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The Children Still do not Resemble the Parent

I’ve written about poor fan behavior more than once on this blog. This time I’m not here so much to talk about the specifics of their bad behavior, but about the behavior itself.

Years ago, Harlan Ellison wrote a troubling essay titled “Xenogenesis.” In that essay he recounted some of the horrible things that had been done to various writers… things that had been done by fans. I’ve never like reading this essay, precisely because it makes me wonder about my own behavior, yet at the same time that is exactly why I re-read it every time I go to a convention, because the truth is things have only gotten worse in the days since Ellison’s essay. Someone dressed in a Tribble costume shot Claudia Christian. Fortunately the gun was filled with blanks, but that doesn’t make what happened any “better.” A jackass in a yellow hat tried to “punk” Rob Liefeld at a convention, and then crowed about it on the internet. While it is true that a good number of individuals, fans and pros, came down on him for his idiocy, a great many people applauded his boorish behavior. Ethan Van Sciver had art stolen off his table at a convention. At Dragon*Con this past weekend a bunch of “bros” felt the need to shout “Wesly Crusher!” upon seeing Wil Wheaton.

The fact that Mr. Wheaton had an otherwise enjoyable experience beyond this incident is not the point. The point is that the incidents never should have happened at all, and the behavior gets even worse when we look at the internet.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen ignorant, hateful comments directed at comics professionals on places like Bleeding Cool or Newsarama. The calls for harassment and violence, be that toward the yellow hat-wearing jackass, or even someone as despicable as Rob Granito, are also a frequent, troubling part of our discourse. And a non-existant Heaven help you if you fire back. When Mark Waid went off on Granito there were people taking umbrage at what Waid did. Because obviously someone getting up set because Granito was trying to bolster his own rep by namedropping a recently dead man’s name is just so unbelievable.

Even more troublesome than the behaviors themselves are the fact that these people are more and more our face. When I do check a story on a comic’s site, it is this kind of behavior that I expect to see. We could certainly try going the No True Scotsman route and denying ownership of these individuals as part of our community, but what does that do to address the problem? The same is true of simply saying, “these assholes are the exception, most fans are great.” Because even if it is true that these assholes are the exception, they are still what people see when they see our community. These members of our community alienate us from professionals, from each other, and from people who might want to participate in our community.

As a community we need to make it understood that we will not be tolerant of certain behaviors. People are still free to say what we want, but we need to make it clear that we simply won’t tolerate their behavior. I know the geek creedo is supposed to be all about inclusiveness, despite the fact that geek culture is and always has been cliquish, but lines have to be drawn. If fanboys want to piss in the pool I see no problem with making sure it’s their own, isolated pool they do it in.

The rest of us also need to remember that no matter how much money we spend, no matter how invested we become in these stories and characters, we’re not actually owed a damn thing. Nothing. This doesn’t mean that creators, companies, and celebrities are above critique, or even of being the butt of a joke. I  happen to think Joss Whedon’s run on X-Men was one of the worst things I have ever read, and what I’ve seen of Firefly left me feeling that it was one of the worst shows to ever be on Television. I have no problem with saying so. That does not, however, entitle me to abuse Mr. Whedon either on line or in the flesh.

I am well aware that this is not a perfect world, and I am far and away from being a perfect person. There will always be assholes everywhere, and because there will always be assholes everywhere a portion of those assholes will be geeks. What we can do is our best to ensure that the worst elements of our community, both in person and online, are the outliers.

 
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Posted by on September 6, 2011 in Comics, Pop Culture

 

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Perhaps Inevitably, some Fanboys still don’t get it.

Apparently there was some brouhaha in the DC panels at SDCC. Said brouhaha apparently involved questions about why there were so few female creators, and female characters, being featured in DC’s big September relaunch (as well as in general). Though I’ve not heard said comments for myself, apparently the questions were not answered terribly well during the panels, and DC was prompted to make a statement.

Most of the opinions of DC’s response have ranged from cautiously optimistic (with some not-so-cautiously optimistic) to guarded pessimism that this is just a PR stunt, or that the books will simply be short lived. I’m generally inclined to side with the more pessimistic side of things; I don’t generally trust press releases, particularly not when they come about as the result of foot in mouth disease. Most of these comments, while I don’t always agree with them, have still fallen within the bounds of being reasonable. Some of them, however, have fallen squarely into the realm of bullshit.

I’m sure people are about to accuse me of having an agenda. So let’s set the record straight; while I’ve read more than my share of feminist writing, I am not a feminist. I’m a humanist and a philosopher, which means that I am not something that many of you fanboys are once again proving yourselves to be; narrow-minded asshats. My only agenda, fanboys, is not being like you.

Let’s kick off by demolishing claims that a good writer is a good writer regardless of gender or any other factor, shall we? I can write female characters. For that matter, I can write female characters well. I can do this because as a human being I both have the capacity for empathy and the ability to gain knowledge. I can observe what women are like. I can read things, both fiction and non-fiction, that has been written by women. I can talk to women and ask them about their experiences. With my capacity for empathy I can then, to a degree, create a female character that is not simply a flat representation, and might well be able to speak to women about the experience of being a woman.

However, I lack, and will always lack, understanding of what it means to be a woman. I’ve talked about this twice before, though it was in relationship to characters; however, it remains just as true when talking about actual people. For all my knowledge, and all my empathy, there is a limit to my ability to understand what it means to be a woman, because I am not a woman. I have not lived the experience of being a woman, just as I have not lived the experience of being black, or being gay. As such, a woman, or a black man, or a gay man, brings to the process of writing an understanding which I do not have, and this understanding, forged solely through their lived experience of being in the world, will inform and shape the stories and characters that they write in a way that is different from the way in which being a white, heterosexual male, raised in a lower-income family, and who came to formal education late in life will inform and shape the stories that I write.

No amount of talent, skill, genius, or any other name you care to give it will ever overcome this fact. Gail Simone, for example, will always have something that Gaiman (or Moore, Ennis, Morrison, Ellis etc.) do not have. This remains true even if I performed a female gender role, as I would still lack the phenomenological understanding of what it is to be pregnant (though it is certainly true that the experiences which informed my work would be different in other ways; however, that moves us into the larger role of gender roles and gender as performance as contrasted against biological sex [which many argue itself isn’t a simple binary system, and is itself constructed]).

This is true whether it’s male characters being written, female characters being written, or what genre said characters are appearing in. The inclusion of diverse voices means that you’re going to see different ways of handling themes, and different themes that are being spoken about (and spoken to). This is one of the reasons Moore’s early work was so fucking ground breaking; he brought a mind, and a voice, that looked at and spoke about things in a way that (for mainstream comics) was new. Not every writer, regardless of gender, skin color of creed is going to be the next Alan Moore. Yet the only thing that stifling diversity accomplishes is to stifle the ability of comics to change, grow, and improve.

We are both trapped and liberated by the experience of being human. This is something we need to understand and embrace.

So how about the claim that there just aren’t that many good female creators in comics? Feministing was kind enough to provide a short list. That’s 19 entries, and it still leaves off a lot of names; which makes the defense that the other three female creators that DC asked turned them down rather weak, since there were plenty of others they could have made an offer to. Not to mention that both Marvel and DC have made a habit of poaching writers from other sources in recent years. True, it gave us the excrement that was Whedon’s run on X-Men, but there are no talented writers working in Hollywood or writing novels that they could have asked? What about any of the female manga-ka whose works are already rather popular with readers; might one of their number have been interested in being asked? (The answer to that last question is that I have no idea, particularly since manga-ka are often ridiculously overworked. The point still stands that there are plenty of talented women who could bring their A game to comics.) There’s no need to “quota” hire in women who can’t do the job, as there are any number of women are perfectly capable of doing said jobs (and I imagine the same holds true of other under-represented creators).

Perhaps I’ve overlooked the fact that, “chicks don’t like superheroes.” My Twitter feed suggests otherwise. I follow any number of women who read superhero comics. For that matter I suspect they talk about them more than I do. Erika Peterman and Vanessa Gabriel of Girls Gone Geek are just two examples, and I damn well know my Twitter feed doesn’t cover even a fraction of the women who are interested in superheroes or other elements of geek culture. If it weren’t for the fact that superhero comics are often given the gendered identity of being for boys, I suspect that are even more little girls who would enjoy superheroes, and would then grow up to be women who dig superheroes. Yet despite what strides toward equality have been made, it’s still traditional to teach the girls that they should want to be princesses etc. while being a superhero or soldier is for boys. It’s a bullshit practice, particularly when for all the fanboyish whining there is no meaningful difference between an action figure and a Barbie doll, while there is a very meaningful similarity between the two; the fact that the majority of them are designed to play into and reinforce (frequently unhealthy) stereotypical depictions of masculine and feminine and what it means to be a man or woman.

This is the third time that Professor Bastard has had to take you to school over pretty much the same theme, fanboys, and I’m getting well fucking sick of it. You’re not right, and to say that your arguments are still made of the weakest of bullshit is an understatement of epic proportions.

 
 

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Of Agents and Ad Men

Over on Comic Related there have been a couple announcements about press/ad agencies opening up that are focused on comics, comic creators, and related properties. You can find the relevant bits here: Sequential Support has Arrived and here: Bonfire – A New Ad Agency for the Comics Ethnic Demographic. I’m not terribly thrilled with Bonfire’s use of “ethnic demographic” to refer to comic fans. Not that it’s entirely wrong, mind, but in common usage the word ethnic has particular connotations that don’t apply to the higgledy piggledy collection that is comics fandom. That’s not really why I’m here today, however, so I’ll be moving on.

What interests me about all this is that agents, press men, ad men etc. have never been very visible in the world of comics as a whole. Oh, the big companies certainly have them, I’ll not deny that. The currently available information about Bonfire is a bit scanty, so it’s a bit harder top speak specifically about them, but in general both of these companies seem to be shooting toward an audience of indie comics and even individual creators; Sequential Support in particular seems to be offering services that go beyond those of ad men/press managers, and which are oriented toward indie creators.

I’m curious to see how these endeavors work out. Like I said, this sort of thing has never really been that visible in the world of comics. The closest I personally have ever seen is various folks over at Digital Webbing proposing to put together “talent agencies” of one sort or another. Maybe these postings proved phenomenally successful and I simply missed it, but somehow I doubt that. One of the problems is that the indie comic world tends to be rather disorganized in certain respects; in particular a lot of people seem to want to leap in without having a lick of business sense. Of course I suspect that problem plagues any number of creative industries and their offspring (such as retail stores). There’s also the fact that some folks think they have what it takes when the actually don’t, but that’s a post for another day. Maybe having agencies like Sequential Support and Bonfire, presuming they’re run by people who know what they’re doing and not just hopefuls posting on a message board, will help to both strengthen and improve the quality of comics, particularly of the indie/small-press sort. While I’m not one of those to cry that the sky is falling, I also don’t think a good shot in the arm to shake things up a bit would be at all bad for the world of comics.

On the other hand, even if these sorts of agencies prove efficacious will they really catch on? Given that they haven’t really been part of the way things have been done, or have been done poorly, is there going to be resistance to this sort of thing? I don’t mean people actually protesting so much as people simply not turning to them for assistance.

Of course this is all just idle rumination on my part. Time will tell whether these two and similar ventures prove to be successful. I’ll certainly be keeping my eye on them, and perhaps I’ll even see about giving one of them a try.

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2011 in Comics

 

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