Monday, January 09, 2006

Incredibly Long Rant

...about women in comics, superheroes, and quitting comics.

Women being harrassed in comics: It's worse than you thought. Seriously, this makes me want to dump comics completely. I feel a simmering rage that this is happening at all. And for it to happen in the industry I consider my hobby makes me ill. I wish I knew who the "old soldiers" were, so I could avoid their works in the future.

As I was reading the interview I read this: "I was so happy to have been invited, too, I felt like I was special. I was all dressed up, even, and that grope and smirk ruined the whole evening. I can still see him smirking." It reminded me of the poem "Incident" by Countee Cullen. One bad moment can ruin a whole trip, and turn into the only thing you remember about it. I don't know if some folks realize just how much something like this can hurt.

It makes me sick. It makes me want to throw my collection into the trash. It hurts. I can't abide supporting people who are so ... primitive. And yet I feel sure, that sick feeling in my gut, that some of the books I want are no doubt partly created by the guilty.

But then, aren't I guilty too? I mean, I don't harrass, and I certainly have never abused someone as told in these memories. But I like to read about scantily clad men running around saving the world. I'm well aware that most superheroes are simply nudes with clothes colored in. But I enjoy them anyway. Doesn't my acceptance and enjoyment of such puerile entertainment make me at least partly guilty for its continuance?

I'm not a deep thinker. If you've read what passes for reviews on this blog, you know I have simple tastes. I'm not sophisticated, and I don't want to be. As a music student I learned that the more you know about how music fits together, the worse most music sounds to you. I'd rather sing along happily than worry about whether or not I'm in key. But this isn't about simple tastes. It isn't about the construction of a chord. It's about the way people treat each other. Is my enjoyment of superhero comic books going to hurt people? If I continue to buy Aquaman and Green Lantern, are women going to keep being abused? Can I live with myself if the answer is "yes", knowing that I'm not likely to drop those books?

I say that I wish I knew who the scumbags are so I can stop supporting them, but the whole industry is geared towards a certain type of mind. I like superheroes. But superheroes, as a genre, emphasize physical prowess over intellect. From that little seed sprouts all kinds of attitudes, most of them unpleasant. That's not why I read the superheroes. I have to think this out... I read superheroes for the conflict...

One of the many reasons I like Aquaman is because of the inner conflict of the character. While the ability to live underwater is his first and strongest appeal to me, I find the emotional waves he rides to be almost as fascinating. This is a guy who gained everything he ever wanted, and lost it all. It's not beating up bad-guys that I love to read about, it's about defeating inner demons and understanding himself and his life better. But, as Kurt Busiek recently pointed out, there can never be any resolution.

A superhero story is built on conflict, just like any other story. But with superheroes, there is never, ever, a permanent solution. The fight is endless. There are no happy endings. There can't be, because as soon as you give a character peace, the character is instantly boring. Superheroes are created to have miserable lives.

So we are left with an endless physical fight. A never-ending series of battles that, depending on how well-written and drawn they are, may appeal to a wide-audience or only to adolescent-level minds. Too much is the latter. And, while superheroes aren't the only genre in comics, they are the face of comics to the vast majority of the people in the United States.

And what do people see when they look at superhero comics? Adolescent fantasies. Breathtakingly immature garbage. The same "drooling fanboy" stuff that has made the industry a joke for too many years.

There is fine work being produced in comic books. Even a few fine superhero books. But, oddly enough, the good stuff is ghetto-ized. As Rachel Hartman put it in my comments: " could do superior-to-everything work, like Finder, and still be barely in the black. That the avenues out of the ghetto were barricaded -- we had to wait for people to come in to us, we could not, somehow, get out to them. I banged my head against it as hard as I could bring myself to (not being as hard-headed as some, alas), with the only result being severe burnout, anger, and a 3-year (and counting) hiatus."

I like superheroes, but I like other stuff too! Superheroes are only one small genre in a limitless medium, but they've taken over the shelf space and devoured the competition. And in the States, at least, they've also become the dominant mental state. Conquer by physical force.

Conquer by physical force. Pretty much sums up the kind of scum that harrass and abuse.

That's not all superheroes are. That's not all they can be. I refuse to believe that. I refuse to accept that. I like superheroes. There's got to be more to it than that. And there would be, if they weren't the majority of what people buy and what people see when they look at comics.

Superheroes are constrained by their own success. And it's a dubious success at that. As long as superheroes dominate the market, the stories will continue to pander to the fanboys... the lowest common denominator of the fanboys. They will continue to be the kind of stories that embarrass the casual reader and drive people away. And they will continue to be the type of stories that reinforce the twisted notions of power and physical control. And sales will continue to fall.

And women will continue to be harrassed.

Is it the fault of the genre? No, of course not. It's the fault of the feedback loop that the genre's strange success has created. Anytime you get a group in control of an ever-shrinking pond, they will do anything to keep control or the illusion of control. And they will resent anyone who has escaped the pond and yet still managed to have success. It's that sort of environment that breeds a willingness to break societies rules, and become an abuser. The belief in your own false power.

What can we do to break the loop? Is it even possible? I agree with Ragnell that the industry needs a very public housecleaning. But would that even be enough? And even if we do manage to break the loop, will that get rid of the underlying problems, or will we still have scumbags fondling women at conventions? Is Lea right? Do we need to Hurt Comics?

I just don't have any answers. I don't have any concrete suggestions. I'm just not a deep thinker.

I do know that something has to change. Having been the victim of an attack in a comic/hobby shop, many many years ago, I have no tolerance for it at all. And there is a very deep, very strong rage in me when I read the memories of these women. This has brought up memories in me that I've kept buried for over a decade. You see, I've been on both sides. I've been a victim, and I've seen what a false accusation can do to a good man. And so this whole situation enrages me. It's very nearly enough to make me trash my collection and never pick up a comic book again.

I won't. I can't. I've invested too much of me into this hobby. But something has to give. Something has to change.