For the most part, the year came to a close quietly in December, but with many questions left unanswered.
Who are we?
What did we learn?
What can we forgive?
And what next? What greatness awaits comics in 2016? Lucky for you, comics pros have already predicted the big stories for 2016 for The Comics Beat: “This may be the year tablets get large enough to become good comics-reading devices”, “creator-owned work at Image and the like continues to grow its share”, and “The perceived success or failure of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice will likely shape what sort of cinematic offerings you see from that studio.”
Meanwhile in real life, 2016 has already seen the comic news sputter alive with DC bungling issues of race, and a series of dispiriting controversies concerning the Angoulême International Comics Festival, including a gender discrimination controversy.
Business proceeds as usual.
Controversies in 2016 will likely be greeted as they were in 2015, as they were in 2014, as they were before that: There will be those outraged by an industry that may luck occasionally into good fortune but forever refuses to take any kind of hard look at the mirror or ask itself any kind of challenging questions, and those decrying what they dismiss as just more impotent bellyaching from “internet outrage culture.”
On the one hand, if you weren’t dismayed by anything in 2015, what kind of fucking zen garden have you built inside yourself? 2015 was an outrageous balagan, a persistently tone-deaf year.
Oh, the underlying incidents themselves may have been relatively minimal events, not much to get upset about: authors wrote junky articles about comics, a comic took a stab at a cheap joke but missed funny and landed in offensive, a comics publisher was thoroughly discombobulated when forced to craft a simple PR message, comics professionals sought to have a conversation about whether the comics industry was committed to being a safe place for all of its employees, but it proved tricky to do so.
But for each incident, the responses were so ludicrous, so quickly. In 2015, we were told that anyone who didn’t like a comic lived in an “ivory tower” while comics people perpetually portrayed themselves as in “trenches” or the “arena,” that transphobic comics were always just innocent byproducts of their creator’s super-awesome #1 good intentions, that comic publishers wanted to have conversations but also hated conversations unless the conversations began and ended with “I’m Mexican-American,” and that the desire for a safe comics industry would cause someone to kill themselves unless we all signed up for CrossFit! What the fuck is going on?!
But on the other hand...
For me (though maybe not for other people-- reasonable minds differ), in 2015, there were those who in their rush to “be right,” perhaps confused being offended by (sometimes) offensive cartoons with having a valuable or pertinent response to global terrorism. There were some dopey but perhaps well-meaning Boom! comics from white guys trying to write about the black experience that got met with responses that weren’t just criticizing their shitty comics, but insisting that those comics should never have been allowed to be made, confusing a patronizing silence with progress. For me, “call-out culture” in comics hit the skids this year when it got pretty, pretty picky about who it wanted to “call out.” And for me, not all of the things that happened in 2015 were equally offensive-- some were a little less important than other things, but all those things were at an 11 in volume, all the time, big and small.
The persistent “real life” conversation I have had with all different kinds of people in 2015 hasn’t been about racism, sexism, LGBT-phobia, etc. The persistent real-life conversation has been:
We don’t understand young people. They get angry over nothing, and think they’re entitled to people stopping everything they’re doing just because they’re angry. Everything "triggers" them -- everything offends them. And you can’t try to explain to them why they’re wrong with logic or reason because then they’ll just complain you're not creating a safe space for them. But we didn’t have safe spaces -- and if we had, we’d have grown up to be nothing, soft spineless nobodies, instead of adults with integrity.
Young people go on and on about safe spaces but if I actually offered my own perspective on What’s What on the internet, they’d fucking crucify me. I sure as hell wouldn’t be given a safe space. They just want to be coddled. This isn’t morality, it’s a fake performance of morality. Sure, sometimes, I’m glad they’re angry at other people, but they could just as easily get angry at me and for what? For trying! They just don’t get what trying looks like. We’re all trying to be good people, artists try to make good art, but it’s all so hard, every part of living, and yeah, sometimes we miss, it happens, that’s the world, and… and for trying and missing, we get a lynch mob after us? And they call that "social justice" instead of uncivilized and terrifying and chilling of progress?
Only one worldview is ever allowed, and everything else? PROBLEMATIC-bzzt. PROBLEMATIC-bzzt. Like if the Daleks were smug and underemployed. What the fuck is going on?
It felt like I had that conversation over and over again in 2015. But my sympathies in these conversations? Usually not with the person speaking.
Because that idea that the internet has finally given voice to people who have historically been deprived of their voices, whose complaints have too long been ignored, and that what some would dismiss as “outrage culture” is not some aberration of youth-- an easy, cheap group to attack-- but instead, an overdue reclamation of public space, a corrective, an end to something that should never have been the case to begin with… Well, that idea just finds too much purchase with me. I don’t believe in “codes of silence” or “let’s all be positive” smokescreens, which this “they just want to be angry” talk invariably provides cover for.
I suppose that I believe that there has to be some greater thing at stake, in all this, worth talking about, worth fighting about, worth being a jerk about because otherwise… what are we doing with our time? Nothing worthy of us.
But that’s just theory. In practice? Combine those historic circumstances with a bite-sized, clickbait culture running at 200 mph, and sometimes it feels like every day it’s some fresh disaster of show-off finger-pointing, every day it’s people reducing each other to props for lousy, boring so-called “arguments.” People aren’t props.
Except when they make comic books that are bad and/or are fun to laugh at, at which point they totally, totally are props, let’s put on a show, let’s stunt all over them forever, let’s never stop doing this-- it’s too much fun, I’ve got it in my blood now, I can taste it on my lips, let’s never stop.
So, there’s the push, and the pull. “Hot takes” are fun to me when they challenge our default thinking and try however in vain to wake us up to our common humanity. “Hot takes” are not so fun to me when people have died, and tragedy-hipsters have a shiny-new-recently-deceased excuse to one-up their friends, to grief-shame: “But I didn’t see you care about what happened in a men’s bathroom last week in Beirut! You do grief wrong, and that means I beat you at being human!”
In December, Max Landis, a screenwriter (well… for now) with some DC Comics credits to his name, tweeted about a Star Wars movie and upset people. Landis became the poster boy for the “Why does Star Wars have girls being awesome in it this is a Mary Sue this is bad writing and in a Star Wars movie too those have never had bad writing” contingent of the internet. And there were people who cared about that, people who actually cared whether the screenwriter of American Ultra had the right opinions. About a Star War. While literally anything else is happening in the world. For fuck’s sakes!
The tricky part, though, is those people were technically right.
It’s messed-up that a girl being a superhero in a movie is considered more unbelievable to Bro Culture than a screaming rug shooting explodey crossbow bolts at walking blenders with ray guns. It’s messed-up that anyone watched a C- movie with sloppy plotting, boring villains, and a somnambulant third act and wrote down “heroic girl” as their #1 complaint. Oh, “that character’s arc wasn’t well-plotted”? Guess what? None of them were-- another character randomly comes back to life for no reason in the middle of the movie-- it’s dumb, sloppy junk-- welcome to America! And it’s messed-up that Hollywood will constantly reward boring men with wasted opportunity after wasted opportunity, rather than take chances on women filmmakers, none of whom will be given the same freedom to fail.
So what are our choices when presented with that situation? Being right or being sane? Those are shitty choices! How do we possibly choose?!
But in 2015, if nothing else, at least one argument, the most common argument, no longer makes sense: “It’s just comics.”
Look at DC’s statement on the Batgirl situation: “threats of violence and harassment are wrong and have no place in comics or society.” But after what happened last January, can anyone saying “comics or society” really be said to be paying attention? What boundaries between those two spheres do people think exist?
Terrorists blew those boundaries up. They kept blowing up for the rest of the year.
That was ultimately the persistent lesson of 2015, the one story that recurred over and over. Outraged, outraged-at-outrage, either way, we’re stuck with each other, the train conductor jumped off miles ago, best hope it’s a sweet ride when this all derails. Nothing's slowing down! Louder! LOUDER! Escapism was just what they put on the brochure to sucker us in-- but this is all society now, more and more everyday (and society, god help us all, is becoming comics more, too).
And that means getting stuck with everything bad, too, if anything good.
LGBT-phobia in all its manifestations?
(Alleged) harassment scandals?
Nick Lachey selling Twix bars?
Nick Lachey! Nick Lachey??
LET ME OFF I WANT TO GET LET ME OFF THIS ISN’T FUNNY ANYMORE YOU GUYS THIS ISN’T FUNNY ANYMO---
(endnotes on next page)