Monday, 17 September 2012

Comic Book Fans! Dismount your High Horses!

Grant Morrison: Is he really such a villain?

The New Statesman published an interview with Grant Morrison this week in which he discusses his reasons for stepping away from superhero comics. It seems that his run on Action Comics and Batman Incorporated are coming to a natural end and a lot of his ideas seem to be leading him away from superheroes. He also states that he's finding the pace of writing monthly comics and having to co-ordinate with multiple artists to be a hectic experience. But there also seems to be another, more depressing reason. He's sick of being the bad guy. Morrison's sums it up in the following quote;
So I kinda felt that.. it just began to feel too unpleasant to work within a comic book fan culture where everyone was mad at you all the time and giving you responsibility for legal cases and things that I have got honestly nothing to do with in my life and will shortly have zero connection with. But I felt that. There was a sense of, a definite sense of the temple was being burned down and it was time to run away. 
It does seem that a lot of the criticism of DC Comics' ethical practices and overall creative direction has been directed towards Morrison. One fan (this twat) even protested by eating Supergods, Morrison's book chronicling the history of the superhero genre. I'm not going to defend Morrison's views here, because he does a pretty good job of that himself in the interview. But what I will say is this. When Morrison writes superheroes, it sells. For example, sales on Action Comics went up 93% during the past year during Morrison's run. Morrison's superhero work then, is obviously admired by a lot of people. But Morrison has left superheroes behind due, at least in part, to the behaviour of a vocal minority. So it would seem that a minority has got it's way at the expense of the enjoyment of the majority. The behaviour of a relatively small group of people has resulted in a larger group of people not being able to enjoy new superhero work by Grant Morrison. Does that sound fair to you? 

To be fair, this "unpleasant comic book culture" isn't the only reason for leaving that Morrison has given. For all I know he would have moved on to other genres anyway. But this interview does highlight an irritating trend amongst comic-book fandom. Fandom has developed a habit of shouting and stamping its foot until it gets its own way, and I'm sick of it. 

These days, if a person doesn't like a comic it can't just be a case of "this isn't to my taste" or "this was poorly written or drawn". A poor comic is taken as a personal slight against the reader and an ethical and moral failure on the part of the comics industry. Spider-Man's not married any more so Marvel must have a vendetta against a certain demographic of fans, or the institution of marriage itself! Stephanie Brown hasn't appeared for a while so obviously DC don't care about their female demographic. Superman's dating Wonder Woman so there's a misogynistic plot to undermine the character of Lois Lane!  It's not enough for some one to be upset because their favourite character has been changed, it now has to be dressed up as a serious issue that affects everyone! The problem with all this absurd hyperbole is that there are conversations to be had about serious issues like gender and race and ethics in comics, but when someone hi-jacks these topics because their favourite character isn't getting enough face time, it undermines the larger debate.

One of the common criticisms levelled at Marvel and DC by this kind of critic is "They're not listening to the fans!" For example, "By having Barbara Gordon as Batgirl instead of Stephanie Brown, DC aren't listening to fans" is a complaint that I see crop up a lot on Twitter. The fact is, sales on Batgirl have risen 96% in the past year. Barbara is selling more than Stephanie did. So what are DC to do? Revert to Stephanie, even though the majority of fans seem to want to buy Barbara's adventures? That really would be not listening to the fans! When people say "They're not listening to the fans" they really mean "They're not listening to me!" This is a perfect example of the arrogance on display from a lot of fans these days. By claiming that DC or Marvel "aren't listening" to you, what you're actually doing is saying that those who have views and tastes that differ from yours aren't worth listening to and somehow, don't count. 

A prime example of how such self-righteous overreactions have gotten out of control occurred last month when one blogger decided to mark the passing of comics legend Joe Kubert by comparing him to Joe Paterno! That's right, in this blogger's view Kubert's contribution to Before Watchmen against the wishes of original Watchmen creator Alan Moore was the moral equivalent of covering up and ignoring child abuse. To be fair the blog published an apology and has since taken the piece down, but the fact that it was published in the first place demonstrates to what offensive levels fans are now taking their criticism, all the while claiming that they're fighting some morally just crusade!

I'm not saying that people shouldn't complain about their comics and I'm not saying that Marvel and DC are completely blameless and never make mistakes. All I'm saying is, sometimes a bad comic is just a bad comic. It's not the death knell for the industry, it's not a personal insult towards any specific group of people, it's not indicative of a creator or company's contempt for the readers, it's just a crappy comic. This self-righteous belly-aching is having consequences. At the very least, it has contributed to Grant Morrison's decision to leave behind a genre that he clearly has a lot of love for! So dismount your high horses people! Just remember, next time it could be your favourite writer who decides it's not worth the hassle.

A short addendum to this article can be found here.


  1. A retort to this post:

  2. This is a well considered and interesting article. The retort, however is complete nonsense. it utterly misunderstands the nature of Paul's argument - that creators are taking the heat for fans own opinion's of their work and builds into an ad hominem attack on Paul's character. Paul is not using his privilege as a white male to do anything, and to misconstrue his words as being such is to create the worst kind of straw man. indeed the internet is more than full of genuine angry white dudes complaining how they 'can't drop the n-bomb these days' or how 'they are the new minority'. they deserve the ire of the retort writer, not Paul.
    the retort makes the same mistake as it accuses Paul of doing - of projecting their impressions onto someone else. the original Grant Morrison interview makes it fairly plain why Morrison is stepping back from DC stuff. however the retort then goes on to ascribe lots of characteristics to paul that simply are not there. to attack his argument is one thing, to basically invent a series of hateful characteristics and then to ascribe it to someone you have probably never met is the worst sort of internet straw mannery. To accuse paul of not talking about the arguments you think he should be is to again partake in exactly what the retort is meant to be critiquing.

    Paul makes it clear in his argument that he is in favour of discussing serious issues in comics - in fact he encourages that explicitly and condemns comic fans for not allowing this. To take this to mean that he is using his ethnicity to bully others is complete nonsense. paul's ethnicity, gender and socio economic background have nothing to do with his argument - that creators are being driven away from writing comics because they fear the fan backlash. Linked to that he draws out the absurdity that comic fans expect writers to only write the comics they like them to be done. As Paul effectively says you should ultimately judge a comic on its merits as a piece of art - which is largely a subjective statement. if you don't like it, accept that it is your own opinion, don't badger the writer about it. Of course the exception to this is if the piece of art is genuinely offensive - which many comics have been, and paul has always been the first to point out many of the worst excesses of misogyny on this very blog.
    In short the writer brings out some good faults in comics fannery, but aims it at completely the wrong target.

    1. Hey, M. Scott! missingkeys here from tumblr.

      I completely agree that badgering a writer is a terrible thing to do. I also agree that it's awful that great creators are being driven away from stories they want to write because they fear a fan backlash, whatever form that backlash might take. I've personally always been under the impression that Morrison's comments (about Final Crisis in particular) were more concerned with what me might call the "continuity nerd" portion of the fandom, but I don't think it's really clear. He's a little vague about it, but he's really good at maintaining his image. ;) I think that portion is open to interpretation, and you and Paul may be correct: It might be those of us calling for more representation that have done this. If that's so, I think that sucks. I've never been one to blame the WRITER for any of these issues. It is clearly a deep societal problem, in that the Straight White Cis Man is the default when creating a character. I just think that comics can do more to combat the issue.

      But the idea of approaching comics ONLY as an artistic medium is problematic at best. We (and by we, I mean the disenfranchised and our allies, which now that I've looked more at Paul's work, I think I would say that you're right, he tries to be an ally, sorry Paul) can't do that. Comics do not exist in a vacuum.

      As for my rhetorical style, you're right, it is combative, and I've written it that way on purpose. I was writing for a particular audience, and I chose to write that way for a reason. I didn't reblog Paul's article, I rather linked to it, because I was writing for my intersection feminist followers list. I think it's great that Paul found it and has been thinking about it deeply, but that wasn't the purpose of my response.

      In addition, telling someone that they have privilege is not an insult, I promise. I didn't mean that Paul is an oppressive bastard. The concept of privilege is a difficult one. Paul doesn't have to think about representation issues, because it's not relevant to him. Society at large acknowledges straight, white, cis males as the default setting, and that means that those of us who are none of those things have a really hard time finding the stories that we can relate to and enjoy. There's only one Kate Kane for me, but the white straight cis boys can relate to a good 75% of the comics characters out there.

      Lastly, I don't care whether Paul is the one having conversations about representation issues. I'm not accusing him of "not having the arguments [I] think he should be having". The issue is that no one should be telling US that WE can't or shouldn't be having the discussions, especially those who have always been privileged.

      Thanks for reading!

  3. Paul,

    That comment up above states that because of who you are, you are incapable of understanding the argument and that because of who you are, you have no business voicing your opinion.

    Do you believe that you can't understand or that you shouldn't comment because of who you are?



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...