September 12, Larry Hama clarified racist jokers, as “bonding through mutual hatred,” saying, “A lot of that need for bonding is triggered by abject fear of being on the receiving end.” About an hour later, A Bunch of Jews made me cry. The day before, 9/11, I defriended a former star of a couple comic book movies, on social media (he’ll miss me, I’m sure) after he posted a Fox News article using/allowing the descendant of a victim of the attacks to promote America as a Christian nation under siege by, well, non-Christians inside and out, because not only did he post it, when I asked that, especially on a day like that, inciting divisiveness (I didn’t say, “bigotry,” because I was being nice), in reply, he or whoever runs his fb page deleted my comment, without comment.
Comics For Communities
by Travis Hedge Coke
For all the facetiousness of, “We live in a society,” all we have is a set of interrelated communities. What we are, is our communities. The surge in certain factions, certain types, to decry community, to decry community awareness, community pride, community comfort is rarely in evidence about their own community, which they often identify as the norm, or as reality, but a rage or frustration with other people having entirely valid and definite existence, and then to have that existence in mutually-reaffirming groups. “Thank god they didn’t SJW it!” or anger at there being too many Asian characters in a superhero comic is not a decrying of all culture, just culture outside the angry person’s.
And, they are not angry because these groups, outside them, exist, just for existing, but because if they exist, they can do unto them, as they and theirs have done unto others. “[A]bject fear of being on the receiving end.”
We need comics like A Bunch of Jews, an anthology of comics adaptations of short stories originally published in Yiddish and written by Trina Robbin’s father, Muttel Perechudnik, in 1938; we need comics like the current Agents of ATLAS series from Marvel, handled by Greg Pak and Nico Leon. We need collections like, The Secret Loves of Geek Girls and Chicks Dig Comics.
People get mad sometimes, when community-concerned comics do not have a charity appended, are not fundraisers, but community is not something funded from outside, nor is community a charity pot we pass amongst ourselves. The recent Rebellion reprints of Misty and Jinty stories are community-concerned comics. Malcolm Shaw and Mario Capaldi’s The Sentinels is prime community comics. Like A Bunch of Jews, it is accessible to everyone, but there are resonances, both in the fantastic element of apartment buildings that can take you to a world where Nazis won the War and run Britain, to the basic class and generational concerns, that establish a proposed reader who existed in 1978, and not so much today. What does exist today are the matured forms of those readers and the rest of us, who form, today, in 2019, a great and large and necessary community called “Let’s blow up that building that is an entire world of Nazis in power.”
The Sentinels demonstration of 1978 post-Nazi British protests and class relations, aimed at an intelligent child reader, but applicable as hell to us all, in contrast to the Nazi-dominated alternate-Birdwood neighborhood, highlights British imperialism as much as Nazi. Trina Robbins adapting her father’s stories, in A Bunch of Jews, with her team of artists and contributing hands, is about 1930s local hero types and small community humor, but in that, in adapting and focusing on that, it becomes intimately about Robbins and her father, and maybe more intimately about all of us, about us.
In, A Bunch of Jews, Perechudnik tells a story-within-a-story of a man so devout when he met God on the street and God was not of his particular town’s sect, he continues on his way past him. “In that case, I have nothing to do with you.” Robbins and artist, Sarah Glidden give us, in their one-page adaption, give us an incredibly emotive God, and a very human, emotionally locked-in man, in a fashion that is both specifically of a time and place and a thing within our heads, within the heart of each of us. To read the story, is to feel a part of that specific time and place, but also the community of internal universality. On valid, real levels, there are parts of the story, the comic, that will never exist specifically for me. That is awesome. The anecdote, in a story, in a comics collection arranged and translated by the daughter of the author, one of our greatest living resources in the realm of comics, is for us, it is for a Jewish community to which I do not belong, it is for Trina Robbins and her family.
I do not want to read community-concerned comics that are not community-aimed. If I read a comic about a community to which I do not belong and it feels like it is there to explain them to me, I feel gross, dirtied. I will never be an anthropologist, but good anthropology should be communities talking to those outside, not explanatory writing by outsiders for outsiders. God, that is at best boring, and usually it’s not at that best.
I want to read levels of unity, unification, and shared concerns. Community need not be based in ethnicity, region, or gender, but if you exhibit anger, fear, annoyance at community that does, you need to ask yourself why. Whether you do not belong to that community, or you do. We have to be aware, not only of how we respond to our neighbors, or those far across town, across an ocean, using a restroom with a different symbol on the door, and to be aware of our own people and why we agree or disagree on whether we are, together, a people.
There is a difference, fundamental, between being aimed at a specific community and being dangerous to another community. Racist jokes are not simply aimed at one community over another, they are dangerous to another community. A comic aimed at a specific community need not an attack on other communities.
All comics are aimed at specific communities, especially the comics made by people who do not feel that is what they were doing. The comic that thinks it is dealing in universal truths, universal concerns, is often the most aimed at a precise community, and its kissing cousin, the comic that tries to slip in another community as a metaphor or proxy for something “universal,” is even more locked onto its target audience. The last volume of Uncanny X-Men was as targeted to a community, as concerned with a specific community, as A Bunch of Jews, The Sentinel, or Plica-chan and Mum’s the Word, a Amamiya Sae slice of life strip aimed at adult lesbians, published in explicitly gay magazines (like LOUD News), and a single-pager about a mom who always comes out on top, aimed directly at mother’s and embedded in children’s comics (Whoopee! and Jackpot), it is only more likely that the 2018-19 Uncanny X-Men target audience do not see themselves as an identifiable targetable community.
The current two-series dynamic resetting of the X-Men family of comics features the “good mutants” establishing political and legal amnesty for all mutants, including rapists, murderers, pimps, slavers, terrorists and torture-fanatics. What shocked me, is how many readers feel that this is not something that will blow up in our heroes’ faces, but is a righteous blow against bigotry and a grand example of bucking the application of model minority to our traditional X-Men and related hero teams. That scared me. What weirded me, is that, when I look at which readers, it is primarily nominally white, straight men. And, they are thrilled about it. The same straight white men who don’t get why real life Holocaust survivors did not turn into Magneto, but think Magneto is half or more of the American 1960s/70s civil rights movement personified.
I do not believe anyone making those comics intends that reading. Jonathan Hickman has not, I will bet good money, sat down and typed out an agenda that includes: Heroic woke achievement of total amnesty for rapists who eat people because they are genetically our brethren. It is an unpleasant element to the run, but I suspect it is meant to be unpleasant. It, if intended as a real life application, would degrade and excise many real life communities, including ethnic communities. It would be inappropriately confrontational to communities treated as, or used as model minorities to degrade and excise other ethnic communities.
But, X-Men comics, by and large, cannot afford to address, even confrontationally, communities. The commercial nature, combined with a corporate ownership, means that bottom line, these characters and stories are promotional vehicles.
So, why not use the term, “demographics,” instead of communities? Am I promoting an agenda?
Yeah. Demographics implies we do not talk, that we do not share and interrelate ideas and understandings. That there are not levels of interaction and exchange. All mothers do not belong to a single community, nor to all Jews, all superhero fans, all men, all left-handed queer Natives from east of the Mississippi under six feet tall with a bad eye, even. Diapers sell to demographics. Parents with your children need to buy diapers. That’s a demographic. But, ads for diapers, which are essentially narratives and narrative spin, sell to communities. Diaper advertisement changes, based on the community being pitched to. Comics are not diapers, but they are narratives. So, too, comics, like advertisements, aim not at demographics, but communities, or, if you want to, smaller, preciser, tighter demographics who have a community or community-earmarks in common.
Muttel Perechudnik wrote short stories aimed at communities. Trina Robbins adapted them, along with some wonderful artists, for another, contemporary, range of communities. Like Mum’s the Word or Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke, to say we cannot judge these with modern eyes, that we cannot apprise them from outside the culture and generation of their original release is to conflate relativism with indecisiveness, or blanket acceptance. That is why we need comics aimed at different communities, different subsections of society that are having their own, different, conversations.
Dave Cockrum designed the Native character for their international X-Men team without a stereotypical feathers and fringe outfit, in the 1970s, and the costume was rejected. Thunderbird appears in fringe and feathers. Wolverine, back in the early days of the Uncanny X-Men revival? Byrne had decided, before they had ever shown Wolverine without a mask, that he was Native, something Larry Hama continued to play with in the 1990s, but could never be confirmed or directly addressed. That’s two white writer-artists and an Asian-descent writer-artist, on a standard-setting superhero comic supposed to have an international, multi-cultural cast, done for everyone, and here is just some of the roadblocks they encountered. Writer-artists, or artist-writers, comics-makers trying to include other communities, trying to expand reach in a sincere fashion, but the company owns the deal, and the emphasis there is demographics, not communities.
We have to critique them, even if we are outside, according to our own community ideas, our own communal understandings, but we have to be simultaneously aware of the standards and understandings that they were created with. What is or is not racist does not much change year to year, what is or is not sexist or classist says sexist or classist. The reaction “we” have changes, because that “we” changes.
These adaptations and followup runs become community conversations of their own, the grand fraternities, schools, sororities, social clubs of X-Men writers or the creative chain of source work and adaptations. That, perspective, too, must be acknowledged, and appreciated.
But, to remove community from the equation, to pretend audiences or talent, authors, artists, readers, distributors have no communities, or community perspectives does not strengthen us, enlighten or enliven us. All that does is create an unquestionable (because it remains unnamed) cultural supremacy. Nobody needs supremacist comics. You can pretty much read any comic I mention in this article for affirmation of that.
Comics For Communities
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