Blog Carnival: The Fightin’ Fans Vs The Censorious Critics

It’s blog carnival day! Whilst you eat candy floss and consider having a go at ducking the Dan DiDio, several different comics blogs will be writing on the same theme across the course of the next few hours. This blog, happily, will be one of them.

The topic for BlogCarnival 2015 (or Blarnival if you would to sound vaguely Irish about it) is:

Censors and censures: What’s the difference? What is the social utility, if any, of them? What to do about the strange reaction to criticism of comics, where it’s all perceived as threatening, even post-Code, with Frederic Wertham invoked at every turn? Why are so many people so defensive, so Team Comics, about a medium that’s enjoying a creative renaissance?  

Comics, dominated as they are by superheroes and autobiography, have always been a one-sided narrative. You have the heroic and justified on one side, and you have the villains on the other. Although some attempt at filling in those stages between outright protagonist and outright antagonist has been made at times, there remains a narrative both within the comics and within the industry which prides one side as always being the correct side.

It stems to some extent from Frederick Wertham, the original villain of comics. His writing of decades ago was incredibly compelling in building up an argument against comics which continues today. He argued that all kinds of devilry was encouraged within comics – that their violent and sexual content, their liberal attitudes and progressive (!) nature would warp your child and render them unto a monster. He basically got across the idea that comics needed to be controlled, or they’d take over and ruin childhoods permanently.

Although we say now that this was all silly and comics attempt to escape the “not just for kids!/not suitable for kids!” headlines on a weekly basis – the truth is that Wertham’s ideology remains within comics to this day, expounded by the strangest of people: the readership themselves. The fear of Wertham being proved right has been a motivator for fans to stand up against criticism and claim censorship at each turn: that every word written which criticises comics is in turn an attempt to slap a new ‘comics code’ onto the books. Fans whose parents weren’t allowed to read the dangerous comics of Wertham’s era have grown up with the idea that comics now need react to any attempt to rein control over them.

This has had the effect of actually making it harder to get new ideas into comics, and *actual* experimental projects or ideas have moved away from the comics store and onto the internet. Webcomics are designing the future of the medium, even if people don’t realise, and the people making waves today – Kate Beaton, Spike Trotman, Noelle Stevenson – are those who made comics in a separate sphere from those who write at Marvel, DC, Image and the like. As they move towards the comics store demographic, fans are having to realise that new voices have broken into the industry without gaining their approval – and that’s causing a disappointing fightback.

‘Mainstream’ comics, as they’re called for some reason, have been trained to react defensively to any new challenge – since Wertham managed to restrict the medium, fans and authors have wanted to prove that nothing will ever hold them back again. This led to some comics which went way over the line in their approach, and it also led to some of the strongest work in the medium. Right now, though, the comics themselves are being overshadowed by the people who’re buying them. The idea that Noelle Stevenson can come to comics from – as they believe, nowhere – is a shock, and it’s triggering an instinct to push back. When she writes about her perspective on comics, which isn’t based on the intensive insider mindset that many vocal comics readers seem to have, she gets yelled at.

Because in their mind, she’s an outsider, stamping her rules on comics as others did before. Because the current comics industry is heroic, she must therefore be the antagonist of this battle. And antagonists should always lose. That she and the many female creators who’ve found success at comics in new forms can actually continue developing ad progressing their work within the industry, building a fanbase? It’s counter to everything comics are used to.

The publishers are involved in this too, and have been for years. There are countless stories of creators like Dwayne McDuffie or Larry Hama being treated as second-class by the editors of their time, because their perspective on comics is different to the prevailing one which saw the medium survive Wertham. Christopher Priest was asked to mainly write African-American characters because he himself was African-American, and when he started writing white characters there was a fightback from readers. When Reginald Hudlin wrote a story where Black Panther beat Captain America in a fight, there was enormous outcry. A strong African-American male being written by a strong African-American man? This is censorship of reality.

These were views and stories coming from perspectives never before seen, and again – if you’re not a hero, you must be a villain, and the industry seemed convinced that these new voices were villains. Once more, everybody started fighting to keep their comics free from censorship and change – and in the process tried to stop them from progressing. The outsiders remained on the outside, and the insiders got to continue doing whatever they want. Readers and publishers were conspirators in forming a comics blockade.

Because the thing is: comics need a little censorship. They can’t just exist in a vacuum where nothing changes, and there’s nobody pushing necessary restrictions on work. We need for people to critique work, and we also need for the industry to work on censoring itself where necessary. The scars left by scalding, regressive censorship still remain on the industry, but that’s no reason for everyone to always be on the offensive. Maybe by listening to a little criticism – and censoring work in appropriate ways as a result – things’ll get a little less aggressive around here.

London Super Comics Convention 2015

A few bits and pieces from across this weekend, which saw London Super Comics Convention take place for, I think, the third time.

lscc

I went to the very first one, back when they were marketing themselves as having one giant guest at each year’s event, with Stan Lee being their first such guest. They’d booked out the ExCEL Centre (did I get the capitals right on that?) for the con, but the planning wasn’t quite in place in terms of layout back then. Stan Lee had a big panel area over in one corner, which this weekend had become panel area 2, and then across at the other end of the hall was artists’ alley. It was a bit of a hike between the two, and there was more focus on international guests than on UK creatives and studio comics, from what I remember. Also the food courts were mostly shut down and the International Zumba Expo was taking place next door.

This time round LSCC was the only event going on that weekend, it seems, and the food courts were open and selling their cheerily expensive wares to anyone. The event seemed to be much better in terms of layout this time round, in that they actually filled the hall with aisles and kept everything in a reasonably logical place. The first thing you walk into is the cosplay area, which took up a large corner of the hall. I think this was a pretty good idea, giving people in elaborate costumes a lot of space where they could walk around. I spent far less time almost getting stabbed out by people in spiky anime outfits than usual.

Cosplay was the big thing at the convention. Some professional cosplayers were in attendance and had a table for photos/autographs, and I’d say at least 15% of the crowd were wearing cosplay. On top of that, the big tournament at the end of the day was by far the most carefully planned-out part of the weekend, as sound and lasers and fog machines made their presence known to absolutely everybody in the hall. The big panel room was standing room only, and people were being turned away at the door. Cosplay is Big Business now, folks.

IMG_0252

I also finally got to meet a Pixie cosplayer, which ticks something else off my bucket list.

And in terms of business, the convention seemed to be making people back their money, at the very least, with some people doing even better. It seemed that everybody who had a stall near the end of their aisle did very well indeed, and perhaps a little further up people struggled more. I think this might be because LSCC is more about character than creatives, and I think many of those in attendance spent more time around the shopping aisles than the artists’ alley aisles. I say this only because there were active queues around the shops at all times, whilst creators sometimes had surprisingly short queues – Cameron Stewart would be expected to have a line of Batgirls on his table at all times, but it looked like you could talk to him with only a five minute wait or so.

Rachael Stott had sold out of most everything she had near the end of the first day, which is pretty promising. Last year she’d been attending as a fan, and this year was a VIP guest thanks to her work on the Star Trek/Planet of the Apes crossover book over at IDW. Stephanie Hans also sold out of her sketchbooks – I know that because I bought the last one she had.

People seemed also to be wandering between tables quite freely, as the UK scene has become quite close over the last few years. Sam Read shared a table with DoGooder Comics, for example, whilst Mike Garley had seemingly a rotating door policy where Martin Simmonds, Andy Clift and Josh Sherwell all came and went across the weekend. It was a very romantic time.

IMG_0251

The artists were all rather mixed up amongst the alley, so people like Mahmud Asrar, Stephanie Hans and Christian Ward were amongst UK studio press people like Kate Ashwin, Marc Ellerby and others. That also seemed like a rather good arrangement, and hopefully meant everybody got a fairer share of the attention than when conventions just stick all the Marvel artists in one corner and the UK press in another. Art Heroes were a table down from Jonathan Ross, for example.

And speaking of them, this was their last convention – Daniel Clifford says ever, I say until he grudgingly comes back to comics in two months time – and they seemed to be picking up attention as ever. I’m a fan of them both, so loitered around their table on and off, and saw loads of kids drawn over to that table. There were, in fact, loads of kids around in general, which is always a promising sign.

After Zainab’s report back from the Lakes Arts Festival last year I’ve tried to keep a better eye on demographics at conventions. LSCC seemed to be roughly 55/45 male/female attendance, and there wasn’t a noticeable wave of white faces everywhere. There were people of all ethnicities wandering around, several in cosplay (including a hugely impressive Blade outfit), and lots and lots of families. I think this is likely due to the location being London – one of the “biggest melting pots in the world”, as Eddie Izzard maybe once said, where people from all round the world come to live. The guestlist was centred around American comics, but the crowd reminded that the readership aren’t just fortysomething men anymore.

Again, promising.

IMG_0262

Mack, Sienkiewicz and Janson

I got to see two panels during my time – the Doctor Who comics panel, hosted by Titan, where they announced Neil Edwards as the artist for their upcoming three-Doctor-crossover event thingy. The acoustics in the hall were terrible, so it was very hard to hear some of the panellists, sadly. This was corrected by Sunday, but it did make the panel hard to follow at times. Rachael Smith’s cat-focused artwork seemed to go over well with the crowd, and Marc Ellerby picked up laughs from the audience. The opening talk with Cavan Scott and Al Ewing seemed largely inaudible, except for the prompts from editor Andrew James – who came across as bright and invested in the comics he works on.

The Daredevil panel on the next day had recovered the technical issues, and Bill Sienkiewicz, Klaus Janson and David Mack talked animatedly about the character – unlike some spotlight panels, this was one where the panellists actually seemed to care about their work. I’ve been to ones before where the creatives seem to be there because they had to be, but these three radiated warmth for the Daredevil character and his stories. The Q&A session was somewhat hit-and-miss, but you’ll hopefully be able to read that for yourself later in the week, as I should be getting that recap onto CBR at some point.

I was mostly there for a wander with chum and artist Fionnuala Doran, who got giddy over Astral Gypsy’s art-supplies stand and kept gravitating back towards it. We also hung around near – but never daring to go up to – Clay Mann, who is super swoony you guys. Ahem. I did buy a few things, being Stephanie Hans’ sketchbook and Gary Erskine’s Roller Grrrls sketchbook. I’ve seen him at conventions before, but always busy, so this was my first chance to actually say hi and chat for a while. Really enjoyed that conversation in particular, and I’m looking forward to reading more into the Roller Grrrls project in general.

IMG_0266

I booked my train really poorly on Sunday, meaning I had to bolt off at lunchtime in order to head up North. But I enjoyed the convention a lot! It felt rather relaxed, with the big open space at all sides meaning people could stand aside and catch their breath whenever they wanted. Having been in 2013 and now 2015, it was nice to see the steps forwards that the convention-planners have made over the last few years, and it seems like a positive, supportive environment for comics fans of all ages.

So it was pretty good!

Si Spurrier Announced as Writer of… The Spire??

So I guess I’m fired?

[Read more…]

Kickstarter Club: 321 Fast Comics from Felipe Cagno

Felipe Cagno got in touch with me recently to tell me about a comics project he brought to Brazil a little while back, and has now taken to Kickstarter to create an English version. Called 321: Fast Comics, this is an anthology of three-page comics which range wildly in tone, genre and character – the only rules being that each comic must have 3 pages, 2 characters, and 1 twist ending.

fel0

After finding out about the anthology – a preview of which you can find on ComiXology – I promptly had a mild brain collapse and forgot to follow up with Felipe about the book. So! You won’t find an interview with him here, not yet. But what you will find is a big old preview at the project, a look at some of the stories, and a few paragraphs of me saying “HEY GUYS LET’S HELP FELIPE MAKE HIS GOAL EH”

What most strikes me about the anthology is the range of artists within it. Cagno writes many of the stories, but he’s joined by a massive group of writers and artists from Brazil, all of whom offer something really different and fascinating. Brazil is one of the forgotten centres for comics, a country which has a long comics tradition and has brought some of the best artists of all time. Here, within twenty or so stories, the anthology provides a reminder of that talent.

fel3

I don’t have a way to pair up comics to the artists as yet, but what I can do is share a full list of the writers and artists involved in the anthology, some of whom will be names you’ve heard before:

Lucas Leibholz, Geraldo Borges, Guilherme Balbi, Rodney Buchemi, Thony Silas, Carlos Ruas, Rafael De Latorre, Fabiano Neves, Ig Guara, Felipe Watanabe, Cris Bolson, Vitor Cafaggi, Romi Carlos, Cris Peter, Wilton Santos, Gustavo Borges, Matias Streib, Luciano Salles, Mario Cau, Marcelo Maiolo, Zork Marinero, Adriano Augusto, Caio Yo, Clonerh Kimura, Ander Zarate, Omar Viñole, Mat Lopes, Teo Deffectx, Ivan Nunes, Carlos Estefan, Marcos Botelho, Renato Almeida, Guilherme Bon, Fábio Bueno & Pietro Progetti.

And I can share images at random, taken from the Kickstarter, as below:

fel4

The aim of the Kickstarter is to take the already-finished anthology (which was completed in Brazil last year and has been pretty well-acclaimed over there) and translate the stories into English. As you can see in the above strip, there are a few little things like “misterious” rather than “mysterious” to be ironed out, as Cagno takes the book and ships it across to English-reading fans.

The original book, I should point out, is available to pick up too. Just under a hundred pages, this seems like one of those projects bourne properly out of love for the medium. The stories I’ve read are all completely different from one another, playing with some of the most loved tropes in comics – superheroes, dinosaurs, robots, outer space, everything you might think, and then a few surprises too.

fel1

I don’t do a lot of these sorts of ‘Kickstarter Club’ posts, but the enthusiasm from the introduction Felipe made was pretty hard to resist. It’s one of those projects that feels properly worthy of coming to crowdfunding, and I’m excited to see the completed comic reach an audience in the US and beyond.

Brimming with talented artists and with a neat premise, 321: Fast Comics has one week left on Kickstarter, and only a few hundred more dollars to go to reach the target. I urge you to go have a look!

fel2

Ben Towle’s Only Gone and Given Away Some Minicomics Online

Ben Towle, Eisner-nominated cartoonist as he is, yesterday threw both caution to the wind and several minicomics onto Gumroad, where he collected them together into a download for anyone to take a look at. They’re offered as pay-what-you-like – but be good and pay *something* for them, eh?

towle

Best known for the webcomic Oyster War (as in the hearty picture above), these collect together, as he says, a series of minicomics he’s made over the years, added in with some various pieces of art and design work compiled for various anthologies. You can find out more about Ben over ‘ere.

Andy Hirsch’s All-Ages Western ‘Varmints’ Comes to First Second

As spotted by Robot 6, First Second this week announced that they will be the publishers for an all-ages western from writer/artist Andy Hirsch, ‘Varmints’. Is there a single part of the prior sentence which doesn’t fill you with glee?

varm

Hirsch is best known perhaps for his work over at BOOM! Studios, where he’s been with KaBOOM! for a little while, working on books like Adventure Time and Garfield. Varmints, however, is a story entirely his own. Previously self-published via, it appears, Gumroad, this will now take the form of a collected graphic novel, which folds in the previously released issue, adds in extra pages amongst them, and then adds on a whole new section for readers, I believe.

The story follows a sister and brother duo as they blaze a trail across the ol’ Wild West, encountering many unbelievable things along the way – such as giants, as you can see in the preview below.

var1 var2 var3 var4 var5 var6

 

Giants wearing bears! Yee-haw.

In the interview, Hirsch sayeth:

Opie and Ned’s relationship is central to the story, and a frontier setting provides a good way to isolate them at times and force them to interact one on one. Also, Westerns are rife with mythmaking and tall tales — that built-in measure of exaggeration is perfect for the tone I’m going for. Events can escalate to cartoonish degrees, but the characters are still grounded in (a version of) the real world, keeping them relatable.

Or maybe I just wanted to draw a bunch of horses. There’s really no telling.

Making him THE FIRST ARTIST TO EVER SAY HE LIKED DRAWING HORSES.

Varmints will be published through First Second… at some point. I’ll let you know when I find a date for it.

%d bloggers like this: