Monday, October 17, 2016

let's talk about the cool kids

Some quick & dirty thoughts on Fantagraphics to start the week:

0. Me, previously
On Pepe (scroll down to #2). On Fukitor. Also one time I wrote whatever the opposite of fan fiction is, a little story in which the joke was that Gary Groth wears double sunglasses. Gary Groth wearing two pairs of sunglasses is the image you must sustain in your mind's eye as you read the rest of this post. Disclaimer: Yes, I know Fantagraphics turns water into wine and comics into art. I like plenty of Fantagraphics comics, believe it or not. This is not The Case Against Fantagraphics. This is just a critical glance at a brand that a lot of people don't like to criticize.

1. Here's why I'm still talking about Fukitor, which all my devices correct to "Nukitor" for some reason
Once upon a time, Gary Groth founded his punk rock boutique imprint on a comic from the bottom of the Verotik Comics reject pile, and I've been complaining about it ever since. Why bother talking about this limited-run comic that time should just forget? Why harp on a neo-nazi misogynist nightmare title when good ole Gary G has lifted so many artistes out of the gutter and into the light? Well, call me crazy, but when a publisher announces that he's founding an imprint to champion his company's core values, and the first title on that imprint "celebrate[s] the over-the-top slaughter of sublingual ethnic grotesques" punctuated with the "constant shoehorning of sexual violence," to quote Greg Hunter's heroic review, I think it's well worth making a note.

I don't intend to relitigate the whole argument about why publishing Fukitor wasn't really about freedom of speech because you either get that or you don't. Even if you buy that it has something to do with censorship, do you not find it curious that Fantagraphics didn't market this title based on the courage of its convictions? The press release that announced the launch of FU is such an exercise in folksy euphemistic language ("quirky, idiosyncratic, oddball, experimental, downright crazy") that it made Fukitor sound like something you might find at your neighborhood craft fair. And Groth himself seemed ill at ease talking about his controversial choice in this interview with Dan Nadel, choosing to focus on his own heroism instead of the value of the work: 
I think it’s a publisher’s obligation to take risks; I could probably publish safe, respectable “literary” comics or solid, “good,” uncontroversial comics for the rest of my life. I think it’s important, personally and professionally, to occasionally get outside your comfort zone. 
Was Fukitor really outside of Groth's comfort zone, though? Judging from his 2015 blog "In Solidarity," a collection of cartoons honoring the memory of the murdered cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, I would have to say no. I think the following images make it pretty clear that misogyny and anti-Muslim sentiments are in fact well within Groth's comfort zone.

Publishing racist and misogynist caricatures under the guise of "American values," free speech, etc...that is some shameful shit. Look around the impossible nightmare that is Decision 2016, and you will recognize it as a familiar strategy used by racists to disseminate racism. In the proud tradition of Jason Karns, an "artist" who likes to draw brown people exploding whenever he's not humping his cardboard cutout of Lady Death, let me try my hand at this whole satire thing: Everything about the way Gary Groth handled that whole situation smacked of racism--maybe not the kind that believes in white power, but the kind that gets its kicks by promoting the outdated idea that a comic about killing Muslims and ritualized gang rape is the very essence of cool. My new sub-blog "quintessential shallow brigade" is going to run a webcomic in which Glenn Danzig gives Groth's edgelord ass a noogie and steals both pairs of his sunglasses before flying off on a dragon with his girl. haha, just kidding. That was satire and I definitely do not experience a strange stirring in my soul, an almost sexual satisfaction, when visualizing a Misfits-era Danzig ripping up Gary Groth's favorite Hunter S. Thompson poster into little tiny pieces and making him cry. It would be ludicrous for anyone to imagine that I harbor elaborate fantasies along those lines. Am I doing this right?

2. There have been several other occasions on which Fantagraphics' marketing strategies have bugged me
I'm going to do something annoying and describe a situation in really vague terms in the hopes that I don't Candyman one of my least favorite comics bullies into my life. Here's something I saw on twitter one time: a random said something wrong, but also not wrong, about Fantagraphics' publishing history (with no tag, just the word 'fantagraphics'). Fantagraphics comes trucking into the random's mentions with a long list of cartoonists that they @, one being the aforementioned bully. The bully was then shitty and mean to the random. I guess you'll have to take my word for it, but it was extremely predictable that this bully would be shitty and mean to the random. So predictable that it's almost as though Fantagraphics wanted this random to get bullied. And when I say "almost" I mean I think that is definitely what they wanted, because from what I can tell, the marketing team at Fantagraphics wasn't born yesterday. To wit:

3. Pepe: Peace, love, and...peeing on stuff?
I already talked about this at length the other day, so I'm going to keep this brief. Whoever at Fantagrapics sold Time magazine on the outrageous pitch of "urinating stoner frog is #actually about interracial harmony for some reason" deserves a goddamn raise. I'm not even joking; that is an incredible piece of public relations work. Can you even imagine? Oh hey, Time magazine! Do we have an idea for you! You know that cartoon Trump frog you've been seeing around? Well, actually, he likes to smoke marijuana and pee with his pants down. Your readers are going to love him. We're going to put you in touch with cartoonist Matt Furie, who's going to reclaim his creation in the name of peace and love. Also as a special bonus, he will make a joke that actually includes the words "boo done nutted I high as fuck." Millennials are going to just eat it up, Time magazine. Trust me." 

I mean, I suppose if murdering brown people and raping women is about free speech, then it makes sense that a frog whose main attribute, by every account, is urinating with its pants down is about loving your neighbor. That's called logic, and I can't argue with it.

The three points above aren't meant to present a coherent argument so much as to provide a constellation of things to think about. We're talking about a lot of different things: a founding publisher who's still shadowboxing foes that were defeated long ago; his publicists, who are professionals paid to make him look like less of an asshole; and Fantagraphics' roster of artists, whose beliefs and agendas or missions can't be described in any uniform way. From Peanuts to Love & Rockets to Fukitor, there are many faces of Fantagraphics. What's curious to me is the cult of personality surrounding Groth. In part that's because the big-platform writers who hype comics to non-comics readers (you know, the Big Three--each of whom is the worst in his own special way) are ambassadors for Fanta (and for Comics) as much or more than they're critics of it. Whether it's ideology or a literal comic book, it's worth thinking about what all these different parties are selling, and why--and whether or not you're buying it. Even when you do buy it, watch the way these parties interact with the people who don't. I promise you it's illuminating.

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