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Sunday, March 29, 2020 

Indiana Gazette runs the gauntlet of glorifying pirates

The Indiana Gazette published a Captain Comics puff piece by Andrew Smith, this one with a glamorized view of pirate stories, as they focus on a new book compiling old pirate comics:
So you have to give the venerable pirate genre its due, for longevity if nothing else. And that brings me to “Pirates,” a new collection of comics assembled by comics archaeologist Craig Yoe (Ho Ho) and Ed Catto. As the cover announces, it’s “a treasure of comics to plunder, arrr!”

This book is a gem, all right. “‘Tis on the morrow their trial’ll be held aboard th’ brig ship,” says Captain Hawk on the first page, from a story originally in 1947 “Jumbo Comics.” “‘Twill be my pleasure to testify ag’in th’ barnacles!”

I have no idea what that means! Except that, of course, I have no option but to read the story. And all the rest of these rum-besotted tales, too, by some of the most famous artists to work in comics.

Cursed with curiosity, I had no recourse but to parlay -- uhh, I mean, talk to -- Yoe and Catto about their book. And the first question I had was the obvious one: Why pirates?

“I’ve always loved pirates stories,” said Catto, “in prose, movies and especially comics. But it really clicked for me when I moderated the pirates panel at San Diego Comic-Con last summer. I was, quite frankly, astounded at how large (and boisterous) the crowd was. There was an intense interest in real pirates as well as fictional pirates!”

Yoe chimed in as well: “Pirates are discriminated against just because they are all about pillaging and plundering 24/7,” he said. “Sure, superheroes stand for truth and justice, and those aren’t bad things, but we wanted to give the bad boy pirates of comics their due, too. Besides, pirates have cooler costumes than the wear-your-underpants-outside-your-tights ‘super’ crowd!”

That was so hard to argue with, I didn’t try. Instead, I asked what the pair’s criteria was for the stories they selected.
While I'm sure there's some pirate stories out there worth reading, it's still monumentally disturbing when evil is touted as though it's something to literally embrace. It's not all that different from emphasizing supervillains in superhero comics like the Joker, Scarecrow and Two-Face, or making Batman out to be superior in every way to Superman.
Yoe’s turn: “It’s little known, but my middle name is ‘Entertainment,’ so I am constantly reminded every time I fill out a form to make our book collections of vintage comics as fun and engaging as possible. Pirate comics are so inherently entertaining that this was easier than walking a plank!”
And the worst part is, they're completely oblivious to some of the more horrific deeds committed by real life pirates of the past centuries (murder, rape and human slavery), many of whom were Islamists, and even today around Somalia. Why, one could argue the pirates of remote times were like an early form of terrorism. Let's take, for example, the sadism of Charles Gibbs, a Rhode Island-born pirate in the 1800s. And in 1981, there was a case of modern pirates around Thailand and the Gulf of Siam who'd committed horrifying rapes and murders of women and children from Vietnam. How can they be so blind to the grisly picture about piracy? Doing so belittles the horrific experiences of piracy's victims.
Yoe wasn’t just whistling “Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rum” about his vintage-comics collections. Yoe, both solo and with collaborators, has through his “Yoe Books” resurrected hundreds of old comics stories, focusing mostly on early 1950s horror comics and “weird” romance stories. (And believe me, he finds some dandies.)
He sure does. The disgraceful columnist who penned this article spoke with him a year ago about his reprints of old anti-war books from Charlton, where he noted he'd been an anti-war activist during the Vietnam years. I've got a bad feeling that says quite a bit about his reasoning for putting the cliched spotlight on pirates.
“There was always a truism amongst comic publishers ‘that pirate comics don’t sell’,” Catto said. “But then you see this interest bubbling up. ‘Shanghai Red’ was a great pirate comic last year by Christopher Sebela and Joshua Hixson, and Stephanie Phillips just announced a new pirate comic, with a female pirate as the protagonist, called ‘A Man Among Ye.’ And since we’ve announced this book, I’ve had several folks tell me about their pirate comics in the works!”
Let me put it this way. It may be one thing to write up comics starring thieving pirates. But it's another to inherently glamorize them, because it risks making it look like crime is okay. Should we go out of our way to make organized crime look acceptable and enjoyable? By that logic, the operations of Louis Buchalter, the overlord of Murder Incorporated, would be considered acts of celebration. Why, did anybody consider Al Qaeda's hijacking of 4 planes during 9-11 was an act of air piracy? Here's an item by a somebody who finds the normalization of evil chilling:
What is it about pirates that we admire and romanticize so much? What characteristics should we embrace? The aspect I find particularly disturbing is that their terror is guised under the cloak of light fun and entertainment. This exposure begins in childhood for essentially all of us.

They rob at will. They not only just kill their victims, they often use perverse methods of torturing them to death. What is admirable about raping and selling women and children? The prisoner potentially being burned alive did not seem much of a concern to them. Why did the governor of a Southern State attend the marriage of a brutal older man to an underage girl? Why did I need to learn about that story while enjoying an evening of miniature golf with my family? Society has frowned on divorce for centuries. What about 12 marriages?

Do we admire what the Nazis did to their prisoners? Are their unspeakable deeds minimized in children’s rides or miniature golf courses? [...]

The first step of reprogramming your nervous system is awareness. There’s nothing noble about pirates or the suffering they inflict. Become aware of how becoming desensitized affects your connection to the pain of those around you. If we are to evolve, issues such as these must be addressed both individually and as a society. Calling out the damage inflicted by packaging bad behavior under the guise of entertainment would be significant concrete step.
This is something to think about, unlike the biased piece by Smith. In fiction, it may be possible to create pirates with a sense of honor who aren't desensitized to violence like those in real life. And maybe there were some in real life who were anything but savage. But the fact remains that past and present pirates have by and large been perverse and barbaric, dealing in murder and slavery of both blacks and whites alike, and the entertainment industry's seen far too many romanticizations of the piracy theme than serious ones. Although, if you want a good tongue-in-cheek tale where pirates are depicted as bad guys, many of the Asterix comic strips featured a frequent guest appearance by a gang of pirates who wound up getting trounced and their boat sunk by the diminutive star and his best pal Obelix quite often.

It's disgraceful how the dark side of piracy is constantly being glamorized. That Yoe and Catto, along with Smith, would stoop to something so offensive is exactly why I'd rather not buy their book, because I don't want to put money into their pockets they don't deserve. I'm sure most of the pirate comics reprinted in their book will be made available through better sources in time anyway.

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Not fond of piracy myself, either, especially when it's a pretty depraved system.

And I definitely agree that glamorizing villains should never be done (or for that matter, manipulating audiences by making actual real-world villains into fictional heroes). I'm not sure I agree with painting Batman as a villain, though. He's still ultimately dedicated to law and order, and DOES at least care about maintaining the law instead of trying to conduct evil, even if he IS somewhat dark about it. And I'm not going to denounce Superman as inferior to Batman, because let's face it, Batman's actually one of the weaker Justice League members who are either aliens, mythological entities, or even mutants, so there's definitely no way he could possibly be superior to the Blue Boy Scout by any stretch. That's not to downplay Batman, though: That he's actually one of the higher ranking Justice League members DESPITE lacking powers beyond maybe genius-level intellect is pretty dang impressive, all things considered.

Batman's high-ranking role in the Justice League has more to do with his circulation figures than his IQ numbers. He is dedicated to justice, but he is not dedicated to law and order. He operates outside the law and breaks the law all the time in order to catch criminals.

In a way, the anthology is a nod to the Watchmen series, where the comics of the fictional Watchmen universe were all about pirates and had no superhero stories in them.

In real life, masked vigilantes are usually evil and breaking the law, like the KKK, and people wearing masks are more likely to be bank robbers than good guys. Are we glamorizing them by telling superhero stories? And do superhero stories like the Punisher breed contempt for the law in people who read them, leaving you with the belief that cops cant catch crooks because the law stands in their way and you need to operate outside the law to bring criminals to their just desserts? By contrast, some pirates were licensed to attack enemy ships by their governments, and were known as privateers. Captain Kidd conducted some of his attacks on ships under a letter of marque from the Queen, although he was hung as a pirate.

Some of the old fictional pirates in the comic books were definitely heroic, like Dick Briefer's Pirate Prince, whose piracy consisted of raiding slave ships and freeing their 'cargo". And disdaining pirate comic books would mean disdaining the Starjammers, and I could never bring myself to cast aspersions on Miz Ma'm'zelle Hepzibah.

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