Saturday, April 30, 2005

Comic Book Prejudice

Huh. When did it become cool to slam an entire group of people for their preferred media? Case in point. Big Bro forwarded that review link to me because of the feminist angle, and I ended up emailing him a lengthy rant that I've continued here (not against big bro, he's just the messenger).

The reviewer acknowledges the mythic element of superhero graphic novels and the films based on them, then dismisses them as unworthy of any accolades because they aren't as important as low budget talky films. This is exactly why I admire Ebert's film reviews. He's able to distinguish between genres and rate the films against other films in that genre instead of elevating the importance of one category over another (the way the Oscars extoll dramas).

Also, I don't see the point of appropriating feminist theory to exclude women from an entire genre of film because you don't like the people who like that genre. How is that progressive for women? And to site the misogynistic Short Cuts as an example of feminism in head almost spun off my shoulders. What? Have you read feminist film theory in the last fifteen years?

And how come post modern referentiality is fresh in Pulp Fiction, but stupid in Kill Bill? Seems like the reviewer felt exluded from the genre references in KB, while PF made broad cultural references so that everyone got something. I mean, what's so much more special about the Royale with Cheese monologue than the Superman monologue other than everyone's grown up on fast food commercials, and not everyone has actually read a Superman comic? As far complex morality, Bud and Bill had plenty of it. I love Bud's reasoning for letting Beatrix come for him, as much as I love the complexity of Elle wanting to be the one to kill her rather than Bud (Sisterhood against the men, but in the end it's every girl for herself).

Giving your opinion is one thing. Thinking it's cool to display ignorant bias against an entire group of people you name "fanboys" is prejudice. Substitute any other group of oppressed people just trying to get by in the world, and you would not be allowed to sling those stones. All it takes is a jock beating a fanboy to death in some highschool, and this reign of verbal abuse will end.

Fanboys know we're geeks. You already told us all through gradeschool, so we created our own clique where we could breathe. Don't come on our turf now trying to beat us down with how geeky we are. Eff you. Just go back to ignoring us in the world that you own and leave our little empowered subculture alone. I mean really, everybody's interests are weird to others. Wine tasting? Sports? Jazz music? Collector plates? Movies? But I haven't seen the collective vitriol aimed against these groups. Guess comic book lovers are easy to keep beating down.

For you "fanboys with decoder rings" (ohhhh...that REALLY HURTS....coming from a pedantic snob), enjoy this little flash site: Evil Dead Regenerartion. Particularly enjoyable: the Bolex transformed into an "Evilflex" in the gallery section.

Last but not least, check out the letter to the editor from Carrie about the Mom's Cancer appearance in The San Diego Reader. This person clearly didn't bother to read the comic, but did bother to write a letter about its content based on the prejudice that because the medium is comics, Mom's Cancer must be meant as a cruel joke. And ended the argument with "And I think that you suck." Huh?

Is this what my family is going to be dealing with now? Hate mail from comic bashers?

Prejudice against comics.

Class action lawsuit, anyone? Fanboys assemble!


ronnie said...

Forget about Carrie's letter. There are always going to be people who "don't get it". I am sure Big Bro, and all of you, are strong enough to understand that they're misguided more than anything. The overwhelming support Mom's Cancer has gotten from cancer survivors and people living with cancer is clear indication that the grim mutterers are the ones with the wrong end of the stick.

Loved your line about "creating a clique where we could breathe"... I think one of the greatest gifts the development of the web has given humanity is the ability to find others like ourselves and to build community. "Hey! I'm not a freak after all and I'm suddenly pretty darn proud of being a geek!"

Now, take that long email you sent Brian - and a copy of this blog post - and send it to the Ron Rosenbaum. HE needs it :)


Kid Sis said...


Jessica said...

I live in San Diego, and have a copy of that Reader. I was at the open mic my dad runs and a bunch of people were looking through the issue, and I made a point to tell them all to read the comic. :)

I'm a geek too.. I'm *proud* of being a geek. I've been going to the San Diego Comic Con since I was 16, I wear shirts with unix code on them, I have a lightsaber, etc.

One of the toughest sells I have when convincing someone to check out, say, anime for the first time.. Is explaining to them the concept that Americans are still having problems with: cartoons and comics are not just for seven year olds. Just because the story is accompanied by animation or pictures does not devalue the impact or the meaning of the story at all.

My grandmother died of lung cancer. She was way too weak to fight it. However, I will never forget spending my spring break my senior year of high school helping my mom take her to radiation treatments every day.. That I knew weren't going to save her, but were just trying to shrink a tumor enough to make her comfortable.

Anonymous said...

Y'all seem to know a lot about this subject, so I'll just ask: what's the difference between comics, cartoons, and anime? I was just thinking -- South Park and the Simpsons are pretty freaking popular among adults, and have been for a long while. How are they not lumped in with this genre that people so love to hate?

Just wondering...

Kid Sis said...

I'll probably mess this up, as I am just a comic book fan (and mostly DC and Marvel at that).

So please, feel free to correct me where I go wrong.

But really simplistically, I think comics are drawings you read in a book or sunday newspaper, with Manga being the Japanese term. And cartoons are many of those drawings flipped together or computer animated together to simulate movement, and are shown on computers, tv, and movies (Japanese term is anime).

And the Japanese produce many of both, and have many worldwide fans.

I find the prejudice to be against the books, which most people have never actually read but seem to think they know (whereas everybody has seen something like Disney or Pixar features.) The books are actually often written for adults, and are a beautiful medium that requires a great deal of imagination and interaction from the reader (Marshall McLuhan would approve).

Oh, and graphic novels or trade books are expensive, more permanent collection of comics. Back in the day, comics were printed cheaply, and weren't meant to last long (more like newspapers). Graphic novels are as nice quality as reading books.

How did I do?

Jessica said...

You did well, Kid Sis. :)

Shows like the Simpsons and South Park survive amongst adults becuase they're funny. They take a humourous crack-shot at life, and people enjoy that. Plus, it's okay for the Simpsons to poke fun at pop culture because, well, the Simpsons aren't "real." Despite the fact that if the Simpsons were a live-action show, the type of lifestyle they live would not be funny, people can laugh and enjoy the show because it's drawn. They're not "real." They're yellow-skinned caricatures of people.

America loves the concept of "suspension of belief." Even when super-hero comics get serious, as they often do, it's okay because the story is told through drawings, and the caracters have fantastical powers and whatnot to get them out of scrapes. And adult might recall fondly being worried about Batman surviving an attack by Joker as his 9 year old son flips through his old comic books, but he'll dismiss it as remembering how caught up he got in fantasy as a child.

The vast majority of adult America is not ready to recognize the comic as serious, viable story telling medium. Japan is light-years ahead of us in coming to the conclusion that a story, real or imagined, is just as "real" and has just as much impact when told through drawings, vs paragraphs of text.

When you take a real, serious story and tell it pictorialy, America balks at this because it's forced to face the idea that pictures, drawings, cartoons can't wipe away reality. And it misses out on the amazing concept that, sometimes, the story has *more* impact with those pictures because they're a manifestation of what the author sees in his or her head.

The sad fact of it is, the characters depicted in the Simpsons and South Park aren't characters we would laugh at if they were live action. Homer's failures as a father, Kenny's living conditions, Cartman's obesity, Bart's propensity for trouble.. They're only funny becuase they're drawn and scripted that way.

Yikes, I'm sure this has gone far past the original intent of the topic. I blame this on being a college student in dissertation writing mode. :) However, it does address why I think shows like South Park work for adults, and drawn media goes over most people's heads.

Kid Sis - I hope, especially with the Eisner nomination , that you'll try and come to San Diego for Comic Con. I think you'd enjoy the experience of so many people coming together to celebrate comic books, American or Japanese, as a true, viable, serious story telling medium. :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the enlightenment! It's all very interesting.

I hadn't really thought about it -- am I getting this right? Comic books are considered pulp fiction (of sorts) and thus thought of as low culture, whereas Disney and Pixar movies and TV shows are so popular they escape the low culture stigma. The medium seems to dictate popularity; popularity dictates acceptance.

But I wonder about the whole "real" versus "not real" thing. Seems like South Park is a satire, and maybe we accept it because it's a cartoon, but then, the show Roseanne also seemed deeply satirical, and that featured 'real' people (not cartoons).

Both South Park and Roseanne did endure pretty harsh criticisms -- often for the same things (crass humor, bad fat jokes, crass language, disgusting characters, etc).

Of course, they were both on TV, and both pretty popular (despite efforts of hardcore conservatives to get them off the air). Is that why we accept them? Is it all about bottom line ratings? How grotesque.

How long will wait until ghettoized genres like Sci-Fi and comics come in to their own?


Andrew Ironwood said...

Why is it when I read "Fanboys assemble!", I see a small, skinny kid with a Captain America T-shirt holding an old-fashioned round metal garbage can lid up in the air?...

Jessica said...

True, Rosanne was a satire as well. However, I don't recall it being particularily humorous. The show was crass, and jokes were told, but it had a decidely more serious tint to it than South Park does. Don't forget, too, that South Park airs on Comedy Central.. An adult cable network.

I don't know if all comics are considered pulp fiction, but there's definately a subgenre within comics that generate pulp fiction.

I think the point is, at least to me, comics in America are viewed as something to enjoy. Be it something laughable, something momentarily serious that the hero gets out of every time, or something dark and distopic about an alternate view of where humanity is going. Those are guilty pleasures to the mainstream adult world.

Comics such as Mom's Cancer are harder to gain acceptance because of this view that comic books are synonomous with humor, pleasure, or a guilty past time. Which, this is really unfortunate. Once again, I reiterate, drawn media is just as valid for telling a serious story.

Okay, I could drag this out even more.. And end up writing a dissertaion on comic books as a valid media form.. So, I'll end.. For now. :)

Kid Sis said...

Jessica, we're all going to Comic-con this year! Very excited. I went last year, and two years before that, but it's the first time for everyone else involved with Mom's Cancer.

And I agree with you that "The vast majority of adult America is not ready to recognize the comic as serious, viable story telling medium. Japan is light-years ahead of us in coming to the conclusion that a story, real or imagined, is just as "real" and has just as much impact when told through drawings, vs paragraphs of text."

I'm getting sick of defending the comic medium, because this seems so obvious to me (and because people are so smirky when they put comics and fanboys down).

Louie said...

I think it's basically a generational thing, the "it" being the acceptance of comics as a serious medium. The baby boomers by and large don't get it and just aren't going to get it. Forget 'em. The best news about the Ron Rosenbaums of the world is that they're dying. ;-)

But the post-B.B. generations mostly DO get it. The popularity of anime, manga, comic-cons, etc. has really only taken off during this past several years. The situation just keeps getting better. Look at the sheer number of successful movies derived from "serious" comics in the last several years. Each hit movie like "Sin City" leads more people to discover the work of Frank Miller, and so it goes.

Jessica said...

Kid Sis - Comic Con is awesome. I'm excited that you'll have the chance to experience it. You'll find a much different world there. :) You'll be among thousands of other geeks who are not afraid to show their fannish tendencies. I, myself, will be there with my lightsaber. (I would costume if I had the time & money to make a costume right now.)

Louie - Yes, the current generation is much more well versed in comics and animation. However, not every teenager or twentysomething is ready to accept comics, either. In the lab I work in at school, I'm the minority in my geekiness. I'm the only anime/manga/comic/cartoon fan in here. And I'm majoring in a "geeky" subject - Chemistry. :)

Our generation is more aware of comics, but I attribute that largely to the influx of Japanese media into our country. The onslaught of multi-generational drawn medium has helped turn the tides from "animation is for kids" to "animation is for everyone and can tell stories just as well," but the battle is not over yet. Obviously.

As the internet is flooded with more webcomics, and store shelves are filled with more graphical stories, the breadth of topics and story types will increase. Hopefully this will encourage more and more people to give this medium a chance.

I will close this statement with one final example:

I started reading a webcomic called "Megatokyo" years ago. Back then, it was a four-panel gag a day type strip. Eventually, the artist decided he wanted to take the story deeper, get away from the gag a day, and start developing the characters and the overall plot. Despite the abundance of serious manga available, there are still people, to this day, who make posts on forums everywhere talking about how "Megatokyo" sucks now that it's not funny anymore. I love "Megatokyo." It was a cute gag comic, and I appreciated the gaming humor. However, I also love the format it's had for the last few years. I enjoy the deep plotlines, non-superficial stories. But, the point is, there are still people stuck up on this idea that if it's a "comic" it needs to be funny.

Dave said...

Of course Carrie's letter is off-base, but I only feel a great deal of sympathy for her. She's lashing out at Mom's Cancer because she's in a great deal of pain and lacks the capacity right now to deal with it.

Any mention of cancer in any context probably sets her off. I have to wonder, too, how old Carrie is. My guess is she is a young teenager and probably feeling very alone in her misery.

Kid Sis said...

Oh god, I know. i really should have said something about that in my post...I'm not mad at her, I feel her pain. It's just, if one person bothered to write, probably 50 people felt that way...which leads me to being concerned about the book. A lot of this is me thinking about what's going to happen in the next year. I feel bad for Carrie, really.