Previously On Comics: Time To Get To Work

Good morn—err, Afternoon! It’s time for a definitely-punctual news update that absolutely did not skip a week in light of intense amounts of stress and worry due to a large national event.

An item for the Comics Publishers Never Change pile: A couple of Black former DC Comics Editors have gone on record to describe the racist, discriminatory behavior they endured while working for the company, before summarily losing their jobs in DC’s big shakeup a while back. This is of course on the heels of Jeph Loeb being revealed as a massive racist who failed upward into Marvel Television, C.B. Cebulski pretending to be an Asian person and still becoming Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics, as well as the Oni/Lion Forge merger/disaster, which saw award-winning Black editors lose their jobs, in some cases while projects they’d championed and built were handed off to white replacements. In a way, I’m glad that we didn’t do a Previously last week, because it gives me a chance to bring this back up a couple of weeks after the initial story dropped, and it’s the kind of thing we have to keep eyes on.

This stuff just keeps happening, at new companies each time, and each time it’s the same story; these racist structures are so locked into place that consequences aren’t even being faced by the perpetrators. It’s easy to look at these reports as a kind of progress; people are being exposed! We know them for who they are! That’s nominally a good thing! But look closer: former editors. It’s not the people perpetuating the racism who are facing consequences here. It’s Black people losing their jobs. It’s Asian people being subjected to vitriolic hatred directly to their faces, while the man perpetrating it continues to enjoy the limelight. So what is the process here? What is the avenue of redress? If comics are for everyone, as hashtags would love to have us believe, why is this the state of things? What are we going to do about it?

This actually sort of plays into the next story: namely that a collaboration has been announced between pop artist Mitski and Z2 Comics, where she’ll be providing a soundtrack for a graphic novel by Chris Miskiewicz and Vincent Kings, entitled This is Where We Fall. Mitski’s involvement here is a stunt, a flash in the pan; Z2’s entire deal is that they publish these sort of limited-market crossover projects between comics and music; they don’t really stray out of that, and they don’t really work within the scope of comics as a market, so you find them published in limited numbers and sold at places like music stores or book chains, rather than the places that die-hard comic readers will look.

So you end up with this weird cycle where you have people like Mitski, who is Japanese-American and actually has a large platform and fanbase of her own, working with small publishers on a product that lands in a weird niche of the industry as a whole. Promoting independent publishers is good, but it’s a flash in the pan. Books like these don’t do huge numbers, they don’t really penetrate the market or make a name beyond the brief customer recognition of “Oh, huh, Mitski’s involved with this.” Music artists, for their part, go back to doing what they do, at much better margins, and meanwhile, multimedia companies like Disney and Warner Brothers, who incidentally are also the two most dominant publishers of monthly comics in the world, are actively excluding employees of color, from creators up to editorial and other staff. They’re not making deals with pop stars of color, they’re trying to make deals with defense contractors working to prop up a warmongering regime that further targets people of color in other parts of the world.

Imagine the sheer love for the medium it must take to stay creating comics in the face of nonsense like this. Imagine the reverence for the message and the dream of being the person to spread it, because then you can spread it to the people who haven’t been allowed to receive it until now. I know that I sound almost religious here but they share a commonality, and that’s communication. Kamala Harris being Vice President-Elect is a big deal, even if the office of the Presidency of the United States is inherently an unjust and immoral one, because of the message. A Black woman, an Indian woman, she gets to stand in front of the country and show people that look like her what they can achieve, she has the chance to speak for those people in a way that they haven’t been spoken for until now. Is she still a cop who was unnecessarily cruel to trans prisoners during her time as Attorney General? Yes, absolutely. Does she still deserve to be made to answer for that? Yes, absolutely. But as bad as that is (and make no mistake, as a trans woman myself, it is very bad), it is not the totality of her message, and it’s not a flash in the pan; she’s entrenched in the system of US Politics and has been able to advocate for her viewpoint for years and years now.

This is what comics as an industry needs; it needs Black voices, Asian voices, Latinx voices, not just popping in to promote a product and boost a small publisher’s image temporarily, but entrenched in its systems and contributing to the message that the industry sends. It needs queer voices, and trans ones, and disabled ones, to speak for the experiences that our communities face, and it needs voices that are at intersections of every one of these points, because even those experiences are unique and deserve recognition. Every time marginalized communities, whether they be marginalized by race, orientation, identity, or disability, are pushed out of the conversation by white hegemony, the industry suffers, and so does the community that supports that industry.

Grant Morrison—yes, that Grant Morrison—announced that they’re nonbinary last week. It’s a huge deal: Morrison is one of the single most influential names in comics and has literally been working at Marvel and DC both, publishing award-winning books for decades. The fact that they only felt comfortable revealing this information about themselves now says volumes; there are so many best-selling books with their name on the cover that there’s no way publishers will ever stop printing them; even if a portion of their fanbase turns on them because of this news, they’re safe, financially (and indeed, in a capitalist world, that’s really the only safety that can be had).

It’s bittersweet; delightful that, after years of aching for it, nonbinary people can point to someone and say “there we are, that’s us, doing the thing” in this industry, enraging that someone from our community has been doing it and we weren’t allowed to know. Grant Morrison wrote definitive texts on Superman, the X-Men, and more, texts that are inclusive of identity and preach compassion. Grant did that, from the perspective of being a non-binary, gender-queer person, and we’re only just now finding out. Because would they have been allowed to do so in the mid-80s? Would an out-as-non-binary Grant Morrison have been allowed to write JLA #1 in 1997? Would they have been allowed to revamp the entire X-Men line in the wake of their first box office success? The world saw Grant as a white cis man, and they let the world do that, because when you start working in power structures that want to exclude you, you protect yourself and your message however you can. Can you blame them for that? I sure can’t.

What I can do is consider that Black people don’t have the luxury of pretending not to be Black. Asian people don’t have that luxury. Latinx people don’t. They’re fighting for a place in institutions that actively practice hate against them so that they can protect their message, tell their stories, and look to their future and the future of the families they love. If comics are for everyone, then why aren’t we holding the goddamn doors open?

Anyway, back to DC. They’ve just announced Marie Javins as their new Editor-in-Chief. Perhaps she’ll wedge that door open. Hope springs eternal.

Nola Pfau

Nola Pfau

Nola is a bad influence. She can be found on twitter at @nolapfau, where she's usually making bad (really, absolutely terrible) jokes and occasionally sharing adorable pictures of her dog.
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