody slaughter begins. *Then* he’s shown as a ruthless, sadistic, killing machine full of clever quips and one liners. It’s violence without context or consequences. We’re supposed to root for a “hero” who’s slightly less sociopathic than the villains he fights.

If we’re going to have violence in media, creators, publishers, producers, and so forth, need to think about what they’re saying and what it all means.

the ghost of Elmore Leonard

August 21, 2013 at 5:33 pm

No matter if you think HE had something to say about sexual violence in comics or not, it sure got YOU talking and US reading. Thus a dialog was opened. Millar is well aware that we live in a digital age were every blokes opinion can reach the four corners of the globe in seconds. Who’s to say that depiction without clear message of intent isn’t a device to start discussion of whatever hot button topic one choses? I for one like it when a creator makes me question without being heavy handed and preachy saying “this is what you should think if you want to be a good liberal and/or conservative”. I can make those choices for myself.
I personally found reading Kick-Ass 2 to be like a bad dream I could not wake up from. It made me uncomfortable and I did not enjoy it while reading it. Once I finished and reflected on those feelings I could appreciate what Millar did. He made me think and made me question. If that was his intent or not is irrelevant.

“When is it too much?”

Never. As long as it makes some kind of sense within the story. Sexual violence makes me a bit uncomfortable but it’s the creators’ choice what to show and how. There’s really no limit as far as I’m concerned.

There’s also a fine line between artistic expression and exploitation. Look at ‘Shawkshank Redemption’; Andy being gang-raped by the ‘sisters’ is a very crucial part to the story, and it accomplishes its objective, which is to make the audience sympathetic and uncomfortable. Not once did you see any rape, it was always inferred. And with Red’s narration (when he mentions how Andy suffered through the threat of rape for years), it really hits you in the gut. But not ONCE did it ever feel exploitative (to me, anyway). The storytelling took the audience into consideration and found a different way to depict rape. But that’s just my two-cents.

Every time I’m tempted to get back into making comics, I see the level of depravity tolerated and celebrated, and I want to vomit. This isn’t artistic expression. These are self-important perverts with the audacity to put the filth running through their minds into print. I don’t want to be associated–not even remotely –to people like them.

One, apparently I’m the only person that’s been reading Tim Vigil books since the mid-1980s.

Two, nobody cared about what happened in Kick-Ass 2 until the movie came out.

Three, something was done for a cheap shock? The hell you say…

IMO it’s too much when it no longer fits the story. You can tell a tale of the most violent events you can imagine if you can actually make it a story worth telling.

The opposite is a book that sells because of the sex or violence and that’s fine but it doesn’t sell to me.

As the guy said, there are comics for everybody and all of these comics mentioned have the adult rating on them, which as any comic fan knows means that you can literally expect absolutely anything… ANYTHING. I remember a book Zombie King issue zero the first pages had a zombie fucking a cow. Comic books. Expect anything.

Sam Robards, Comic Fan

August 22, 2013 at 6:55 am

I’ve never been a fan of sex and violence for the sake of sex and violence. To me, there always has to be some kind of purpose or meaning behind it, and “to show how bad this guy is” doesn’t always work with me as a valid reason.

It’s always subjective, but there’re certain creators I stay away from, given their taste for (in my opinion) tasteless sex and violence meant only for shock value: like Mr. Millar. He’s had a couple good stories (Ultimates, Wolverine: Enemy of the State), but I find the rest of his writing to be filled with gratuitous sex and violence, so I simply don’t read it.

Does that mean I don’t think it should be made? Not at all, as I’m sure someone gets a kick out of it.

So I guess my point is “read what you like and avoid what you don’t.”

Here’s an idea:

Show as much murder and mayhem as you want, but show the consequences. Show the girl from Kick-Ass 2 shuffling past abortion protesters as her mom escorts her into the local Planned Parenthood. Show the morgue workers dealing with the bodies, and the cops informing widows that open casket funerals will be impossible. If consequences don’t “fit in” with the rest of your story, maybe you should find something else for your characters to do.

Don’t cheapen atrocities.

I think everyone has personal tastes. Not every book is written for everybody and we need to acknowledge that. If you don’t like something, don’t buy it. We should not be trying to shame creators into removing tools from their toolbox. Heinous acts are what separate the hero from the villain. Great villains often have the same goals and philosophy as the heroes but they do something horrible that makes you go “that’s the villain” and make you want to see the hero take him down.

Villain’s are supposed to offend you. Villain’s are supposed to scare you and all taboos should be open to the writer.

The violence in modern comics is handled in a really cheap, crass shock n’ schlock kind of manner. It’s there entirely for its own sake under the auspices of being dark and edgy because that’s apparently the only thing the modern comicbook industry and some fans can think of as “sophisticated” and it therefore makes them “sophisticated” for reading it. Also there’s just the simple fact that a superhero comic does not really require horror movie levels of gore or torture porn to get the point across that a bad guy is doing bad things and the heroes need to stop it from continuing in order to save lives. Yes a superhero comic needs action. But action and violence are not necessarily the same thing. Lee and Kirby didn’t need anybody sawing their own face off and to put you in the moment.

Much as I loathe Mark Millar’s work at least with Kick Ass he’s doing his own thing with characters he created rather than taking characters that were designed for young readers and a broader audience that likes using their imaginations and turning those into bloodsoaked shock fodder.

I think the growing distaste for extreme violence in comics is really symptomatic of a greater growing burn out with grimdark and gore as the one and only way to do action or anything else with a superhero story.

yup if you don’t like it then don’t buy it. the end.

on another subject l think we should complain about the lack of gay/lesbian/trans/midgets/ that create comics.

First off, let me just say, I’m a woman. But I believe in artistic freedom and I support Mark Miller’s right to create the kind of comics he wants to make. And after reading about the offensive scene in question; the villain threatens rape, unzips his pants and…. that’s It?! Seriously?! Wow, the way you guys have carrying on about it, I thought maybe he depicted the actual rape. But I know what you’re thinking, “what about all those poor rape victims out there?” Well, somehow I doubt they’re reading or watching anything that may depict any kind of violence.

Plus I think it smacks of paternalism to think that female readers need special protection against certain ideas and themes. If I find something offensive, I simply don’t read or watch it, simple as that. And not all woman think alike or are offended by the same things. Also, if we’re going to worry about people being traumatized by things in comics, maybe we should stop depicting war violence and brutality. Wouldn’t want to trigger some war vet’s PTSD, now would we?

go read the bible and get back to me son.

Late for Dinner

August 25, 2013 at 11:15 am

I would have thought that Kick-Ass was a cautionary tale of the horrifying real-world consequences of becoming a superhero – namely, that you will ruin the lives of everyone you care about. But I guess it was just about being outrageous? Thanks for clearing that up, Mr. Millar.

“And some readers will be buying every torture variant cover for Crossed, no matter how disturbing. Hey, there are comics for everyone. I can appreciate the twisted creativity and black-comedy ridiculousness of it, although I don’t know if there’s any redeeming quality to the works. Part of me feels that after a while, whatever meager point about the excesses of human savagery (or whatever we can come up with) was made about three covers ago, if not two miniseries ago.”

The Crossed: Wish You Were Here webcomic is thematically interesting and features rich characters.

Yes, it also features a cow that shits a grenade. And that juxtaposition is what makes it all the more uniquely beautiful.

What MattComix said sums it up. Just lazy, shock-value writing. And also tedious… unless you still think the Joker’s sextillionth mass-carnage spree is “unpredictable.”

And yes, I am reading something else, thanks for asking… mostly independent books, comic strips, and Archie these days. (And not to respond to the troll above, but there’s plenty of LGBT folk producing or appearing in comics… just maybe not something with a guy dressed as a bat in it.)

Rinsmith, as a woman who has been raped, I have to say that I do enjoy some comics and movies that some people consider to be violent. And I did enjoy the first Kick Ass. But not this. Never. At all.

@rinsmith you nailed it

When society, or parts of it, try to regulate and decide what and how much of a form of entertainment is ‘acceptable’, inevitably things will fall on the side of censorship, and in our western countries that supposedly protect the freedom of speech and whatever, that’s just not a right you can protect partially or until it feels uncomfortable.

Shall we decide how much fictional sexual violence is acceptable in entertainment, because it may damage readers and/or cheapen the medium? Well, then let it not be said we are not congruent and live by double standards. Let’s identify all those cheap devices that hold no redeeming qualities for their art media

-Romantic comedies and Disney princess stories show unattainable ideals for both genders. This is a cheap shot.
-Zombie fiction (specially movies) has close to zero character development; people are just meat to be killed
-Rap, hip-hop, reggeaton and other cheapen music, care nothing about more sophisticated emotions and just motivate people to shake their booties
-Porn has a complete disregard of narrative and acting. It just takes cheap shots at depicting sexual acts and making people aroused.

I hope my examples were ridiculous enough to make my point clear.

As long as we are dealing with fiction, contents need no regulation whatsoever. On aesthetic grounds, the barometer will always be public taste, and the audience will give its money to what entices them, whether it is William Faulkner or Stephanie Meyer; Von Trier or Michael Bay; Bryan K. Vaughan or Mark Millar.

Comics, as an art medium, doesn’t need your worry or your regulation, although discussion is always healthy. The Industry of comics is another subject, with complexities of supply and demand. I hope that in this forum I need not explain the difference.

Great, another article complaining about an issue while not actually doing anything or even really suggesting HOW to deal with this topic. Bitching about something isn’t doing anything other than posting another article to make it seem like anyone is actually doing anything, all the while apparently oblivious of the fact that these kind of articles are making the issue AN ISSUE, something to be debated and argued about by people not willing to do anything because they have no ideas.

Meanwhile, these articles make publishers think that this is what the readers want, having rape/homosexuality/gender identity put into comics just to be there, while not actually addressing whatever hot button topic is trendy this week and really doing nothing more but perpetuating an oroboros like problem where people scream and shout about something they want changed while not actually doing anything but complaining about it.

It’s not that female readers need protection, rinsmith. It’s that many of us don’t like the glorification of violence toward women (particularly sexual violence). Certainly all women are different, but your ignorance is appallingly apparent in your post. Why are you so sure that women who’ve been raped or assaulted aren’t interested in reading comics? Considering that one in four american women are victims of domestic violence (not to mention all the other types of violence that women experience), it is statistically improbable that the audience doesn’t overlap. You’ve also shown your ignorance of PTSD, as it’s significantly more common among women than men (most people withPTSD are not war veterans). Your (and other posters’) complete dismissal of those who’ve experienced trauma is exactly why horrifying violence and victims used as cheap plot devices by writers and artists is so detrimental to society.

I’m not in favor of censorship. I am, however, strongly in favor of social pressure towards more moral behavior from those who influence our culture so profoundly. Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr., can produce whatever cheap schlock they like, but the fact that they’ve absolved themselves from the responsibility for what they’ve created doesn’t make them better artists. There’s no truth in violence that ignores the victims of violence, and work without truth is worthless.

Maybe I’m about to start another flame argument here, but I have to say this, Not all entertainment media is designed to leave you with a message. Sometimes, its just popcorn fun and action for the sake of action. I don’t relate to Die Hard and think, ‘I wish I could shoot up bad guys and blow up buildings with terrorists and thieves in them.’ I watch it and enjoy it for the fun movie it is. There is no message there to be had. I honestly hope I am never trapped in a building with and bunch of nasty gun toting bad guys. I’d probably find a dark quiet corner where I could cry and wet my pants alone. Sexual violence and sexuality is the same thing for me. I don’t watch it and look for hidden meaning or think how it relates to real life. I believe that people who are sick enough to do those types of things were sick enough to do them regardless of what the story showed. The psychopaths and sociopaths will come up with a way to act on their impulses with or without the entertainment industries stories. Anyone who believes that a movie, or a video game or a published book either with or without pictures is going to make one of these sicko’s do something they weren’t already planning to do anyway is fooling themselves. And in spite of the “Holier than Thou” majority trying to make us think we aren’t bright enough to tell the difference between real and make believe, I have faith that there are more of us intelligent people who do know the difference than society is willing to give humanity credit for. Get off the soap box and find a comfortable seat in a movie theater, watch the films for the entertainment value they are meant to be and stop trying to make villains out of story tellers who are just creating what they see us craving. If you don’t want to see them, don’t lay your money on the table. Box office dollars tell the producers what will and wont put butts in seats. Thats the only way you have to stop them.

I’d think that considering depiction of sexuality and violence have been an integral part of storytelling throughout history, it’ll likely remain forever difficult, if not impossible, to draw a line of where it becomes too much, or gratuitous to the degree of condemnable exploitation. But there was another aspect of this piece that caught my attention; that creators may have a subliminal need for their work to mean something, carry a message, or have something to say.

Such thinking wasn’t so prevalent in the 70′s, as an example, when I started my career in comics. Yes, we’d just come off of a GL/GA run of social relevance, but that school of comics wasn’t so much a basis for a personal creed for creators, as much as it was a coming-into-popularity corporate marketing trend. And while I knew a few artists and writers who were searching for that personal message their work should exude, most considered their profession as one of entertainment for its own sake. I actually can’t imagine an article carrying the thrust that this one does, as having any viable place in the comics community talk of that era.

It seems that we’ve come a long way since – and it is, in all honesty, refreshing and encouraging. I can sense the trepidation in Cory’s words when suggesting such a thought as Ali Ferzat voiced – and I think it reflects an interesting sign of the times. It seems that suggesting a creator’s work might have a personal expression or moral value, beyond being pop-worthy entertainment, to be perhaps both; 1) archaic in that it expresses a creator’s moral creed, within a culture that tries to blur such absolutism…and 2) may also reflect a more clearly visible reality emerging from a necessity that pop-culture sensitivities might have tried to suppress for too long.

Either way, I just enjoyed reading this piece, especially as it appears in what’s considered to be one of the better mainstream blogs. I can only strengthen Cory’s hand in continuing and developing this line of thinking as a basis for how a comics creation is in essence a representation of what the creators telling it have on their minds – and ultimately want to say to their readership and the world.

…oh, and sorry about the misspelling, Corey :)

A few pages before the not-so implied rape scene The Motherfucker guns down 4 toddlers and people are shocked at the rape.

If you don’t like it, don’t buy it. It’s as simple as that, download a sample or skim through it in the marketplace, if you don’t like it/ find it offensive/ whatever, then don’t buy it.

@exe
Thank you. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Americans will get mad at anything these days. I had no problem with the kids being shot or the off panel rape scene because Kick Ass is real life and if those villains were real they would have done that. The Toxic Mega Cunts wanted to be evil and let the world know it and what better way then killing a bunch of kids and gang raping a girl. Not to mention he is called the Mother Fucker. He isn’t going to be nice.

I think the facts and numbers speak for themselves. If we felt so consume about the violence, sex, and disturbing images that we are prone to seeing wouldn’t we feel victim to our own misfortunes? Of course. There has always been a fine line about talking what is right or wrong; respectful or disrespectful, etc. These are public figures. They should encourage discussion.

For example, when Dr Phil tweeted if its OK to have sex with a girl if she’s drunk(like totally!) he became a victim of his own self-abuse. Many Psychologists thought he panicked, that he IS a public figure and should have responded. He is a certifiable doc who can talk about the issue. But I don’t think the problem was the question. The problem was how he framed it.

Sensitive issues like violence are always going to be talked about no matter what. Some intentionally or not. I do welcome the kind of discussion, but it does come with a boundary. But should we freak out? I don’t think so.

When Communism fell in the Czech Republic, the country liberally extended pornography. The results? Crime was still around, except for one: sex crime. Sex crime fell drastically.

The point is that we have our principles in check. We see violence in every form of media nowadays. Are we seeing bad outcomes? Only if you believe that violence in our country at historic lows is not progress. Violence, poverty, inequality, health issues, etc are still going to plague a certain group or the country no matter what. But we are understanding better our role as our country. And that’s important. We know who we are. Our principles are in-check. That’s why believe we are better than anyone else, even if our ego takes a hit. That’s America.

Space Sheriff Gavan

August 25, 2013 at 3:44 pm

Kick-Ass (as with any other violent/sex-filled book) is suggested, intended and marketed for MATURE readers. 18 years old and above. I believe that creators should not be limited in how they want to portray the characters they created. If we want these kind of books to stop, we should just not buy them. Books and creators have their TARGET audience.

If you don’t like it, then don’t buy it. Content is sometimes dictated by number of sales.

At least Millar and Romita Jr. is doing it on the property they created. It’s theirs so let them be.

The real issue here is if kids will get their hands on these kind of books. but that’s another topic.

KICKA-ASS is outrageous, it’s extreme, IT’S DIFFERENT AND IT WORKS!!! i was a kid when i started to read comics and when I see a panel that depicts violence,I become afraid to imitate it because i already know the outcome. I LOVE BOTH KICK-ASS FILMS.

The way I see it is that Garth Ennis can use violence to make statements and entertain you along the way. Mark Millar thinks he is doing the same thing but is really doing some twisted form of gross-out comedy. Then there is Damon Lindelof who uses it to try to sexually arouse people.

I think Ennis does it right because of the shit he grew up with in Belfast while Millar and Lindelof have had comparably lame ordinary lives and don’t really understand violence.

I going to start off by saying I’m a huge fan of Millars work. I’ve followed everything he’s done up to this point, hell, I read what he reads. But I can see why people don’t like his writing of sex and violence, it’s brutal. But that is exactly what happens in the real world, brutality. Millar has stated numerous times that his comics, while sometimes executing crazy ideas, are mostly grounded in the real world. The real, brutal world. I love that. Real world physics in comics. Captain America gets beaten, he’s up again within seconds. Kick Ass gets hit in the face, it swells. He gets knocked out. If a super villain really did exist you think they wouldn’t do atrocious things? They wouldn’t murder innocents? Rape women? Hell, those people do exist in the real world.
It’s fair enough to not want to be reminded of these things. Ok. Fine. But they remind me how lucky I am.

Someday the “Outrageous” tank will run dry.

For me there’s a simple litmus test: would I feel comfortable reading it openly on a crowded commute train (as I have been known to do).

If the answer is no, that it is too sensitive and I’d feel uncomfortable unless I’m reading it in my alone time, then it’s crossed the line into violent porn.

No fair, you say? What about all those people reading 50 Shades of Grey or Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in the airport and on the subway? Well, that just proves my point. Comics, although literature, have an inherently different threshhold than a prose novel by virtue of being a visual medium. A rape scene or even a sexy consensual scene that is appropriately read in a crowded public space in a novel impacts personal space and sensibilities very differently when depicted in a graphic novel.

If I don’t want to read it in front of strangers, then it’s crossed the line.

“Don’t buy it if you don’t like it” only applies if you can read the issue before you purchase it. Buying digital, I’m not able to read before purchase.

Anybody here reading Bedlam? In my opinion, that is a good example of creative violence that leads to good questions and good storytelling. Millar is a dick, but I admit I’m a little torn on the real issue here.

Occam’s razor: Ennis and Millar are assholes that have profited mightily from nastiness of varying degrees of artistic merit. No different from Larry Flynt in the 70s, when his imagery of women in meatgrinders and molester humor shocked and offended, as it was designed to do.

It’s that the decadence isn’t balanced by much. The link on CBR to Kyle Baker’s commentary in his last issue of “Plastic Man”, on the grim nastiness of Didio DC, and the fact that Baker doesn’t work in comics, while you’re discussing rape, torture imagery, the depressing output of Millar…lookit, an honest pornographer like the “Girls Gone Wild” guy does the same thing as pornographers like Millar and Ennis, without the pretentions to art and gravitas.

Underground comix were transgressive because comics, especially post “Seduction Of The Innocent” were “wholesome”. Now that most comics are “heavy metal”, the shock value of “death metal” has no artistic fig leaf. It’s money shot fan service, period.

Discussing why comics is inhospitable to Kyle Baker is a better use of resources than in trying to lend legitimacy to violence porn that isn’t asking for it.

I’m a few years Millar will be of as much consequence as “The Young Ones” – forgotten British crap.

As long as it stays within the bounds of what the law allows then there should be no line of bad taste that should be crossed. There are plenty of comics with no sexual violence that are terrible pieces of art with no redeeming artistic features. That on it’s own should be no barrier to publication. We are all consumers and we have the choice in what we buy. If enough people want to buy comic books containing sexual violence designed on to shock then there will be comics doing this and like I say, as long as no laws are transgressed and the book is appropriately marketed then that’s perfectly okay. If you don’t like it, exercise your one genuine avenue of protest and do not buy it.

*that should no be crossed

“yup if you don’t like it then don’t buy it. the end.

on another subject l think we should complain about the lack of gay/lesbian/trans/midgets/ that create comics.”

Or how about we heap ridicule on complete idiots that make statements like this instead? Stick to masturbating to issues of “Crossed” instead of showcasing your so called wit…

I find myself getting angrier at the smug ‘get over it’ and ‘if you don’t like it, don’t buy it’ comments than the actual comic they are talking about.

But then, I ‘didn’t buy it’.

I’m a avid fan of horror films, I’m a avid fan of slasher films, I’m offended by the idea that violence for violence sake is the lowest common denominator.
I love sex and violence in entertainment, THAT DOES NOT MEAN I WANT THEM INTERMIXED
I don’t want to see rape
I don’t want to see castration
I don’t want to see pregnant women being butchered
I don’t want to see murder during sex

ENJOYING VIOLENT or SEXUAL ENTERTAINMENT DOES NOT MAKE US ALL SADIST OR PERVERTS, please stop generalizing, judgemental pricks

and im f##king tired or the smug “”if i dont like it than it should not be available for anyone”" attitude.
freaking narcissistic ass

If there is a message to Mark Millar’s work, it would be “Pay attention to me because I’m off my medication and I might doing something perverted in your backyard right now!”

I do mind some dark subject matter in my comics so long as it has a purpose. If you’re doing sex and violence just to get a reaction, then you just come off as childish at best. Plus, I prefer this stuff to be less consuming. DC Comics is perhaps the worst perpetrator with their over-the-top violence and sex appeal just to get new readers.. which is basically the same insecure, sexist man-children they’ve been going after for years now.

Miller is the comicbook version of a shock jock.That/ this is what he does. The fact that some people consider him more than that is what creates this fake controversy. If this stuff shows-up in a Roger Corman movie, no one cares or freaks out, because it’s Roger Corman. So why should we care what outrageous things happen in his comics, it’s not like he’s Neil Gaiman, it’s just Mark Miller.

I am seriously suspicious if the want to censor entertainment is real. The most popular shows on TV are among the most violent and sexually explicit in history. I think people want to say they are offended by sex and violence so to sound sophisticated and decent.

Stopped reading anything by Millar awhile back. While I enjoyed some of his earlier stuff it seems to me like he is just trying to outdo himself now and it’s gotten old. At this point he is just a shock hack. I don’t like it so i don’t buy it but I’m also gonna go ahead and tell people about it and hopefully help shine a light on something I think is crap.

Man, you know what we should do? CENSOR these horrible creators. Nobody wants to see all these perverted rape scenes, violence, blood and guts. If only someone would come along and forbid them from doing it. Oh but you know what? Some people are offended by the skimpy outfits in mainstream super hero comics. So if they don’t fix that, let’s ban those too. I know one guy who is offended by how the new Garfield book portrays cats, so let’s ban that too.
And on and on we go.
If you don’t like it, don’t read it. It’s not up to any of us to decide what should or shouldn’t be created. At all. Sure we might not like some of it, but someone out there does. Who cares if they enjoy reading twisted stories filled with horror/torture scenarios. If you don’t, stay away from it. Why try to push what you think on others?
Freedom of speech, art and expression. We get rid of these things, it’s a slippery slope.
If you don’t enjoy a certain kind of comic book, just stay away from them. There are thousands more on the shelves that you can enjoy without every peeling back the cover of one you do not. Thousands of others you can enjoy online. Nobody is forcing you to read what you don’t want to, why try to force your beliefs on others? ENOUGH.

Man, you know what we should do? Trot out straw men. Nobody’s suggesting creators shouldn’t be permitted to write or draw “perverted rape scenes, violence, blood and guts.”

comics sales are so low these days, that someone can put out a shock value book and it rank pretty high in sales.

it is a niche, but when the total is so small, the niche looks much bigger than it would have years ago.

I agree with a previous comment that Millar is like a shock jock. Perfect analogy.

Also, I just wanted to thank Corey for this open-ended, thoughtful post. I also peeked at the comments and pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t all “it’s a free country! Why are you all so easily offended.”

The First Amendment protects all of our freedom of speech. If comic creators want to make sexist, racist, anti-semitic, pornographic, ultra violent, gay bashing, child raping, horrendous stories, in favor of genocide, they have every right to do so. If we don’t like it, then we should not buy it. Problem solved.

To the guy who said Garth Ennis and Mark Millar are “assholes that has profited mightily from nastiness of varying degress of artistic merit” :

Garth Ennis and his work should NOT be lumped together with Millar and his work. Have you ever read the Vertigo series “PREACHER” ? That is about much more than ultraviolence and shock value. It is beyond anything Millar can ever hope to achieve. (“OLD MAN LOGAN” is the only brilliant comic that Millar did, to me.)

And the mention of “CROSSED” in the article is incredibly ignorant. Yes, it has an abundance of depravity and gore and distubing moments, but it’s about more than that. It is about the survivors…it is about humanity struggling to deal with this horrible epidemic and hold on to their humanity in the process. A very psychological comic. At least, that is what the creator Garth Ennis intended it to be. Other writers (Crossed : Badlands is an anthology comic) have strayed from that intent, but as someone here said, “CROSSED : WISH YOU WERE HERE” by Simon Spurrier is more about characterization and depth than just mindless shock.

Pho said : “Show as much murder and mayhem as you want, but show the consequences. Show the girl from Kick-Ass 2 shuffling past abortion protesters as her mom escorts her into the local Planned Parenthood. If consequences don’t “fit in” with the rest of your story, maybe you should find something else for your characters to do. Don’t cheapen atrocities.”

Yes, Millar should have done something of consequence for her in the Kick-Ass 2 comic, but Katie Deuxma (the girl that Kick-Ass was obsessed with and she never returned any feelings towards him…and who The MotherFucker raped) was barely a footnote in that story. She was only in it for that scene. So I did not expect Millar to follow up with her in any way.

And someone said that no one cared about discussing this before the “Kick-Ass 2″ film was released : I thought the EXACT same thing. Where were the articles mentioning this when the comic book came out, CBR ?

Where are the articles discussing : The Joker ripping into a guy’s throat with his teeth and Joker going all LeatherFace by wearing his skinned-off face as a mask, and Starfire being sexually promiscuous in sexually revealing clothes, in comics that have no mature readers label in books that kids can have access to ?

Sex and violence in comics is nothing new, it’s been happening more and more since the 1980s. So this article feels like it has appeared extremely LATE.

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