If you’d like a frank discussion over gun legislation, Second Amendment rights, or violence in comic books, this is not the article for you. There is a place for each of these, but what I’d like to bring to the table is a discussion about the respect given to the representation of firearms in comic books. Specifically covers. It’s still going to teeter on the line of a possible gun control debate, but with a perspective I’ve yet to be able to find mirrored on the Internet. If you’ve seen one close to mine or that greatly opposes, I ask you to please link to it in the comments.
A few weeks ago, I showed a third party the April cover of Stumptown Vol 3 HC with the very sassy young heroine sporting a gun shoved in her butt crack. The gun placement did not sit right with me. Why not give her a holster? It’s not like she’s trying to conceal the weapon. The only thing worse than sticking it there would be if she was pointing her weapon directly at the reader (another gun use turn off for me). Said third party shrugged his shoulders. “So what, comics aren’t meant to be taken seriously.”
Why not? Comic book authors and artists take their products seriously. I don’t think you can get more serious than some of the world’s top collectors, and $2.99 to $3.99 per floppy can add up to a serious amount. Is it because of the larger than real life reader expectations that come along with reading a comic book? Superman can fly but we don’t expect to fly. Heroes and villains are killed with the flick of a wrist and subsequently resurrected in the next issue, and the average reader knows those situations aren’t based in reality. A machine gun pointed at your face or a 9mm handgun stuffed in a butt crack isn’t something we’d see acted out in real life, right?
The comment reminded me of an excerpt I’d read from a book written by Kathleen Rooney, Reading with Oprah: The Book Club that Changed America, in which she uses a five tier classification of literature, and couples comic books and porn together at the bottom. Not meant as an insult, she assures her readers, but in my opinion it’s hard not to take it as one. Without much explanation as to why comics and porn (and I can only guess she means pornographic magazines) are at the wrong end of her measuring stick, it can only be assumed they are set aside as the ugly cousins no one wants to talk about. Genre fiction doesn’t fare much better in her organization, only gaining one step up in the tier. Pity for her, because she’s missing out on some great stuff, but her suggested tier of literature seems to emphasize a generalization that says comics aren’t meant to have a deeper meaning. What you see is what you get and if you don’t like what you see on the outside, just don’t buy it.
Let’s use that argument for a moment—if we aren’t meant to take comics seriously, does that mean comic creators are exempt from showing readers firearm responsibility from their characters? I can’t give a hard yes, but if you take a moment to gently go into the territory of what creators (of any media) are showing our youth, and you enjoy being terrified, feel free to place the words “teenage” “gun” “selfies” in your search engine. Life imitates art or art imitates life. You could take it further and add “accidents” to your search and come to a deeper understanding of why gun depiction can make a difference.
So, why would this make me personally uncomfortable enough to leave a cover with gun misuse on the rack? I may be in the minority with my issue. It comes with my history with gun use. I’m comfortable with guns. I’m an American southern gal. Gun racks in the back truck window, guns for Christmas, and going shooting on Sunday afternoon are the norm. Judge as you may, but in the small town where I grew up when someone asks you to their truck to check out their new gun, a crowd gathers. From an early age, I was taught how to carry, shoot, and care for a gun. Always treat it like it’s loaded, and point it at the ground.
Secondly, as a military police officer we were taught don’t pull your weapon (from the holster) unless you are going to use it. Always shoot center mass and there is no “shoot to maim.” In my five years, I never had to pull my weapon on another human being and I was blessed to never be at the other end of someone else’s weapon. So when I speak about my discomfort, it’s not coming from a place where a gun triggers an emotional disturbance. For me, seeing poor gun safety just brings just a feeling of ick, and always seems to bring up two main questions.
Why not holster the gun? Why not point it in a direction that isn’t toward my face?
Again, I’m not arguing gun use in comics.
Feel free to name your gun.
Put heroes and villains in an intense shootout.
But at the end of day, don’t treat your gun as a thong accessory. Don’t give those who don’t have a clue about how to handle guns a reason to trend selfies gone wrong. Have our heroes show a little respect to their “Veras,” so that I, along with anyone else in my camp, can take the gun use—and your comic—seriously. Then we can move past the cover and into the heart of the comic where the heroes are using their guns in the manner we expect: to kick the villains’ asses.