Runaway Imagination on the Back of a Wild Mare / the Chomunnist Party

 

So this month it’s Frank Cho. Again.

For those of you who haven’t been following this, Udon Comics showed off one of the variants to their upcoming ‘Cammy’ mini-series. Said Variant is by Frank Cho, doing his Spider-Manara schtick again. While normally Frank’s covers work on this formula: Frank posts cover. People Tut. Frank sells cover for lots of money anyway (except for that time someone actually said they’d hit him for the Spider-Gwen piece Cho drew, because comics are nothing like a religion and people don’t take wrong depictions of fictional characters as some kind of blasphemy in any way.) This instance has been a little different.


The author of said book, Jim Zub expressed his displeasure with Udon’s choice of Cho as a cover artist on Twitter but ultimately conceded that it was out of his hands. It does seem a bit odd to be suddenly worrying about the over-sexualisation of Cammy as she’s spent the last ten years at least being one of the eye-candy major selling points of Street Fighter imagery. Udon’s standard covers aren’t exactly the work of prudes, and have the disadvantage of not being as well drawn as Frank’s version. Cammy is usually drawn in some state of presenting, for better or worse and nothing in the solicits for the upcoming books suggest any major change in that aesthetic.

Don’t go Googling ‘cammy street fighter fan art’. At least not on your work computer.

The reason this happenstance is different is that there seems to be more than the usual flutter of tutting from the usual suspects, and some comic creators have themselves taken to social media to note a form of disapproval. In all honesty, a back-handed kind of disapproval. ‘While obviously we don’t want to say “Can you stop doing this because we don’t like it!” that is what we’re getting at.’

To me, the idea that some comic artists are going to create work that not everyone likes is a natural corollary of not having a Comics Code in effect anymore. With the exception of sales and pre-orders, there isn’t any authority in place to say ‘No, Frank, you can’t draw Power Girl in that pose because it violates our standards.’ There are no standards anymore and haven’t been for quite a while. 

 bill gaines


Now, I’d like to say to you ‘Hey, cool, man. I’m all good. Publish and be damned. Down With The Straights! Etc’ but I’d be lying. The source of that lie would be the existence of Avatar Press.

TL:DR version. There’s a big difference between Trash and Shit.

As a reader and a retailer, I have a big problem with Avatar Press. Much as I’d like to just dump them in the same segment of my brain as Double Take, Boundless, that bit in Previews where Dynamite try to flog new signed comics for $30 a piece and Aspen, it’s not quite that simple. They’ve got some of the best writers who’ve ever worked in the business on their roster. 

Which should be great. We’ve all heard the horror stories of editors holding back the creative reins of incredibly talented writers and artists, and seen that when untethered, these people could turn out some incredible work once the lurking ogre of the evil editor was removed.  I believe a major factor in the formation of Tundra was to try and form a creative environment  where creative were able to produce work that fit their vision without having to kowtow to some Assistant Editor at Marvel who would screw up things just to justify their job.

Except that the comics that some of the biggest writers in the history of comic are producing look, with a couple of notable exceptions*, awful .

Not awful as in ‘Oooh, I can’t handle the guts and dark concepts, man, take it away!’. I mean actually low-rent, bad cover design, not ready for prime time covers of the shockingly bad quality that I thought had died out in the early 90’s when the likes of Aircel, Eternity and Adventure had ‘closed their doors’. As a reader, I’m obviously free to say ‘Well, I just won’t buy them.’ Job done.

As a retailer, it’s a bit more awkward as I don’t want to stock these books. They make the shelves look ugly, they lower the tone of the place and carry on the idea that the entire comics industry is nothing more than a fat kid’s bedroom with some seriously misogynistic ideas about women. Have a read of Crossed and then have a look at their website. Which offers you a number of ‘Torture Variant Covers.’ Luckily, the comics audience appears to agree with me, and while I’ll get them in as a standing order, there’s never been, say, 30 people demanding I carry Uber or Extinction Parade.

What I’m trying to do is bring back the culture of the live and in person comics community that welcomes all the usual Green Lantern T-Shirt wearing people, but also the notion of the comic shop as content provider for everyone rather than a Fisher Price Stock Exchange where comics are sold on their future investment potential. I want people buying, say, Civil War 2 because they want to read it. Oddly, I think reading the damn things is the future of our survival, and the kind of ‘Chained Up Women Who Looks Like They Were Made Out Of Bubblegum Being Knifed In The Arse.’ Is some serious niche rubbish that will drive away more people than it’ll attract. 


But then I’m asked frequently  ‘Has Alan Moore written anything new lately?’

And to be honest, I try to reconfigure the question. 
‘Why, yes. He wrote a rather good series of books with Kevin O’Neill about Nemo. Here they are!’
‘Oh, I heard he did something else. Something about zombies.’
‘Sigh. Yes. Crossed 100…..’
*Customer looks at comic.
‘Alan Moore…wrote this?’ 
‘…Yes.’
‘Is he hard up or something? Anything else?’
‘Um….Fashion Beast.

 
You can probably imagine how that goes, and Avatar is the reason I don’t do shelves by authors here. While a shelf that contains Preacher, The Boys, Hitman, The Pro and such would be great, I’d have to add Crossed to it. And I don’t want to promote that. I understand a number of young artists need somewhere to cut their teeth, so one more company producing comics is a good starting point. However, when you’re a writer of some cache with a number of successful comics in print, you have to have seen Avatar’s output and again, their torture porn variants and I wonder why, with so many other options like IDW, Dynamite, Image, Boom, Soaring Penguin or Humanoids out there, why would you want your new work to look like some kind of hacked out bad porn from the Black & White boom of 1986?


And with all that in mind, I don’t want Avatar to stop what they’re doing.

Well, I do, but not because I don’t like their output, but because we as a collective readership just don’t provide income for them by not wanting their comics anymore. We outgrow that kind of stuff and realize that actual fetish dating websites are cheaper to subscribe to and anyone with an issue of Skin Two and a copy of Photoshop can probably create their own versions of the torture variants cheaper and to a better quality than Avatar hack out and charge premiums for.

Because no aspect of this industry can ever be governed by ‘I don’t like it.’ 

 
I imagine readers are going to the comments section already with ‘One more white person arguing censorship to defend Frank Cho quasi-porn lol’ in mind, but it isn’t that simple. The side we usually see of this argument is ‘Male draws woman in questionable situation. Websites run images and add “This is not on” editorial.’ At some point, someone is going to seriously bring up the notion of a revised Comics Code, with standards in place to make sure She-Hulk doesn’t bend over, Catwoman doesn’t get shot in the head, The Joker can’t threaten Batgirl, etc.


At which point the other group of people frequently questioning the content of comics are allowed to suggest changes based on their standards and values. 

I’m never sure why this isn’t brought up more often in the comics press (although the suspicion is obviously ‘Spider-Gwen’s arse will generate more web traffic than pictures of some soccer moms.’) but there is a group called the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. What they do is help out and document cases where pressure has been brought to remove a work entirely from a library, a college, a chain of comic shops, etc or where cartoonists have had some kind of trouble.



Recent examples include The U.N. attempting to tell Japan what kind of Manga it can produce, Turkish journalists being imprisoned for reproducing Charlie Hebdo covers, students attempting to have Love & Rockets removed from college libraries for sympathetic portrayals of homosexuals, the One Million Moms attempt to pressure Toys R Us into not carrying Archie’s ‘Kevin Keller’ book on the grounds that it would tell young people it is okay to be gay…

I mean, the list is rather huge, and if this column is to serve no other purpose, then it’s to get you to check out their page and hopefully donate to their cause as they do some incredible work. Most good comic shops carry their free monthly newsletter ‘Defender’ or you can get each issue from Comixology for nothing.

So if we start down the lines of ‘We are in need of a Code that defines what is and isn’t acceptable in comics, then it isn’t just ‘Us nice, right thinking progressive people’ who would setting the standards, but anyone who has a vested interest in controlling what can be depicted in comics would also have the same right to have their voices heard. You may think your opinion that Frank Cho is creating work that shouldn’t be allowed is perfectly valid. There are also those who honestly believe that exposure to a sympathetic gay character will actually make someone gay. And if we have to abide by your values, then there’s no reason not to go by theirs, since in both cases, all we have is opinion and taste to go by.

The price for the right to read Kevin Keller is the understanding that not everything the comics industry creates needs to live up to your standards.

*I really liked Warren Ellis and Paul Dufflefield’s ‘Freakangels‘. Sadly, the link that was there before that would take you to the free webcomics now just takes you to an advert for ‘Crossedcomic.com’ Sorry. Also Ennis & McCrea’s ‘Dicks‘ will always make me laugh. I’m a terrible human being like that.

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