Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
This week, The Nib published a comic strip by artist Ronald Wimberly, whose work includes Prince of Cats and Sentences: The Life of M.F. Grimm, titled “Lighten Up.” In it, Wimberly details his experience of being asked by a Marvel editor to lighten the skin tone of supporting character Melita Garner in a recent issue of Wolverine and the X-Men.
Conventions | So you think Comic-Con International is too big? The Taipei International Comics and Animation Festival drew 330,000 attendees last year — its first year — and with Attack on Titan creator Hajime Isayama as a guest, this year’s show promises to be just as big. [Focus Taiwan]
Conventions | Crystal Gutierrez files a report on Albuquerque Comic Con, which took place over the weekend. [KRQE]
Comics | Gene Demby talks to several “thoughtful geeks” about race and superheroes, using as a starting point Orion Martin’s project in which the X-Men were re-colored to appear to be brown-skinned. Related: Writing for CBC News, Niigaanwewidam Sinclair looks at the depictions of indigenous peoples in comic books. [NPR]
“I don’t think Marvel or DC are racist, systemically, nor do I think that anyone there is, either. I am friends with lots of people at both companies and to a person, they’re terrific. Ultimately, people will hire the people that they know and in order to get to know them, you need access to them. I got my access through my day job as a magazine editor in Manhattan. Plus, I’m a dazzling urbanite. But if you’re a black kid living in Detroit or Tampa or Oakland, how do you get that access? How do you know which convention is the best for meeting editors? How do you know which bar to go to?
More importantly, if you’re that black kid (or Hispanic kid or woman of any color) why do you even want to make comics? The end product of decades of stories not told for a diverse audience is this: if the stories are not for you, you won’t read them; and if you don’t read them, why would you want to make them?”
– Marc Bernardin, who has written such comics as Static Shock,
The Authority and Wolverine, reflecting on the current discussion about the lack of black writers at Marvel and DC
“It would have been nice if we were past certain places in people’s hearts about race. That kind of surprised me. There was a lot of veiled weirdness. What I could completely appreciate is, ‘I love Peter Parker as Spider-Man, what the hell are you doing?’ Completely with you on that. When it goes into that area where they think it’s affirmative action, or like Glenn Beck said about Michelle Obama making us do this, that was weird. I did not expect that. What I was more mad about was this dismissive, ‘Oh, it’s only a comic book, who cares?’ thing that was coming out of Glenn Beck. I’m like, ‘Hey. Now you’re making me mad. This isn’t just a comic. This is pop art, man. This is our culture. How dare you, sir!'”
[AV Club]: You’ve employed a lot of female writers, in both seasons. That’s not true of a lot of other TV comedies. Was that a conscious decision?
Dan Harmon: It was conscious on the part of [former NBC programming head] Angela Bromstad, before she left NBC. Angela said, “Get more women on your staff. Make it half women.” I remember going, “Are you fucking kidding me?” to myself. “Okay, I got a sitcom, and this is as far as you go,” because I’ve just been told that half of my staff needs to be a quota hire. From the mouths of bureaucrats come the seeds of great things. I dug extra hard. You find somebody like Hilary Winston. You find people later like [Emily] Cutler and [Karey] Dornetto.
My son is 10 and a romantic, as all 10-year-olds surely have the right to be. How then do I speak to him of this world’s masterminds who render you a supporting actor in your own story? How do I speak of the Sentinels whose eyes melt history, until the world forgets that in 1962, the quintessential mutants of America were black?
—from a New York Times op-ed piece on Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class by Atlantic contributor Ta-Nehisi Coates. In the piece, Coates praises the film as “the most thrilling movie of the summer…narratively lean, beautifully acted and, at all the right moments, visually stunning” — and at the same time finds the makeup of the film’s mutant heroes and anti-heroes an unintentionally revealing glimpse into the American psyche. “Here is a period piece for our postracial times — in the era of Ella Baker and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the most powerful adversaries of spectacular apartheid are a team of enlightened white dudes.”
Coates elaborates on both points, and more besides, on his blog. “It is easily one of my top five comic book movies ever, and significantly better than any of the other X-movies to date,” he writes, even after comparing it unfavorably to the racially homogeneous but racially aware Mad Men and calling it “a period piece blind to its own period.” He also offers a quick take on the pros and cons of the film’s treatment of women, a point examined in depth by The Mary Sue’s Susana Polo.
Elsewhere on the “sociopolitical examinations of the latest X-movie” beat, ThinkProgress’ Matthew Yglesias agrees with a point of Polo’s and argues (twice) that Magneto’s out-and-proud Brotherhood of Mutants has a far more appealing message than Xavier’s accommodationist group; Ezra Klein disagrees, pointing out that Magneto’s agenda is a supremacist one, and wondering if the real dividing line between rival mutant camps would be one between those who could profit monetarily from their abilities (eg. Storm selling her rainmaking services to agribusiness conglomerates and drought-stricken nations) and those who couldn’t; and Adam Serwer connects the film with Avatar‘s enlightened-colonizer-goes-native storyline as “another example of the way the quest for racial innocence so permeates American culture that it’s almost unrecognizable.”
When DC Comics released its map of the World of Flashpoint this morning, fans began talking about it right away. What DC likely didn’t expect was the tone of that discussion. One of the largest complaints was readers’ quickly and strongly objecting to Africa’s being labeled as “Ape-controlled.”
The first comment on our post about the map, for example, was “‘Ape controlled’? Racist much?” And though other commenters were just as quick to point out that Africa is the home of Grodd’s Gorilla City, the expansion of which will be the subject of one of the Flashpoint mini-series, the wording of the label is undeniably unfortunate. Commenters also point out the mention of the “Asian Capital” that suggests to them a lack of awareness of the diversity that exists on that continent.
It’s not only Robot 6 commenters who are discussing the issue. The conversation is also being had at the Comic Book Resources forums, Comics Alliance, and undoubtedly other places I haven’t discovered yet. Comments range from the relatively benign (“It’s almost as if DC wants to start racial controversy”) to outright accusations of racism and misogyny.
Others have noted that even if no intentional offense was meant (and honestly, does anyone really believe that it was?), in addition to a lack of sensitivity, the map also betrays a lack of imagination. Gorillas in Africa, Nazis in South America, and pirates in the Atlantic — for example — are standard tropes in adventure stories. Even Alaska as “Land of the Undead” has me wondering if we’re going to see a 30 Days of Night crossover. I’m guessing that familiar clichés are exactly what DC’s going for, but I understand the complaint that some of these stereotypes could use a second thought and another look.
On the other hand, it strikes me that the Amazons’ taking over Britain and declaring it New Themyscira is a pretty original idea. And I certainly wouldn’t suggest that a world full of talking gorillas, Nazis, pirates, merfolk and Amazons is a bad place to tell a whole mess of stories. It’s just too bad that it’s been overshadowed by another mess altogether. Especially since this isn’t the first time DC’s been accused of this kind of thing.
“Comics are so often seen as the province of white geeky nerds. But, more broadly, comics are the literature of outcasts, of pariahs, of Jews, of gays, of blacks. It’s really no mistake that we saw ourselves in Doom, Magneto or Rogue.”
–The Atlantic‘s Ta-Nehisi Coates on the influence of superhero comics on hip-hop culture and marginalized people in general. “I tell you [Jim Shooter’s writing in Secret Wars] was Faulkner to me,” he says. “I’m 35 years old, and I’m still walking around saying to myself, ‘The Beyonder himself is close at hand…'”
There’s so much I find fascinating about Vaneta Rogers’s Newsarama interview with Steel #1 writer Steve Lyons that I hardly know where to begin. I suppose I’ll start by saying that there’s a lot to be excited about in the comic, which kicks off DC’s “Reign of Doomsday” event. For example, I’ve long argued that Steel is one of the most undervalued characters and designs in DC’s pantheon. Iron Man’s powers, Thor’s hammer, Superman’s cape, and an African-American folk hero’s name? That’s pure gold. And seriously, what a great design: The Alex Garner cover to the issue — itself part of DC’s genuinely awesome iconic-cover line-up for the month of January — is practically payoff enough. Plus, in a genre often (and accurately) decried for its lack of strong non-white heroes, John Henry Irons is an armor-clad, hammer-wielding, ‘S’-shield-wearing super-genius whose role in Metropolis’s scientific and business community is basically “the anti-Lex.” Tough to top that.
Similarly, at nearly two decades’ remove from the controversial “Death of Superman” storyline, I’m much better able to appreciate Doomsday him/itself. He’s no longer just the out-of-the-blue newcomer who got to deliver the coup de grace to the Man of Steel over more “deserving” villains like Lex Luthor (and set sales records in the process). Rather, he is to the villainous side of the superhero genre what the Hulk is to its heroic half: The power fantasy in its purest form, i.e. giant unstoppable guy pounds the crap out of everyone in his way. On an inner-eight-year-old level, that’s a thing of beauty. And remember how in his original appearances he slowly shedded a Kirbyesque jumpsuit-and-goggles look to reveal badass bone spikes and claws jutting out of every possible place on his body? He’s basically a microcosm of the direction of the entire superhero genre from that period, a walking symbol of ’90s excess at its boldest and best. Finally, in story terms, he accomplished the pinnacle achievement for any DCU villain: He killed Superman! Okay, so he got better, but still. As I believe Geoff Johns has argued, Doomsday’s name alone should scare the crap out of every character in the DC Universe. As such he’s a terrific basis for a crossover event.
Publishing | Eiichiro Oda’s blockbuster pirate manga One Piece has sold 32.34 million copies in 2010, more than double what it sold the previous year. According to Japanese market survey company Oricon Communications, the series’ five newest volumes have sold a combined 12.5 million copies. [Anime News Network]
Publishing | Comico co-founder Gerry Giovinco weighs in on an eBay listing that includes original artwork apparently left in the stewardship of his former partners Dennis and Phil LaSorda when the company went bankrupt in 1990: “It always was Comico policy to return all art to the creators. If there is art that was not returned, we are in total agreement that it should be returned to the rightful owners of the work. If you are a creator that believes your work could be among this lot, we would suggest you fight to get it back.” [CO2 Comics Blog]
“I’ve always wanted to diversify the DCU, but usually when I do it, James Robinson comes along and kills them all. [Laughs] But certainly we try. To me, I look out the window and see all kinds of people walking down the street, and I want to see that reflected in the superhero community. I’m sure a lot of readers would like to see themselves represented as well. It’s always been a focus of mine to widen the scope of DC’s characters internationally and ethnically.”
Meanwhile, you’ve already made CBR’s Bat Signal column regular reading, right?
Amid all the talk about DC’s treatment of non-white characters, it sounds like they’re banking on a certain Latino teen superhero in a big way. Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns tweeted yesterday that the company is working on a live-action Blue Beetle series.
BLUE BEETLE NEWS from DCE!! We have a live-action test of Jaime Reyes’ scarab activating his suit. It. Is. Awesome. Blue Beetle’s going to appear in most of the Brave and the Bold’s this year and we’re hoping to develop a live-action show. Fingers crossed! If I can break it out of the vault, I’ll bring it to SDCC. LIVE ACTION BLUE BEETLE!!
All caps and double explanation points indeed.
For what it’s worth, I’ve thought for a while that the Jaime Reyes incarnation of the Blue Beetle was the legacy character with the most staying power for one reason: Instead of just being a new guy with the same basic look and power set, he’s as different from his predecessor Ted Kord as the now-legendary Silver Age Flash and Green Lantern were from their Golden Age antecedents. It’s nice to see that he’s got some legs, no?
“It’s so hard for me to be on the other side because it’s not our intention. There is a reason behind it all. We don’t see it that way and strive very hard to have a diverse DCU. I mean, we have green, pink, and blue characters. We have the Great Ten out there and I have counter statistics, but I won’t get into that. It’s not how we perceived it. We get the same thing about how we treat our female characters.”
–DC Senior Story Editor Ian Sattler on the perception that non-white characters (eg. Ryan Choi) are being removed to make way for their Caucasian predecessors, at the DC Nation panel at HeroesCon.
Take it away, Denny O’Neil:
With its unique blend of Marvel-minutiae mastery and near-total frankness, Marvel Executive Editor Tom Brevoort’s Blah Blah Blog on Marvel.com tends to be an extraordinary document even on days when it’s not touching the third rail of fanboy politics. But in his most recent post, Brevoort does exactly that, addressing the question of why, despite having a great big universe at its disposal, Marvel’s comics tend to star white dudes from the U.S. of A.
Responding to a reader question regarding the difficulty of sustaining books with international leads, like Captain Britain & MI:13 or Alpha Flight, Brevoort expands the issue, likening the situation to the plight faced by “series with female leads, or African-American leads, or leads of any other particular cultural bent”:
Because we’re an American company whose primary distribution is centered around America, the great majority of our existing audience seems to be white American males. So while within that demographic you’ll find people who are interested in a wide assortment of characters of diverse ethnicities and backgrounds, whenever your leads are white American males, you’ve got a better chance of reaching more people overall.
Interestingly, Brevoort seems to view “American” as a far more key component for a book’s success than “white” or “male”: He goes on to speculate that books whose leads are black or female and American will have an easier go of it than books whose leads are white and male but foreign.
There’s an awful lot to chew on in there, from the assessment of Marvel’s audience to the characterization of their interests to the comparison of international characters with women or minority characters to the whole chicken-egg question of which came first, the demographic or the subject matter. Is Brevoort’s analysis a common-sense observation, a self-fulfilling prophecy, or something else entirely? What do you think?