Friday, 9 October 2015

Waxing Philosophic: Cause Comics

Or a look at the murky depths of supporting books for ethical/moral reasons.

There is this peculiar thing happening in the world of comics that I've been noticing more and more, and I have absolutely no idea how to feel about it.

There seems to be a push inside comics for more diversity. It seems that DC and Marvel, perhaps bolstered by the successes of alternate publishers, are making an apparent effort to publish more stories staring women or people of colour. Tied to this is also a rising trend in hiring people who are not white dudes to write and draw and colour some of these comics. Which among other things has resulted in Marvel preparing to publish a Black Panther comic written by Ta-Nehisi Coates and drawn by Brian Stelfreeze, which as a reader, is pretty rad and interesting.

Now, first of all, I think it's great that comics are trying to be more inclusive and diverse. I think it is morally good and important for everyone to see themselves reflected in fiction, and I think it is ethical to give talented people with different backgrounds a fair chance to write comics. (For instance, a world where Lauren Beukes isn't being given every opportunity to write comics is a world where merit doesn't exist.) I am also a big fan of this movement for mercenary reasons: as a reader it's great to see new artists with different perspectives tell their stories and bring their unique experiences to comics. It makes for a richer comics landscape filled with stories that would never occur to me. This also, I think, has the potential to make comics more accessible to non-white-dudes who might be interested in reading comics, which could grow the audience and make comics a healthier industry. Which again is pretty great for purely selfish reasons. So I am all for the diversity push.

I mean, if nothing else, we are getting a Black Panther comic made by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Selfreeze.

The thing is, this movement toward diversity has resulted in some weird behaviour on the part of progressive readers that I think warrants some examination.

Specifically, I am interested in the notion that there is a moral responsibility to "support" pro-diversity comics. That the "right thing to do" is to preorder Black Panther, or that there is a moral quandary over whether we should "support" Red Wolf, a comic starring a Native American superhero, or to boycott it because its writer is allegedly a conservative creep. That the success or failure of comics with progressive or anti-progressive characters or creators is somehow a moral battleground that we as readers have a duty to enter into.

Which is kind of crazy!

I mean, regardless of the intentions of the editorial boards of Marvel and DC, we are talking about intellectual properties owned by multinational corporations. I'm a firm believer that corporations beyond a certain scale become semi-tame sociopaths that behave solely to maximize share price. So the apparent reality of these amoral money machines leveraging the activistic passions of progressive readers to establish readerships and market comics is super weird. It's kind of like ideological blackmail advertising... or like companies evolving a memetic pathogen-vector that uses guilt and empathy to invade our wallet. It is cynical and bonkers and gross.

So while I applaud the existence cool new comics by interesting creators, I think the idea of a moral obligation to buy a product owned by Disney or Time Warner is bizarre. 

But at the same time, I can't help but wonder if this is how it is supposed to work. Large corporations exist to do a single thing: create share value. The fact that the comics publishing wings of Disney and Time Warner see sufficient incentive to make progressive gestures is reflective of the fact that there is a large group of comics readers clamouring for more diversity. And given that corporations are amoral money bacteria, the easiest way to make them dance is to well, give them money and buy things. So maybe the most expedient way to see more inclusive storytelling in comics is to just play the game and "support" diverse comics. 

At the end of the day, I can't really say where I fall between these two extremes: it is weird and gross to have morality commodified, but working within that framework might be an effective way to keep the inclusive storytelling coming. I just don't know.

What I do know is that I'm going to focus on reading interesting comics by talented art teams, which means that I will most likely be trying a few of these new progressive comics.

And that definitely includes Black Panther by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Selfreeze.

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