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Wednesday, December 23, 2015 

Mother Jones' tasteless take on "diversity"

Mother Jones wrote an interview with Brian Vaughan about Saga, and they've proven themselves one of rational fandom's worst enemies in the process. The article begins with the nasty title of:
"In a Galaxy Far, Far Away From Comic Book Bigotry, Black and Queer Heroes Rule"
And what's that supposed to mean? It sounds like they're saying the history of comicdom was all just bigoted and nothing else. It gets worse, starting with the beginning paragraph:
In October, a small but dedicated internet faction urged people to boycott the new Star Wars movie. On Twitter, #BoycottStarWarsVII became a trending topic, with some people tweeting that George Lucas' latest promoted "white genocide," because the lead role is played by John Boyega, a black man—and because we see our first black Stormtrooper.
Sure, I'll bet they did. What if the real reason is because they found it preposterous and ludicrous that a black man was in the employ of the Evil Empire? After all, Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader's regime was supposed to draw from past autocracies that were comprised of white supremacists, so how do we know any backlash had nothing to do with a certain crowd's annoyance at the idea of sellouts? We certainly won't know from reading Mother Jones. They may not be the same embarrassing joke Salon's become, but they're still pretty awful all the same, and I won't be surprised if they're taking everything out of context for the sake of "spins".

And it still gets much worse:
Racially charged outbursts from fans of science fiction and comics are hardly new. In the '40s and '50s, comics "were sexist, they were racist, you name it," artist Jules Feiffer told Mother Jones last year, "and they kind of gloried in that." In 2011, critics including Glenn Beck cried foul when Marvel Comics made Miles Morales, a black-Puerto Rican kid, one of several spin-off Spider-Men in alternate universes. The controversy escalated earlier this year, when Marvel designated Morales as the principal Spider-Man. A Sony Pictures licensing agreement, leaked via the big studio hack, revealed specifications that Parker be played by a straight, white, male actor. Marvel creator Stan Lee reinforced this idea in a June interview when he said Parker should remain straight and white. Some fans were incensed by a Twitter campaign to cast actor/rapper Donald Glover as Parker; the role ultimately went to Andrew Garfield, who is white.
Wow, who knew Feiffer was capable of throwing his past peers under the bus with a blanket smear? Now it's true that there were a handful of downright questionable depictions of some black/Asian co-stars like Ebony White in the Spirit, and Wi Cheng in the Blackhawks. I certainly won't deny that. Nor will I deny how sad it is that wasn't considered at the time by the otherwise decent folks who put those books together. But as it so happens, the various publishers and artists did take note of objections raised, and by the mid-60s, Cheng's character design was being altered to something more palatable, and Will Eisner admitted in the years before his death (around the time he'd published his GN called Fagin the Jew) that he'd never realized the visual design he'd used for Ebony was insulting, even as he found anti-Jewish caricatures offensive. The difference, however, which neither Mother Jones nor Feiffer consider, is that Eisner and company never declared blacks and Chinese evil entities, never said they had no right to exist, and save for the unfortunate character designs, they were depicted favorably. It's certainly quite different from how the Mexican comic Memin Pinguin was handled. And neither the magazine nor Feiffer can at least thank past contributors for having the audacity to avoid falling into a trap of one-dimensionality?

To make matters worse, they even imply it's wrong to stick by Spider-Man as the white character he started out as, and even make Lee out to sound bad because he defended the request not to turn Spidey into a PC quagmire. So, he's not allowed to defend his own creation, even if Spidey weren't prisoner of corporate ownership? Oh, how nice. This is just a sample of how progressives try to claim creating past heroes as white was wrong, and villify those who object to forced alterations as backwards dinosaurs.

Now, onto some of Vaughan's own comments:
Mother Jones: Why do you suppose people who are willing to indulge fantastical worlds full of web-slingers and Jedis are so protective of those worlds when it comes to race?

Brian Vaughan: I don't know, and I find it very unpleasant. I think some people are just very passionate that things remain the way they were when they were kids. Whether that means Spider-Man has organic webshooters versus mechanical webshooters, or he's black or he's white—they just love everything to be the way it used to be. I've never had any interest in retelling stories from my youth.
I suppose he means that Babar, King of the Elephants should be turned into a horror show? He probably does. Nobody's saying he should retell the stories from his youth, but why doesn't he seem to grasp that there's nothing wrong with telling stories similar to what he read in his youth, and on a family-friendly level?

As for organic or mechanical webshooters, if the moviemakers want to take liberties, I have no problem with that, so long as it doesn't affect the source material. Unfortunately, Marvel's editors have a low opinion of the common moviegoer, thinking they can't get used to what the older contributors thought up. That's why they changed the X-Men costumes to black leather for a few years in the early 2000s, and at one point tried changing Spidey's webshooters to organic.
MJ: Is that why you choose to create main characters who are black women, say, or queer ghosts?

BV: [Laughs.] I like things that are weirdly imaginative and couldn't be real, but I also like stories that are recognizable and relatable. With Saga, when I started, that wasn't in the forefront of my mind. But I was talking with [illustrator] Fiona Staples, and I said, "There are these two characters, one has horns and one has wings." Her first question was, "Well, do they have to be white?" I realized that for fantasy and science fiction, especially from my youth, white was the default. Luke Skywalker was in the lead, or even if you were a hobbit, you're going to be white. That was an extremely old-fashioned, obviously really narrow-minded way to look at things. We don't have to tell another sci-fi epic with two boring white people at the lead—let's make them people of color. I think the book has been much better for it.
Oh, look at that, now he's boarding the defamation bandwagon, making it sound more like the sci-fi novelists created white heroes because they were racists! That was not the case at all. Most of them did so because nobody made a big deal out of the hero's race years before, and also because they weren't trying to make obvious politicized statements. If there'd been a writer who wanted to publish a story with a black/Latino/Asian hero, I'm sure they would've tried doing it. What about the Charlie Chan novels by Earl Derr Biggers? There were even some old comics based on them too. You can't say nobody in the early 20th century ever thought of creating Asian leads. Why, what about the Shaft novel by Ernest Tidyman? Again, there's something Mother Jones and Vaughan have decidedly missed.
MJ: What made you want to write about immigration?

BV: Immigration confuses and terrifies me, so why not try to write a comic and make some sense of it? Marcos Martin [his co-writer on Barrier] and I had just finished doing the story of The Private Eye for Panel Syndicate. We wanted to try our hand at digital comics, in part because comics used to be this really inexpensive medium. Over the years, it's become this really expensive hobby for just a few people. Privacy is one of the most important topics of the last five years, and it was really fun to be able to put out this comic and have it released in Russia the same day it was released in the United States and France, and sort of have this dialog begin. We wanted to tackle another big subject, and immigration will be just as important in the next five years, especially with the election coming up.
I won't be surprised if Vaughan's vision on immigration turns out to be quite leftist. At least he's honest that comics have become a costly hobby. What he fails to realize, however, is that this is because publishers - Image included - stick firmly to the outmoded model of pamphlets. If they'd just make a shift to paperbacks and quit with the emphasis on company wide crossovers in superhero tales, then it could be made more affordable. Digital products doesn't solve much of anything if they can't acknowledge the pamphlet format's becoming an absurd obstacle.

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"Oh, look at that, now he's boarding the defamation bandwagon, making it sound more like the sci-fi novelists created white heroes because they were racists! That was not the case at all. Most of them did so because nobody made a big deal out of the hero's race years before, and also because they weren't trying to make obvious politicized statements."

How is Vaughan "defaming" anyone? In the same excerpt you quote, he acknowledges his own blind spot (something he's discussed regarding "Saga" on numerous occasions), and then notes that for decades sci-fi and fantasy literature were dominated by white characters. How is that a controversial statement? It's true. The same goes with film, comics, etc.

In no rational reading of that quote does Vaughan say the authors were racist; he says that white heroes in those books were simply the "default." Which brings us to your comment: "Most of them did so because nobody made a big deal out of the hero's race years before, and also because they weren't trying to make obvious politicized statements."

That's it in a nutshell; you're making Vaughan's point for him. "Nobody made a big deal out of the hero's race" because of course he was going to be white -- and nine times out of 10, a man. It was the mindset of the era(s); again, the "default."

And why is it when creators like Vaughan and Fiona Staples decide to make their leads people of color it's an "obvious politicized statement," but when others decide to make their characters white ... it isn't?

Also ...

"What he fails to realize, however, is that this is because publishers - Image included - stick firmly to the outmoded model of pamphlets. If they'd just make a shift to paperbacks and quit with the emphasis on company wide crossovers in superhero tales, then it could be made more affordable."

He doesn't fail to realize that; you're projecting. "Saga" does incredibly well in collected format, with multiple volumes routinely appearing on BookScan's monthly list of graphic novels sold in bookstores. (Perhaps more tellingly, the first collection, released in October 2012, remains a perennial bestseller.)

Vaughan also launched The Panel Syndicate website with artist Marcos Martin, allowing readers to name their own price (even a penny) for digital comics like the acclaimed (and apparently very successful) "Private Eye" and the current "Barrier."

So, yeah, he has a pretty good understanding of the direct market business model, warts and all.

Wow, Vaughan's got cultists! These kind of cybertrolls sure sound desperate. This one doesn't even have what it takes to say whether modern serial fiction should make the shift from monthly pamphlets to paperbacks exclusively. All this one cares about is to disagree and rant for the sake of it. Oh well. When such a troll gets incensed, you know you're doing right by your beliefs.

I'm neither a Vaughan "cultist" nor "incensed" (if you think any of my comments rise to the level of "incensed" or a "rant," your outrage barometer may be out of whack).

Now about your ad hominem attack ...

Who's outraged? I'm honestly amused at your animosity. It makes for a great big laugh, and shows just how frustrated some troll feels whenever somebody says something he doesn't agree with. LOL. All you're interested in doing is tearing down on my arguments and complaints about what's wrong with today's medium, and it shows in the mad undertone of your comments. If you really want to defend Vaughan and company, I suggest you set up your own blog, which you're quite welcome to do, you know. Have a nice day!

Ah, so you only want comments from people who agree with your complaints! Now I understand.

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