Thursday, April 12, 2018

disgruntled comics links

Who doesn't love some serious ass after-school special comics links? Literally everyone, including me, you say? Sounds like we're in my wheelhouse. Let's jump right in.

1. Brandon Graham has been accused of misconduct
If you're reading this, I have to imagine you're aware that cartoonist/critic Carta Monir recently tweeted a warning to women, and especially trans women, about her fellow comics maker Brandon Graham. I'm going to (try to) set aside my own take in the service of some more general observations and questions. Is that the right choice? is one question, and though I've thought on it the answer remains an immutable I don't know.

I think people tend to stop at I don't know, when maybe that's the place you have to begin.

An indisputable fact is that Carta's tweet made some information that had been in a whisper network more explicit. In this the truth or falsity of the whispers' content is beside the point; this is only to say the content existed. (I know because I heard it from people who aren't Carta long before this ever happened.) In this, Brandon Graham is not especially unusual; I've heard whispers about plenty of other people, too, and obviously the ones I've heard represent only a small fraction of all the whispers there are. It's just this thick undercurrent of shit that most people, most of the time, prefer to imagine isn't there. I think a lesson the Aziz Ansari scandal imparted was that, to some degree, a lot of people regard sexual misconduct that's not straight-up nightmare rape as distasteful--a matter that polite society has no place discussing. Like it's something that should be worked out behind closed doors. If Me Too is a reckoning, it's only the tip of the iceberg in that most of these discussions remain underground. Personally? I feel nothing but gratitude any time some piece of information makes its way to me, even if I'm unlikely to need it, but it comes with a heaviness - a sense of responsibility that is neither logical nor actionable, beyond a point. So there's both horror and relief in understanding I'll never hear most of it.

What does it mean, just in general, to make a whisper network public (or at least less private)? That's a whole fraught thing, as the Media Men List made clear. We have imperfect tools in this imperfect world, and there are drawbacks. (Did you see the Comics Men List? It was...not good.) Again, zooming out from the specific content of Carta's tweet, and any consideration of its veracity - that tweet was objectively more responsible than an accusation couched in an anonymous list. It was, explicitly, a warning, even if it was a vague one. Now, you can also choose to view the content of her tweet as some sort of Brandon Graham takedown, but there is a larger sense in which publicizing a whisper network (to whatever degree that's even possible) takes the onus off women to keep each other safe by transfering these difficult and clandestine and sometimes personal conversations that usually happen amongst ourselves as opportunity allows into a more public forum. It is a sad and futile thing, a whisper network--a patch that attempts to address a problem that's on our minds, but largely out of our hands. Going public with a piece of information helps normalize discussions about violated boundaries, about harassment, assault. Rape. These things are happening all the time, yet are very hard to talk about under the best of circumstances. It's that much more difficult when they brush up against your livelihood.

Comics as a "community" is never even going to begin talking about accountability for predators if we can't find some way to broach these conversations. "What is okay, and what is not okay?" is (at least at this point) a more useful question than "What, exactly, did Brandon Graham do?" Comics outlets that gleefully opined on 2dcloud's issues earlier this year aren't going to touch this story with a 10-ft pole, dismissing it as gossip or in-fighting, but of course that's not quite what whisper networks are. At what point would a comics site deign to acknowledge that this semi-public whisper exists, much less take a side? Probably only if Brandon ends up thoroughly disgraced, and maybe not even then. But listen: it shouldn't wait. These conversations are difficult and uncertain and risky, and women have been shouldering all of that, forever. For any man who's been accused, specific consequences--whether they're taken by an employer, a conference, a publisher, a website, whatever--are one thing, but I'm not sure that we'll ever get around to talking about the circumstances under which those consequences are even on the table if we can't first find a space, however uncertain, where we stop regarding this as holding a referendum on one man and start making room for women (for anyone, actually) to air grievances without being treated like pariahs. Discussing consequences doesn't always have to be the end goal, because frankly that's not always appropriate. And even when it is, it is in some ways secondary. Punitive measures can only go so far as a deterrent; a much more effective deterrent, to my mind, is to create a cultural climate in which it's more difficult for predators to quietly do their thing. It's like putting a bell on a cat.

Meanwhile, people will whisper, whether it's about Brandon or someone else, because that's what they've got. Also, they will watch. Carta's tweet is a canary in the coal mine for whisperers of all stripes. Whisperers are watching Brandon Graham, who at one point said he would invite more specific accusations. That's certainly possible, though it might be easier said than done; he has reacted with some hostility to light criticism of his work in the past, which was a far less personal matter. The whisperers are watching Brandon's circle--the people he knows and the fans who are speaking up for him--who, thus far, have been more outspoken and defensive and, in some cases, aggressive than he himself has been. (That's how comics works, as a rule; cf. Chris Sims.) And maybe most of all they're watching Carta, who (so far as I can tell) has received way more blowback and harassment with regard to this than Brandon has, or will. These are real individuals in a specific situation, and I don't want to minimize that - but they are also emblematic. You could sub in other actors for Brandon or for Carta and I think events would unfold in a similar (if not precisely the same) manner.

All to say that I'll wager that, in watching all this, the whisperers are feeling somewhat discouraged. Reader...consider the possibility they're watching you.

2. A digression
This isn't a link, but indulge me for a minute:

It was my birthday last week, one of the weird ones. One of my oldest friends had their own weird bday exactly one week prior, so we decided to go somewhere to commiserate. Much of our time involved sitting or floating in warm water and not looking at phones, which was predictably good. (This level of activity is about all I'm capable of now, as an Old.) There was a pool, I guess it had a lot of salt in it or something, so it gave you this uncanny buoyancy. I honestly can't think of anything I'd rather do than float around like a corpse all day. That's the sort of mood I've been in this year.

Anyway my friend and I would corpse-float for these long periods of time, and when we'd reconvene, they'd always been thinking these really deep thoughts about the future, reflecting on this milestone, whereas I was just like...I really thought that by this age I'd be better at putting on eyeshadow. Frankly I just pictured myself as being better at makeup by now; that had seemed to me a thing that would come with time. I have a natural shallowness that I try not to worry about too much, or maybe I just don't always care about the same things that other people tend to care about. I don't know. But anyway what with the world being the way it is lately, this shitty birthday, and just a difficult year, personally, even I have had to give some level of thought to the limited time we have in this life, and whether or not the things I'm doing make me happy. Which is a very roundabout way of saying that I'm increasingly unsure that comics is one of those things. This isn't my 'fuck it, I quit' moment. Just like...I don't feel too good about it lately.

Part of that's discussing things like in item #1 (bit of a downer), but some of it's more personal. I like reading about comics, I like talking about comics, writing about comics, all of it. But a part I don't enjoy so much is some of the baggage that comes with it, some of the people we keep around, and how bad we are at sticking up for each other. Sometimes I hesitate to talk about small things anywhere near a conversation about bigger things because that's not a shift in gears that people seem to understand, but to me these problems have always felt to some degree related. I think some folks have trouble trusting that anyone has a sense of proportionality, and so they conclude we can't discuss anything or anyone without sending them to comics jail or throwing books on the comics bonfire. They worry these discussions can't have nuance, which might be because they themselves are incapable of nuance. This is a working theory.

Anyway I don't have some explosive story, or any one anecdote that encapsulates this feeling. Just a vague wish that I could put whatever I'm going to put out into the world without getting back something weird and upsetting, such as (for ex) a long public "debate" on my thoughts on Crumb fuckability run by an industry professional who looks like this:

Whatever. I got a lot of shit for implying that Jeffrey Dahmer was ugly that one time so I should really shut my cruel bitch bullying mouth. But I don't need to solicit anyone else's feedback to conclude from this man's facial hair alone that he's a loser, a nitwit, and a probable virgin who at some point in his life has studied the art of magic. I guess my rule is sort of like that thing they say about jobs, relationships, and apartments in New York--pick two, but you're not getting three. I ain't even counting that shirt.

I'm trying out a new policy: if you see something, say something. I'm done with these pieces of shit. If an industry person treats you in this manner, however petty it may be, I urge you to call them out on it, meanly. And if you can't - I'm your Huckleberry.

3. Juliet Kahn on Cathy comics 
I'm behind on my comics reading lately, but someone linked to Juliet's piece at the Comics Journal(!) and it's awfully good. Juliet's so sharp. While I was reading I kept thinking about this quote from Lynda Barry, who is not a fan of Cathy comics:

Sort of a throwaway comment but there's a lot going on. So many levels of "bad feminism" (on both sides, Lynda and Cathy), plus some stuff about sincerity and autobio and how we relate to comics, as readers. You know, does real-Cathy have the right to draw zaftig-Cathy is a boring topic. But there's something that rang true to me about Lynda implying that comic is hollow and even opportunistic.

I don't remember having any strong feelings about Cathy growing up. To me it didn't feel relatable at all, just sort of more what the world was selling? Even as a child I understood that Cathy wasn't a person you wanted to be, and that wasn't just what the world was telling me; it was what Cathy was telling me. I feel like the argument that people hate Cathy because sexism speaks to me more than, like, the idea that Cathy is somehow a feminist comic. But here's a thing I know: nothing ever seems sadder and more repulsive than a brand of feminism that isn't close enough to your own. probably is a feminist comic? Ack!

4. The NYT has hired some comics critics 
Some personal news: the New York Times doesn't seem to be hiring people who write "suck my dick" in their comic book reviews, so I didn't make the cut for America's Top Comics Critic. I just assume I was being considered? Odds are at least one of the 20 people who read my hobby blog was part of the Gray Lady's hiring team, but of course you never know. In any case the people who've been hired are Hillary Chute, who is mostly an academic, and Ed Park, whose work I don't know at all.

Is Hillary Chute a critic? I don't know. She's a first-class academic--truly interesting and innovative. My knowledge of her work for lay people is mostly her interviews with cartoonists (a different skill) and a couple pages of that new book of hers (which honestly looked sort of bad to me). I think whether or not she'll be good at this kind of writing could go either way, and I sort of don't care. I'm not really the person that kind of review is written for. What I *do* care about is how much say that Chute has in what's becoming comics canon. This is a thing I talked to her about, oh, maybe five years ago when I interviewed her about her work for a mainstream outlet. (She dodged the question, if you're wondering.) I think...I think no one should have that much say in the comics that people are reading now, and also 100 years from now. I think that's a responsibility she doesn't take very seriously, or at least didn't when I talked to her about it. I think her tastes are too narrow - but that is to some degree an academic thing more than a Hillary Chute thing.

Ed Park...from his bio he sounds to me like more of an actual critic. I know he's been associated with The Believer, so I assume (perhaps incorrectly) (...but I really don't think so) that his sensibility will be very similar to Hillary's. I saw someone praising the NYT for hiring a woman and a person of color, and you know, that's swell, but diversity of perspectives isn't only about the identity of the people who have them. I think it's also about what they're looking at.

5. COPRA Round 5 is here
Ending on a high: COPRA Round 5. I spent some time yesterday flipping through the collections just to appreciate some of the things that comic does best, an activity I'd recommend. I've fallen down on the job for my Chris Ware roundtables, which I organized and then promptly got too busy to actually run. (If you were one of the participants, please know how sorry I am about this!) I think at this point I'll just do the Ware posts myself, but maybe a COPRA roundtable someday? Dare to dream.


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