Digital Femme

Commentary on geek culture, race, and gender by Cheryl Lynn Eaton

Gawker mediates.

July 10th, 2014

Jezebel, the women’s-interest dominion of the Gawker Media empire, is in the midst of a regime change. Former editor-in-chief Jessica Coen has vacated her position; young upstart Emma Carmichael, former editor of The Hairpin will succeed her. But what of the immensely capable Dodai Stewart, who has not only deftly assumed Jezebel’s day-to-day operations as deputy editor (assuming increasing responsibility during Coen’s absence), but has been a member of Jezebel’s staff for nearly the length of its existence? Why was she not picked as Coen’s successor? Is this snub an example of ageism? Or perhaps another example of the painful reality of white privilege, where loyal employees of color with key skills and experience are passed over for “greener” white candidates?

To be fair, Jezebel has a brand and reputation that Carmichael closely fits. She is young, white, urban, educated, and upwardly mobile. Should the Jezebel site have a “face,” it should no doubt be hers. Does it reinforce our culture’s clear bias that white women and white women alone should be the ambassadors of feminism and control gender discussions? Yes. Does it send the message that black women, no matter how hardworking or skilled, will watch white women climb over them to stand on a floor created by their glass ceiling? Well, yes. It does send that message. But the Gawker Media empire is not in the business of increasing diversity or creating an equal playing field. It is in the business of business. Its goal is to make money. And often one makes the most money by adhering to the existing biases within our culture. We hire those with not only the right skills, but also the “correct” look to make clients “comfortable.” And often what makes clients comfortable is what is white.

I should rephrase. White faces make white clients comfortable. But not all the clients are white. There is a clear and large market Gawker Media has not tapped. And, as I’ve stated previously, the goal of Gawker Media is to make money.

I have to wonder if Greg Howard’s excellent piece on Jason Whitlock’s “black Grantland” struck a chord with Nick Denton. Why should Gawker not attempt to grab a share of the market enjoyed by sites such as The Root, Black Voices, and Racialicious? After all, race in general and blackness in particular is America’s oldest and most lucrative obsession. And who better at the helm of a Gawker Media site dedicated to either than Dodai Stewart? Perhaps what we are witnessing is not one woman’s snub, but two women being hired for the highly influential positions that best suit them.

Only time, and Denton, will tell.

First come.

July 5th, 2014

I’m a long-term subscriber to Essence magazine. I’ve had a hard time finding a magazine that “speaks” to me, instead cobbling together features from various periodicals in an attempt to read articles that engage all of my interests. And so, I also occasionally peek at Esquire, The Atlantic, and Glamour—three additional appealing publications.

I’d state that Essence, however, is a requirement for African American women seeking information on beauty and fashion. Its tagline is appropriately, “Where Black Women Come First.” For other “women’s interest” magazines not only do not cater to a black woman’s needs, but are often blatantly harmful to black women in their use of brown skin and black cultures as a backdrop to highlight white beauty. And so, I’ve had to reject entertainment that purports to be for everyone, but in reality excludes or is dismissive of those who are black.

It is the reason why so many eyes are rightfully rolled when an uneducated person awash in anti-blackness decries the lack of a White Entertainment Television. One, there are dozens of stations that claim to provide universal entertainment, but in actuality serve the needs of white Americans solely or white Americans first. Two, Black Entertainment Television is not owned by black people—and exists to serve black entertainers to mainstream audiences. Black people have not owned BET since 2001 and are no longer the curators and censors who determine which black voices are deemed worthy of being heard and which black people are worthy of being seen. If you are angry at the existence of BET, I suggest you take the matter up with Philippe Dauman or Sumner Redstone. Black people have no control over the issue nor are their desires of any importance. The B in BET stands for who is providing the entertainment, not who is being entertained.

Even Essence is hamstrung by a tagline that claims to provide for all black women. In actuality, articles that do not deal with beauty and fashion are heavily geared towards a black female audience that is American, Christian, and straight. And that is exactly what happens when a form of entertainment claims to be for all—privileged groups are given preferential treatment. Attention is not equally allotted to all groups unless voices demand to be heard.

In the “Natural Hair” movement—created and nurtured by black women who face institutionalized discrimination due to the texture of their hair—there is currently a discussion over whether the white women with curly hair who have brusquely demanded inclusion in the movement should be embraced. To reiterate, members of a group that instigated the institutionalized bigotry against black women with coarse hair textures, denying them inclusion in countless arenas, now wishes to be part of the movement established by black women as a coping mechanism to deal with their bigotry. Why? Because that coping mechanism has developed into a community that is profitable and popular and is now deemed to be of worth. The refrain seems familiar.

The white women who demand inclusion in the Natural Hair movement know full well that due to white supremacy they will be given preferential treatment over black women within the movement—making the community wholly useless to black women as a coping mechanism. They know this and do not care. They will take from black women under the guise of inclusion, snatching what black women were able to scrape together and build on the outskirts they’ve been restricted to for centuries.

For privileged groups, the idea that there could be one small item on the board—a board they primarily rule—that is not under their control, that is not designated for them first and foremost, infuriates them. And their response is to (1) demand inclusion, (2) usurp attention, (3) dominate, and (4) destroy as if a small, petulant child.

And yet, it is possible for one to be privileged in one way and stripped of representation in another. In other arenas, the comic character Wonder Woman has developed over the years into a powerful feminist icon and a deservedly beloved power fantasy for young white women and girls. Each and every child deserves to have a character that champions the idea that he or she is deserving of power and autonomy! Each and every child deserves to have a story where he or she is served first. Due to decades of notoriety, Wonder Woman is sought out above lesser known female characters such as Black Widow and Captain Marvel (great characters in their own right) as a national symbol of female power—a testament to the fact that a woman can be equally as strong and savvy as her male counterparts. Such a symbol is needed both in the wider world and most certainly in the mainstream comics industry, where white men primarily give voice to most characters and where the desires of white men are served first over white women, even when the characters being written for are white female characters.

“I think she’s a beautiful, strong character. Really, from where I come from, and we’ve talked about this a lot, we want to make sure it’s a book that treats [Wonder Woman] as a human being first and foremost, but is also respectful of the fact that she represents something more. We want her to be a strong—I don’t want to say feminist, but a strong character. Beautiful, but strong.”

David Finch

I believe I understand what Finch, slated as the new artist for Wonder Woman, is attempting to say. He wants a Wonder Woman that is relatable, less of a symbol and more of a sympathetic character. But what Finch does not seem to understand is that when one strips feminism from Wonder Woman, one strips the power fantasy from the character. One makes the statement that yet in one more place the desires of female readers will not come first. Wonder Woman cannot be a feminist woman for women and young girls; it is more important for her to be a “human being” for all. The focus is on inclusion. Unfortunately, inclusion in an entertainment industry riddled with sexism is simply code for preferential treatment for men. A Wonder Woman that is not feminist is simply another sex symbol for male readers—in a landscape that is littered with them.

However, there is more than one Finch on the new creative team of Wonder Woman and I believe writer Meredith Finch understands the responsibility she has earned and the audience she is writing for. Meredith, as a woman, likely will not balk at the idea of putting women first—not in all things, but yes, in this one thing.

“Being able to take on that quintessential female superhero who represents so much for myself and for millions of people out there—especially at a time where comics are coming more into the mainstream—I feel like it’s really special, and that’s really where I’m coming from when I’m writing this. I want to always keep who she is and what I believe her core is central to what I’m doing.”

Meredith Finch

I cannot stress how important it is to have women writing about women for women—to have female authors in the mainstream who are willing to put women first. And yes, we need that for all oppressed groups on a national stage until the time comes that inclusion honestly means for all. I only hope that one day the mainstream will have black authors that are able to do the same for black people.

It is not discrimination, or “reverse racism,” or a claim that those who are not black cannot write black characters—no more than placing a female audience first in one book is evidence of sexism or the oppression of men. It is the honest admission that all Americans are taught anti-blackness by consuming a biased culture that denigrates black people, and only African Americans are forced to unlearn it in order to become emotionally whole (and some, sadly, do not). Those who are not black can simply continue to embrace anti-blackness if they wish to (though, thankfully, some do not) and are often rewarded for doing so due to how lucrative the exploitation of black people is in American society. Americans are taught to put the desires and needs of black people dead last at all times, even when creating material that feigns to be for and about black people. A black power fantasy that does not put black audiences first is not a black power fantasy; it is a story about black people for mainstream audiences—a mainstream where black people are perpetually held in last place.

To dismiss the demand for power fantasies for ostracized groups, to silence their voices, to angrily crush their desires for a miniscule region where they are allowed to come first is to hoard Band-Aids while those around one suffer from festering, open wounds. Yes, such dressings are insufficient—our culture is gravely injured—but to deny even that in a fit of selfish greed is incomprehensible.

Return to sender.

June 13th, 2014

I have done something tremendously scandalous that I have wanted to do for a lengthy period of time.

I deleted all of my email.

It felt phenomenal. Email has always been a source of anxiety for me. I read it, make a mental note to respond, promptly forget said mental note, and then gasp in horror and embarrassment upon noting that months have gone by and I have yet to reply. For there are only three types of email that demand my immediate attention: those involving money; those involving work; and those involving long-winded responses requiring an exhaustive amount of research on a subject that generally only I find interesting.

You see, much to the annoyance of friends and family, I do not just write emails. I write electronic letters complete with links and pictures and parentheses containing detailed explanations on myriad topics. It is a wall of text designed just for you because—oh, how I like you and we should have a dinner party nestled right here between the ones and zeroes where we discuss the topics at hand!

An email from me is basically me on Twitter, but tenfold. I don’t send them out often, but when I do? Oh, boy.

And so, I am declaring an Email Amnesty Week here at Digital Femme. I beg your forgiveness. And know that should you send me an email this week, I will respond this week! Ormes questions, site inquiries, etc.—ask and you shall receive!

Black and bled.

May 26th, 2014

The “Blood on the Tracks: Where Are the New Black Comics Writers?” thread at Bleeding Cool, uniquely disturbing and depressing, hits all of the major beats: allusions to black inferiority as the reason for the absence of black writers (“I’d rather have quality writers,” “Perhaps there weren’t any black writers good enough”); demands for one to prove the comics industry has been impacted by institutionalized racism (“Name me one instance where a black writer has been blackballed,” “Numbers don’t mean anything,” “That’s anecdotal”); off-topic demands for African Americans to explain elements of American culture the poster finds distasteful (“Why do you call yourself African Americans? You’re the descendants of slaves!” “Why aren’t you fighting the lack of white people in rap music? Isn’t that racism?”); the admonishment of black writers for not continuing to try to find work at companies where they’ve historically had a radically limited presence; the declaration that there are no black writers available; and finally, claims that black people simply aren’t interested in the storytelling medium that is sequential art.

The mainstream comics community (consumers, creators, editors, and management) does not wish to see its status quo change—and I no longer see a reason to incite ire by forcing my way into a community to question why it will not. It is exhausting and pointless for me to do so. Nor do I see any reason for talented writers who share my race to wait by doors that will not open when there are crowd-funding sites and smaller independent companies available that are amenable to them. A black writer no longer has to leave the comics industry to find work. A consumer can develop her own discussion group upon finding herself unwelcome in the mainstream comics community—or she can join one of the existing comics communities not only hospitable to women, but dominated by them. Kickstarter has provided the opportunity for talented black women to share their stories and Twitter and Tumblr allow us all the opportunity to talk about it.

The mainstream comics community has not changed for black writers. But there are welcoming communities that have flourished around it—communities with editors that invite black writers to pitch, with sales representatives that promote the work of all their creators equally, and with enthusiastic fans who wish to hear stories from a wide variety of cultural viewpoints. (Hi! I am one of those fans!) To dismiss these arenas—arenas where talented black writers are sought after, appreciated, and are currently working—due to the lack of a recognizable logo is madness.

I do not wish to silence anyone fighting for major comic companies to consider black writers for employment. But I believe it is vital for black writers to know that there places outside the mainstream where they are wanted and would not be alone.

Not all men.

May 25th, 2014

The interesting thing I’ve noticed about these dudes from (1) listening to the #yesallwomen discussion and (2) being a “geek” is that they’d be just as furious if women developed their own communities and completely ignored them. They don’t want to drive women out of “their” spaces. They want silent women there to yell at and poke.

—Cheryl Lynn Eaton

I’m not a professional in an entertainment field nor am I a noteworthy critic. My status allows me the blissful opportunity to avoid interacting with the bigots found on countless social media outlets. I feel guilty because I see women who have remained in those fields—women who I admire deeply—forced to endure the daily hateful invectives of individuals who clearly despise them. They are despised because they are women in a position of authority where they are able to influence the existing narrative. For men who feel socially impotent, the idea that one they’ve deemed to be a lesser being could earn a position greater than their own is infuriating. They wish for those in positions of power in their community to look and sound like them. As long as that status quo remains intact, their worth remains affirmed.

At first I believed these men just wanted to be left alone—that they had built a community where they were no longer socially ostracized and did not want anyone to intrude upon it. As a black woman, I certainly understand the need for a “safe space” and had no problem leaving them be. My written work is limited to my personal website. The Ormes Society has shifted its focus from mainstream black characters to devote more attention to black women working in the webcomic and indie circuit. My Twitter account is private. I am now what these men have angrily demanded—a woman who has no interest in interacting with them nor is all that concerned with changing the content they enjoy.

And yet I’ve received hate mail regarding content published on my personal website. Men have requested to follow me on Twitter for the sole purpose of arguing with me. They enter threads dedicated to women in comics to accuse women of being lesser talents set to poison the industry. I’ve come to realize that these men do not want women to “go away.” They want women to stay and silently accept their abuse. Their self-worth as men is entirely dependent upon telling women and people of color that they are lesser beings. And if women and minorities are not present to be told this these men are then forced to examine themselves and be judged upon their own merit. For the men who have been found lacking and have retreated to these communities due to being shunned by the mainstream this notion is terrifying.

I’ve no solution for these men. Their hateful behavior is going to continue to result in women choosing my path and ceasing to interact with them or storming angrily into their communities to dismantle them. No individual will willingly endure abuse when there are other options available.

It’s funny ’cause it’s true.

May 22nd, 2014

I’ve been thinking a bit about physical comedy lately. I adore the accidental nature of it—the element of surprise, the spontaneity. Pranks and pratfalls are the easiest way to get a rise out of me—laughter should I be a witness and fury should I be a victim. Don’t try to prank me. It will not end well.

But what is the funniest moment of the prank or pratfall? My answer would depend on the medium used to tell the story—prose, a comic strip, or live action and animation. With live action and animation, the most humorous moment is the moment of surprise, the instant where a deviation from how the victim believed things would occur takes place. The sucker punch. The pie in the eye. The dishes crashing to the floor. I believe that when creating a comic (“chopping” the action into static images) the most hilarious moment of the action changes, occurring when the reader’s anticipation of the victim’s surprise is at its height. As readers, we quickly fill in the blanks, creating an image in our mind’s eye before our actual eyes can gaze upon the panel containing the action’s climax. And so the panel of the victim “talking junk”—blissfully unaware that the shadow of his attacker has fallen upon him—becomes funnier than the attack. In some instances depicting the final action is not even necessary; a cut away from the action to a different scene altogether allows the reader to participate as a storyteller, the climax limited only by his or her imagination.

Comedy, folks!

For better or worth.

May 20th, 2014

The saga of Sherry Shepherd’s divorce proceedings and multiple custody battles has ignited message boards and websites across the Internet. Though it will not aid her in her legal battles, Shepherd has most certainly won in the court of public opinion, her ex-husband widely considered to be an avaricious, adulterous cad and her current husband a shiftless liar with no inclination to work. Shepherd has received an outpouring of sympathy. Unfortunately, said sympathy has come packaged in venomous invectives as many have stated that she was simply not bright enough to realize no man would sincerely find her alluring, which made her susceptible to grifters such as her ex-husband and current partner.

Though many online have insulted her appearance and intellect, all have agreed with righteous ire that she is superior in earning potential and kindness to the men she married and should not have “settled” for those “beneath” her. Some have used Shepherd’s woes as a teaching tool for black women, who—due to constant negative bombardment by a media ridiculously obsessed with the idea of the mournful or angry black woman—may erroneously believe that they are worth less and willingly accept less because of it.

“[S]ociety does a great job of making black women feel as though we have to settle, as though having any man—whether he treats you poorly or treats you well, whether he is your intellectual equal or not—is better than having no man at all….In 2014, no woman should be saying that or thinking it.”

Keli Goff

While no woman should enter a romantic relationship with someone who does not interest her, love her, or respect her because she believes no one “of worth” would ever want her, we need to carefully reconsider what “of worth” means. Of worth to us or of worth to our peers? Adhering to the sexist belief that men should provide money and women should be conventionally beautiful is harmful to beneficial relationships that don’t meet that standard and can result in poisonous relationships when it does. We uniformly agree that men should “bring something to the table,” but aside from the universal constant of love and respect, what should be set upon said table should vary widely depending on the woman asked. He may bring an empty wallet to the table and still be the one you desire. He may have a pot belly and a dopey smile and still be the man of your dreams. He could be as dumb as a post and still be your soul mate. Yours, not mine! My table has nerd-priority seating.

The point is that we shouldn’t get to decide what other people deserve to have at their table. It’s pointless and cruel—and often tainted by racist and sexist biases. And sadly, it can result in individuals making poor choices because they are more concerned with outward appearances than the inner workings of their heart.

Commerce, you are.

May 18th, 2014

It is astounding to me that more creators aren’t talking about the partnership between writer Jonathan Safran Foer and Chipotle CEO Steve Ellis to add the works of famous authors to Chipotle packaging. It’s a brilliant merger between art and commerce, the kind once largely enjoyed by the world of comics. With the swift disappearance of the comic strip from newspapers, much like the removal of cartoon shorts before movies, we’ve created an environment where comics must be sought out in specialty shops by diehard fans. We’ve dismissed the casual reader and the curious bystander.

Of course, readers have abandoned newspapers almost as swiftly as newspapers in turn abandoned comics. To fight for a return of the comic strip to the daily newspaper is to seek shelter in a condemned house. Art must be brought to the masses—and the masses are dining on fast food, downloading apps, and utilizing social media to engage with others. It might seem as if our fast-paced world has simply outgrown the comic. This is false. In fact we have been primed for it, more than ever used to taking in information through an alloy of written and visual content. And that is exactly what comics are.

Of course the Technicolor exploits of the superhero can’t be replicated on a Chipotle bag. And it would be odd to package sequential-art sagas with the latest digital magazine. But one can certainly enjoy a one-page comic by Rashida Jones and Josh Cochran upon downloading the recent issue of Glamour. And it would be fairly easy to add a comic such as xkcd to a store’s packaging.

Yet a creator’s reach will only be as broad as his willingness to reach out to others. Sadly there is a xenophobic streak that runs through the comic industry that inhibits the ability to embrace novel ideas—and people. The world of webcomics does appear to be more welcoming than the neighboring realm of print, and perhaps that is where new unions between art and commerce will be found.

Punch bowl.

May 17th, 2014

In comedy there is a rule that one shouldn’t “punch down,” that one should not attack one who is in a weaker position and who is of no threat. It is an unnecessary cruelty that should not be engaged in if one wishes to be the “better man.”

In marketing? You punch everywhere. Should another company have a weakness, said weakness should be exploited. Should another company have an asset left unprotected, said asset should be obtained. Should another company have a market left unsatisfied, said market should be quickly wooed. Companies are not men. They do not deserve empathy or consideration nor do they provide it to others. Compassion should be reserved for those able to bleed more than just revenue.

In comics, spectators have amused themselves for decades watching the battle between the “big two”—Marvel Comics and its distinguished competition, DC Entertainment. Despite a good showing by DC, Marvel can easily be declared the winner at this juncture, regaining the number one spot in the market and a position as America’s premiere comics publisher in the eyes of the public. DC has had great difficulty shaking its image as an out-of-touch underdog, despite pulling from the same talent pool as Marvel and producing similar work. If DC wishes to rid itself of its “Dad’s Comics” public persona, it will need to carefully examine where its corporate culture diverges from Marvel’s and decide if changes need to be made. However, a silver medal is still a medal. DC might just be content with the status quo.

Marvel, comfortably settled in first place, has never had a problem “punching” in any direction it deemed fit, be it a well-timed barb lobbed at DC during a panel—“We don’t publish books weekly; we publish them strongly”—or delivering a blow to Dark Horse via a partnership with Lucasfilm to produce Star Wars comics, declaring years of Star Wars canon carefully crafted by the indie publisher to be irrelevant.

Wayward

THE PERFECT NEW SERIES FOR WAYWARD BUFFY FANS

Dark Horse, though producing great work, is in danger of becoming the indie market’s DC, due to Image’s rising star and increased bravado and a very short window provided to establish a unique brand in a changing market. Much like DC, its positive moves tend to result in tepid responses, though thankfully the company is not at all prone to the public relations disasters endured by DC.

A recent Image press release, however, is a bit of a concern. After spending the past few months “punching up”—repeatedly pointing out DC’s and Marvel’s weaknesses in speeches and interviews—Image has now clearly “punched down,” using advertising not only to promote upcoming work, but to suggest that the work of its competitor has grown stale.

75. Buffy TVS (Dark Horse)

  • 03/2008: Buffy TVS #12 – 88,930
  • 03/2009: Buffy TVS #23 – 64,108
  • 03/2010: Buffy TVS #33 – 46,568
  • 03/2012: Buffy TVS Season 9 #7 – 29,908
  • 03/2013: Buffy TVS Season 9 #19 – 22,424

I would have done the same. Wayward looks fabulous and will cater to the same audience—and who can resist a great pun? Dark Horse has the option to take it on the chin, or respond via advertising to let all know that Buffy is doing just fine and that Queen B will not be relinquishing her crown any time soon! The latter would allow for the initiation of a friendly rivalry akin to Marvel and DC, but one more evenly matched.

I would love to see a Dark Horse that is more vocal about its success! It produces the best superhero book on the market, but buzz surrounding Empowered is almost nil. (Truthfully, I’ve wondered if a defection to Image would bolster recognition.) It draws superstar talent but does not aggressively link said talent to Dark Horse in the eyes of the public. (Consider Marvel’s “architects” and “young guns” or Image’s Experience Creativity campaign.) I’d also enjoy seeing a Dark Horse that once again reaches beyond the realm of comics, pushing back into movie theaters and onto our television screens. Who wouldn’t love a survival horror game set in the Hellboy universe?

Everyone loves a winner but I find an underdog with the potential to be a winner much more alluring. The puzzle of how to properly groom a usurper for the top spot brings out the Olivia Pope in me I suppose!

Shoulder the weight.

May 17th, 2014

It’s Saturday, and that means one week has passed since taking on my 30-day challenges. How have I done? Not bad! I’ve managed to adhere to my weight-lifting schedule for 8 days—even though I find the activity dull. I haven’t lost any weight—I like donuts!—but I’m thoroughly pleased with my increased strength levels. I’m going to stick with the challenge for another week. This time I plan to up the ante and incorporate a healthy diet as well. After all, a truck can’t haul anything without the proper fuel.

I’ve abandoned the writing challenge, so my success rate is 50 percent at the moment! However, I plan to start a new reading challenge to replace the writing one—and that should be fun.

Speaking of fun, it looks like I’ll be spending the summer bopping up and down the East Coast! While the reasons for doing so aren’t enjoyable—house repairs and property scouting—it does give me the opportunity to attend Special Edition: NYC (a possibility), HeroesCon (a definite), and DragonCon (maybe). No more panels for me, but it’ll be nice to goof off with friends I haven’t seen since, uh, March.

A new challenger appears!

May 10th, 2014

There are two positive habits I have managed to hold onto for years—habits I honestly believe have helped to keep me grounded and sane. I drink two large mugs of tea daily and I walk for 30 minutes a day. Last year I picked up a third daily habit: balancing my budget.

Of course, it’s all too easy to pick up a habit when it’s enjoyable. I listen to my favorite music while I walk. I browse the web while I drink tea. And my budgeting software is so similar to the simulation games I’ve been obsessed with for years that it’s actually a pleasure mucking about with it. So while making the activities repetitive ones have allowed them to become habits, I would have never engaged in said activities on a daily basis were they not fun.

Regarding the tea and the walking, if I stop doing either for more than 5 days? I feel lousy. My brain and body simply do not work right any longer without that caffeine-endorphin cocktail. Given the things that people in this world are addicted to, I’m glad I lucked out with walking and tea (and also bread, but that’s a whole other blog post)!

Though my good habits have improved my life considerably in the past, at this point they simply maintain a mundane status quo. To shake things up a bit I’ve embarked on a couple of 30-day challenges. The first challenge is to write every day for 30 days, be it a blog post, journal entry, or article. This challenge is more preventative than proactive, but will hopefully help to keep my mind sharp. The second challenge, one that is considerably more difficult than the first but should actually produce visible results, is to stick to a weightlifting routine for 30 days. Day one has been a success—both challenges met with ease—but I worry what day thirty will look like! For good or for bad, I plan to check in with the World Wide Web once a week to blog about it.

See you next Saturday!

The meddling of middling mediums.

May 8th, 2014

Facebook, WordPress, Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, Vine and more—how did we gain so many accounts, so many methods to express ourselves, and yet lose our individuality? Eons away from the unique backgrounds and browsing tunes found in the heyday of MySpace and LiveJournal, almost every social media site is a blend of muted blues. The only personalization to be found is in the blitzkrieg of advertisements bombarding users.

The homogenization is strange. Sites such as Facebook (and the newly revamped Twitter) have stripped the user of the chance to utilize design in building a brand across social media outlets. Instead, the sites dictate the uniform layout, color, and font to be used. I would accuse the instrument of wishing to outshine its wielder, but given the bland similarities between sites one certainly can’t argue that social media outlets are attempting to establish themselves via design.

Tumblr and WordPress, to the grateful relief of small businesses everywhere, are the odd men out. Both organizations have blithely handed users the keys to their respective castles, allowing the user to dictate not only the content published, but the container in which said content arrives.

Why is this important? Visual repetition is needed to build a brand and embed oneself within the collective consciousness. We immediately know what golden arches signify; we have connected hot pink and cursive font to a particular product. Most small companies do not have the power to build franchises across the nation or dominate aisles in retail stores. For these organizations the repetition of linking a particular design and product must occur digitally. When sites such as Twitter deny companies the ability to do this by limiting design features they prevent companies from achieving their full marketing potential.

Without a wholly unique design, one’s content or product must assume the responsibility of distinctiveness. And in these times? Distinctiveness is in extremely short supply.

Through the looking glass.

May 6th, 2014

Don’t put your heart into something your people aren’t permitted to own or have a hand in creating.

It’s the hardest lesson to learn—especially if one has no alternatives available created by one’s people. We wish to identify with characters whose faces resemble our own, to bask in the validation it provides. We exist. We are of value. But what black people must know, especially when it comes to the media we encounter, is that content we do not own or have not created can easily be used to hurt us—either through the swift erasure of black people and the whitewashing of black characters to appeal to potential non-black audiences; heavily weighted negative stereotypes that result in discrimination, or the financial exploitation of black people. For that which is created specifically for black audiences sans any input from black people is a product devoid of black culture designed to siphon money from the African diaspora while providing nothing in return.

We want to be touched by the art we consume, to give ourselves over to the emotions elicited. And we should, no matter the creator or creation. But we should not search for our reflections in that which has not been shaped by our hand. For paper mirrors fashioned for us by those who are not us are not mirrors at all.

Read, white, and blue.

May 4th, 2014

I no longer read Marvel and DC comics. That statement should not be considered an insult. The snippets made available to me in previews certainly look to be of great quality and both companies have hired fantastic creators who produce work outside of the superhero realm that I continue to enjoy.

Simply put, I am not the target audience for either line. While there are a handful of works intended to draw in different types of readers, both lines overall are clearly designed to bring in an audience in its mid-twenties to mid-thirties that is overwhelmingly white, male, and flush with disposable income. It is an audience that is shrinking in number, but is still more than willing to fork over substantial amounts of cash for a weekly diet of superheroic exploits.

And so, amusingly, its universes are skewed to appeal to that demographic. Those with even loose ties to the comics industry are well aware of editor Janelle Asselin’s astute critique of the cover to Teen Titans #1. What Asselin didn’t touch upon—a key factor I immediately noticed and mentioned to friends—is the complete lack of black culture both in the image and in Marvel’s and DC’s lines in general. Given the irritating obsession American youth have with black American subcultures (fashion, language, music, etc.) it is surprising to see it stripped from material geared towards teens. However, it is surprising only if one does not take into account two basic facts: the lack of black writers and editors at Marvel and DC; and that the majority of “teen” books are created for older white men who wish to read superheroic coming-of-age stories about the characters they loved as adolescents. And it shows.

As a detached observer, I can certainly see why DC and Marvel wish to completely drain their current resource before fully committing to the laborious task of recreating lines to appeal to multiple audiences. At this point, the demographic they cater to—though shrinking—is still the greatest in number with the greatest amount of disposable income. It is far easier to simply raise prices and change the race, gender, or sexual orientation of a tertiary character than to seek new talent and alter one’s brand.

It would be far easier for DC and Marvel to reach new audiences if their current audience was not so abhorrent to change. And so changes are made on the outskirts—in alternate universes, in solo series set apart from the main event, and in B- and C-list characters. It is a very smart move given the volatile nature of current readers—though I would certainly advise both companies to take a more aggressive stance in creating works that appeal to women. It is a market that is simply growing too fast and has too much money to ignore—especially when smaller comic companies are already taking great care to cater to it.

What I simply fail to understand is DC’s and Marvel’s refusal to band together to wring as much profit as possible from their current audience! I have said—repeatedly, to anyone who will listen—that given the similarities found in both lines, Marvel and DC should release separate but simultaneous “Crisis” events that dovetail into a Marvel vs. DC crossover, the climax of which would launch a short-term Amalgam universe, which would then fold as the DC and Marvel universes are rebooted—just in time to coincide with Avengers and JLA blockbusters in movie theaters. If one’s golden goose is dying, it’s best to feed it with as much grain as possible so those last eggs are glorious.

What would rise from the ashes? A new Marvel and DC featuring universes with a diverse selection of characters and stories—with decidedly lower prices and weekly releases to lure in a larger number of readers.

A new spin.

May 2nd, 2014

I’ve blogged at length about Vertigo in the past—and its relation to Image’s ascendance to Vertigo’s former position as the reigning leader in publishing avant-garde works from famous writers in the realm of comics. There is no way Vertigo can regain its former glory in the short term. Success begets success and Image has been riding on a wave of positive press and celebrity that sees no signs of cresting. Yes, there were critics who rightfully pointed out the lack of racial and gender diversity in its current crop of superstars, but given that this is an issue that plagues nearly all of Image’s peers, it seems strange to hone in on one company in regards to what is so very clearly an industry-wide problem.

It is a problem that in regards to racial diversity will likely not improve at companies such as Marvel, DC, Image, and Dark Horse—not due to willful bigotry, but the focus on established writers to increase notoriety means that these companies are not interested in discovering new talent, leaving them to a pool that is overwhelmingly white and male. At best, one can hope for an increase in the number of books written by a small number of established female writers. Unlike the dismissal of concerns regarding racial diversity, gender diversity does seem to be a clear focus. The purchasing power of women is phenomenal (as is the number of women who read for pleasure). So while there is irritatingly not a press to increase the number of female creators, there is a clear desire to create an environment where female consumers feel welcome and can purchase books that reflect their interests. I predict Marvel, Image, and Dark Horse will continue to press female-centric ad campaigns, increase the number of books with female leads, and attempt to increase the number of books per month written by the one or two established female authors available to them. DC, for all its negative press, has bucked the trend by smartly leaning on Snyder as a talent scout, slowly increasing not only the number of female writers, but writers of color as well. DC would do well to keep Scott Snyder extraordinarily happy, for he does three jobs for the price of one: writes well-received comics, discovers new talent, and possesses the ability to launch a charm offensive for DC greater than its management or editorial staff. In layman’s terms, he’s a genuinely nice person to be around.

But the focus today is not on DC proper, but the Vertigo imprint. And I feel that as DC has bucked trends, so should Vertigo as well. Where Image and Dark Horse are focused on acquiring superstars, Vertigo should be focused on creating them by locating fledgling talent. The imprint should also lean on the talent pool largely ignored by Image and Dark Horse—female writers and writers of color.

And Vertigo had best work fast, for smaller companies such as BOOM! Studios have done an excellent job crafting a quirky, female-friendly image that is highly appealing. Note that the company was the first to participate in the successful We Are Comics campaign, showcasing the diversity in its staff. A quick rundown of its creators also shows a greater number of women when compared to companies above its weight class.

Where BOOM! woos women, even smaller companies such as Lion Forge and crowd-funding sites such as Kickstarter woo writers of color. Those who have been discriminated against previously will turn to areas where those of their group are clearly visible in campaigns and have found success. Why bother approaching an editor who has no interest in you when you can take your project directly to the people? And so Kickstarter swells with projects—some good and some bad—but with a diverse selection of writers not found anywhere else in comics. Everyone is afforded equal access to be considered.

So with companies chipping away at its platform from above and from below, how does Vertigo compete? Surprisingly, by resting on its laurels. Vertigo still has name recognition in many circles even beyond the realm of comics and into the world of prose publishing where so many women are key figures. It should use its reputation to focus on adapting key works by established female prose authors and authors of color. Of course, this route will only remain successful as long as Karen Berger remains inactive. For many she still is Vertigo, and the moment she should decide to set up a comic imprint at a prose publisher (or even worse, a comics publisher), Vertigo maintaining any foothold would become that much more difficult.

However, money helps in overcoming adversity. Should Vertigo have access to a budget larger than its peers, providing a decent paycheck to creators would help the imprint look a great deal more appealing to struggling talent, even if the contracts being offered down the road provide greater freedom or possible long-term gains. Many will willingly accept a work-for-hire situation or endure editorial missteps for additional funds—especially if Vertigo takes great care to ensure said missteps do not occur often.

Digital Femme

Commentary on geek culture, race, and gender by Cheryl Lynn Eaton