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Friday, December 15, 2017 

Matt Hawkins is ashamed he marketed to a boy's audience

A few months ago, Women Write About Comics interviewed Top Cow's EIC Matt Hawkins, coming before the Witchblade revival they've been working on, and he brought up how they originally sold products like Sara Pezzini's adventures, along with Aphrodite IX, primarily to the menfolk. But he doesn't seem to have the courage to uphold the idea now. First, however, an important reminder is provided for a little something political they did over the past year:
[Roberta] Ingranata (like Laura Braga, who drew a year’s worth of Pezzini-Witchblade before cancellation) is an Italian artist. She has worked on Zenescope comics as well as one Magdalena cover at Top Cow (the Planned Parenthood benefit–yes, a Planned Parenthood benefit cover, for a comic about a Catholic Nun in leather who kills for the glory of God, bless us every one). [...]
Sigh. This is very sad they too had to dilute the entertainment value of Magdalena for the sake of that revolting abortion outfit that's like a real life version of a mad scientist's laboratory. That they would associate themselves with such awful outfits does a terrible disfavor to the good-vs-evil messages the fantasy adventure comics they put out were meant to tell.

Let's go on to the interview itself with Hawkins:
Hawkins: Part of the reason I cancelled the original Witchblade, was because we could never seem to, uh, get past that sort of stereotype. The last ten years of Witchblade, I don’t think it was a fair discussion! What that character was about–it was very rare that she would be shown semi-naked, in the Ron Marz run of that book.

Napier: Mhmm.

Hawkins: And we sort of made an effort to try to, uh, you know make it a little more tasteful. You know, where the problem came in, is you would get guest covers, or variant covers, and that’s what these artists would do. You know? They would do these sort of sexy versions. And even though the interior versions of the comic would be less so, they would have this sort of titillating cover on it, and then people who weren’t reading the book would assume it’s more of the same. You know. The crazy thing, is right now, our best-selling title is Sunstone.

Napier: Yeah. [laughs]
And they made no attempt to clarify it wasn't hardcore porn inside? Now that I think of it, there is a big problem with public perceptions, judging books by the covers, with comics often the biggest victims. But hey, if the audience was primarily men, is that a problem? Not by a longshot, and there are women (other than the interviewer, shall we say?) who don't have a problem with the kind of T&A variants they used as covers. The only problem is that they relied on...variants, which still prevail, and can't just decide on a single cover to use for a book. Of course, even at the time Marz was the writer, it was never selling in millions - only a few thousand - and that's not bound to change even now, what with the way comics are still formatted and marketed.
Hawkins: It was kinda the era, and that was kinda just the way it was, it was what was selling, and–we would take these sort of racier covers to conventions, and they would always outsell the non-racy covers. So, and I think, at the time–you’ve gotta keep in mind that at the time, especially in the ’90s, that we were doing comics for… men. And boys! I mean that was the target audience, and there was not really even a thought–we never discussed that we’re developing comics or writing comics or doing anything for women. You know, that was never even–I don’t recall ever having any of those discussions, until the mid-2000s.
Well gee, I'm sure Stan Lee never did that either for a long time, or thought they had to tailor their content this way or that, supposedly to please a specific market, and certainly not at the expense of what the guys might like. That's nothing to be ashamed of. What anybody should be ashamed of is when you do what DC's modern staff did, tolerating Eddie Berganza as an employee even after all the crap he caused for several lady contributors, and some of the women in the higher ranks were also guilty of failing to act, unfortunately (and remember, Berganza was one of Marz's editors on Green Lantern during the mid-90s). And, lest we forget, when you publish obnoxious screeds like Identity Crisis, which blot out female perspectives and voices almost entirely, and make light of serious issues like sexual assault. On which note, it's sad that the late Michael Turner, one of the original Witchblade artists, just had to take the assignment to do the covers for IC, unlike Alex Ross, who wisely rejected the offer. Even if Turner wasn't the interior artist as Rags Morales was, he still left a black mark on his portfolio, and now I have to take his work on Witchblade with a grain of salt. Turner's willingness to associate himself with a project whose approach was in contrast to that of Witchblade, where the heroine's viewpoint is provided and she's her own agency and capable of putting up a fight against criminals was a slap in the face to what he'd done before, and sullied his usually impressive artwork style.
Hawkins: So, you know, we were doing comics for boys. And I, look– in hindsight, am I ashamed of some of that stuff? Absolutely.

Napier: [disbelieving laugh]

Hawkins: No, I’m, I’m not gonna lie. I look back at some of that stuff, and I’m like “God, this is… dreck. It’s drivel.” It’s sort of ridiculous.

Napier: I’m actually–I really appreciate hearing that. I didn’t expect to, but, that, that actually does–sort of, make a difference to me. Thanks. [laughs]
Oh good grief. So he's sorry for marking to a guy audience, not for failing to try and market to a gal's audience simultaneously? That's sort of what this sounds like. If he can't defend what he'd set out to do in the mid-90s, what's the use of marketing Witchblade and Aphrodite IX even now? The only problem I see was constantly relying on variant covers, instead of taking some of those illustrations and selling them as pictures you could hang on the wall of an art gallery or living room. And maybe some people in the wider public have to shoulder some blame too, for acting like sexy covers are such a big deal, when here, you had an audience for Penthouse, Playboy, and even tamer products like Sports Illustrated swimsuits. If people didn't usually have an issue with those, why should they have one with a hot comic cover?

But here's where it gets weird. While talking about the topic of divorce and child custody proceedings, Hawkins said:
[...] I’m not the same person I was when I was 25. And it’s weird, because now I’m a much more… I would say sexually liberated man. I’m not… obsessed with religion, and sin, and these things that sorta held me down when I was a younger man.
Let me get this straight. He was religiously observant back in the 1990s? On the one hand, I'd probably like to give him some credit for not letting religion get in the way of creativity years before, but on the other, he's now taking an even more bizarre stance, implying he's "improved" today because he's not as religious as he was yesteryear, or, he's become fully secular. That certainly sounds like "morality" in reverse. But surely even odder still is his claim he's a sexually liberated man. Is that supposed to mean a sexually liberated women, by contrast, isn't a great thing? Who knows what he's getting at?
Hawkins: I’m much happier now. In my life, in what I’m doing, and I think a lot of it is just giving agency to these characters, and, and making them realistic. I think you hit the money–you hit the nail on the head there… it was misguided, and I think it was mistargeted, you know?
When I read that, I found myself thinking the revival of Witchblade may not be the big enjoyment I'm sure they want everybody to think it is, if "realism" is all they're worried about, and not entertainment value. Besides, let's remember that there are lady artists out there who've specialized in the same art styles as their male counterparts (Rachel Dodson comes to mind, and I'd noticed a small publisher called Rothic run by a woman specializing in good girl art too), and one of the co-creating writers/artists of Witchblade was Christina Z. So what are they getting at? Why say it was all mistargeted? It gets decidedly worse with the following:
Hawkins: There was a period of time where–and Filip Sablik, when I brought him in, I hired him away from Diamond, and brought him out to Los Angeles to work with us at Top Cow, I wanna say that was two thousand four, two thousand five–when I did that, I specifically told him, I said look. We have this T&A image, at Top Cow. I’ve always hated it. I fucking hate it. I don’t think it’s fair, um–we’re doing books like Rising Stars, Midnight Nation, you know and Wanted, and all these sort of titles we were doing in–in the 2000s, I said–even Witchblade, despite having some covers, was not like that, because it was Ron Marz and Stjepan Sejic at that point, doing that book. I said how do we sort of, break out of this stereotype? And uh… we tried! You know, and I think, what are we in, 2016, 2017? 2017, right?
Why even try? Though if it matters, the damage was already done, and it never sold to the moon. I've looked at sales charts for many years, and it was usually way down there among the few thousand in terms of digits, no different from many other smaller publishers, not even IDW's own products, which have sold about as much. Even if story quality of a particular product is good, the dismal figures compared to movie box office sales are nothing to celebrate, period.

I also don't get why they had to do the following:
Hawkins: And I think it’s the only comic book character that aged, sort of in real time. [Not entirely true, but neat all the same.] You know, and so, she was 25 when she started, she was 45 when we ended the book, when she retired. And–I don’t know if you read Witchblade #185, I wrote half of it. Ron Marz wrote the other half–

Napier: I did, yeah, I did.
That could be an exaggeration, but if Sara Pezzini was really aged to mid-40s, I'd see that as a silly, petty mistake, because it sounds like they succumbed to petty questions you'd see at times about why various comic book heroes don't age. As if that's such a big deal. It's not. Still, maybe the next part is more eyebrow raising:
Hawkins: And uh… There was stuff that was introduced and never followed up, there’s conflicting continuity, there were so many things that I never even really noticed or thought about, until I actually sat down and read the whole thing. But–and I’m sure that’s the case with every long-running title, you know. There’s highs and there’s lows. But. The decision sort of came, we can wrap it on this 20th anniversary sort of thing, we can wrap it up–we’re already in the process of developing a new one, um, obviously a character that’s that well-known for us is not just gonna stay, you know, out of circulation forever. So, we’re developing a new title, once we have the team, and everything ready to rock and roll, we’ll go out there. But uh–I… I don’t think it’s required, but I like it, when you hire people of similar sort of, gender and ethnicity, to write characters of the same gender and ethnicity.
From this, it sounds like he buys into the same kind of mentality Marvel's been going by, which runs the gauntlet of ghetto mentality. Point: you don't have to be white to write Superman and Wonder Woman, and you don't have to male to write Spider-Man, yet I don't think there's ever been a woman who scripted the web-slinger's adventures long term, unless we include a handful written by Ann Nocenti in the late 80s-early 90s. (By contrast, Louise Simonson was the writer who launched the Man of Steel ongoing spinoff series in 1991 and lasted longer.) Since then, women scriptwriters on such titles have certainly become rarer, and if you hire so deliberately and obviously based on gender/ethnicity for a certain project rather than ask a writer to do the research, it only compounds the lack of faith in your ability to tell an enjoyable story for what it is. Because the talent you bring to the table is what matters first and foremost, not the gender/ethnicity. (Update: Simonson also scripted a handful of Spidey stories in the 80s, but again, very few, though she was the writer who launched Web of Spider-Man.)

Of course the new take on Witchblade could turn out to be worth its weight, but Hawkins, based on his positions today, doesn't give much reason to assume he and his contributors know what they're doing. Still, one could figure the new writers they're hiring could at least be better choices than Marz, if only because of his politics, that's for sure!

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"m not the same person I was when I was 25. And it’s weird, because now I’m a much more… I would say sexually liberated man. I’m not… obsessed with religion, and sin, and these things that sorta held me down when I was a younger man...........
I now choose to live my life as a gay man."
He might as well say that if he's going to go this far to fit in with the people being hired in the media today, progressives who are only interested in deconstructing the so-called white evil straight male society they live in. They see everything including taking a dump in terms of "privilege."

Identity Crisis was a shitty story..it was also an example of insecure writers trying to make superhero comics more "Socially relevant" by injecting more realism into it. In reality, villains would rape...and mental treatment of raping villains would be an "ethical" issue... mind rape of a rapist is comparable to rape of a...you get the drift.

Replacing old white dudes who want superhero comics to be adult and serious with feminists who want superhero comics to be adult and (politically)serious..when they aren't soapboxes for their drivel has not made comics sell any more or have improved the quality.

For what it is worth, Stan Lee did spend a lot of time thinking about the female audience, which was a large component of the comic book market until the direct sales shops became the main way of selling comics. He put out more titles about female superheros in the 1940s than any other publishing company, he edited and wrote a big line of romance and romantic-comedy books in the 1950s and early 1960s, and began to put out more romance in the late 1960s after the Batman tv show got cancelled and costumed justice warriors lost their audience. The comic book character whose comic books he wrote for the longest amount of time was Millie the Model, not Spider-man.

The problem with the bad-girl comic books of the 1990s was that they had really bad girl art. The woman had non-existent hips and helium-filled breasts too large for their bodies; they looked like female impersonators, ugly ones at that. The mid- to late- 1990s was a really bad period for mass-market comic books.

That old sexist horrible Witchblade used to sell 100,000+ copies an issue. The new SJW reboot will be lucky if it tops 10,000.

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