Matt Wilson was kind enough to ask me to participate in a discussion about genre comics on my favorite comics site. I came back with an extended essay that might be of interest.
The same Batgirl-clad fan who made appearances at many DC panels over the weekend asked why there aren’t more female creators on DC titles. DiDio said that DC Comics hires the best writers and artists they can, to much applause from the audience. Morrison quipped that he looks great in a dress, to which the questioner responded, “I appreciate you trying to brush me off.” Morrison then encouraged women in the audience to submit their work to DC.
I legitimately believe that DC isn’t looking for male or female creators: they are looking for people that are willing to churn out the exact work that Dan Didio’s editorial reign seems to demand. This means sticking to the people that have already proven themselves valuable to the company in one capacity or another. Look at the lineup of creators in the “New 52″ and you’ll see many, many familiar names from the last two decades.
DC’s retrenching is not nearly as radical as they want you to believe. Yes, they’re retooling characters and concepts a bit, but they’re not bringing in new voices. There is there simply no good business reason for them to do so; the linchpin of their strategy is digital distribution and not a creative renaissance. Do I wish it were the latter? Yes, I do, but it can’t be because their business isn’t strong enough at this time to be able to take the occasional flyer that allows real growth for the genre.
None of this excuses the hiring imbalance, but it does show that to the top brass, it’s not as simple as “hire some women, please.”
(Also, if you want your questions about gender and hiring policies at DC to be taken seriously, perhaps asking them when dressed as one of the company’s iconic characters isn’t the best way to go about it. You should hold your convictions strongly enough to put your name and face on them.)
Because comics do exactly this sort of thing better than any other medium, and this sort of thing is at the heart of what makes Batman: Year One seminal.
“The television——still hasn’t hit the street——”
I’m sure there is. I mean, if there were no reason, then we’d have one, right?
(Seriously, though, I’ve been re-re-reading the original material and it’d be perfect for the 15-minute slots they’ve been using for the last few years or, even better, as a half-hour companion to The Venture Brothers. Someone needs to get on that. Or tell me to get on that and give me money. So much money.)
“If you do a black character or a female character or an Asian character, then they aren’t just that character. They represent that race or that sex, and they can’t be interesting because everything they do has to represent an entire block of people. You know, Superman isn’t all white people and neither is Lex Luthor.”
A lot of comics creators (and readers) use the most benign platitudes when it comes to race and gender in superhero books. They say that it doesn’t matter if the latest incarnation of a legacy character is black or white or asian, that it’s not important to the story if Black Manta is a woman this go-round or whatever. Because, you know, people are people, you know?
Dwayne McDuffie was hard-headed and impassioned enough to say “Yes, it does.” He brought the experience he had as a black kid growing up in Detroit in the 70s and 80s to every project he got his hands on by choosing directly not to emulate what he’d seen in the comic books he read, but by creating what he wished he had read.
I’m not going to pretend that I enjoyed all of his work but even when he missed the mark, the lessons he wanted to impart and the world he wanted superhero comics to inhabit were right there in high-gloss digital color on the page and in the numerous animated projects he scripted and produced. Even more than what we saw in the product, McDuffie was fearless, forthright and passionate when it came to his convictions and beliefs, whether he was speaking to fans or the the upper management at Marvel and DC.
He wore his storytelling heart on his sleeve and comics needs more of that. Pop culture needs more of that.
We’ll miss you, Dwayne. Bless.
I avoided the reprint hardcovers because our apartment is currently choked with massive archival tomes, so the Bloom County app for the iPad has been a real godsend. Outside of a few issues with sizing — there’s some jaggies that are very apparent in the lettering at its default size — it’s a perfect example of content and pricing* hitting a sweet spot with $8 getting you a year of the strip, a much better value than the $2-3 that’s generally being charged for a single issue of Wolverine: Origins or whatever.
So, you know, recommended or whatever.
* Especially considering the fact that IDW’s oversized books retail at $40 a pop and collect two years of material.
Again, this is not a definitive “best of” sort of thing, just me talking about things I quite liked in 2010 while trying to avoid what I’d consider obvious contenders (Acme Novelty Library and the final volume of Pluto, this means you.)
Yes, there’s a few comics I own but haven’t read yet (X’ed Out) or have been meaning to catch up with (King City) and a few superhero comics I’ll kick myself for not mentioning (Batman and Robin and Batman: Incorporated, Thor: The Mighty Avenger and Jeff Parker and Gabriel Hardman’s Hulk and Atlas work,) but here’s some things that really jumped out at me and grabbed my attention.
Moving Pictures by Kathryn and Stuart Immonen
At this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, while standing about six feet from them, I declared that Kathryn and Stuart Immonen were the Jackie and John Kennedy of comics. The thing is, the person I was speaking with got it immediately: the restraining order level enthusiasm I have for the pair and their work is earned in spades and while both is a noteworthy creator on their own, together, their collaborative works are just plain sublime.
Moving Pictures uses the art world’s underground railroad during World War II as a backdrop, but the real story lies between two people on opposite sides of the effort. Ila and Rolf’s interactions may recall a hundred other fictional opposites, but the Immonens’ unique ability to pull emotion from spare scripts and deceptively minimal art, along with their trust in one another and their belief in the audience demands a level of engagement from the audience that is bracing and welcome.
Love and Rockets New Stories Volume 3 by Los Bros Hernandez
I’ll just add my voice to the chorus: “Browntown” is likely the best comic that Jaime Hernandez has done, period. The fact that it’s bookended by Gilbert’s masterfully bleak sociosexual sci-fi story of first contact, “The Love Bunglers” makes this possibly the highest-potency dosage of quality comics that came out this year. Like the Coen Brothers are for film, I am pretty convinced that I could read just comics by Los Bros Hernandez and feel immensely satisfied.
I wanted to avoid mentioning reprints, particularly expensive large-format volumes that are already out of print, but reading all of Planetary in one dose reminds us that Ellis believes in people despite his curmudgeonly reputation. While Jakita Wagner kicking the shit out of anything that hoves into her view is my primary fetish when it comes to the title, getting an oversized look at John Cassaday’s development as a sequential artist free of the occasionally-year-long delays between issues is a genuine pleasure.
Peepo Choo by Felipe Smith
Felipe Smith’s three-volume manga from Vertical is insane and sexist, culturally obnoxious, and is likely be the work of a mad genius. Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before: an otaku obsessed with a bizarre anime, a wannabe gangster comic shop manager and his boss, who happens to be a bondage-clad murderer for hire, go to Japan and find out something about themselves as they engage in adventures that involve a buxom teenage model, a criminal syndicate and lots and lots of violence. Originally published in Japan by Kodansha but with barbs aimed at both sides of the Pacific, Peepo Choo is gross, cruel, smart and generally in exquisitely poor taste, even as it displays a surprising amount of heart.
It’s the sort of book that pushes the edge of commercially-viable manga and while I don’t want every comic to follow in its footsteps, I do think that the medium needs need more message-laden slaps to the face.
Elmer by Gerry Alanguilan
It’s a story of a twenty-something’s panic and journey of self-discovery after the death of his father, except that the lead character and most of the cast are sentient chickens. It’s terrific.
David Uzumeri of Comics Alliance asked for help getting the word out on his campaign to get Quislet elected as Legion president and I was more than happy to help. Quislet is amazing. Go vote!
What makes this comic really work for me is the way that it’s actually a very simple, very familiar story told well. Amidst the main plot (Thor’s thrown out of Asgard, has to work his way back into his Odin’s good graces), his relationship with Jane Foster and how it’s growing has really gotten its hooks into me in a way that’s never happened with previous iterations of the character. He’s headstrong and in search of answers when he doesn’t even know the question and she’s patient and up for anything if it means helping him while still remaining her own person. Langridge and Samnee’s deliberately slow pacing in their relationship is modern and endearing and it makes me wish that more superhero comics were willing to treat the subject with such relative subtlety.
From the 1989 book Pet Shop Boys, annually. here’s a look at vocalist Neil Tennant’s career at Marvel Comics’ UK offices in the 1970s. I’d normally post this sort of thing over at Disco Potential, but this features confluence and synergy with my medium of choice, so here we are.
This is from Garth Ennis’s Hitman, a series which helped cement Ennis’s reputation among fans as a writer that hates superheroes and views the genre with no small amount of cynicism:
This is from the second issue of J. Michael Straczynski much-hyped Superman run. In an interview with Comics Alliance, Straczynski stated that the point of his storyline was that it:
[...] humanizes him, puts him within our reach, and just that alone affects both sides. Flying over the country at several times the speed of sound, you miss the details, you miss the personal stories happening down below you where you could be of use.
Here is Superman helping someone who is suffering cardiac problems:
“What can I do to help? I mean, besides using my powers to help get you to the hospital quickly. That’s outside of spec for this freshman year, ham-fisted soul searching that I’m supposed to be doing because the famous guy writing me has completely missed the point of my character.”
Update: Doctor Scott has the medical POV on this scene
You can’t overestimate his importance to the modern comic book or overstate his impact on writers of all stripes, so I’m not even going to try. He was the first guy to do what he did and he did it better than anyone.
From Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 01.
An excerpt from a long, long email Mamet wrote to the writers for The Unit, a show he made for CBS.
REMEMBER YOU ARE WRITING FOR A VISUAL MEDIUM. *MOST* TELEVISION WRITING, OURS INCLUDED, SOUNDS LIKE *RADIO*. THE *CAMERA* CAN DO THE EXPLAINING FOR YOU. *LET* IT. WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERS *DOING* -*LITERALLY*. WHAT ARE THEY HANDLING, WHAT ARE THEY READING. WHAT ARE THEY WATCHING ON TELEVISION, WHAT ARE THEY *SEEING*.
IF YOU PRETEND THE CHARACTERS CANT SPEAK, AND WRITE A SILENT MOVIE, YOU WILL BE WRITING GREAT DRAMA.
IF YOU DEPRIVE YOURSELF OF THE CRUTCH OF NARRATION, EXPOSITION,INDEED, OF *SPEECH*. YOU WILL BE FORGED TO WORK IN A NEW MEDIUM – TELLING THE STORY IN PICTURES (ALSO KNOWN AS SCREENWRITING)
THIS IS A NEW SKILL. NO ONE DOES IT NATURALLY. YOU CAN TRAIN YOURSELVES TO DO IT, BUT YOU NEED TO *START*.
I CLOSE WITH THE ONE THOUGHT: LOOK AT THE *SCENE* AND ASK YOURSELF “IS IT DRAMATIC? IS IT *ESSENTIAL*? DOES IT ADVANCE THE PLOT?
Designed by Amanda Conner, Sculpted by Jack Mathews.
Designed by Adam Hughes, Sculpted by Jack Mathews.
(To be fair, Hughes designed this pretty boss version of Barbara Gordon in costume as well.)
In which I get a little self-righteous and claim I know more about Batman than the people writing and editing his comic books.23 Comments | Posted: February 19th, 2010 | Filed under: Thinking About Comics | Tags: batman
Here’s a sequence from this week’s Streets of Gotham written by Mike Benson and drawn by Dustin Nyugen, in which Batman tortures an innocent man to get some information:
As you can imagine, this pinko liberal has issues with this scene:
- Batman does not believe that people give up their rights. That is what makes him different from The Punisher, Wolverine, Bloodfucker, Kickblade, whoever. At the character’s core is a belief in justice and due process. This is why The Joker goes to Arkham or Harvey Dent gets to defend himself in court and could theoretically walk free. This is, of course, purely a storytelling mechanic that’s been fleshed out as a core component to a character over the years, but that’s how it is and that’s how Batman should be written. Batman’s open to a huge variety of interpretations and that’s one of the reasons that the character works for me: Batman is still Batman as long as he adheres to certain tenets, and one of them is that the justice system applies to everything he does, even if he works outside of it.
(And yes, Frank Miller’s snappy line about rights from The Dark Knight Returns is a great bit of black comedy in the middle of a raucous satire. It is not a basis for How Batman Is.)
- Batman does not torture lightly, if at all. He will terrify, he will defend himself, he will subdue, he will not just slam someone’s head against a table and demand answers, especially if there’s a chance the suspect is innocent. In The Dark Knight Batman goes to pretty extraordinary measures to try to get answers out of The Joker, a man he knows to have committed several murders. It’s an unpleasant, tense scene that’s heightened by the fact that Batman is at the absolute limits of self-control. Gordon even notes that “He’s in control” at one point just before it goes wrong and Batman blocks the door and things get hairy.
It’s important to note that the differences between that scene and this one are myriad: The Joker is an intelligent, cunning psychopath and Roland Davis is a bog-standard Gotham City heavy on which they have no evidence at all. Batman’s actions against The Joker are a last-ditch effort in The Dark Knight whereas torture is presented here as the first option. Gordon’s complicity in a warehouse interrogation in which a suspect is beaten is just as wildly out-of-character for him as Batman’s brutality against a man they’ve not even properly questioned is for the Dark Knight.
- The man is proven innocent at the end of this whole story and not the slightest thought is given to this interrogation and how both the Gotham Police and Batman ran roughshod over someone who had not committed a crime. Benson’s scripting is fairly rough throughout the issue, but to ignore this entirely strikes me as a nearly intentional obtuseness about what is right and what is wrong. Readers accept a certain amount of legal flexibility in Batman comic books, but to out-and-out drop an innocent man’s beating at the hands of a costumed vigilante is sloppy and counter to the themes that have been an established part of superhero comics for years.
This is part of an ongoing trend that I find a bit bothersome. Chris Sims talked about the previous issue and how Batman came close to signing off on a murderer because he was killing bad people. Cry For Justice features the Justice League keeping their villains in stasis as a punishment, stripping their rights entirely for an indeterminate period. Marvel may have had a distinct Neocon bent with some of their material in the last decade or so, but they seem to have had some sort of story and thematic point to make with the ascension of Norman Osborne and his upcoming fall.
Maybe DC has something like this in its future, but that feels kind of doubtful right now.
(Also, yes, I know that’s Dick Grayson as Batman. The guy raised by Bruce Wayne is certainly going to follow in Bruce Wayne’s shoes when it comes to these things, isn’t he?)