This crop is not quite so entertaining, sadly. And that's because today's secret word is: racism.
Man, today's secret word sucks. Definitely preferred "whoredom." Oh well, let's do these links.
The Island cover art fiasco
The cover for the final issue of Island magazine has been floating around my Twitter feed for a while now.
I only recently learned that it wasn't drawn by a black woman. In fact the artist is Dilraj Mann, some dude who is not black--a fact that people have found objectionable for reasons that are obvious to pretty much everyone, with the possible exceptions of the artist and the guy who hired him.
I'm going to link Darryl Ayo's take first cause it's the most comprehensive and coherent thread I could find among the many different fragmented conversations that have been unfolding across Twitter. It's really worth reading all the way through. Among other things, Ayo talks about the cover, his own work, and other comics artists--black and non-black--who dabble in similar imagery. Lots of personal observations as well as stuff about the line between outsiders drawing caricature vs. creators' prerogative to reclaim a stereotype. I quite like the way that Carta Monir phrased what I took to be a similar thought here:
There's also some good stuff in this roundtable on the cover at Women Write About Comics, which includes analysis and personal reactions from critics like Ardo Omer and J. A. Micheline, who are both black. (Claire Napier's stuff in there is also very astute.) Oh, and this thread from Zainab Akhtar, who manages to pick a side despite being (I think?) friends with pretty much everyone involved. It seems to me that this level of honesty is very rare in comics, where people naturally gravitate towards criticizing the people they don't really care for and fail to step up to the plate when the person under the hot lights is someone they know and/or like. Hey, that's human nature, but I think friendly fire is hugely important in--and almost totally absent from--a lot of comics conversations, so I really respect her willingness to go there.
Let's round things off with some smart thoughts from Ronald Wimberly:
Meanwhile, Island editor Brandon Graham hasn't been handling these critiques so well. Here's a sampling of what he had to say to some of the gang at Women Write About Comics. In the first tweet he's referring to the artist:
Some of the stuff he said to J.A. Micheline was especially uncool:
I mean jeez. Hey Brandon, now that you've had some time to think about it, do you think you should offer JAM an apology?
Okay, then! Great talk.
Here's my take, for what it's worth: if you're going to publish racially charged imagery, the bare minimum of your responsibilities as an editor is to have your ducks in a row in terms of what's being said (or at least what you *think* is being said) and who's saying it (which is more objective). It is not some grave encroachment on artistic freedom to interrogate something that's plainly provocative and potentially hurtful, particularly when it concerns a demographic to which neither you nor the artist belong.
All that stuff Graham says about not wanting to question the artist's (non)blackness...my guess is that has as much (or more) to do with him feeling uncomfortable talking about race, particularly with an artist of color, than his ideas about artistic freedom. It's a curious, but very common, comics phenomenon, this disingenuous pose of neutrality:
...belied by a nasty defensive streak that the defender himself doesn't quite recognize as his own:
There's other declarations like this in Graham's feed about appreciating feedback and respecting other people's opinions, but I see very little of those high-minded sentiments in his exchanges with the people who were actually trying to talk to him about the cover. To be OK with being wrong you have to first allow for the possibility of it--a lot of people in comics forget that part. In this case, that begins with Graham accepting some measure of ownership in his own editorial decisions, including his lack of due diligence. If you think it's your duty to publish work that "provokes conversation" or whatever, you should demonstrate some willingness to give the topic your own consideration first. Otherwise you're just asking people to argue for your amusement, edification, and/or profit. (This is the same problem I have with Gary Groth, btw. Have you ever noticed how reticent the champions of "provocative" work are to participate in these conversations they seem to think are so essential to art?) I'd go so far as to say that editors, publishers, etc. have much more of an obligation to discuss this stuff with their audience than the artists making actual the work.
Phoebe Gloeckner's intimate interview with Julia Gfrörer (at TCJ)
In the spirit of the stuff I was saying about Zainab's comments above, I'm including this link, which I had planned to bury in a non-comics post. I'm not friends with Phoebe Gloeckner (though I've interviewed her), but I feel uneasy about bringing this up for a couple of different reasons. My respect for her is one of them.
I mean...you ever come upon something that no one else seems to notice or care about and wonder if it's just you? When I'm in a room of smart people, I tend to assume I'm the dumbest one, and while that almost certainly springs from a deep, unfortunate well of intense self-loathing, I think it often serves me well in life. It's good to second-guess yourself sometimes. But then again what if the real source of the second-guessing in this particular case isn't self-doubt? What if, instead, it's just the idle hope that I'm the one person on earth whose fave isn't problematic? And anyway is every little off-color moment on the Comics Journal's website really worth a second glance? Can't a gal just casually drop the n-word apropos of nearly nothing without it being a whole thing on some busybody's scold blog?
[Exhales through teeth] I guess what I'm trying to say is that I find this fucking weird:
I think this is the panel from Flesh and Bone they're talking about? I don't know that comic.
This doesn't read like an allusion to O'Connor to me. Certainly it's not a quote. I mean, if you want to make a case for religion being an opiate of the masses, I can hardly think of a worse text to cite than Wise Blood, a story written by a devout Catholic about an atheist who finds Jesus despite himself.
Much like the stuff I was talking about with the Island cover, my feeling is that if you're going to trot out the n-word in a published interview, you best have your ducks in a row in terms of what it's saying and who's saying it. Bare minimum, it should be germane to your discussion. You're also, at that point, pretty much obliged to talk about race, even if that wasn't what you were talking about in the first place. (But also, you know, probably it should have been what you were talking about in the first place.) You can't just quote someone saying the n-word in service of "atheism is for smart [white] people like me who aren't deluding themselves." I'm sorry, those are just the rules.
I don't use this phrase so often because it doesn't quite feel like my place, but one thing that's going on here is White Feminism. Another thing that's going on is just a total lack of care around a word that demands thoughtful consideration when it's invoked. And a third thing is editorial at TCJ not having the wherewithal to say, oh hey ladies, why don't we consider editing out this bit where you use this word for (a) for no discernible reason (b) in a quote that you're sort of misrepresenting to (c) pat yourselves on the back for not being sheeple. Think about how many pairs of eyes (at least three, probably more) we're talking about from interview to transcription, editing, and finally publication. No one thought to question this?
Of course they didn't. Because this is what you get when you're operating in indie comics, a mostly white space that works under an ethos where "transgression" is always valued and "art" makes anything permissible: two white women having a nice philosophical chat about god and how much more self-actualized they are than n*ggers. (Now that sounds more like a Flannery O'Connor story.) Every time I start to type some uneasy disclaimer about how I honestly don't think that's what's in their hearts (I mean, I really don't), or how I have empathy for Gfrörer, who was thrown a bit of a humdinger there, I just keep looking at that excerpt. Like...that's the text. And it really didn't have to be.
TCJ: more levels of racism than Southern Gothic literature.
Matt Furie wants to save some fucking frogs
Just wanted to take a moment to note that Matt Furie is continuing his brave fight against racism by donating the proceeds of his Pepe gear to help save endangered frogs or some shit.
Never quite saw myself objecting to someone donating money to save an endangered animal, but here we are. Then again, whoever thought I'd want a white power Pepe? (I mean, apart from me. Cause I'm still pretty sure I don't want that.)
If this whole thing doesn't strike you as absurd, I don't know what to tell you. Think harder.
Alan Moore karaokes his own terrible rap music
After I wrote about Alan Moore's Brexit rap a while back, someone on Twitter linked me to this live performance. It is...well, it's incredible.
It sort of reminds me of British cringe comedy in that I feel almost physically uncomfortable watching it, yet it has a certain charm?? V. confusing.