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Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

I just finished doing a podcast with Comic Geek Speak about the forthcoming Frazer Irving book I wrote.  Here is a link to the podcast.  The podcast is also available for free Mp3 download and via iTunes.  Towards the end of the podcast, there’s a coupon-code offer for a discount off the print edition, as well as a freebie ebook edition for those who purchase the print version.

Also, TwoMorrows has posted a 20-something page preview of the book here.  The book includes a foreword by Grant Morrison and insightful commentary on Frazer by Andy Diggle, Phil Hester, Joe Casey, Simon Spurrier, Fabian Nicieza, and David Hine.

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Whew, that’s a long title to retype! Seriously though, this is the first long form comics writing I’ve done outside academia and beyond reviews.  It’s based on my doctoral training, teaching, and research during my time as a graduate student and college professor.  I also presented some of this research–non-Frazetta–at the 2011 San Diego Comic Con.  After receiving a copy of Frazetta’s White Indian, I was inspired to revisit my dissertation and evaluate Frazetta’s place in the larger discourse of Native American representation in American popular culture.  The essay is posted at Graphic Novel Reporter and I’d appreciate any feedback or comments from those who read it.

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Feedback is Appreciated!

Hey,

I’m not sure who my readers are, but if the statistics provided by WordPress are any indication, certain posts are generating a lot of traffic.  I’d really like to hear from you, your thoughts, etc. in the comments section and get some feedback on the issues discussed and reviewed, and see what you think.

Thanks!

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Recently, ComicsAlliance’s Chris Sims wrote an excellent article “The Racial Politics of Regressive Storytelling” that relates in a large way to what I study, research, and write about in my academic career.  In the article, Sims argues that in looking back so fondly at the Silver Age and bringing back the “definitive” or “real” versions of legacy characters such as the Flash, the Atom, or Green Lantern, DC is inadvertently “white-washing” its own comic history in favor of Euroamerican superheroes at the expense of ethnically-diverse ones.  From the outset, Sims makes it very clear that he does not believe DC Comics or its writers are consciously racist–and there in lies the major problem.  For while DC writers such as Geoff Johns and others are not consciously racist in their stories, they appear to be unconscious of race in its entirety, as something completely off their radar and not something they consider.  And, I believe that unconscious racism that avoids multiculturalism and ethnic diversity is in some ways much more dangerous than conscious, overt racism.  Ideas and concepts of race are so ingrained in our psyches that sometimes we are completely unaware of how a certain portrait could be conceived as racist or culturally offensive to some people.

We see a similar process of romantic nostalgia anytime we look with rose-colored glasses into the past.  For example, in touting the accomplishments of the “Greatest Generation” or looking fondly upon the “family values” of 1950’s America, we tend to completely ignore the horrific racism and gender discrimination and strife that dominated those decades.  It’s the same mentality that argues that “things were so much better when….”  Comic’s readers by and large are not those who advocate innovation or change, and instead hold fondly to very static, conservative portraits of their superheroes.  This is something DC is obviously recognizing and is developing its current marketing strategy around–rebirth after rebirth as Golden and Silver Age heroes are reborn at the expense of post-1970s legacy figures.  One only has to look at Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern to see the effects of such an approach on the ethnically diverse characters of John Stewart and Kyle Rayner, but also upon the continued usage of “Pie Face” for Tom Kalmuku.  Even more than Rayner, Stewart was occasionally trotted out as a token Green Lantern with his usual one page exposure in a completely Hal Jordan story and focus of Blackest Night.  Of course, I’m sure there’s an eager, young English major out there just dying for Brightest Day to end so that she or he can write a racial analysis of the white lantern corps.  Or, look towards the fan outcries at Dwayne McDuffie’s relaunch of the Fantastic Four with Black Panther as the team leader, questioning how an African King could have the credentials to head-up the Marvel super group.  And, when writers try to infuse multiculturalism or race into a comic either directly or indirectly, a topic that we deal with and encounter daily, they are immediately accused of “soap-boxing” or being “preachy.”   

So, why does this happen?  There is comfort in the status quo for both the reading public and for the writers who are involved in the comic pastiche of the past.  The argument that since the majority of the comic reading public is largely white and male and they’re not complaining fails horribly as we still see the negative and sexist depictions of female characters continuing alongside the absence of non-stereotypical representations of race and ethnicity.  One comic writer I interviewed joked that our discussion would be short because “everything he knew about Native Americans he had learned in a comic book.”  What does that say about images and issues of race, ethnicity, and gender beyond American Indians for the comic reading public who are very insular in their tastes?

There is nothing wrong with reimagining the past anew, but the tide of imitation has overcome that of innovation.  Perhaps writers would be wise to remember what first got them attracted to comics and instead of placating an established, insular readership, branch out to somebody new.  Readers who want the old, who want “things the way they were” can still drag out their old back issues or engage in the fun and excitement of perhaps tracking them down, and relive the past.  There is comfort in sameness.  However, readers who want something new, something modern, something they haven’t seen before and who are still looking towards comics may start looking elsewhere if this trend continues.

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Incorruptible Volume 1

Incorruptible Volume 1

Today marked the relesase of a triumvirate of Mark Waid products, including Irredeemable #13, Incorruptible #5, and the first trade collection of Incorruptible, which contains issues #1-4. 

I really have to praise the marketing strategies employed by Waid and BOOM! for these sister series.  When BOOM! released the first trade collection of Irredeemable, they also simultaneously released issue #5 for only a $0.99, inviting new readers to jump on board with a new arc cheaply, or to also pick up the trade as well for only $9.99.  The publicity campaign posters of “Mark Waid is Evil,” “Mark Waid was Evil,” etc. along with the Irredeemable cologne recently launched have really drummed up attention for what is essentially an indie book fighting for shelf space alongside DC and Marvel Comics.  Follow all of this up with the Free Comic Book Day release of both Irredeemable #1 and Incorruptible #1 just last week to draw in even more readers who might have overlooked this series or ignored it based on the $3.99 price tag.  With all of this combined with the excellent writing, the best of his career in my opinion, and it’s little wonder Waid received 3 2010 Eisner Nominations.

Waid’s first series at BOOM!, Potter’s Field, was amazing, especially from a writer who most characterized as the superhero fanatic and silver age guru.  This three issue mini-series illustrated Waid’s strengths beyond the superhero genre, a darker vision that had rarely been witnessed except for small passages in Kingdom Come.  Few writers can dominate multiple genres and Ed Brubaker, Grant Morrison, Jason Aaron, Greg Rucka, and a few others immediately come to mind, and Waid’s work on Potter’s Field, which has carried over to both Irredeemable and Incorruptible is readily apparent despite the superheroism of both series.  For some reason, his Unknown completely passed under my radar and I’m now tracking it down in collected volumes.

One of Incorruptible‘s greatest attractions is Waid’s deviant humor.  I love the fact that the author who wrote The Flash, 52, and by far one of the best Superman stories ever, Birthright, has a main character being an underaged sex toy accomplice named Jailbait.  I’m enjoying the interplay between she and Max Damage as he strives to change from villain into hero and she, who has no other opportunities apparently, tags along in digust as he torches their financial supplies, destroys their mint car collection, and befriends the local police.  Each issue allows us to learn just a little bit more about Damage and Waid is very clever here in not revealing too much about the character, his past, or all of his ties to the characters from Irredeemable.  That said, the latest installment of issue #5 does appear somewhat out-of-place or out-of-character as readers witness Damage’s compassion for another character.  Waid is definitely building to another “money shot” with this new arc if the final page and image are indication of stories to come, and I hope that those forthcoming issues will give us more “meat” for Damage than the barebones scaps we’ve been subsisting on thus far.  Nothing wrong with those scraps, but the full meal is becoming harder and harder to put aside.

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I am usually asked why I read comics by both my students, my faculty colleagues, and yes, even by family members who have known me all my life.  Family I usually ignore because it will only lead to argument, faculty I usually avoid because, well, let’s be honest, they’re university faculty members, and my students….well, I have to talk with them, so there is really no way to avoid them except to lock myself in my office and turn off all the lights.

But seriously though, I read comics because they are so different.  There is an undeserved, “deviant” quality to them as the bastard children of American Popular Culture, and for most of my academic colleagues who professes an interest in popular culture and yet whole heartedly disavow any respect let alone willingness to acknowledge comics’ place in American History, comic book studies and scholarship becomes something I can call my own.  Plus, for a lot of my students who read Neil Gaiman or who adore Y: The Last Man, my usage of graphic novels in the classroom gives me coolness points.

But how then do new readers enter this world?  Two thoughts, no rather images, immediately come to mind.  The first is of the comic book guy character on the Simpsons.  Sadly accurate in many ways, the Android’s Dungeon shop would be off-putting to the casual or even new consumer.  My own family buy graphic novels or trades online rather than going into a comic book store, even the one where I have my own subscription and would receive a discount.  This is probably the perception that most people have of the medium and if my experience in comic stores is any indication, then their perceptions are not too off base.

The second image is one from CBS’ The Big Bang Theory.  While most of the comic humor may not be understood or appreciated by audiences not familiar with the medium, the placement of comic collecting alongside Star Trek fandom, Lord of the Rings costuming, and other usually defined “geek” endeavors, while very humorous, perhaps unintentionally reinforces a lot of the negative stereotypes outsiders have of the comic medium itself.  If the character of Penny is considered the only “normal” one on the show, then what do her experiences with the guys reveal about the outsider attempting entry into the comic universe?

How do we combat this?  How do we generate new readers?  Some would contend that films can push new readers into comics and that blockbuster comic films will encourage readers to seek out comics.  Yet, I would argue that if somebody wanted to read X-Men based on the first or second film by simply walking into a shop, they would be overwhelmed by the slew of X-related titles that bare little to no resemblance to the films.  If they are lucky, new readers may find a shop where the proprietor actually greets them and offers his assistance sans condescension.  More so, if this person bypassed the comic shop and went instead to Barnes & Noble or Borders, the selection of graphic novels might also serve contrary as many newbies would not be attuned to the convoluted, forty-plus year old mythology that shapes the current X-series. 

DC had such an opportunity within the past two years to tap into what could possibly be one of the biggest markets for new comic readers ever–Oprah’s Bookclub.  When Jodi Piccoult signed on to pen Wonder Woman, DC missed the boat entirely by cross-marketing the collected versions of her arcs alongside her novels in bookstores across the country.  Piccoult’s comic stories could serve as a welcome introduction for younger female and male readers who may be too young to experience some of her more mature novels; however, the bond that it would establish between generations, parents and children who read both, would be a significant one indeed.  A new audience at the ready, already aware of the author’s strengths and popularity, and anxiously awaiting the next Piccoult publication was overlooked by the current marketing strategies of DC Comics.  A similar strategy could easily be employed for Brad Meltzer or Greg Rucka’s fiction.

The same could be said for comic book movies.  I am always shocked as to why the new release comic book films or animated adventures are not displayed alongside a selection of related graphic novels in major bookstores.  Or, why if a younger audience enjoys Superman Returns or Spider-Man, bookstores are not encouraged by DC or Marvel to cross-promote their child-friendly line of comics and collected trades along with the films.  Because the direct market is unable to cross that line and most new readers are similarly unwilling to venture into such establishments.  Perhaps the corporate restructuring of DC under DC Entertainment and Marvel under Disney will yield such change because if any company understands promotion and broad advertising, it is the House of Mouse.

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