On Pariahs and Misogynists and MusiciansA column article, Manifesto by: Jason Sacks
It's been an odd couple of weeks for me and comics. I think you'll find these couple of weeks interesting. I talked to a cool musician, an alleged misogynist and an alleged shlock-merchant.
The first eventful moment was when I got to talk to Charles Soule of Image Comics/Shadowline's Twenty Seven fame (among other books). I really had a great time talking with Charles about comics, music and my pet topic, digital comics. I can talk all day about digital comics and their potential to thoroughly revolutionize our beloved comics industry on most every level – in fact you can expect to read much more about that in future "Manifesto" columns -and had a great time talking to Charles about that in great detail.
Charles is a great example of how to push your comics, by the way. I was working my way down the Image Comics creator tables on the final day of the Emerald City Comicon, saying hello to some of my friends who work for Image, making some new friends, and checking in about interviews with the people whom I haven't had a chance to interview – or have interviewed – for the site. I walked up to Charles's booth, only to find that he wasn't there. Charles's brother was manning the booth, but Charles wasn't there. So I left my business card with Charles's brother, then walked away from his table.
A minute later I heard footsteps behind me, and there was Charles – he had been told by his brother that I was looking for him, and he actually ran over me to introduce himself and pass me his business card. How could I not want to interview someone who worked so hard to get publicity for his comic? Charles just said he wanted to make sure we got a chance to talk, and went out of his way to make sure that we did. The interview went great – thanks Charles! – and I hope we can slot it onto the podcast soon.
A couple of days later, I had an even more interesting interview experience than I did with Charles (no offense, Charles! It really was great!) when I had the chance to talk with Scott Lobdell. You probably remember the enormous controversy that erupted under Lobdell when the first issue of Red Hood and the Outlaws allegedly featured some completely offensive depictions of the sex-kitten Starfire.
Hmm, I hear you think… Red Hood? Isn't that the comic with the slutty version of Starfire that was so horribly sexist and offensive? Umm, well, Scott writes that comic, and lots of people found two pages in it to be misogynistic or at least sexist, but is it really horrible? Is Scott really a woman-hater because of that one comic? Or is there something else going on here?
Without knowing any better, I certainly thought that Scott was a hater before I started my prep for our interview. I'd read the long series of pieces that we presented on CB the week that both Red Hood and Catwoman were released, and read the long set of Very Serious Comments about the book in the days, weeks and months after the comic came out. Of course I did. I was a very concerned comics industry pseudo-insider and felt like I needed to be connected to our big controversies.
But then an interesting thing happened as I prepared for my interview with Scott. I took the time to read every issue of every New 52 comic that Scott wrote – seven issues each of Red Hood and Teen Titans, and eight of Superboy. For those of you doing math in your heads right now, that was 22 separate comics written by Scott Lobdell. And in those 22 separate comic books, I found to my great surprise that there is no pattern of misogyny or woman hating in these comics. Just the opposite was true.
In fact, there is actually a whole series of strong female characters in these comics. Cassie Sandsmark in Teen Titans is a strong, intelligent, thoughtful and very quirky heroine that's a pretty interesting role model for teen girls. I loved her independence and emotional strength, her strong sense of herself and her place in the world.
To steal the name of a website that's friendly to us, Cassie is a DC woman who kicked ass.
Then I had the chance to interview Scott, and I found him to be a wonderful interview subject. He was smart, both serious and funny, even confronted the controversy straight-on:
What's fascinating to me is I found it's almost impossible to respond to what people write, because people can say what they want daily, and they can post it, and all their friends can go, "Yeah, Lobdell is a misogynist, bla bla bla." They can write whatever they want, but if I respond in any way I become a bully, or I'm obnoxious and how dare I talk to a fan that way, and I'm like, "OK, you shouldn't say anything."
What I find interesting that I read is, somebody will say, "I didn't like this issue, and I don't like this comic, and I what he's doing, and if he was smart he would write for me, because I want to read this book and because he's not doing it, other people aren't reading it." I want to say, ok, other people are. As a writer I can't write for an individual; I have to write for the title that I'm writing for.
If 30 or 40,000 people read an issue of Red Hood, I can't imagine a world in which I would contact 40,000 people and be like, "Hey how was that? Can I change anything for you? What do you think of this, and that was funny wasn't it? Or what do you think about this? Do you think that scene was too much?"
You can't write for individuals and yet we live in a time and a place where the individual has become the center of their own movie; like you sit in the audience and you see yourself projected onto the screen and the whole world is you. I guess that's the time we live in. It's interesting.
The whole conversation went that way, with Scott being really honest and interesting in his response to all the controversies that swirled around him. It really ended up being one of my favorite interviews that I've ever done for the Bulletin. I love conversations where the person is honest and straightforward and passionate and interesting, and Scott was all of that. I didn't approach this interview with the goal of making a new friend, but coming out of it I really found that I liked Scott.
You're going to love this interview when it posts to our podcast and interviews sections, and I'm sure it will engender a lot of comments. I can't wait to hear what you think of it.
Then a few days after that I attended a presentation held at a local software house by Darren Davis, the head of Bluewater Productions. You might have heard of Bluewater. They're most frequently seen as the biggest schlock-merchants in the comics industry due to their series of celebrity biography comics and their rather unique line of sequels to popular movies.
The presentation was interesting in part because I was one of only one or two people in the room who really knew geek culture. The event was sponsored by Seattle's wonderful GeekGirlCon as part of a Women in Computing initiative, and Darren was their guest to talk about digital comics. I was frankly astonished by the perception of comics by some people in the room. It was a strong reminder of how "inside the bubble" I can often feel like I am in this industry. I'll hopefully get to that commentary in a future Manifesto column. That part of the evening is worthy of a future column. But the most interesting part of the evening was my conversation with Darren Davis, the Publisher of Bluewater.
Davis really presented himself in our interview as an embattled man. Bluewater has had terrible problems getting their comics distributed in comics shops, so according to him, he ended up having to pull out from Diamond and pursue other distributors. His comics are treated like they're poison, and readers rarely seem to want to be caught reading Bluewater Comics in public. Heck, let's let Darren himself say it himself, from an email he sent me last week (printed here with his permission):
I have a tendency not to filter anything when I talk, and I talk really frankly. I try not to sugar coat things – because that is not helping anything. What people do not get from us, is the biography books SHOULD be a way for retailers to get new readers into their store. We really try to help them create events and get the local press. Some stores get it. There is a store in AZ that gets calls from their local FOX News about our books – so they carry us more now. This is free publicity to get people into their stores. I just wish other stores would take us up on it. It is funny that after 8 years of doing "spandex" comics, in 3 years nobody remembers that we do fiction.
For most of my career I have tried to act professional and not really respond in public forums to air my stuff. It just never seemed to be productive and always fueled fires. I take to good and the bad. I feel like we are the whipping boys of the comic book world. A lot of people have the same business plan as we do, but since we get the press – we get in front of the firing range. I have heard stuff about other companies, but it is not my place to "out" them. This industry has a tendency to have a high school mentality – and you want to talk about "bullies" - I get beaten up almost every day. There is nothing I would say that I would not say to people's faces. The internet has its great qualities but also it's bad. I worked with the top people in the industry (still do) and they have a thicker skin than I do :)
What is never told is the work we do for FREE for schools and libraries as well as a ton of non-profits. We give a lot back to the community. The event we did with you there, I was not paid and drove up from Portland. I thought it was a good cause. I love spreading the word about comic books and a lot of the books we do are really good for learning.
I was really intrigued by my meeting with Darren. It's fascinating how he feels such an outsider status, how he feels so persecuted and attacked in the comics industry. Like him or hate him, Darren is full of passion. I also can't wait to get him onto our podcast.
And my discussion of these couple of weeks doesn't even mention the really interesting way that Steve Savage and Daniel Elkin's "Comics Necropolis" has been building, or the great comic shop I discovered this weekend and how they're doing everything right, or some of the great behind the scenes work we've done recently, including the exciting news about our next phase of our site redesign… I really do love running our website and being involved in comics!