Patriotism, Comic Books and Terrorism: The Comics Journal Talks To Beau Smith And Beau Talks Back
This week’s Busted Knuckles is a little longer and a little more serious than usual. All your regular Busted Knuckles features will return next week so do not fear. This week we’re gonna focus our sights in a little and just cover one subject. One you may have strong thoughts on.
Recently, news Editor for The Comics Journal, Michael Dean contacted me when he had read the press release for my upcoming IDW Publishing mini-series, Cobb: Off The Leash. What had caught his eye was the mention of Al Qaeda being in the comic book and attempting a terrorist act on American soil.
I told him I was glad to talk about it. As all of you regular Knuckleheads know, I rarely miss a chance to talk about one of my projects or me. I’ve always respected The Comics Journal, it’s Editor-In Chief, Gary Groth, and Michael Dean. I may not always agree with them or understand all the strange, weird, comics and art they write about, but that’s just a matter of personal taste. Remember, I’m just an ol’ dumb stump-jumper. The thing I’ve always admired about The Comics Journal is that they ask the tough, smart questions. The questions other news sources in comics seldom ask. I may not always understand everything they cover in The Comics Journal and there are always big words I have to look up, but It always makes me think. I always learn something.
In the latest issue of The Comics Journal #275, which is on sale in comic shops and books stores everywhere, Michael Dean, along with R.C. Harvey and others, does a very in-depth and thought provoking article on “Cartoons Of Mass Destruction-The Whole Story Behind The Danish 12” and the article that I appear in called “The New Patriotism-The Comics Industry and The War In Iraq.” This article was written completely by Dean.
The Comics Journal #275
In this article he talks to me about Cobb and how terrorism plays a part in the Cobb story line. He also talks to the publisher of Freedom Three dealing with terrorism and super heroes fighting the terrorists, Rick Olney.
It is a long and thought out article that most everyone that reads comics or has anything to do with them will want to read. It’s one of those articles where everyone will have a strong opinion or thought.
I have to say that Dean worded the article much better than I could have. What I am going to do this week in Busted Knuckles is give you the raw, “unplugged” questions and answers that Michael Dean and I had so he could do this article. After you read this I highly suggest you order or buy The Comics Journal #275 to read the whole thing as well as the article on the Danish cartoons. You may agree or disagree, but you will find it of interest. Issue #275 is a thick magazine of over 195 pages. There is a lot more that you can read?and possibly explain to me. You can order the single issue here. In case you wanna order it old school, you can reach them at: The Comics Journal, 7563 Lake City Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115. As always, tell ’em Beau sent ya.
Here is the “Unplugged” version of the Q&A:
MICHAEL DEAN: I expect to encounter a certain amount of your trademark manliness in a Beau Smith comic, but there can sometimes, especially in the current environment, be a thin line between machismo and jingoism. I don’t know exactly how Al Qaeda figures into your upcoming Cobb comic, but I’m curious as to whether you were concerned at all about how your Arab characters were depicted in the comic or how those depictions might be received. Were you worried at all that the use of Arab villains might contribute to a generalized mistrust of or violence toward Muslims in this country?
BEAU: Michael, in Cobb: Off The Leash, Al Qaeda plays a secondary antagonist role. In the story the main antagonists are the Russian Mafia. This particular Russian Mafia has worked out a “business” deal with Al Qaeda. In exchange a whole lot of money the Russians will give Al Qaeda some very special stealth detonators that the Russians have in their possession. Al Qaeda plans to use these special detonators to release a toxic nerve gas in a certain famous tourist spot in Florida. That’s how Al Qaeda figured into the upcoming Cobb comic.
Cobb: Off The Leash
When writing fiction stories my first concern is making sure that the story and the characters are entertaining in the roles that they play. Al Qaeda, The Russian Mobsters and Cobb himself are all characters in this story. They all have roles to play. Al Qaeda and the Russian Mobsters will be playing antagonists in this story line. Although they do things for different reasons they both will be indulging in things that are against the law in America where this story takes place. Cobb, being the protagonist will be trying to stop them from doing these crimes on American soil.
When most people pay money for fiction they generally know what the word fiction means. “Fiction is storytelling of imagined events and stands in contrast to non-fiction, which makes factual claims about reality. A large part of the appeal of fiction is its ability to evoke the entire spectrum of human emotions: to distract our minds, to give us hope in times of despair, to make us laugh, or to let us experience empathy without attachment. Fictional works?novels, stories, fairy tales, fables, films, comics, interactive fiction?may be partly based on factual occurrences but always contain some imaginary content.
Fiction has often been the target of censorship or boycotts, escalating into book burnings or bans. Extremist regimes like the Taliban have been even more prohibitive, restricting all reading to religious texts.”?Wikipedia Definition.
Fiction is a fundamental part of human culture, and the ability to create fiction and other artistic works is frequently cited as one of the defining characteristics of humanity.
You asked me if I were concerned about how the Al Qaeda characters in my story would be received and depicted. Do you mean am I concerned how Actual members of Al Qaeda will react? If they will refuse to buy the comic book? I doubt if they are going to be a major part of the consumer base of the direct market. As far as the general comic book reading public I hope they receive these characters as the fictional ones that they are written and depicted as. I would also guess that you are concerned about the other characters in the book as well. How will the Russian readership receive the Russian Mafia characters? Will they feel that I have caused mistrust? I guess I should also wonder how the large, white, blond, American male readers will react to Cobb himself. Will that cause mistrust of any large, white, blond, American males that don’t insist on saving the world from those that seek to do it harm?
I think that if any writer or creative person were to stop and dissect every character, brush stroke or block of clay they were working on then nothing would ever get created. That strange form of self-censorship would truly stifle any fiction or creative expression.
Yuri the Russian Mobster Talks Of His Deal with Al Qaeda
MICHAEL DEAN: What would you say to critics who believe that comics as a medium inherently trivialize whatever they depict and that terrorism is too serious a matter for comics to deal with?
BEAU: Like most novels, films, TV and other sources of entertainment and fiction, the greatest actors to put upon the stage are good and evil. Granted, depending on your location, beliefs and heritage, good and evil can often switch places. That’s where your demographics, consumer audience and location factor in. What sells in Japan may not in Brazil. Good vs evil is also serious. War, death, drugs, violence, murder, hate, love all these things are in comics (and the other forms mentioned) and have been since the beginning. Are these also too serious a matter to be in comics and other formats of fiction? What does that leave us with as a base of creation? Most of these critics, let’s take the ones you mentioned, need to do their homework and research before they become critical. It always helps when trying to prove your point and also to better understand the thing your are being critical about. I’ve found that most critics haven’t done their research or are merely looking to promote their own agenda using the cloak of a critic to do so.
I think an equal critical eye needs to be turned on the critic to insure that they are qualified to address the subject.
MICHAEL DEAN: I’ve seen at least one comic (Freedom 3) that attempts to replicate the Captain America cover wherein Cap punches Hitler ‘only with that title’s protagonists substituted for Captain America and Osama bin Ladin substituted for Hitler. Arguably, there was an atmosphere of titanic struggles between good and evil during the 1940s that had a lot to do with the expansion of the superhero genre in comics. How would you compare that atmosphere to what we have today? Do you feel the public would welcome a heroic figure who kicks Arab ass? Or are things too complicated, scary or tragic in the war on terrorism for it to yield much in the way of straightforward adventure entertainment? If your villains are going to be Arabs, how do you draw a line to keep the story from tipping over into racism as the anti-Jap propaganda comics on the 1940s often did?
BEAU: Time has a way of healing and forgiving. But one thing time should never do is forget. We cannot learn, progress and move forward if we do not learn from what has come before. If we forget, we do not learn.
Our world is a much different world than it was 60-70 years ago. Is it more complicated? No. It is just as complicated for us now as it was for others 60-70 years ago. The difference is we have the luxury of knowing our world and theirs. I’m sure they found the times of WWI and WWII just as complex as we find our time today. In fact, I’m sure they thought that their time was much more complex, scarier and more tragic than that time of the Civil War. Just as those of the Civil War must have thought their time was more scary, complex and tragic than that of the Revolutionary war. Why? Because like us, they can look in the present and the past, but none of us can look into the future.
It is very conceited for us to think that our time is the most anything. We lose all empathy with those that have come before when we think in that self involved way. It makes me wonder about how history is taught or if it is being taught if anyone is really listening. Unless a younger person of today would really sit and listen to another that was a part of that time what can they really know? I wonder if people forget what really went on during WWII. You mentioned the anti-Jap propaganda but not anything anti-Nazi. Have people forgot we were at war with Germany too? Germany prided themselves on being the original big ol’ white boys. Was it also anti-white propaganda when we had Batman giving Hitler a fist to the jaw on the cover of comics?
There were some very horrific things done by our enemies in WWII. Things just a tragic and terrible as 9/11 and things in the middle east today. Things not just done to and against us in America, but in their own countries against their own people.
America in more of a melting pot today than ever in it’s entire history. People from different countries have come here because they have chose to live here. Chose to become American citizens. I think that is a huge honor. We should be very proud to have a country so wonderful that people choose to come here and live. I am 100% behind always knowing where you came from and what your heritage is. If your family came from Russia, Sweden, Africa, China, wherever, you should always be proud of that. You should know your personal history. Something I’m not 100% about is the isolation factor of the becoming an hyphenated American. To me that is a dividing wedge that shouldn’t be hammered into a country that needs to unite not divide. It almost borders on the same vein as racism.
I will state here that I am a prejudiced person. I’ve always been prejudiced against assholes. Assholes come in all shapes, sizes, colors and religious backgrounds. If they’re an asshole then I don’t like em’. Every country on this planet has been an asshole at one point in their history. I guess the next thing is to figure out who is the biggest asshole. That seems to change from decade to decade.
You ask if I think there is a part, large or small, that wants to see Captain America or Superman kicking a terrorist’s ass on the cover of a comic, then my answer would be yes. I think there are people out there that would like to see that. You can’t say an Arab. Why? Because not all Arabs are assholes. Not all Arabs are terrorists, just as not all Americans are assholes. Were the people that destroyed the World Trade Centers Arabs? Yes, were they assholes? Yes. Is the Arab guy across town that owns the car dealership an asshole? No. Not everyone is an asshole. People should waste less time getting in the “Victim” line and spend ore time focusing in on who the real assholes are and how we can keep them from hurting all the non-assholes.
Being politically correct is like a union. If you don’t have enough it’s bad. If you have too much it’s just as bad. A medium ground must be found for it to be of any use.
MICHAEL DEAN: I know Cobb (release date is May 31, 2006) is not out yet, but have you gotten any feedback or concerns from editors or fans?
BEAU: The first press release on Cobb has been out for about a week or so. I have had only positive response so far. Every one seems really impressed with the art of Eduardo Barreto and I have been blessed with support from readers that are looking for a non-psycho, likable tough guy. Ted Adams, Robbie Robbins, and Chris Ryall at IDW Publishing have backed me 100% on Cobb and feel that it is my best work to date. They feel that Cobb is the most commercial tough guy comic to hit comics in over 40 years.
They’ve read the first two scripts and have asked for no changes or had any concerns.
MICHAEL DEAN: How do you feel the comics industry has responded to the war in Iraq so far? I’m thinking partly of Frank Miller‘s recently announced project and of things like the shipping of comics to soldiers overseas. Has there been too much patriotic chest-thumping or too much pussyfooting around controversy?
BEAU: Comics is an entertainment/pop culture place. Like Films and TV most think that since it is a creative community and business that it favors a liberal stance. Creativity has always been closely tied to a liberal base?even taken for granted. That’s a mistake. That is what has kept comics in this sales slump for so many years. Most publishers in comics, like movie studios, haven’t really cared or taken the time to find out who their consumers really are. You hear editors all the time whine and wonder why their book isn’t selling well. They can’t understand it? “All of them in the office love it.”
That’s the hitch. All of “Them” love it. Well, all of “Them” ain’t paying for the comics.
I think the less liberal factor is the big silent majority of the comic book reading public. I think they are well aware of what is going on in the world and in Iraq. I think they would love to have an escape area where there are solid good guys defeating bad guys. I think people want that outlet to release that steam that has built up since 9/11. The entertainment world didn’t give America an outlet to blow off non-violent steam after 9/11. Others have tried to compare Pearl Harbor and 9/11. They are equal parts the same and so different all at once. The difference was America was given a chance to blow off steam as the saying goes, when it came to entertainment in that time. We were not given that this time.
With Pearl Harbor we were given the chance to inhale what had happened then exhale. With 9/11 we had to hold our breath. As a nation we never got to exhale.
Too much chest thumping or too much pussyfooting in comics when it comes to terrorism? The PC factor was doing over time. The PC Factor put everything into a broad stroke not giving America and the rest of the world enough credit for knowing an asshole from an non asshole. There are good Muslims and there are bad Muslims just like there are good Baptists and bad Baptists. We should spend more time working on the asshole factor and less on the PC. We’re smarter than they give us credit for. It’s about time we asserted that intelligence.
MICHAEL DEAN: Speaking of controversy, there has been considerable criticism of the U.S. government lately for its covert surveillance of U.S. citizens without court approval and for its increasing willingness to take on the role of unilateral global policeman without sufficient approval or involvement of other nations. With its secret agent protagonist in the context of a war on terrorism, Cobb would seem to have the potential to step on both of those landmines. Have you given any thought to addressing those criticisms in the comic either by way of defending the government’s position or by questioning it?
BEAU: Cobb is a former level one secret service agent. He wasn’t a spy or secret agent. To be honest with you in this four issue series the story and action takes place in a short amount of time and there is not nearly enough of a clock for any of that to take any real play in the story. In fact, until Cobb lets himself come back on the government’s radar in the story he was pretty much off the grid. He has been in the system and knows how to work it.
MICHAEL DEAN: What inspired you to do a comic like Cobb? This one caught my eye, but have you done any other work recently that deals with either the war on terrorism or the war in Iraq?
BEAU: I pretty much grew up in a “Leave It To Beaver” lifestyle. I was pretty blessed with a nice normal life. I can remember early on being very impressed with the way my dad carried himself. He seemed to be liked by everyone and always did the right thing. I saw him concerned, but never scared. Due to his line of work in rough places I also saw that he could handle himself in bad situations. He never started a fight, but you could count on him finishing one. He treated women with respect and always had a polite way to him that others really admired. As a little kid I asked him one time how he learned to be that way he kinda smiled and told me that his dad taught him. He said that you just do the right thing and be a man. The important part was knowing the difference between right and wrong. The rest will take care of itself.
I found those same qualities in the movies & TV I’d watch as a kid as well as the books and comics. People like John Wayne, Kenneth Tobey, Teddy Roosevelt, Race Bannon, and others were the ones I looked up to as a kid. I always wanted to be like that if I could and write characters like that. Cobb is one of those characters. I have to admit, I also modeled Cobb after one of my dogs. I’ve got an Australian Shepherd named Blue. As a working herding dog he doesn’t have any cattle or sheep that he has to herd and watch over. Aussies are real smart dogs and they like to have a job. It’s born in em’. When you don’t have a job for them they tend to invent one for themselves. In this case, Blue invented guarding me, the pack leader, 24/7. He is with me from the time my foot hits the floor in the morning until I crawl back into bed that night. He is with me from room to room. Always making sure that he is in maximum protection position to ward off an sneak attack from any direction.
He won’t let anyone into my office with out my say so. He won’t even let my wife in the bed unless I tell him it’ ok. He loves her, but he is devoted to me first. So I put that instinct to protect into Cobb. It’s hardwired in his DNA. He can’t help it. It’s been that way all his life.
One other thing on Cobb. A few fans have already found this “Easter Egg” I hid. If you look real close at Cobb you’ll see that he kinda looks like somebody. Somebody that had grown up to be a full grown man. That person is Jonny Quest.
The most recent work that I have done involving terrorism and that sort of thing was right after 9/11. Paul Levitz from DC Comics called me up and asked me if I would write a story for their 9/11 book that they were doing. I said of course and jumped right on it. Wrote it that afternoon and had it to him the next day. Val Semieks drew it. I also did one for Billy Tucci at Crusade for a 9/11 book that he published.
That was the “Unplugged” Q&A for The Comics Journal. If you get the chance buy issue #275 and see how it turned out in print. As always I appreciate you taking the time to read all this and as always I invite your thoughts via email, message board postings and other outlets. I’m sure Michael Dean and the guys at The Comics Journal would also appreciate and invite any thoughts you may have. Remember, this is a civil discussion and not picking a fight. Smart folks, both liberal and conservative should always enjoy an intelligent discussion. Be one of the smart ones. I wanna thank Michael Dean and everyone at The Comics Journal for their time and enjoyable conversation. I wish them many more years of asking the tough questions in comics.
Time To Hit The Trail
That’s it for this week. I hope all of ya find your way back in 7 days for more of pop culture with a healthy dose of Testosterone Tabasco sauce tossed on.
I just want to remind all of you that the offer for the FREE Cobb: Off The Leash signed print is still out there. I’ve got more and all you have to do is email me with your shipping info and I’ll get it out to you for FREE anywhere in the world. Please remember to tell your local retailer to order it and to save you one. The Diamond Order number for Cobb: Off The Leash is MAR06 3280 E.
I’d like to send a big thanks out to Brian K. Morris for the box full of BACK ISSUE-THE ULTIMATE COMICS EXPERIENCE. I am having a wonderful time reading these issues that cover all the greats in comics. My cowboy hat goes off to the fine folks at TwoMorrows Publishing for making such a fun magazine. With every turn of the page I am 12 years old again. Y’all should check BACK ISSUE out at http://www.twomorrows.com
Looking forward to hearing from all of ya.
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