Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Alt-Right Tries to Reclaim Comics: Part One

The Alt-Right Tries to Reclaim Comics: Part One

I'm not a big fan of many movements in modern superhero comics. Both in technique and topic, they seem to be sliding into shallow pieces of shlock that prioritize the quick buck over maintaining solid narrative. In addition, comics, especially Marvel, have embraced the most annoying brand of political progressiveness, alienating fans and losing sight of what superhero stories actual are. Fans and other nerds alike are ready for comics that do not purposely insult them.

A multi-ethnic coalition beats the white dude. Subtle.

Astoundingly, the AltHero project raised nearly a quarter of a million dollars in crowd funding, so I don't think Vox or his ideas are going away soon. After taking a look at his writings on comics and AltHero, however, it becomes clear that despite a few decent ideas and some passable art, the current state of the project is bitter and flawed. 

Growing resentment to the status-quo in comics probably explains Vox Day's AltHero. Vox Day is a an Alt-Right culture warrior, and he sees comics as yet another battleground of societal influence that needs to be reclaimed from liberals. Therefore, AltHero represents his attempt to enter into the fray. Some people, predictably, have immediately denigrated the enterprise, even though it hasn't even come out yet. To be fair, associating your comic with the Alt-Right is going to color your work before anyone has a chance to give it a fair shake.

First off, Vox's own words on comics are not very promising. He does not care about comics, but he believes that success will be determined by a mixture of arrogance and admitted ignorance. Pointing at his Amazon Kindle numbers, Vox claims that his approach of storytelling is a "fundamentally different approach to comic book storytelling than the standard presently being utilized by the industry as a whole." However, a closer look reveals that he's not doing anything really different, he's just got an audience that's willing to buy whatever he cranks out. He's getting the equivalent of a protest vote from consumers. 

Vox wants to start a comic book revolution, even though he doesn't care about the medium apart from its value as a cultural battleground. Now where have we seen that kind of thing before? Oh right, we've seen it come from the very SJW practices that Vox is supposedly battling. 

I.C.E, I.C.E., baby...
Secondly, perusing the AltHero pitch reveals some telling things. Now while some people who hear of an Alt-Right project might judge it according to preconceived notions, the comic material presented is pretty standard fare for the most part apart from one notable exception. The pitch video shows a vigilante who cleans up the streets "One illegal  at a time." Funny, I thought superheroes fought supervillains, not José the vegetable picker.

This particular bent will be accused by one side of the political system as racist, while the other side may agree with it wholeheartedly. Either way, this take is needlessly divisive and ignores what superheroes have always been about. Superheroes aren't necessarily liberal or conservative. In fact, I'd say they often straddle between the two sides of the political spectrum. Superheroes, unlike what you will hear from political ideologues, are a mix of conflicting political ideas. They often operate outside of the law; and yet, they often work to uphold a loose sense of humanitarian status quo. In this way, superheroes appeal to everyone, no matter your political persuasion. SJW comics have certainly lost sight of this truth; however, simply responding with an obnoxious political contrarianism is not the path to unite true fans of the genre. All you do is further divide the fandom.

It's a shame really, a sad waste of an opportunity. Having a regular superhero run into the immigration issue as presented from another political perspective might have been interesting reading. As we shall see in part two of this exploration of AltHero, Vox is capable of nuance. Having a hero target illegal immigrants is hilariously tone deaf if you're trying to appeal to a wide audience.

Vox will not revolutionize comics with his approach. At best, he'll create a sub-niche of bitter contrarians who read his material to spite mainstream offerings. Hooray for comics.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Blah Blah Blog

And Now, Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Program

So, it's been awhile. How have you been? I have been pretty busy. Just so you guys know, I have been running a webcomic at Superskooled. You should definitely check it out! 

One thing I'm trying to learn is how to generate content without letting my need for perfection stifle my creativity. Here's a comic my artist and I put together on the subject: 
This is for all of my peeps who struggle with writing. 
Anyways, there's something to be said about getting content out, even if it's rough around the edges and everywhere else. So even though it's a bit late for New Year's, I'm going to commit to updating on a regular basis. My goal would be 2-3 times a week, but we'll have to see. The entries will probably be shorter, but I have a great deal on my mind, so I think I'll still have plenty to say.

Stay tuned, True Believers!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

"Rise #1" Invites Readers to Do a Double Take on a Horror Classic

Comics based on established properties can be a mixed bag. On the one hand, it is always good to see something beloved like an old movie get infused with life through a new medium. On the other hand, comics based on movies don't necessarily have a reputation for having high quality. "Rise #1," based on the zombie classic Night of the Living Dead, is an interesting experiment in alternate universe storytelling and horror comics.

All of Double Take's Comics are based in the Romero zombie universe, with "Rise" being an offshoot of the first film. This initial issue follows the first two characters introduced in the movie, siblings Johnny and Barbara, as they try to survive the first zombie outbreak in history. Anyone familiar with this film (and if you're not, I highly recommend watching it online, as it is in the public domain) knows that Johnny is the first casualty of the movie, and the story "Rise" seems to follow the film very closely at first, even down to some panels that look like they were lifted directly from movie stills. However, this comic does not feel merely tied down by the plot of the film and is able to explore what happens around the events of the story. Instead of following Barbara, readers get to see what a seemingly zombi-fied Johnny was up right before he snatches his sister in the climax of the movie. In addition, a scene with government officials allows some development of the world of the Romero films, as this comic is a part of a larger continuity. In addition, this tale comes with a big twist on the story that completely upends whatever expectations readers have regarding what actually occurred at the conclusion of Night of the Living Dead.

The artwork on display in the comic matches the tone set by the film well. Federica Manfredi's pencils are spot on in portraying scenes from Night of the Living Dead in a way that clearly evokes the movie, but isn't merely a carbon copy of it either. Barbara's depiction, in particular, is given a little more strength than the way she is shown in the film. Also of note is the use of paneling in this comic. The story uses a great deal of moment to moment transitions, allowing for readers to tease out the more suspenseful moments more fully. It certainly does not have a typical action comic's pacing, but it works well for the horror genre. The only real issue with the artwork comes from the lettering, specifically the speech balloons. Every one of them is a similarly sized rectangle, and the blandness of it detracts a bit from the overall effect of the work.      

What really makes this comic interesting is how the story fits and connects with the film. Those who know the story will find it rewarding to see how Michael Coast, Bill Jemas, and Jeff McComsey have found a way to create an entire new thread for the characters of the movie while still honoring the continuity of it. This strength, however, is also the weakness of the comic. I read through this piece before I had actually had a chance to watch the film; and although this piece is still good, I wasn't really struck by the true impact of it until I went back and watched the movie. Either way, "Rise #1" is a breath of fresh air for anyone who is looking for something interesting and fresh from the horror and zombie genre.

"Rise #1" is available to read for free from Double Take's website. It doesn't get better than that.  

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Last Time I Will Talk About Diversity Media

A slew of SJW oriented nonsense hit comics and nerd culture since I last posted. Iron man will be replaced by a 15-year-old black girl, and Donald Trump became MODAAK. The incoming reviews of the feminist Ghostbusters reboot seem to be fairly terrible, as expected. The thing is, I could spend an eternity ranting about everything wrong with third wave, intersectional feminist identity politics and how it literally is the antithesis of artistic expression. But I have other things to get to in my life, so I'm going to keep this brief.

1. The push for diversity in mass media by pandering to minority audiences is a manufactured, fallacious problem that effectively destroys both the integrity and desirability of said media.
2. This destruction could not be a better thing.

There are countless clickbait articles complaining about how all the mass media made for the male demographic perpetuates inequality. You will, however, notice that these same outlets do not complain nearly so loudly about media aimed expressly at a female demographic. I have never seen major headlines garnered at the romance genre, whether it be in book or film (while feminist critiques do exist, they are not nearly so loud). The superhero genre, however, gets constantly crucified on the internet for not having enough minorities or women involved in defining manner. Again, I have not seen much complaining about how much diversity there is in contemporary romance. What these pushes for diversity miss is the fact that in a capitalist society, money is a prime mover behind art. If it sells, it will be propagated, endlessly, until it is not profitable.  If it does not sell, no amount of complaining on the internet or in gender studies courses will make it change completely. If anything, these pushes will only serve to damage the marketability of the media being sold.

Don't believe me? Take a look at some numbers. None of the Fantastic Four films are regarded as masterpieces; however, the push for artistic and racial diversity (White Johnny Storm was recast Black), helped plunge the film into one of the worst bombs in recent history. All of the diversity pushes, according to some sources, is leading to falling sales. If the recent Ghostbusters tanks, as some expect it to, it will be in a growing line of agenda pushing media that simply doesn't sell. People may like to virtue signal by claiming that having a black girl replace Iron Man is so very progressive, but the target audience for Iron Man will simply stop buying the comics until they get what they want. Ultimately, pushing a message into an artform only soils its quality.

You see, the problem of diversity, as mentioned earlier, is fallacious. Let me tell you why. The only thing remotely problematic about today's media is how dominated it is by large corporations. This itself is only a problem in that it dominates the public consciousness. If I were to ask you to name comic book characters, you might name a few big names like Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and Iron Man. This is where the so called problem comes from. All of these characters come from two media companies, DC (owned by Warner) and Marvel (owned by Disney). Because the big names are all white guys who promote heteronormativity and are targeted at a male audience, feminists cry loudly about their representation. But did you know that there already is a comic about a strong black woman who don't need no man? If you want a comic that devotes itself to the feminist ideals of love, friendship, and collaboration, why not just simply purchase the popular My Little Pony comic? Similarly, movies constantly come out that deal with female experiences. Why not simply watch them? The answer to these questions already are, as far as you know how. In a society where we can spend out money as we see fit, we already make the choices we want to make regarding media, as long as we are properly informed about our options. No one forces us to watch the Avengers film. We go because we want to go. Trying to circumvent the desires of audiences through forceful pandering will only result in a massive loss for the companies trying to make content.

And...this could not be a better outcome. If big companies continue to tank their profitable franchises by trying to appeal to every audience at once while alienating their core base, then we might actually see the overall market see true diversity. I'm not simply talking about racial or sexual diversity (though that will happen too), but diversity of creators who found their voices crowded out by intellectual properties long past their prime. Why was Ghostbusters, a film made in the '80s, even remade to begin with? Why are the only new stories being told merely retreads of our older stories? Why are we doing Star Wars again? Can't our own generation come up with our own things?

So I've decided that I'm happy that Marvel, DC, Disney, and other big companies are cluelessly ruining their own toys. It only means that when the dust settles, we might make some of our toys to play with.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Taking Risks

Captain Native America. It'll make sense in a bit.
So I want to tack on a few more thoughts onto our discussion of Captain America pledging allegiance to Hydra. I've been reading Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe, and the revelations within add some additional context.

How did Marvel get away with this?
That's clearly Donald Duck.
In my previous post, I said that Marvel doesn't take risks, and it instead shoehorns anything trendy into an established property. I still think that this is an accurate statement in some cases, but I want to clarify that bold, new directions for comics is something that creators have attempted to do ever since the medium was created. Such attempts have succeeded and failed over the course of the history of the genre. Jim Shooter, for example tried to launch an entire line of comics with newly imagined characters with the New Universe imprint. Of course, we can add Shooter's attempts with Kirby's New Gods and countless other attempts at risky ideas. Someone at Marvel even suggested that Captain America get replaced by a Native American at one point!

The trick is for these risks is twofold. Firstly, any new idea carries the risk of being unprofitable. It doesn't matter that Howard the Duck is new, bold, and different. It's a book about a Disney ripoff that somehow exists in the same universe as Spider-Man. Outside of some niche fandom, Howard has never been that profitable. Similarly, there has been an increased push for female heroes and other diverse representations; but again, these new ideas must ultimately work in the marketplace in order for them to last. It is far easier for the new Pakistani Ms. Marvel to turn a profit because of name recognition. It is important to note that the original Ms. Marvel herself was a character that was spun-off the male Captain Marvel. Again, taking an established character in a radically new direction isn't a new tactic for the genre.

Does anyone think that this character would work as well
 if it didn't have Ms. Marvel in the title?
The second trick for these risky plays to overcome reiterates what I said previously. Simply stated, some characters are too ingrained, too quintessential to take apart without doing damage to your storytelling efforts. That' s why several different incarnations of the Flash and Green Lantern have caught on, but Batman is somehow always, always Bruce Wayne. In the same vein, I can't help but suspect that Miles Morales Spider-Man well eventually join Ben Reilly and others who try to replace established characters only to find themselves discarded into the background of continuity as trends shift.

Therefore, I do not particularly like attaching diversity trends to established properties. When the trend subsides, so does the diversity! If you merely take a black person and put them into the shoes of Spider-Man, what happens when the trend of race and gender swapping gets old? One reason that I think characters like Black Panther, Blade, and Luke Cage have shown some staying power is that they are unique, not just recolors of established characters. Allow me to repeat myself: replacing existing characters with diverse  cast choices does not ultimately address diversity in media. In my opinion, all it does is create two problems.

For one, replacing established characters divides your fanbase. While some people will hail the change, people who like the original will probably be alienated. This division does not help your brand in the long term. Secondly and more insidiously, even though you may appear as if you are taking an innovative, diverse course of action, you still haven't actually created anything diverse. Re-branding existing characters just means that you've recolored something old. Further, the cultural statement is dis-empowering. It is admitting defeat when you basically imply that diversity cannot stand on its own merits, but must attach itself to older, more successful ideas.

Although it is debatable if whether there is even a legitimate issue with media diversity to begin with (I submit that depending on how you look at it, there is no such issue), the solution to these potential issues is not to use affirmative action for fictional works. If you want more diverse art, then start typing. Create more diverse art and submit it to the public. Even more importantly, buy the art that you want to support. Complaining about how other people's art doesn't fit your ideology is the most frustrating waste of time that I can possibly imagine. 

Monday, June 6, 2016


So superheroes have been in the news again. A near nuclear controversy now surrounds Captain America basically declaring himself a Nazi. "Hail Hydra" is the battle cry of the organization that the Red Skull is associated with. This is one of the greatest heel turns that could possibly be portrayed in superhero comics. I want to take a few moments to discuss why this simultaneously is and is not a big deal. 

It's Not a Big Deal

On the one hand, Captain America doing something outrageous is not really a big deal. In fact, if you take a look at the whole of superhero comics, events like this are a fairly standard practice for publishers like Marvel and DC. Historically speaking, superhero comics have always followed a magazine business model. Magazines, which are published on a regular basis, tend to follow a quantity over quality type model. This isn't to say that individual magazines have no quality; but unlike the book industry, magazines need to constantly draw as many readers as possible to pick up as many issues as possible. From what I can tell, book publishing tends to focus more on creating fewer, more polished works that entice the masses through their supposedly superior quality.

Therefore, publishers like Marvel have always, since their inception, been places that tried to create buzz around their titles to draw readers in. Characters like Tigra only exist because Marvel at one time wanted to pander to the feminist movement, and beloved favorites Black Panther and Luke Cage are similar capitalizations on cultural moments. Superhero comics are just like the click-bait articles you see around the web; they want to draw you in with a trendy promise that something unbelievable is going to happen inside. Heck, why do you think comic book covers exist at all? Marvel and DC long ago perfected the ability to generate press and spectacle regarding their products.

At the end of the day, however, these companies realize that they can't stray too far from their established characters. Anyone remember the Death of Superman? Is Superman really dead, never to be seen again in the pages of a comic? Don't make me laugh. Although Superman's death changed everything forever for comics, it only changed things forever for a short while. Superman was back to being Superman after a brief interregnum. Similarly, I feel that it was just yesterday that the we saw media fallout from the comic book story Civil War (the comic book upon which the recent film is based), which saw Captain America die. Obviously, he got better.

So it is important to understand that while this "Hail Hydra" moment is certainly buzzworthy, it is yet another moment among countless other press-hype moments. Captain America is an archetype at this point, a fictional idea. Like Hercules and other mythological constructs, he will always find a way back to the audience that loves and subsequently pays for his adventures. It's not that big of a deal. It's business as usual. Nothing to see here.

It's Somewhat a Big Deal

On the other hand, Marvel's decision to completely subvert a character like Captain America in such a fashion does have some concerning ramifications for what readers are typically seeing in superhero comics. You'll notice that earlier, I mentioned Marvel would capitalize on trends by making new characters to draw new audiences in. Notice the key words in that statement. Marvel and DC used to be far more eager to create new content that would entice readers. In my opinion, this does not seem to be the case anymore. Instead, Marvel and DC try to generate as much buzz and hype by repackaging and exhausting their existing ideas. There is certainly a politically charged, politically correct, and progressive zeitgeist in much of the media today. Rather than focus on generating entirely new characters and content, Marvel and DC rewrite their current works to reflect these trends. 

This is the part that leaves a bitter aftertaste in a true believer's mouth. Is the internet complaining about LGBTQ+ community about representation and you don't want to have to risk coming up with a new character that will likely fail in a superhero niche market? How about changing the original golden age Green Lantern gay? That will surely generate a bunch of press and take advantage of the current inclusive spirit without having to risk much. Similarly, complaints about female empowerment seem to have led to Marvel making Thor a woman who throws around feminist talking points in a manner that has the subtlety of one wielding Mjolnir.

So the real problem isn't that comic book publishers are generating excitement for their titles by advertising controversial, headline catching events. The problem is that these publishers no longer take risks by inventing new content and instead rely on subverting their own mythology constantly to keep the public interested. In a world where it is deemed acceptable by some to throw eggs at people who believe in America First, is it any surprise that company would exploit these types of feelings by making a super-patriot wearing America's colors a traitor? Is it any surprise that the Red Skull is now portrayed as Donald Trump?

True fans of these characters don't want to see their beloved heroes constantly being dragged through whatever cultural mud is going on at the moment. The reason that films like Spider-Man and The Avengers were so popular is that there is a rabid desire for  timeless, relatable, clean cut, and even (gasp) hetero-normative superheroes who stand above current events. Ultimately, it is this need for the type of mythology that superhero comics provide that will always be the genre's savior. We need idealized characters with impossible physiques to populate our collective fantasies. We who represent nerd culture and its collective monetary weight will eternally be drawn to those creators who fill our need for content that inspires and tantalizes, not that which preaches or forces trends down our throats.  

Monday, May 23, 2016

What Makes a Comic: Text vs Image

So what makes a comic? At first it may seem like a silly question; but like all academic questions, it gets more complicated the more you think about it.  It's very easy to look at a Spider-Man comic and know that it is a solid representation of the form, as easy as it is look at a prose novel and know that it is not a comic. But being a hybrid form, determining whether the text or imagery of the comic is more important can be difficult. Words and pictures on a page are not enough to make a comic. Little Golden Books are not comics. That being said, I do think that imagery ranks more important than text in comics. It is easy to construct a wordless comic. It is veritably impossible to construct a comic without images without utterly deconstructing the medium. As mentioned earlier, scholars such as Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics make the defining aspect of comics the sequence of images. Thierry Groensteen in The System of Comics similarly focuses on sequence,  but he also maintains that the framing of panels is important as well.

However, frames alone do not necessarily make a comic. The fact of the matter is that no single constituent element within comics, whether it be the imagery, text, or the framing, is enough to make a comic. Groensteen puzzles over the complicated nature of comics as he considers the concept of abstract forms in Comics and Narration. Just as abstract art can exist, apart from all conventions of representation, Groensteen wonders how far one can flout convention in constructing a sequence of images. At what point exactly do we call two separate images related? Does a Mondrian painting count as a comic?

I personally feel that defining the vital components of comics is a query that contains a few layers. On the one hand, we can safely state that most conventional comics contain a sequence of related images that also often convey verbal or textual messages as well. I would like to add that my use of the word "conveyance" includes, to a degree, some nonverbal forms of communication. A character in a comic can impart a verbal idea using body language, for example.  A verbal or textual conveyance is often necessary to separate the sequential art of comics from the static art of painting or single imagery. 

On the other hand, it is also important to note that the conveyance of messages is a negotiation between the author of a work and the reader. Therefore it would be too much to say that the forms themselves are the only defining characteristics.  Some aspects of form can be interpretive, especially when dealing with works that stretch meaning into the abstract. In a sense, the above Mondrian piece could be interpreted as being a sequence of frames conveying some abstract message, which could be seen as a comic.

Ultimately, like any other art-form, there is a continuum of shapes that comics can assume. While most of the popular titles are superhero comics (which are some of the best, I might add), a wide berth exists that contains innumerable permutations of artistic value.

So what makes a comic? I don't know for sure. Impress me.