Not enough money. Not enough talent. Not enough people who knew what they were doing.
And that’s just my review of the pilot episode of Powers.
2015: a year in comics now behind us. Who were we? What did we learn? And what could we forgive? Let’s find out together, month by month, day by day. Let’s find out who said what. Let’s find out why it mattered. Let’s find out what’s in your pants. Let’s find out what’s in my pants. In my pants… it’s a bunny rabbit! MAGIC! Let’s take a magical trip together through a magical year in comics. Comics news! Comics gossip! Comics stuff I’m just going make up and pretend happened! Legal disclaimers! Everything discussed herein is for entertainment purposes only and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Comics Journal or its affiliates. WOOOOO!
2015 IN COMICS, YOU MAMMA-JAMMAS OF NEW ENGLAND!
EVERY POSSIBLE TRIGGER WARNING!
2015 started with big dreams for the new year.
Asked to predict the biggest story in comics in 2015 for The Comics Beat, comic creators gave answers like “I [think] Image comics will finally beat out one of the big two companies and cause them to rethink they way they share profits and creator owned ideas”, or “Creator owned books are going to own 2015. Like how they owned 2014 except even more”, or “Me never having a baby again.” Yes, at the beginning, every sign pointed to 2015 being a Golden Age for comics creators.
Then, 2015 started and cartoonists were immediately mass-murdered.
On January 7, 2015, Islamic terrorists stormed into the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo where a meeting was being held about the Charlie staff’s participation in an conference on the fight against racism, murdering cartoonists Stephane “Charb” Charbonnier, Jean “Cabu” Cabut, Phillipe Honore, Bernard “Tignous” Verlhac, and Georges Wolinski, as well as other members of the staff and visitors, all before spreading further mayhem and death onto the streets. The terrorists killed twelve people in total that day, five people the following day, wounded numerous others, until finally they were gunned down outside of a signage company. Their attacks were also synchronized with attacks undertaken by a former prisonmate of the Charlie killers — the prisonmate was killed in a deadly hostage situation at a kosher supermarket.
Away from the internet, this was an utter tragedy, a despicable outrage, nothing but a horror show. Online, however, the tragedy at Charlie Hebdo was followed by something nearly as troubling: otherwise rational people stating on the internet, quote, I think the Hooded Utilitarian is making a good point here, unquote. [shudder]
After the shootings, many had been moved to tweet “je suis charlie” — French for “I kiss the bibliotheque”, according to Google Translate. People plainly hoped to express unanimity with the fundamental precept that people are only civilized if allowed to express themselves without fear of violent retaliation. But in response, the Hooded Utilitarian was quick to publish “In the Wake of Charlie Hebdo, Free Speech Does Mot Mean Freedom From Criticism”.
Yes, apparently gunmen wielding assault rifles, submachine guns, pump-action shotguns, etc. were all engaged in an avante-garde act of comics criticism. I’d always wondered why Tom Spurgeon carries around that butterfly knife– I guess the rest of us have been insufficiently armed this entire time. Quick! To the armory!
The article went up on January 7, 2015—the same day as the mass murders and one day before the coordinated mayhem in France would reach a conclusion—and featured six whole Charlie Hebdo covers. We were told these six covers were “incredibly racist” (even though the context of these covers was never explained to the reader), and therefore “make it very clear who the white editorial staff was interested in provoking: France’s […] Muslim immigrant community.”
The true villains responsible for the shootings? Obviously, the shooting victims. White men, after all! White men “punching down” (the worst crime there is)! Nice try, nice fucking try, people tweeting to express unanimity with the fundamental precept that civilized people must be allowed to express themselves without fear of violent retaliation, but ya burnt! YA BURNT!
The Hooded Utilitarian site would later have to issue a retraction that despite their attacks on Charlie Hebdo’s “white staff”, victims of the shooting included Algerian-French copy editor Mustapha Ourrad. Whoops. But after all, why worry who the victims of mass murder are, when you’re racing to be the first to call them “assholes?” Why wait to find out that a study of 523 Charlie Hebdo covers found only seven that dealt with Islam? Go go go fast fast fast — the fastest and most shallow wins. That’s how the internet’s supposed to work, right? FIRST!
Don’t worry, though. The article made sure to say, “I understand that calling someone a racist asshole after their murder is a callous thing to do and I don’t do it lightly.” Oh—well then! But if misleading people and telling them that a murder victim you’ve never met is a racist asshole the very same day as their murder (during a meeting to discuss participation in a conference on the fight against racism) isn’t doing it “lightly”, what in pluperfect hell would doing something “lightly” have looked like? An article blaming the victims of a murder-spree not only before the spree was over but also with photographs of the author wearing a clown nose and wanking into a banana peel? Like what Benny Hill would have been like, if he just had less respect for human life?
Were some of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons offensive? Some, but a number benefited from being properly contextualized. Of course, no one should doubt that Islamophobia is real. There should be no question that incidents like these bring out the worst of it, the most ignorant of it, which in many ways compounds the tragedies. Even just having to hear every hillbilly on Earth opine on your religion after a tragedy? No thanks– yeesh. Not many covers seemed especially funny, either, though again, that’s seeing them removed from their context. They seemed to me like a lot of morning-zoo gags, but I’m not a big fan of political cartoons, generally. But that this so quickly, so stridently became a pertinent controversy, the offensiveness of unexplained cartoons drawn by murder victims from another country, was hard to swallow. At best, it seemed like an expression of powerlessness and grief, a misguided attempt to find an easy logic to chaos. At worst, it seemed naive, disrespectful and reductive of those harmed, and in its disregard for context, dismayingly shallow. Mostly, it seemed irrelevant to what had actually happened, a distraction. The right for people to speak without fear of violence seemed obviously more important — even if too many people don’t yet share in that right, even if we know that right historically hasn’t been allocated equally.
But wasn’t an important point being made, that one thing contributing to the growth of terrorism is oppressive Western attitudes, of which these cartoons may have been a manifestation? Making that nuanced a point (to the same internet filled with keyboard-winners that almost-kinda-nearly thought they could put a stop to Joseph Kony just by watching a YouTube video) might be an honorable goal in the abstract, but it ignores the dangerous clumsiness that ensued, i.e., that this argument invariably “Others” ordinary, decent Muslim people. Telling horrified people that “all those people are equally enraged by stupid cartoons and a small and unknowable number are willing to do something about it,” besides being untrue, sure seems unlikely to get anyone to reexamine their prejudices — it seems more likely to be taken as an encouragement for people to remain scared, the kinds of scared that monsters love to capitalize upon.
Indeed, if the American people were fired up by the end of the year, it wasn’t to reexamine their views — it was to celebrate a more resurgent and more terrifying xenophobia. Perhaps an opposition to that requires more than internet scolds digging for racism like truffle hogs, something more solidly constructed than “look at how eeeeeevil white people drew this guy’s nose, 7 out of 523 times.”
But in 2015, we were all one bullet away from being clickbait, chum for “thinkpieces” and wildly declarative finger-pointing. If you were shot in a mass murder, your death was an excuse for people to pass around Onion headlines, and pointlessly debate how much prayer should be insulted. If you were killed in a terrorist attack, people from the illiterate country that stupidly invaded Iraq, murdering countless people, creating innumerable terrorists, and destabilizing an entire region, would somehow still feel entitled to insta-judge your culture. If you died in a human-dolphin orgy, the internet would be too busy writing listicles about what Squeaker did to you buttock-wise to ever acknowledge that the orgy was for charity.
Hot takes! Everybody sure had some hot takes! Everyone was an expert on France, French cartoons, impossibly confident, unimpeachable authorities on a magazine they’d never heard of a week before.
But luckily, thanks to internet heroes, France realized that it had a real “cartoonists punching down” problem on its hands. “We all felt incredibly safe once the problem of satirists punching down got addressed, and people weren’t misled into overpraising cartoons,” said the people of Paris at the end of 2015. Yeah, it turns out that’s what they were saying if you could hear them over the sounds of indiscriminate gunfire at their cafes and concerts! Thanks, Google Translate!
French people who didn’t want to accidentally seem racist by tweeting the wrong thing about cartoons dodged a bullet … except then there were a whole bunch of other bullets, and those fucked folks up pretty badly, but you know, the internet can only chop down one mountain at a time.
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