Choosing Sides

A column article, Manifesto by: Jason Sacks

The world today is more polarized than it has been in many years.

It goes without saying that we see this polarization in politics, where the two  parties endlessly about even the most trivial items. This endless gridlock perpetuates the Great Recession and prevents us from making the hard choices that our country has to make as we move forward. No matter which party you feel is responsible for these problems – and that's not the subject of this essay – this gridlock brings real danger to it. The United States is getting more fractious as the two parties seem dead set on creating two separate but equal countries - one red and one blue – and that everyone in the happy middle seems to be caught watching our country slowly sink into the abyss.

It sometimes feels like the polarization is forcing everyone to live on a constant razor's edge, where one error can lead to the sort of brinksmanship that might bring things to a painful cataclysm.

Will they riot like this on the day that the first issue of Before Watchmen is released?

In Europe you can see the cataclysm happening whenever you see rioters on the streets in Athens or the pundits on CNBC nattering about how Greece must raise its interest rates. Countries in Europe are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy while politicians dither and vacillate and ordinary people feel real pain. The dream of a single unified Europe seems to be quickly dissipating under the relentless uncaring mantra of austerity, endless austerity and damn the ordinary people who can't put food on their table.

We'd like to think that the comics field is immune from the level of polarization that we see in the political world, but unfortunately we are not. Our quiet, fun little hobby has seen battle lines harden and ossify over the last few months on a plethora of topics, to the point now where it sometimes feels like every decision made about comics and related fields is a political act.

For example: If you go to see Avengers, are you hurting the legacy of Jack Kirby? If you assuage your guilt by donating money to the CBLDF, Heroes Initiative and the Kirby Museum to offset your ticket price, is the donation sufficient to offset the attack on creators' rights that a movie like Avengers represents?

The argument around this point alone can become a black hole of discussion, the very definition of rat-holing on a topic, because the morality involved with it seems to go around and around in circles.

He is the King!

Or another example: We here at Comics Bulletin are big fans of the creator-owned work that is produced through Fantagraphics, Dark Horse and especially Image Comics, among others. We believe strongly that creators should strive hard to make their own best deal, build their own intellectual property, and create work that comes directly from their heart rather than their corporate masters. It's only in a world where business practices and royalties are transparent and auditable that creators can be assured that they are treated ethically. And it's only in a world where creators own and manage their own intellectual property that they have the ability to truly exploit their own skills and talents to help themselves.

That notion of treating creators ethically implies a drawing of different sides- one right and one wrong - and yeah I guess we do that on some level here on Comics Bulletin, though we do also cover company-owned content from the big publishers.  This clear distinction between creator-owned and company-owned provides a clear ethical dividing line that can be hard for fans to navigate. 

Should my hypothetical fan continue to be loyal to their favorite character, Daredevil, or to their favorite writer, Brian Michael Bendis, or should they embrace new work by Fiona Staples? Do they support a corporation as vast and uncaring as Disney or do they support the individual creator? At one time that choice seemed to be absurd and most of us bought what we liked. But now this seems to be a binary decision for fans – either you're in or you're out. You're on one side or another, at least intellectually. It's a polarized and political decision whether you support Warners or you support John Layman.

There's a clear ethical line between creator-owned and company owned, an ethical line that helped to lead to Chris Roberson leaving DC and a lot of sometimes intense discussion in the comics commentariat.

Maybe the most polarizing issue of them all at the moment in the comics comentariat these days is the whole complex, tangled ethics around Before Watchmen. Creators, fans and press have tied themselves into knots debating the ethical issues around this collection of mini-series.

A crime against humanity?

On one hand, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons are being screwed in this deal. The two men essentially leased their intellectual property to DC at a time when there were precious few alternatives to that process. The fact that DC has fulfilled their side of the contract diligently since the release of the first Watchmen floppy in 1986 doesn't mitigate the fact that Moore is, justifiably, angry at DC for contracting new stories that depict characters that he co-created.

Moore has really been screwed by DC over the years. He's been mistreated and disrespected in ways that no other creator has been mistreated and disrespected by DC. The catalog of the corporate behemoth's mistreatment of Moore is long and exhausting; no matter whether you think of Moore as a crank or a genius (or both), you can see and understand his complaints.

And yet there are some great creators involved in these series, men and women like Darwyn Cooke, Amanda Conner and J. Michael Straczynski, folks who you'd think would have considered the politics of this project before jumping into it. Everyone made a choice to get involved in this project. Len Wein, who probably never collected a royalty for co-creating Swamp Thing and the all-new X-Men, is involved in this project. If Wein is working on these series, then the fan's ethical position is complicated too.

So it seems we have two different camps on the Before Watchmen controversy: those who refuse to buy any of these books because of the moral dilemma, and those who will buy the books because if Darwyn Cooke is involved, the fan wants to be there.

Once again there are dividing lines. Black and white divisions. The wish to split everything between one team and another team, and my team is always right. Are you a Conservative or a Democrat? Do you support austerity or do you support the people in Spain who can't find work? Do you support the indy creators or the people who work for faceless corporations?

The polarization just grows and grows. What is a fan to do?

I'm gonna tell you what to do, and you may think it's a cop-out, but I think it's true: follow your heart.

Yes, follow your own heart. Follow your convictions and beliefs and interests and for god's sake never look back and regret your decision. Only you know what you believe. You may have a great moral anger at the thought of gay marriage; I disagree with you vehemently but I believe you should follow your own thoughts on the matter after examining your own beliefs. You can believe that Mitt Romney would be a great president or you can believe that the architects of the great economic meltdown of 2008 should be sent to prison, or you can believe that the entire political system should be blown up, tossed in the ash-heap of history and a whole new world built on its ashes. And I say: at least you have beliefs.

And if you want to buy every AvX cross-over issue, or every issue of the New 52, or only creator-owned works, or only archival content or whatever, that's all good. Just follow your heart. Follow your impulses. Follow your own inner convictions. Read what we all have to say here on CB about all the books we review, then draw your own conclusions. God knows we're not all right about everything we talk about (well, I am – after all, how else did I get to be boss?), so please read us and disagree with us and post smart comments disagreeing with us and engage in interesting debate.

If there's ever any way that we can overcome this polarity, any way that we can get back to a real actual dialog in 140 characters or more, it's by being honest and sincere and thoughtful and by allowing the other person to speak sometimes, too. 

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