Archive for the 'gender' Category

on Scans_Daily

Catch-up time: Scans_Daily was, until today, a Livejournal community where fans posted and discussed scanned excerpts of comic books. I’m pretty sure it began (in 2003, according to Google’s cache of the userinfo) as a spinoff from some other community along the lines of Depp_Daily where fans posted and discussed photos of male hotties. In the time I followed it, S_D’s volume grew to the point of dozens of posts per day, and I had to “de-friend” it to keep all my other friends’ posts from getting choked out.

Today Livejournal suspended the community. It’s unlikely to return in that form. Brian Cronin has a piece up on CSBG@CBR, suggesting that writer Peter David may or may not have had something to do with it. Peter David posts an account of his involvement. Johanna D-C’s round-up includes a link to writer Gail Simone’s thoughtful response. [Edited to add: Brigid Alverson has another interesting response].

A lot of fans are responding to the news with accounts of how S_D persuaded them to buy comics they otherwise wouldn’t have. That’s the case for me — I followed the community from something like 2004-2007, and I certainly wouldn’t have shelled out $50 recently for the American Flagg! hardcover if not for a Scans_Daily post by Warren Ellis pointing out various formal innovations Chaykin used on a single page of the first issue (the “1996!!!!!!!!!!!!!” page). During that time I was also director of the Reed College Comic Book Reading Room, and a fair amount of our $4000 annual budget was influenced by the online chatter on S_D and the blogosphere.

When I started working for Top Shelf, I posted an excerpt of Alex Robinson’s Lower Regions (a Top Shelf book) to the community. Since it didn’t feature Green Lantern and Aquaman humping each other, it wasn’t a wildly popular post, but it caught some attention from RPG gamers and Alex Robinson fans, and Alex himself showed up the comment thread to interact with them a little bit.

A friend (in a private post) grumbled today about the dismissive attitude of certain commenters (“oh well, it was full of bitching and slash anyway”), declaring that reaction to be part of a broader discomfort that many male fans have with the feminine form of fandom. In response, she more or less said “a man in S_D feels like a woman in a comic shop.”

[Edited to add: I should clarify that the comments below use S_D as a jumping-off point for a broader discussion — I admit I haven’t visited the community in at least a year, and I can’t defend or attack whatever it may have become recently, or the reasons for its removal.]

I remember being pretty shocked at the culture of S_D when I first discovered it years ago. It was a thriving community of fans interacting with superhero comics in an entirely different manner than I was used to. But it didn’t feel like “this is how they do it on the internet,” it felt like “this is how they do it when women are in charge.” I soon decided that superhero-comics-fandom (as represented by S_D) was a subset of fandom as a broader entity — that these folks were performing more or less the exact same practices (fanfiction, slash, icon design, roleplay, claiming) on Green Lantern that were being performed on Harry Potter and Stargate Atlantis and every other entertainment property in the world, to some degree.

And it felt weird. I recognized these characters and these images, but they were looking at them in ways that I had never imagined. It felt, now that I think about it, a lot like visiting a Sunday service at the black church across town (part of the annual swap that our churches held on MLK weekend, our token response to MLK’s observation that “at 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing and ‘Christ has no east or west,’ we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation”). We were reading the same book, but in a vastly different manner.

It’s remarkable to me how segregated superhero fandom is. There’s “masculine” fandom (largely on message boards?) and “feminine” fandom (largely on Livejournal), and seldom do the twain meet.

I’m not very interested in superheroes these days one way or the other, but I appreciate what fans see in them — both kinds of fans. It seems to me that other sorts of fandom have been able to integrate themselves more successfully — despite the fact that anime and manga are explicitly categorized as “for girls” and “for boys,” they seem to coexist peacefully at conventions and online, and there seems to be a great deal of overlap. Contrast that with your standard comic shop or convention.

I think there are valuable tools and insights to be had from both of these approaches to the material, and I do wish for a little more intercommunication.

Edited again to add: Lisa “Ragnell” Fortuner has some passionate but helpful thoughts up on Robot 6, summarized in a comment to her own post: “This is a matter of legal murkiness, not gender hostility. One you react to by decreasing your profile or just ceasing your activities, while the other you react to by increasing your profile and stubbornly continuing your activities. Surely, you can see the difference here and the disastrous potential.”

Oh, it’s Dave Sim time again

Heidi’s post yesterday has kicked off another debate about Dave Sim, particularly relating to his new book Judenhass. For the record, I pretty much agree with her.

Skimming through the (108 at this writing) comments, Charles Hatfield weighs in:

Me, I’m not inclined to see this as a question of “separating the art from the artist.” Making that separation would impoverish my understanding of the art.

The Lovecraft example in the thread is apropos: racism not only informed Lovecraft’s life, it also informed and shaped his art. (For evidence of this, see, e.g., “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family,” a.k.a. “The White Ape.”) I read Lovecraft, when I read him at all, knowing full well that he was an ardent racist and in no way anxious to defend him from that charge. The dread of otherness that informs Lovecraft’s fiction is a symptom of his racism, though it also makes for interesting, intense, nightmarish fiction that can be read from a variety of other perspectives. I’d say this applies to Sim’s stuff, certainly during the second half of CEREBUS (though I confess to having read only a part of it). For this reason I don’t think Sim’s “philosophizing” is separable from his art. I’d say we’ve got to take it all, the whole package, and read the art against the artist, and vice versa.

That’s very well said. Lovecraft’s cosmic terror and racial anxiety are definitely related (although I wouldn’t call one symptomatic of the other, but rather categorize them both as manifestations of a general fear-of-Other). And Sim’s artistic output should only be seen as a product of the person he was at the time he created it.

Lovecraft, who once owned a cat named Nigger-Man
Lovecraft, who once owned a cat named Nigger-Man and wrote it into “The Rats in the Walls”

Elektra, in another comment, offers a fairly common rationale for distinguishing between historical bigotry and contemporary bigotry:

I’m not a Lovecraft fan either, but I can excuse the bigotry of a man born in the 19th century in a way I can’t excuse it in a man living in the 21st century.

But here’s the really interesting and ironic part: Judenhass appears to be Dave’s plea that we accept responsibility for the Holocaust in some way — that we stop being bewildered by the question “how could it have happened?” and acknowledge the latent judenhass that lies within each of us. It invites us, I assume, to consider the Holocaust as a manifestation of fears and desires that are inherent to ourselves.

Inevitable?
Inevitable?

As Heidi points out, there’s an irony here. It’s not only that Dave is eager to analyze the xenophobia* that led to the Holocaust while oblivious to the xenophobia that underlies his own attitude toward women. It’s also that we in the comics community seem to be throwing up our hands and saying “how could Dave have happened?” in the same way that Dave’s new book demands that we not do toward the Holocaust. Rather, he demands that we look within ourselves and see that repulsive act as merely an amplified incarnation of anxieties that are fundamental to our society’s (or species’) collective mind.

It’s an open question whether Dave’s demand is fair or not. But if we accept the premise that “the Holocaust did not occur in a vacuum but is part of a long tradition of anti-Jewish sentiment,” we ought to be consistent and ask whether “the nasty bits of Dave Sim’s frauenhass did not arise in a vacuum but are part of a long tradition of anti-female sentiment.”

Is Lovecraft excusable because he wrote from a culture of bigotry? Is Sim culpable because he doesn’t? (Doesn’t he?) I don’t think these are sensible questions, because we shouldn’t be in the business of “blaming” or “excusing” artists. The question is whether the artist has anything to teach us. To my mind, the answer is clearly “yes” for both. But what they intended to teach us is almost always a very small fraction of it.

*”Xenophobia” here used in its broader sense, “fear of those who are different”

You’ve come a long way, baby


by Louise Simonson. From the trailblazing Wonder Woman of the 1940s to edgy, girl-power-driven comics series like Birds of Prey, DC Comics Covergirls takes a look at the female characters of DC Comics throughout the company’s history, and features many of DC Comics’ iconic comic book covers. Written by renowned comic book writer Louise Simonson, the book examines the evolution of the comic book women of DC Comics: the 1942 introduction of the most famous DC heroine, Wonder Woman, and her various incarnations up to the present; the creation of comic book spin-offs based on characters such as Lois Lane; and the recent wealth of fierce, female character-driven comics such as Supergirl, Birds of Prey, Batgirl, and Catwoman.

Somehow I feel this book would be more convincing if the cover weren’t so… terrible. Conceptual issues aside (which are pretty obviously distasteful), what is going on with the execution? The bottom half is obviously Adam Hughes, which makes it more frustrating – he can do so much better than this!

Hang on, can we get a close-up?


Greaaaat. Thanks. So… what’s up with the boob sock? What happened to the rest of the abdomen? And why opt for the empty-headed cum-catcher bimbo expression instead of, say, a satisfied grin reflecting the knowledge of how far we’ve supposedly come (, baby)? She’s either a blow-up doll or horrified of her own history — presumably not the message DC would like to send.

ETA: Johnny Bacardi clears up the source in the comments.


Leigh Walton talks comics and maybe other arts. (RSS)
He also works for the very excellent publisher Top Shelf Productions (which does not necessarily endorse the views and opinions, etc, herein).

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Header by me. Contains an interpolation of the final panel from All-Star Superman #1 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. Speaking of which.

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