§ Yesterday we introduced our new, fresh burning dumpster scale for kerfuffles, but on reflection we decided that a counterbalance for justice and mercy was needed, and we were inspired by the thoughts of Samwise Gamgee on the marches of Morder:
“For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: There was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach.”
So for kindness, beauty and empathy we’re introducing the Phail of Galadriel scale™. In The Lord of the Rings, The Phial was a crystal vessel filled with water from Galadrial’s fountain which reflected the light from Eärendil’s star, thus preserving the the light of the Two Trees via Ëarendil’s Silmaril and casting the light of Westernesse into a ruined world. Good times!
§ First off, Comicosity has been running a #MakeComics week with advice on art, writing, editing, freelancing, tabling and everything else you need to know to #makecomics, from a bevy of industry experts. It’s a really really excellent piece that should be bookmarked. We rate this FOUR Phials!
A bunch of think pieces about the matter of the day!
§ Paste Magazine made like a grown up and apologized for their bad headline the other day. Paste is one of the most excellent culture sites out there, and this was but a small blip in a good track record so let’s just forgive and move on:
Our mission is to promote and draw attention to books that deserve a brighter spotlight, whether published by the Big Two of Marvel and DC or self-published by a first-time creator. That doesn’t mean we shy from researched, well-considered criticism, but we don’t devote many column inches to tearing down titles we don’t like, and we aim for quality evergreen analysis over hastily written-up breaking news.
I rate this one dumpster fire because with a little care, the apology would never have been made.
§ Comics Alliance’s Andrew Wheeler weighed in on the current war between readers and professionals with a long piece called Where Have All The Good Men Gone? Thoughts On Superhero Fandom that goes all the way back to the beginning to suggest that comics were created as heroic representation for their Jewish creators (mostly true) but comics of the 80s that overthrew these heroes, like Watchmen, were created by more privileged creators who didn’t need heroic tropes as much. A provacative thesis. But new fans are brought in by films and tv, particularly the Marvel films, which are more optimistic, and are saddened by what they find:
Here is the source of the tension in superhero fandom. A new and growing audience wants stories like the ones they’ve seen on screen; stories that harken back to the ideals of heroism fostered by the likes of Superman creators Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel. At the same time there is an established audience that find idealism corny; an audience that can comfortably sneer at heroism because it does not need heroes, and can glamorize violence because it does not fear violence. So while Marvel Studios has been reaching out to new audiences — at least in the types of stories it tells, if not in the types of characters it centers in those stories — Marvel Comics has been stuck in a strange rut. Just about all of its major event storylines since the mid-’00s have been about heroes mistrusting and fighting other heroes. That’s the basic pitch of House of M, Secret Invasion, Avengers vs X-Men, Original Sin, Axis, Time Runs Out, both Civil Wars, and many more stories besides. There are also Marvel comics that put virtue first, like Ms Marvel, Thor, and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, but the predominant narrative is that heroes must always fight heroes, and there are no real good guys.
There’s a lot to unpack in all of this and I’d disagree in two fundamental ways: the 80s disruption was as much a rebellion against the infantilizing Comics Code and the lack of creators rights in the industry as an overthrow of the heroes of a marginalized people. And, to be brutally honest, if your looking for female representation, Marvel Comics of 2016 are lightning years [sic] ahead of the MCU, where having two women on the same superhero team talking to each other is still a risky idea. Also, people were sick of the “heroes get changed for cheap drama” trope as far back as 1985, when I wrote this cover story, so this protest itself is yet another of comics endless cycles.
Wheeler goes on to defend calls of fans for more representation from charges that this is an aspect of “fan entitlement”:
The new superhero fans want to be included, and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be. Yet if fans dare so much as create a hashtag like #GiveCapABoyfriend, they’re scoffed at, sneered at, dismissed as “entitled.” Creators and editors should welcome these readers, but instead they act like they’re under siege. They deride the fans and belittle their concerns; they place their creative integrity in opposition to the possibility that art can respond to culture; and they use the horrible behavior of the worst kinds of fans to dismiss the views of any critics. We should all be united in condemning the use of lies, threats, and harassment to advance an agenda, but that censure should be directed at those responsible if it’s going to have weight; it is not meant as a silencing tactic.
Obviously, comics need to be more progressive, but a story where Cap is revealed to be in a same-sex relationship needs to come from a creative place of conviction and belief, not focus group testing on tumblr, no matter how well intentioned, because that’s going to be a fairly crappy story otherwise. Nowadays we laugh and cringe at the horrible cliches of the original Power Man character, but the writers and editors actually thought they were creating a strong black character in a time when readers wanted that. Conversely, Batwoman wouldn’t have been a good comic without the strong creative vision of Greg Rucka, and it’s impossible to imagine Ms Marvel with anyone by G. Willow Wilson writing it.
The biggest problem with the early comics that Wheeler is talking about is that they were, by most standards, awful, cliched and awkward. The MCU hasn’t produced any great movies, just great characters and a huge fanbase. Representation doesn’t automatically make good comics, even if it makes a better comics industry. And that conundrum can only be solved as an industry working together.
I rate this neither a phial nor a dumpster.
§ Finally, Comics Bulletin offers an unsigned editorial called Arguing in Bad Faith: The Online Debacle Surrounding Hydra Cap that attempts to make a call for civility.
So now, we have comics creators boarding the latest “Comics Journalism is the Worst” train and ignoring a website’s pretty decent track record with comics coverage because of a poorly worded headline. We have a section of comics fandom who now think that Marvel, Nick Spencer and anyone who sides with them are the devil. And we have the poor schmucks in the middle, who maybe see both sides but are inclined to lean one way or another, but don’t really want to open their mouths for fear out of being branded “the enemy” by one side or another. It’s a mess, and there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. One thing’s for certain: it’s hard to argue in good faith about comics anymore, and that bodes poorly for the online world of comics. Online comics discourse as a whole has become increasingly toxic and it’s killing the joy and enthusiasm both professionals and fans are supposed to feel about the medium. Part of this is the general nature of the internet, where snark, snap judgements, and cynicism rule over thoughtfulness, empathy and nuance. And part of it comes with the weird relationship that comes with cultivating a fandom. Companies want fans to get heavily invested in certain characters, but recoils when the fandom gets too invested. There’s no real solution to that without a total overhaul of these 80+ year old comics universes, which will never happen as long as there’s money to be made.
I’ll totally cosign on that, but I’m amused by the fact that no one could even sign their name to such a call for a cease fire for fear of being subtweeted, I guess. At this moment the comics commentary landscape resembles the battlefield in Warhorse, with everyone bunkered down and a horse tangled in bloody barbed wire running amuck in the trenches. I give this only one phial because absolutely no one is going to listen to it.
§ Oh hei, did you know some people still read comics? Elle Collins offers Classic Comics to Help You Escape the World.
§ And Graeme McMillan looks at some good comics coming in July.
§ Finally, Marvel may be awful, but they do offer a recipe for aCaptain America Inspired Bundt Cake just in time for the 4th. Enjoy!
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.