Art and scholarship come together in this stunning full-colour comics anthology! Thirty-eight short comics reflect on body image from the perspectives of queer men, exploring our understandings of masculinity, attraction and self-worth. Interspersed throughout the book are fact sheets with the latest findings in queer men’s health research, providing readers with a mix of scholarly literature and heartfelt depictions of personal experience.
ISBN: 978-0-9940507-9-3 Publisher: Ad Astra Comix Publishing Date: June 28, 2019 Page count: 170 Dimensions: 7.25″ x 9.25″ Softcover, full colour
List Price: $20 ($10/each if you buy 3 or more!)
This book is back from the printer and is now available for retail or wholesale purchase here, in our up-and-coming new online store. Comics feature many meaningful topics, including body image and conceptions of self-worth, working through troubles with partners and friends, and some things you can expect during difficult times, like a mental health crisis or transition surgery.
It is our hope that we can get this book into the hands of people who need it! If you are a gender/sexuality educator and would like a copy to review in consideration of using it in your teaching, please contact us and we’ll get right back to you.
This book contains some explicit content and may not be appropriate for everyone, including swearing, depictions of bullying (racism, fat-phobia, body-shaming), as well as illustrations of sex organs and sexual activity — though we can’t imagine anyone over the age of 13 who hasn’t tried to access free porn… and wouldn’t it be cool if we suggested that sexual health be something we consider alongside our mental and relationship health? In other words, the sexual content in this book is not gratuitous; it is contextualized within the theme of queer folks’ physical, mental, emotional, and sexual health.
As part of our expanded Promotions section, we will be bringing together a monthly digest of political comics from around the world, in search of support. Here is a listing of past crowd-funding projects that we have publicized.
Freak’s Progress is twenty-first-century take on the morality play, a traditional theatrical form that demonstrated morally and socially correct behavior. Hasse’s goal is “to explore the deep heterogeneity we live with, and how that heterogeneity can create both deep understanding and radical confusion,” based on her “experiences as an artist, educator, social justice advocate, and resident of urban neighborhoods in transition.”
Hasse has an extensive portfolio of her work available on her website.
This project is accepting funds through the end of the year.
Starting in 1995, Boyd has been adapting stories of United States history into comics featuring a Chesapeake Bay blue crab named Chester. Originally, the strip syndicated in Virginia with the goal to encourage voluntary non-reading children to engage with history. Now, Boyd seeks funding to digitize his entire collection to make them available to everyone.
During this digitization project, Boyd is also planning to expand on Chester’s adventures through American history by adding more jokes, more details, and by providing links to on-line history resources.
This project is accepting funding through Dec. 27, 2013.
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Recognize that chunky sweater?! That’s right, folks–that’s Chomsky, in comic form!
On Indiegogo now is an exciting new political comics project. Click the image above to check out the campaign – or any image on this page, for that matter!
Writer and Illustrator Jeffrey Wilson and Luke Radl are putting together a graphic novel developed from an interview Wilson conducted with Noam Chomsky in 2012. For those familiar with Chomsky, you may understand me when I say that he is a wealth of information that is perhaps difficult to take in all in one sitting. Most recently, I heard him interviewed on CBC Radio Q, on the topic of NSA and spying programs–and just as a side note, Chomsky mentioned a great deal of information with regard to COINTELPRO and the counterintelligence programs that waged war on progressive groups in the 1960s and 1970s. It’s a lot of history and analysis to take in in 10 minutes. And that’s why I think a graphic novel interpretation of Chomsky is so promising. In the words of the creators,
“We take the historical examples used and give them a depth that might otherwise be glossed over. For example, when Chomsky mentioned the Free Speech Movement of the 60’s during the interview, we do the research and take you back to that time period so it is not just a passing reference but a real and dynamic moment. This work is important because it will offer not only an introduction to the thoughts and insights of Chomsky but the graphic novel form allows us to layer information and move the reader through time and space in unique ways.”
With that said, Wilson and Radl have a lot on their plates…. and that’s AFTER fundraising $15,000.
As for artwork, I can’t think of many other contemporary comic artists who could do better than Luke Radl. He initially got my attention on Cartoon Movement with his comics journalism coverage of the 2012 NATO protests in Chicago, in which members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, led by 3 young Afghan women and peace activists, marched to the gates of the summit. Veterans, in the fashion of the protest on the Washington Monument during the Vietnam War, threw their metals over the fence in one of the most powerful acts of protest I have seen against the war in the last decade. It was an incredible thing to see illustrated. His full portfolio can be viewed here: www.lukeradl.com/illustration
Donate what you can. Share where you can. This looks like a wonderful initiative.
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Terminal Lance on Kickstarer
Just came across what appears to be an amazing war comic project on Kickstarter. I highly recommend people check it out–if not to add to his already-attained goal–but to pre-order a copy of what is surely to become an incredible comic.
The White Donkey is the creation of Max Uriarte, an artist and US veteran who served on two deployments to Iraq. His regular web comic, Terminal Alliance, features often-funny shorts about army life. While not a military person myself, a lot of my closest friends (including my husband) are veterans–and the stories definitely ring true with what I’ve heard before.
There is richness in those stories that is baited with a bittersweet intrigue: war stories and military life draw just about every observer into it. And because war has a tendency to bring out both the best and worst in a human being, it will forever be a popular subject within all creative media.
Comics with a Cause has just hit the $1,000 mark on Indiegogo. Let’s help them make this happen.
News of this project totally hit me by surprise. My husband was the one to point it out to me- a new fundraising campaign for a web comic series, inspired by the question of “What men can do to end violence against women” launched by Rodrigo Caballero and his fiancee, Babette Santos in Vancouver last week. What struck me was that, not only did this project sound amazing, but that Babette–who I know completely outside of the world of comic books–was a bridesmaid at my wedding in Vancouver. What a small, wonderful world!
It sounds like this is going to be a pretty slick web comic with a great opportunity for it to be brought into print. The informative nature of the subject matter makes me happy that, once the initial funds are raised, there is no hindrance to anyone benefiting from its contents: a free web comic is a free web comic.
Through networking and contacts, Babette and Rodrigo have already drummed up a lot of initial support in the women’s rights community in the Lower Mainland– at women’s centers, shelters, and through advocacy groups. I think this project has the potential to do something amazing: please, instead of giving money to Gawker (a media company worth over $300 million) to see a 30 second cell phone video of my mayor smoking crack — support something positive. Support Comics with a Cause!
This project is not to create a book for a regular readership. Prison Grievances is written specifically for inmates of the U.S. prison system, fundamentally focused on education and empowerment. The book, reviewed by people at all levels of the prison system from judges to former inmates, details the step-by-step process for filing complaints with the court system, requesting a special piece of equipment due to a disability–whatever the case may be.
While this book may come across as little more than a practical tool for someone in a different situation than you, it serves a great purpose. The fact of the matter is that 1 in 12 Americans have been in the prison system, and over 2 million people currently sit in jail cells–that’s more prisoners than the People’s Republic of China (which, by the way, still has more people than the U.S.) Anyone who still thinks that the prison industrial complex isn’t a problem should do some more reading on the matter – maybe start with Shane Bauer’s recent heart-wrenching article in Mother Jones: “Solitary in Iran Nearly Broke Me. Then I Went Inside America’s Prisons.”
Leclercq has taken the right approach in tackling this titanic challenge that we face as a society (whether we admit it or not–prisoners becomes ex-prisoners, who are then our co-workers, neighbours, and fellow citizens), and is attempting to hand these men and women a valuable tool. If this project speaks to you, please check out the pitch page and make a donation.
Comics, cartoons, and sex in art & literature carry a special kinship. Both have historically been taboo, “low” in status as genres of art; both have been avenues by which to mock and satirize the powerful… and underneath, despite it all, both have an almost universally popular appeal.
On November 24, we had a series of back-to-back workshops at Ohhh Canada’s new storefront on Queen West on the history of comic book erotica, exploring the long-standing relationship of sex in comics and the related struggle of freedom of expression that has come along with it.
For anyone who joined us for the workshop, we’re providing a list of links and references for further reading, along with a showcase of some of the books we’re carrying as a part of this section of our work. Enjoy!
Title: SECRET IDENTITY:
The Fetish Art of Superman`s Co-creator Joe Shuster Author: Craig Yoe, with an introduction by Stan Lee Artwork: Joe Shuster Published: Abrams Comic Arts, New York (2009)
It is a well-known fact in the comic world that the original artist and co-creator of Superman died having earned only pennies on the dollar for his contribution to the world`s most famous superhero—the rights to the character were won by D.C. Comics in the 1940s. So what to make of this work in later years? He never signed his name to it, but the Nights of Horror illustrations that depicted lusty ladies, titillating torture, and all manner of mild S&M scenarios were in fact Shuster. What`s more?! The characters of these filthy booklets all look, at great deal, like one Clark Kent and Lois Lane… Find out more in this curious twist in the history of comics and erotic art.
Title: LOST GIRLS (Combined 3 Volume Hardcover) Author: Alan Moore Artwork: Melinda Gebbie Published: Top Shelf Productions (2006)
Writer Alan Moore and his partner Melinda Gebbie, both legends in their respective fields, teamed up for years in the early 1990s to produce a kind of comic and a kind of erotica that the world had never seen: sophisticated, politically and historically conscious, yet honest, human, and sensual.
From back of book: “For more than a century, Alice, Wendy and Dorothy have been our guides through the Wonderland, Neverland, and Land of Oz of our childhoods. Now like us, these three lost girls have grown up and are ready to guide us again, this time through the realms of our sexual awakening and fulfilment. Through their familiar fairytales they share with us their most intimate revelations of desire in its many forms, revelations that shine out radiantly through the dark clouds of war gathering around a luxury Austrian hotel. Drawing on the rich heritage of erotica, Lost Girls is the rediscovery of the power of ecstatic writing and art in a sublime union that only the medium of comics can achieve. Exquisite, thoughtful, and human, Lost Girls is a work of breathtaking scope that challenges the very notion of art fettered by convention. This is erotic fiction at its finest.”
Title: 25,000 Years of Erotic Freedom Author: Alan Moore Artwork: Various Published: Abrams, New York (2009)
If there`s anyone who can put 25,000 years of erotic art into perspective, it`s Alan Moore. Infamous author of graphic novel classics like Watchmen and V for Vandetta, Moore is a fan of uplifting both comics and erotica into more highly respectable realms. Much as he has shown us the ability of a comic to be a work of literature, so too in this volume does he show us the long legacy of pornography being a part of our most meaningful and cherished works of human expression. A moving read!
Book is hardcover with a gorgeous Art Nouveau decal, spotted inside with dozens of colour illustrations and photographs.
Title: The ProAuthor: Garth Ennis Artwork: Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotty, Paul Mounts Published: Image Comics (May 2012) For those of us looking for the lighter side of sex in comics, meet the world`s first prostitute superhero. Superhero prostitute… whatever she is, she`s one hilarious, street-smart, trash-talking tough cookie. This is not only pushing the boundaries of what could legally be sold in an Image Comics title; it also playfully mocks the image of the superhero in the collective imagination—from the spandex,…on down. As mainstream comics legend Gail Simone says, “This is the comic that Garth, Amanda and Jimmy will be apologizing for in Heaven minutes before being sent directly to Hell. But hey, if their eternal damnation is the only downside, then I demand a sequel.”
Title: Sex Inc.
Creators: Nico and Richard Gallo Story: Stephanie Halley Edited: Ezra Mark Published: Gary Groth and Kim Thompson, Eros Comix (April, 1998)
From the book: “In the year 2117, the prostitutes of Sex, Inc. attempt to make their living in the urban decay of a collapsed world. Confronted with the limitless fetishes and fantasies of a desperate and enslaved public, the girls attempt to fulfill every while pursuing Sex, Inc.`s personal goals.”
An incredible work of sci-fi erotica, published by two very big names in the comic world, Gary Groth and the late Kim Thompson.
Title: Heavy Metal Magazine Authors: Various Artwork: Various Published: 1977-Present
Celebrated for over 35 years as a publication that welcomed new, unique sci-fi / fantasy comics, Heavy Metal also welcomed a fair share of erotica, and was cherished as a space where artists could freely express something of a “no holds barred” attitude toward their creativity. Select back issue magazines are available.
This week the comics industry juggernaut Marvel announced a new superhero stepping into their circulation.
Kamala Khan is a young Muslim woman of Pakistani heritage, growing up in New Jersey. In an article this week in the New York Times about the new character, author G. Willow Wilson explains that she wanted the comic to be about a few things: “…about the universal experience of all American teenagers, feeling kind of isolated and finding what they are.” Wilson explains that this comes through the lens of Kamala being a young Muslim in America who struggles with her faith.
The prospect of a new comic about this kind of character feels really promising. Even the art displays something new and comforting about it. I feel like Kamala could actually be a real person that I know. But aside from pointing out how Kamala will be different than previous Marvel superheroes, very little is discussed of her.
About a quarter of the article is taken up with examples of Marvel’s shoddy history of attempting to introduce minority characters. Thus if we are not already familiar, readers begin to introduce themselves to the battle against sexism and racism in the comic book world. Navigating the gauntlet of narrow editorial mindsets and penny-pinching fans… is seeing the underlying reality that most positions in the comic business are still inhabited by white men, and that this environment has often embarrassing and ugly consequences.
There are so many incredible examples of how working mostly with white men to create a comic universe comprised mostly of white men and male-idealized women can take its tole on your ability to even imagine diversification.
Some fun examples of this are instances such as DC Comics’ Dan DiDio in his outburst, now famous in the comic book world, at the San Diego Comic Con in 2011. When a member of the audience suggested that DC hire more women, DiDio emphatically responds, “WHO? Who should we hire? Tell me right now!” Let’s keep in mind that the suggestion came as a result of DiDio literally asking the audience what DC Comics should be doing to boost readership and reader confidence. As has been noted by many, if you actually listen to the exchange (an MP3 is conveniently available), you’ll note that DiDio’s response sounds less like a question and more like a challenge. DiDio continues to embarrass himself as an editor at America’s #2 comic publisher with actions like forbidding Batwoman authors from allowing the character, who is currently portrayed as a lesbian, to marry her partner. Superheroes are about self-sacrifice; they “shouldn’t have happy personal lives,” he explained to fans at the Baltimore Comic Con.
In August, 2013, comics creator Mark Millar was in the spotlight, particularly for his comments about the subject of rape in comics. “The ultimate [act] that would be the taboo, to show how bad some villain is, was to have somebody being raped, you know?” he said. “I don’t really think it matters. It’s the same as, like, a decapitation. It’s just a horrible act to show that somebody’s a bad guy.” Millar went on to boast that he “always likes to push it and see something [he’s] never seen before.” Monika Bartyzel’s response in The Week:
But Millar is wrong. We have seen rape in comics before, and we’ve seen it a lot. In fact, rape shows up repeatedly in Millar’s work (Wanted, The Authority, Kick-Ass 2), which echoes a longer tradition of rape suffered by superheroines like Black Cat, Ms. Marvel, and Rogue. Rape is no more an unspeakable taboo in comics culture, where the industry is overrun with continual sexual harassment and rape threats, than it is in real life.
Despite it being less of a publicly heated debate (perhaps because it’s more embarrassing?) we see this trend not only around gender, but around race. Brandon M. Easton, an African American animation writer, layed out the numbers in a Bleeding Cool article last year:
Clearly, breaking into Marvel or DC is insanely difficult and few people of any background manage to get close; but the fact that there are less than 3.0% of Blacks credited on all Marvel and DC titles as of June 2012 illustrates a serious problem that requires greater exploration.
Without necessarily trying to, Easton sums up a large part of the attitude problem facing society and the microcosm of the comic book industry. It is about racism specifically, but we can extract important lessons about all forms of systemic oppression:
In the U.S., it becomes a situation where some White people feel personally indicted as a racist and the burden rests on Black people to 1) prove racism still exists and impacts all of us, 2) explain the difference between a White person living their daily lives vs. the institutionalized system of racism, and 3) defend yourself against claims of “reverse” racism as the very mention of the issue means that you hate White people. Almost every online discussion of race boils down to these three arguments before it’s all said and done. And ultimately, nothing changes because some folks refuse to separate the system from their personal identity.
…So what does this all have to do with the fresh young Kamala Khan? Well, it could tell us that the mainstream comic book industry, despite some very old habits and mindsets, is trying to move forward.
Khan appears to be her own superhero, when she is, in fact, going to become the new Ms. Marvel…Oh dear. Marvel and D.C. both have an embarrassing record of stuffing minorities–African Americans, women, and LGBT folk–into superhero characters that are already molded and defined as the characters of white men. Why is this a problem? To me, it boils race and gender down to pigment and body parts, and ignores the basic understandings of systemic oppression: that of a categorically different life experience. The idea that a Black Spiderman or a Ms. Marvel would carry on with the same missions and objectives as their white male counterparts, in essence, tells us what the comic creation establishment means when they huff and haw at accusations of racism and sexism: beyond pigment and body parts, we’re all the same. So why go out of our way to hire/include/portray minorities in comics?
Relatively speaking, I don’t think we are all the same. Perhaps a Pakistani Muslim superheroine like Kamala Khan would be concerned with American military drone strikes killing hundreds of civilians back home… Perhaps superheroes of colour would be more in tune with criminal behavior that has negatively impacted their communities or countries of origin, as opposed to some generic gangsters or bad men in suits? And I can’t speak for all women, especially women superheroes, but perhaps a feminist perspective would *completely* change a superhero’s take on the world–its problems and its solutions.
What’s also enlightening, in the end, is the attitude of introducing diversity. “Fans respond with their dollars,” said Axel Alonso, the editor in chief of Marvel Entertainment, In the sense of margins and numbers, there is the logical fear that minority issues won’t connect with the majority and their wallets. As some of the most POWERFUL comics creators in the world said, “The comics follow society. They don’t lead.”
I find that to be an interestingly defeated attitude for an industry’s top dogs. Any industry–but especially one with creativity at its core. And especially one so capable that it can put out a press release about the Muslim superheroine Kamala Khan on Monday, and have it picked up by two dozen major newspapers by Wednesday.
It seems to me that the biggest news the comic world can make these days is news of change.
Ultimately, the comic industry giants have yet to be able to overcome the major hurdles of sexism and racism, because they genuinely do not know how. Don’t worry guys, you’re not alone on that one. But until there is a comprehensive examination of racism and sexism, not as topics of sensitivity training, but as pervading systems of oppression in our society (with histories. with context) then we have little hope for the new characters being born, no matter how diverse they appear to be.
The following is a little exhibition of the top student comics of the “Gender Through Comic Books” Massive Open Online Course (Codename: #SuperMOOC), which ran on Canvas.Net from the beginning of April to Mid-May of 2013. In a class of 7200, there were over 800 comic submissions, and these were the finalists. The top three are listed in order of the student body’s popular vote, beginning with #1 – Girls Don’t Like Dinosaurs…. ! Enjoy!
Girls Don’t Like Dinosaurs
by Natasha Alterici
For my story I blended together a few real-life anecdotes from my childhood; my mother trying futilely to make me dress like a young lady, the neighbor boy who told me “Girls don’t like dinosaurs!”, the exploration, and of course the dinosaur role playing. As a kid I was completely fascinated by dinosaurs, but I was also completely aware that this was not “normal” for girls. Looking back I think this is because dinosaurs are gendered toward boys and this is probably because they’re essentially a science-based play. Dinosaur-play involves lots of learning, about biology, natural history, geology, forensics, etc. If a girl is interested in animals or science they can play Barbie Veterinarian, but this isn’t a science-based toy, it’s just another form of dress up. You aren’t given opportunities to learn about how to care for animals, you’re given an outfit (sexy lab coat) and accessories (sickly baby animals).
Small and Waiting
by Nicole Marie Guiniling
In grade school I was told that a good essay was like a hamburger. You had a beginning and an end that reflected each other, with a meaty middle. (I even had a teacher go so far as to say that your thesis should be a “crisp, green line towards the top.”) Then I went to college, where another, arguably better Literature Professor threw that out the window and said that none of that mattered. A decent essay, he said, should look like Beyonce—an hourglass shape with a “KA-POW!” ending, so to speak. This definitely got some gasps and laughs when I first heard it in class 6 years ago. I thought it would be a little ironic to apply that method (if I can call it a method) to an assignment in a class on gender.
“Small and Waiting” is about me growing up, learning about gender roles, coping with the trauma of the worst aspects of that role (including eating disorders, body image issues, and assaults by men), and overcoming those challenges with a higher understanding of gender and systemic oppression in our society.
by Jacinda Contrerras
This is my brother and me when we were kids. He always wanted to hang out with his older sister and be like her, as he told me years later. Getting to wear a dress with a black towel wrapped around his head while poppin’ wheelies in our neighborhood was just a bonus.
My family consisted of one set of grandparents, my mom, 2 aunts, and 3 uncles. They grew up as migrant workers and believed that teaching children survival skills and street smarts outweighed raising proper little ladies and gentlemen. These hardworking adults were more concerned with the cost of clothes than whether they were buying pink for girls or blue for boys. So, I didn’t think of my toys as being girls’ toys or his as boys’. I owned the books, Hot Wheels & Tonkas that I allowed him to play with when he wasn’t annoying me, my brother owned the Atari and Star Wars action figures that he allowed me to play with when we were on good terms.
Eddie Blake did a great job with the art and inks, this story comes alive because of that.
Written by Ross O’Dell
Drawn by Raylene Winkel
Insert Title Here
By Greg Marcus
In high school (class of 1995) I was the staff cartoonist for the newspaper. In that time I managed to pick up some awards for my work. This strip in particular is a complete reworking of a strip that won an award from the Palm Beach Post. I rewrote it updating outdated ideas and things that are not accurate for my current age (Teacher crushes, mentions of things that were understood in 1995 but not today) I then redrew the entire strip using Adobe Illustrator.
All of the things mentioned in the strip are accurate, just not necessarily to the person saying them. I did test androgynous and have been known to loofah, but most of the things my friend said should be attributed to my wife. Although, I do enjoy a good mud mask from time to time.
Shawn Proctor’s writing has been nominated for Best New American Voices and published in several literary journals and anthologies, including Storyglossia, ThinkJournal, and Our Haunted World: Ghost Stories from Around the Globe.
We’re nearing the end of Week Two over at Ball State University’s Gender Through Comics, (Twitter hashtag: #SuperMOOC), and we’ve been reading Superman Birthright by veteran comics writer, Mark Waid. I enjoyed listening to Instructor Christy Blanch’s interview with Mark last Thursday, which actually led me to pick up Birthright again–I’d put it down after 1 1/2 issues on Wednesday night, cause I just couldn’t get into it. But it definitely started to come together for me, and I’m glad that I’m now much more acquainted with one of the world’s oldest superheroes.
I’ve developed my own thesis by which to tackle Superman: he reflects our evolving notion of masculine idealism. A lot has changed in terms of how we perceive the “perfect” man or woman in the last 100 years. Superman keeps getting re-invented to reflect this. But what connects them? How is the Superman of the 1930s’ Action Comics still Superman just as much as Clark Kent in Superman Birthright? Maybe, to do this, we should look at what is noticeably different?
This is an interesting update–one that Mark Waid touched on in the interview, explaining that this wasn’t intended to just be New Age mumbo-jumbo, and I agree. I think he is effectively exploring a higher understanding by way of Kent’s alien super-abilities. I believe this to be one of the many positive effects of sci-fi culture on modern pop culture, equivalent to Christianity’s influences of divine idealism on the Renaissance, if that makes any sense. That is, we as humans develop notions that don’t actually exist, but come into existence by us imagining them as notions of God or another higher being, like an alien. Thus we develop interpretations of inalienable rights, Utopias, …. and, well, places where we don’t have to kill other living things just to survive. That is an idealism entrenched in lots of Sci-Fi, and Waid has selected it as a “Superman” trait. I think this was an excellent decision, and emphasizes that an ideal masculine trait, now, is to be able to empathize and connect with life around you.
Kent begins his identity as Superman by travelling the world and searching out knowledge and adventure. This is compared to Pa Kent’s time in the Army in Issue #3 of Birthright, but it reminds me a lot of Che Guevera in the chapter of his life when he wrote his Motorcycle Diaries. It reflects a deliberate and positive step in the maturation process.
This ‘search for himself’ is coupled with the reality that Kent struggles with his identity and the gap that exists between himself and his [not-so-fellow] man. He describes that it never takes long for his relationships with other people being to break down, once his abilities become known. “Invariably, they freak,” he says. “They become retroactively paranoid, wondering what else Clark Kent is hiding from them.”
In my mind, this narrative runs parallel to the concept of privilege. In addition to being an alien with superhuman abilities, Clark Kent also happens to be an able-bodied white male, who was raised in the most powerful and militarily aggressive country on Earth: the United States. It shows him attempting to make friends with non-Americans in his travels, to no avail once they discover just how much more powerful [privileged?] he is than they are.
He struggles with balancing his desire to help people without isolating himself from them. He longs to be accepted as a human.
When Kent tries to advise a local African leader not to march because he foresees violence against him, the villagers are right to point out that he is a white outsider trying to dictate to them. It doesn’t mean Kent has bad intentions, and some readers may think that this objection makes the characters simple and petty, but there is real history and politics there that he is not, or has chosen not to be, aware of. If anything Waid downplays this in the story; in real life, I think a man like Kent would be facing serious trust issues well before he started lifting buildings.
On this note, I can’t help but point out that a summary of this plot line smells a bit of “white man’s burden”. Kent wants to help people who need help the most, so he goes to help a minority tribe in Africa. Some of the images depicting this are particularly noteworthy, like this one to the right, which could also be critiqued from a perspective of gender as well as race. What can I say? It’s hard to write realistic stories without touching real-life issues like politics, gender dynamics, race relations, histories of colonialism and imperialism, etc. Comics have traditionally been comfortable in their own universe[s], but that is slowly, slowly changing, and I think panels like this are an indication of both an attempt to be more real, while also clinging to old stereotypes. (I mean, really, how long has Abena known Kent? Two weeks? If I were her and this guy came out of no-where with mega perception and rock-hard abs, I’d think he was CIA–hands down.)
Waid uses a great term in the #SuperMOOC interview: comics are a “visual short-hand” form of storytelling. I acknowledge that it’s hard not to simplify human conditions and relationships. Duly noted, but I wouldn’t be doin’ my job if I didn’t point this stuff out.
A side-note: The epitomy of “cheeziness” is the absence of believability. Superhero stories are in a constant struggle to maintain believability. To do that, Superman is all about depicting things on the edge of what we can sense and understand: that means everything from the constant introduction of new concepts (logically), to the depiction of senses that we find difficult or impossible to detect, such as superhuman sight, hearing, and movement. The illustrations in Birthright are vital to this, and really carry the story.
Superman crying: this is part of the evolution of masculine idealism, as well as the creative struggle for believability. The idea that men are supposed to hide their emotions is thankfully falling out of date as a prejudice that is both detrimental to men and world around them. Furthermore, emotion is an essential element within the anatomy of epic narrative: battles where life and death hang in a balance must make emotional connections. Crying , at least for any writer worth their salt, is not a sign of weakness in a character, but an indicator that they understand and are intimately connected with that world. As well, we ideally expect to see story characters crying around the points in the story when we, the readers, feel like crying. This connects the protagonist not only to the world around them, but to their audience as well, and creates a better story experience.
Part of Superman’s modern-day struggle, invariably, becomes one of masculine idealism vs. realism: can a near-perfect man exist in an imperfect world? Since man can influence the world through his abilities and actions, and this man does, despite the world remaining imperfect—is he still a perfect man / an ideal? Is he still “Superman”?
Superman has traditionally had a strong father-son bond. This is a part of masculine idealism: ideal men come from ideal father-son relationships. This explains the place of prominence for Kah-el (Clark Kent’s birth father) in previous Superman narratives—as well as Pa Kent.
Pa Kent and Clark struggle to understand their connection, now that Clark wants to explore his extraterrestrial roots.
Superman is always an optimist. This distinguishes him from new superheroes, who are often expected to take on a “more realistic” perspective on the world, as well as old superheroes who have been reinvented within the modern “anti-hero” framework.
What to make of Lois Lane?
Superman is as much a reflection of the evolution of gender perceptions as just about any pop culture icon that outlasts a generation. But what do we make of Lois Lane? In the very first Superman comics, Lane was a very attractive, feisty and smart news reporter who is dedicated to her career and her independence, despite the occasional dramatic lapse of utter dependence on Superman and his supernatural abilities. In the most recent remakes of Superman, we see Lane as…. A very attractive, feisty and smart news reporter who is dedicated to her career and her independence, despite ALSO having the occasional dramatic lapse of utter dependence on Superman and his supernatural abilities. Despite some subtle changes, (and one really confusing case of Lois Lane turning Black for a day), the woman has remained much more glued to her original form.
If Superman has changed so much over 75 years, why not Lane? Was Lois Lane classic, at in her inception, already a progressive enough reflection of the female gender? Are comic creators’ notions of women and their ‘social evolution’ simply stagnant—it just doesn’t get any better? I’m unsure about this one, and want to give it some future thought. I actually think that it presents an interesting argument: gender perceptions of men have changed more than women in the history of comics. This is despite massive social, political, and economic changes in the status of women in that time.
I’m looking forward to reading others’ thoughts on this, as we continue with the #SuperMOOC class. Thanks for reading. More to come with Week 3.
Of all the topics that could be discussed endlessly with regard to socio-political relevance in comics, Gender is probably the first that comes to mind. Discussions are literally endless.
It is also the topic I’ve personally grappled with most as well, as, to me, there really aren’t a lot of clear, pointed answers. Writing a concise blog post about the subject is downright impossible. So when the opportunity came along to take the online “Gender Trough Comics” MOOC, presented by educator and comics afficionado Christy Blanch, I thought it was worth a try.
What’s a MOOC, you ask? It’s new to me too. It stands for Massive Open Online Course – generally offered for free, and completed without the reward of academic credit. It’s a great realm that’s just beginning to blossom for people who are interested in education for the sake of education.
Our first week is generally about getting acquainted: with the material, the social networking platforms, and with 7000 other “classmates” with whom we share discussion boards and hashtags. (By the way, if you’re interested in enrolling, there’s still time: just check out the Canvas.net page. Comixology offers a lot of discounted material for the course as well, so it’s not too hard on the bank account either.)
Our first set of reading material for the week is a collection of work by comics creator Terry Moore: Strangers in Paradise, Vols I and II; and Rachel Rising.
Needless to say, this is the beginning of the series, so characters are going to develop in complexity and change, but it is interesting to see where everyone’s starting point it. My thoughts on Strangers in Paradise, having just finished Volume 1, are as follows:
Moore is making a story that is composed of several gender stereotypes. You have Katchoo, the Man-Hating Lesbian: fearless, trouble-maker, liberated, smoker, cat-owner (all stereotypically associated with lesbians). You’ve got Francine, the Hetero Female: timid,lacking confidence/certainty, reactive (instead of pro-active), and seemingly unsure of what she wants in life. These are all stereotypes of a heterosexual/”man’s” woman, and it all boils down to the theory that women lack agency- this is something I’d love to explore more of later on.)
And we have Freddie. Familiar Freddie! The Hetero Male stereotype. My first thought was that he must be some hormone-raging college kid, maybe 19 or 20. Then he is revealed as a wealthy business man, probably late 20s, early 30s (owns a fancy car, etc.) He appears to be wealthy and successful, and yet he also seems bent on guilt-tripping Francine–implying some forthcoming insecurity/control issues.
I see two over-arching themes here that are the most impressive to me.
#1: Moore is transforming stereotypes into archetypes. That is, she is taking qualities that we normally perceive to be highly superficial about a person based on their gender or sexual orientation, and using them to compel the story forward. I’m finding this theory interesting, and am anxious to see if I still feel that this is true after reading the longer Volume 2….
#2: It’s clear that this comic is trying to convey that no one has a “normal” sex life. The next door neighbour in the story is a creepy Peeping Tom, Freddie accidentally brings home a prostitute to get over Francine, who is then removed from the scene by a 6ft, 250lb bull dyke*, who crashes through the apartment wall to reveal Freddie’s apartment neighbour celebrating his anniversary to his blow-up doll with a lil’ Champagne.
In future posts over the next month and a half, I’ll be adding my notes on various pieces of material from the syllabus. Feel free to send me your feedback, or ask me about the course.
* – my apologies for using a potentially offensive term: however, “bull dyke” is the stereotype presented, and is differentiated from the stereotypes of “lesbian” or even “man-hating lesbian”.