Today one of the first images I saw on Facebook was a drawing of Batgirl with her shirt torn open, exposing her breasts, rope strangling her, a bare foot and torn knees, and a bloody hammer next to a face covered in her tangled hair. Instead of sharing it, because so many ‘supporters’ of art already have liked it, and shared it, including some well known artists, i’m gonna share images of Batgirl that aren’t about her being brutalized.
Every time this subject comes up, and now its like twice a year, I see so many male cartoonists that have never experienced rape that decided everyone needs to know their many lofty opinions and thoughts on their right to draw rape, write rape – in any comic, at any time, regardless of tone or necessity.
I believe everyone has the right to draw or write or say anything they want. I also have to write to respond to them and call them assholes. I’m fine with their right to draw anything, that is, if I was actually having this debate with creators that had half an ounce of taste, sensitivity and intelligence. Or more importantly, any kind of experience with rape and brutality in their lives. The problem is I am fully aware of how completely separated, isolated, and ultimately SAFE from assault they are and have been, and yet they lecture about how others have to be less sensitive and exposed to their scum. They are a cowardly and suspicious lot, because they use the language of artistic freedom to cover for their inhumane juvenile obsessions.
We might feel tempted to just cry out about how this is such distasteful art! That it should be removed! But I don’t even feel that anymore. I’m resigned. It simply reinforces my belief that comic professionals and to a larger extent, comic conventions are hostile to women and minorities. It’s not all the T&A and pin-ups and rapey comics I want removed from the industry, although I wish there was a lot less of it. Its the old timers who are out of touch, their legions of fanboys that support any bone-headed move they make, the bullies and the creeps, the dick pics and the soft men, the pale faces and the sweaty palms – that I want removed. More specifically, I want their culture that they protect and defend and promote to be removed. There’s a myth of Nerds, that these communities are open to all, especially the marginalized. That myth has been totally debunked faster than you can say “PWNED!” The Nerd community recreates the power dynamics of the larger society in miniature, and in its isolation, has mutated into a caricature of the worst facets of racist and sexist America. Old timers, reveal opinions from 35 years out of date, evidence of a community that has nothing challenging it for decades, except now in the real time democratic reactions of twitter and tumblr. Although these social streams of anti-oppressive consciousness tend to fuck up almost as often as they help, it’s probably the first situation of its kind where the “vocal minority” can actually prove that it’s not a minority, its a rightful participant in this culture, same as all the gamer and comic nerd fuckboys.
We’d like to believe, i’m speaking as a comics professional, that when you see fanboys going into fits supporting some distasteful art, that THOSE are the vocal minority. Comics as a whole, IS liberal and does pretend to be progressive. We like to maintain this myth that an Old Timer is just one of a few. That one republican comic artist or writer you know, he’s just naive! But the creators of these nerd past-times created the culture of hate along with it. I don’t believe a video game makes you go out and shoot someone, or that a bad comic cover makes a rapist out of a man. It is simply images that reinforce a culture that says some horrible acts are more permissible than others. Every time you can drive your car in GTA blasting at sex workers after you fuck them, thats just one more troll online deciding its cool to blast verbally at a woman, telling them they’ll forcibly fuck them. We can argue that GTA is fiction and must be protected, and i’d agree with you. But then what argument do you make when an anonymous teenager says he’s playing a character on twitter, and that he must be protected as well. His is a fiction that has become real, but since no one is having an actual intelligent conversation about the limits of fiction and also the responsibilities, we are left with our dick in our hands. The culture doesn’t kill people, people kill people. I believe that’s true, but its the culture that forgives them and permits it to occur.
Male, often white cartoonists and their fans continue to complain about artistic integrity, artistic merits, and artistic rights. These are all concepts that they actually haven’t properly explored. So many of them are non-artists and shouldn’t even be participating in this conversation, but such is the result of a free internet. The concept of artistic integrity, artist merit, and artistic rights, are these comfortable struggles that they love to champion. They love to say #jesuischarlie as if they are fighting ISIS on the frontlines. They love to say that they alone are holding up the 1st amendment in the USA. But they don’t even realize that they are making up fiction as they speak. A drawing of brutalizing someone does as much for free speech as telling a young girl or young boy that they are ugly and won’t amount to anything. These free-speech patriots do more damage to growing artists and creators than any gov’t agency. The only censorship that occurs is the one where minority and female and trans voices continue to remain silent in our nerd communities because of these culture wars. I’m sorry I value someone’s right to feel safe over your juvenile interpretations of centuries old artistic arguments. I’m sorry I value someone’s right to feel welcomed and encouraged to make more work, over your defenses of the same demographic to keep making the same type of work.
If shocking art is something you enjoy and defend and has a place in comics, why is it always in the least shocking way, in the way we always have seen before. Male on female violence. White Male on POC violence. White Male on POC female violence. Exploitation comics written by the same demographic, read by the same demographic. Tom Neely telling me that i was once amusing, but now he’s tired of my complaints when I discussed Fukitor negatively.
Why is shocking art only pushed in one direction ever? Why are the exploitative elements in comic art so perfectly aligned with the power structures in society? Why do underground comix perfectly reflect mainstream comics worst qualities? If art is about shocking people, why do artists in comics only like to shock women and minorities? If shocking people is about bringing awareness to a subject, through ridiculousness and over-the-top parody, why does it never bring any new awareness? Why is the take away never “Men use their dicks as knives and it kills people,” but usually its “Men use their dicks for fun. This is just a comic, get over it!”
I often focus on whiteness, white culture and white males because when you’ve spent enough time in bars and hotels and cons and you see these same arguments manifested, perhaps more politely, with the same group of people, and whiteness and maleness is what they all have in common, it seems way too gracious to then censor myself and say #notallwhitemen. They’ve dug that grave, now i’m burying them.
I am a fan of Eric Larsen’s work, and I actually feel that for the most part, he was taken a bit out of context. He still has some out dated ideas, but they aren’t nearly as revolting as his supporters. He was the weird uncle at thanksgiving who says colored person instead of Person of Color, unfortunately he brings along with him and entire contingent of weird uncles. Unfortunately, he allows that contingent to reinforce the worst of his beliefs and in term, he sanctions even worst beliefs. What could’ve been a neutral discussion of older costume designs vs. modern costume design, something any artist would enjoy reading, ends up tripping over its own points because he can’t separate comic design from the ever-present male gaze. That is unfortunate, but now check out all the gamergate dudes who are hanging out on Erik Larsens facebook page. Who are crying “CENSORSHIP!” and don’t know the meaning of the word. Who are the same types of dudes who like a photo of Batgirl with a bloody hammer next to her face.
Ask yourself, do you think they didn’t exist before? What responsibility does Erik Larsen, but more accurately, all creators in these industries have for creating the culture that has allowed this rot to fester. I leave you with this quote, from actual art, hundreds of years ago, HAMLET:
Have after. To what issue will this come?
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.