((Part I of this year-end roundup can be found here.)
But comic books -- they have such drawings! Splatters of ink, slashes of color, a dance of line and shape so carefully composed that readers are helpless but to experience ink — ink! — coming alive in their minds, visual imaginations of artist and reader speaking across chasms of miles and years and cultures in a new language both universal and yet startlingly intimate. Oh, the drawings are the thing!
What exciting images were seared into our collective memories by artists in 2015?
Yes, in April, a "sketch cover" drawn by famed titty-artist Frank Cho began to circulate. (If I understand it correctly, a sketch cover isn’t one drawn for Marvel, or published by Marvel, it’s just something something artists do on the side instead of making something original.) The cover featured Spider-Gwen, a new Marvel teen hero, and in fact, one of Marvel’s most popular new characters.
But Cho wasn’t just drawing an underage girl in a butt-pose, and having Spiderman gaze into her ovaries-- you know, like a normal person. He was also sending a message.
In 2014, this same pose had been famously drawn by famed artist Milo Manara for a variant Spider-Woman cover. A segment of the potential audience had been grossed out and complained about how it made them feel grossed out, complaints that were widely reported upon. For example, Slate described the cover as "more like a colonoscopy than a costume." Of course, nothing was done to address those complaints—Marvel didn’t care. But good news! Silver lining! Marvel editor Tom Brevoort made sure to say, “I think a conversation about how women are depicted in comics is relevant.” YAY! Congratulations, everybody!
Oh but wait, hey, remember the “conversation” that time in 2007 when Marvel published a cover in which superheroines were about to get tentacle-raped? The “conversation” that time went a little something like this: “Why are you having superheroines getting tentacle-raped on the covers of your comics?” “We don’t care about your opinions.”
Or remember that “conversation” after Tom Brevoort edited a comic of the Marvel character Tigra getting violently beaten just to give gross fans a violence-against-women boner? The “conversation” went a little something like this: “Why are you having superheroines getting beaten up in your comics just so gross fans can get a violence-against-women boner?” “We don’t care about your opinions.”
But at least all those conversations helped Tom Brevoort get extra-extra-ready to have some Grade-A conversations in 2014 about Marvel ignoring people grossed out about the Manara cover! Yay, Tom Brevoort gets to pretend to have more conversations! Weee!
Or maybe “conversation” is just the word these people use to pat people on the head before going back to scuzzy nonsense, and “we value the conversation” is just the nicest possible way to tell people to shut the fuck up so you can keep churning out cold puke for the girl-hate crowd.
But just the fact that women had complained at all was enough to also draw fire from comic creators. “Comic artist” Vasilis Lolos, for example, was banned from posting on the Mary Sue website after taking to their comment section to write, “It's only a drawing, who gives a fuck. I have an Eisner and a Harvey, and also zero fucks to give about this airborne ass. [...] Buy my books I rule. DAT ASS ASS ASS ASS ASS ASS.” After being banned, he then signed up for a different account to keep commenting, adding, “It’s okay to have freedom of speech.” Then, he began directing harassing tweets at Mary Sue writers’ Twitter accounts, bellowing that they had “a fascist state of mind”—just as the Founding Fathers intended.
But that was all in 2014. At best, this was a tiny footnote in Manara’s long and storied career. So everyone just moved on.
Except, as it turns out, Frank Cho.
In his Spider-Gwen cover, Cho reclaimed the Manara pose. The easiest reading of the sketch was that his continuing to use the pose was his special way of putting these new female readers in their place, mocking their concerns, pledging his undying fealty to comics’ 24-7-365 No-Girlz Club no matter what any broad was going to say on the internet.
One person offended was Spider-Gwen co-creator Robbi Rodriguez, who tweeted, "Your drawing dirty pics of one of my kids. Be lucky you never around me. #spidergwen.” Rodriguez then went to his bathroom, so he could pose in the mirror, flexing his biceps and making little tiger growls to himself. “They got lucky today, yeah, 'cause I bring it like the thunder and like lightning too, girl— my fists go both ways! Wait that doesn’t sound right… ROWR. You’re a big tiger,” he whispered to himself, before noticing he was running low on Colgate toothpaste, and he’d have to get more the next time he was at Rite-Aid. Then, Rodriguez went back to his day job, drawing cartoons of a magical girl with spider powers.
Later, Rodriguez added on Facebook a more eloquent and impassioned plea that artists consider the opportunity that comics now had to impress a new audience: "At ECCC I never heard so many ‘this is my daughter/son's first comic’ or ‘my wife has never picked up a comic till this book’ or sister/brother, or other non-reader. [...] If you, as pro, want this medium and industry to be taken seriously, like we have a chance to now, then start fucking acting like it and change with the times [...] And it’s not a matter of changing the style of your work – it’s a matter of thinking about your work outside of your bubble.”
That son of a bitch! Do you think comics was going to just stand around and allow anyone to care about something bigger than themselves, to oppose their precious industry of wank-drawings and toxic masculinity?
A gaggle of comic artists (including most prominently Rob Liefeld), apparently angry that Rodriguez would care about “this medium and industry [being] taken seriously”, teamed up with Cho to attack Rodriguez. Cho himself certainly had harsh words for Rodriguez: “I predict a short career in comics for him if he doesn't change.” Frank Cho was one of those bros who pretend to be into “people expressing whatever they want and fuck the internet outrage” except if other people are expressing opinions about his work, at which point waaaaaaaah. My grandmother would call that “some classic fuckboy 101 shit,” and she’s a 100-year-old Indian lady who doesn’t speak English.
Rob Liefeld was particularly upset: “my comic book brethren are being crucified [..] These aren't pornographic images, it's just healthy female heroins.” Liefeld also took the opportunity to deride Rodriguez for not respecting the professional heights reached by Cho (and J. Scott Campbell, whose choices Rodriguez had also questioned on Facebook): “Let’s establish here at the outset that these two are a pair of comic book wizards, visual stylists that have been at the top of the comic book mountain top, and have entertained the masses for nearly two decades.”
The comic book mountain top! What must it be like at the top of Comic Book Mountain? To breathe that rarefied air as only Frank Thorne, Anton Drek, Shiwasu No Okina, and a few others have before you? Can you even imagine? Luckily you don’t have to, since Rob Liefeld described the comic book mountain top in his 2014 Inkstuds interview: “People come up to me and they go, ‘I love your Boom Boom. She seduced me.’ Oh you mean when I put her in that tight mini-dress and leaned her up against the whole page? She’s sexy. To this day, she’s good looking. [...] You didn’t know that little tingle that Boom Boom made you feel, and Liefeld made you feel that tingle. And that’s why you love me.”
Our hopes and prayers are with Robbi Rodriguez as he tries to scale the heights of Comic Book Mountain. But molten gravy, does Rodriguez have a dangerous trek ahead of him.
Climbing comic book mountain is perilous. It’s a mountain of comics with gross boners sticking out from between issues, and you have to pull yourself up, boner by boner, using the gross boners like handholds. And then you reach the summit, and for a moment, standing on top of all those jizz-stained comics and tumescent cocks, you can look out at the breadth of your domain. And just as you start to cry, just at that very moment, all those dopey cocks climax, splurging great white jets of joy all around you. It’s the moment of total transcendence that your whole life’s been building to. But then ... all that gross mountain-dick goes soft and comic book mountain collapses down around you. You hurtle to the ground, all the way back, break your legs from the damn fall. Nothing left to do but just wait down there with your broken legs as sticky man-juiced issues of Nth Man the Ultimate Ninja rain down after you, burying you alive, burying you with your regrets. Comics will break your legs. But not just your legs. Comics will break your heart.
-- Charles Schulz, as quoted in A People’s History of Image Comics.
(Why do people only ever quote the last line of that out of context??)
After the Spider-Gwen affair, Cho would often return to “trolling” the SJWs who he imagined he was upsetting with his Most-Bro-Amongst-Bros antics, drawing a series of puerile gags that didn’t generate “controversial feelings” when you looked at them so much as feelings of intense pity for Cho.
As is true of many cartoonists, Cho overinvested in craft, but when the time came to apply that craft, he had nothing interesting to say. Cute perhaps when you need to hire someone to draw Shanna the She-Devil, but beyond that, who could care what that guy thinks about? It’s not as though there are all these comics “only Frank Cho could make.” He was last seen drawing Hulk comics—comics is filled with assholes who can do that. So, right at the surface of all of these “sketch covers” is a sad fantasy not only that people care what he has to say about society, maaaaan, but that maybe the reason he’s not more successful is that he’s “too hot to handle,” rather than just another boring schlub with the same boring opinions you find if you lift up any old rock on Reddit.
“Do you want to know what I have to say?” “No. No one cares.” “But what if I draw Wonder Woman pulling her lasso out of her pussy? Then would you care what I had to say?” Jesus, there’s more dignity in old reruns of Let’s Make a Deal.
When Frank Cho was a juror for the 1999 Ignatz Awards, he nominated his own books. So anytime you see him drawing these little “sketches” about how “other people don’t get it, man-- they’re just outraged about how edgy I am,” isn’t that exactly what a guy desperate enough to nominate his own comics for awards would sound like in your head? (P.S. Goddamn, comics are just so fucking sad, all the time, just all the stupid time, he nominated his own comics, oh god, there’s never any bottom to the sadness.)
But the other big cover controversy from March was miraculously even more depressing...
It was certainly more widely reported, with all the magazines at my dentist’s office weighing in: Entertainment Weekly, Time, Chunky Asses (damn, I need a new dentist). This variant DC cover by Rafael Albuquerque struck a nerve.
The cover was to be published as a variant for a “Girl Power!” young-audience-oriented shiny happy optimistic Batgirl comic, so of course, Albuquerque opted to draw a sinister, nightmarish, horror-juiced homage to Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s grotesquely violent Killing Joke, showing Batgirl about to brutalized by the Joker, with tears in her eyes.
You know: for kids.
This was like if Lady and the Tramp was re-released on DVD, except with the cover of the DVD featuring photographs of Whitney Houston’s dead body just fished out of the bathtub she drowned in. Tagline: “Whitney was a lady, but cocaine was a tramp.”
If comics art is about storytelling, Albuquerque hadn’t asked himself what story he was telling or to whom. Luckily, he honorably rectified the issue, quickly apologized, and recommended to DC that the variant cover not be published, which request DC honored.
But by then, it was too late.
The fact that any concerns were raised at all was seized upon by members of the bonehead lunatic-fringe hate group Gamergate. Gamergate was a sickly marriage of internet super-trolls (who I’m usually quite fond of-- seem like fun kids!), outlandishly pathetic “men’s rights” cretins, women beaters, actual straight-up Nazis, real-life video game censors (!), sexually insecure failures, craven right-wing propagandists, and Adam Baldwin, all of whom organized as a smokescreen, namely to create the false pretense that the efforts of these no-life freakazoids to bully women out of the game industry actually had something to do with fucking “video game ethics.” This was, of course, utter horseshit. The embarrassing stupidity then got super-charged when, like any dime-store hate group, it began to wrap itself in trashy persecution fantasies that spooky-doo evil “elites” were out to steal their dumbfuck culture from them— because when has that fantasy ever gone wrong, historically??
But since these dogshit people were mental and social zeroes, they had plenty of time to make lots of noise on the internet, and a minor controversy about a drawing of the Joker gun-massaging a girl turned out to be like ringing a dinner bell to these wretched primates.
Despite Batgirl co-creator Cameron Stewart himself stating, “It’s not censorship. We the creative team never wanted [the cover],” Gamergate insisted that comics were being “censored.” As per Gamergate standard operating procedure, deranged arguments ensued that anyone who didn’t like the cover wasn’t a “true comic reader” (even though any “true comic reader” could spot the problem with the cover in a half-second)... as did online threats of violence-- SURPRISE!!
Even DC Comics, a company with a long history of courting a middle-age Juggalo audience with images of sexualized violence, were shocked enough to mention the threats in their statement on why the cover was being pulled: “Regardless if fans like Rafael Albuquerque’s homage to Alan Moore’s THE KILLING JOKE graphic novel from 25 years ago, or find it inconsistent with the current tonality of the Batgirl books - threats of violence and harassment are wrong and have no place in comics or society.” Even DC! (It later had to be clarified that the person receiving threats was not Albuquerque, but those objecting to the cover.)
Comic book art, though. It’s magic, how it opens a window to another person’s visual imagination, every panel a slice of someone else’s subjective view of the world. It’s a channel right into someone else’s head, like no other medium.
And in 2015, with record numbers of young women eager to find out more about comics, in an historic window now open (for God only knows how long) thanks to movies, television, unprecedented media success... What was that channel tuned to?
Hyper-sexualized teenage girls; crying terrorized women; and fans, creators and editors alike united in defending business as usual, deeply offended that anyone would suggest they might possess the courage to grow or change with the times.
But on the other hand, as comics creators would themselves put it: “DAT ASS ASS ASS on heroins.” Which makes you think...
(continued on next page)