Digital Femme

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

Conventional wisdom.

September 13th, 2014

Emerald City Comicon is my absolute favorite comic convention. Unfortunately, I can no longer attend it. It has finally become large enough to cross the threshold where the experience can only be afforded by locals, those appearing at the event for work, and those willing to spend exorbitant amounts on what may perhaps be a fun experience—but with no guarantees.

The hotels surrounding the Washington State Convention Center have changed their policies regarding the convention, demanding a non-refundable deposit for any individual booking a reservation. The Emerald City showrunners have placed tickets for sale more than six months prior to the convention—well before an adequate number of guests have confirmed their attendance. The organizations involved demand money from attendees for a show they provide little information about. For those who do not live near the convention and must rely on hotels and airlines to experience the event it is simply too much of a financial risk to take.

It seems the pie has been divided, with different conventions assuming dominion over different regions. Guests may be shared—invited celebrities and creators freely bounding from one region to the other; convention-goers are not.

Unlike theme parks, which pride themselves on repetition and nostalgia—providing the same experience year after year—comic conventions make an effort to showcase a new crop of entertainers and creators each year, making each show a unique experience. However, that uniqueness—essentially instability—makes the convention difficult to invest in for fans who are not locals, especially when they are expected to purchase tickets and hotel rooms with only a handful of guest announcements made. For locals the draw is the spectacle—outlandish costumes, revelry, and the superheroic—convention constants. However, those who are not from the region attend to see very specific people—artists, writers, and actors. I can bear witness to spectacle at home; Dragon Con takes place merely a short drive away. But should I wish to get a particular comic signed? Well, I can’t attend just any convention. I have to attend the one the creative team in question attends. And if tickets for that convention have sold out months before the creative team has even announced their appearance? Well, I can’t attend the convention at all.

Every large convention, San Diego Comic-con, New York Comic Con, Dragon Con, and now Emerald City Comicon, requires attendees to purchase tickets prior to knowing what they are purchasing tickets for. A show with a paltry, partial guest list is no more than a mystery prize. One cannot expect fans to risk hundreds without knowing what is behind Door #3. Showrunners know this and do not care, for there are many locals who are more than happy to merely risk a couple of twenties. That risk is most certainly worth it.

I am excited to be attending Rose City Comic Con next week—and New York Comic Con the following month!—but the experiences will be bittersweet. New York Comic Con will likely be the last comic convention I ever attend, and the chapter will have closed where it began.

To watch the evolution of the convention industry has been astounding. What started in the musty basements of churches and tiny recreational halls has now become a phenomenon that fills vast convention centers each season. I do believe the comic convention has reached its “final form,” that of an impressive indoor carnival to delight different regions once a year.

The A-game.

September 7th, 2014

“I wrote an e-mail two years ago that was inappropriate and offensive. I trivialized our fans by making clichéd assumptions about their interests (i.e., hip hop vs. country, white vs. black cheerleaders, etc.) and by stereotyping their perceptions of one another (i.e., that white fans might be afraid of our black fans). By focusing on race, I also sent the unintentional and hurtful message that our white fans are more valuable than our black fans.”

Bruce Levenson

The poor attendance found at Atlanta Hawks basketball games makes a great deal of sense after reading controlling owner Bruce Levenson’s letter decrying the team’s inability to convince corporations and white men aged 33-55 to buy season tickets. Levenson’s own bigotry, his dismissive attitude toward African Americans, led to inadequate marketing tactics—which then led to poor ticket sales.

Atlanta is a black city. Black people make up 54 percent of the population as of the 2010 census. To target your marketing to middle-aged white men in a city that is majority black is woefully inept. And if your product can be enjoyed by all nearby residents? Racist. Levenson erroneously targeted white residents due to the belief that black residents do not possess the disposable income required to purchase tickets and other Hawks-related material. His beliefs were off base. Atlanta is home to a large number of affluent and famous African Americans—Americans Levenson should have been targeting instead.

Atlanta is the home of black celebrity, and celebrity sells tickets. The Knicks, currently excelling only in their ability to be mediocre, routinely play to packed houses. Knicks’ ticket prices are astronomical. Why? Because celebrities attend on a regular basis and the stadium is safely nestled within the city’s largest tourist trap. The rule of celebrity remains even when the coasts change. When the performance of the Los Angeles Lakers slips in quality, fans still attend Lakers games to see and be seen. A Lakers home game is an event—fashion show, networking conference, photo opportunity, and speed-dating service in one.

Hawks home games must be events in the same manner. If black celebrities routinely attended Hawks games, and pictures of their attendance were disseminated on various gossip blogs, fans—of all races—would follow. And ticket sales would increase. Perhaps it is even worth the investment to pay Atlanta-based celebrities to appear initially—real celebrities, not reality stars. Captain America 3 will be filming in the city soon. Footage of Anthony Mackie and Chris Evans appearing regularly at Hawks games would do more for ticket sales than a Hawks winning streak.

Finally, celebrity must not only be found in the stands, but on the court as well. Sadly, we are no longer in an era where simple skill is enough. Americans want quality hoops, yes, but they also want showmen. LeBron and Kobe are more than players; they are personalities. The Hawks need a player that fascinates fans off the court as well as on—a charmer worthy of “Black Hollywood.”

All eyes are on the Hawks now due to Levenson’s antics. Perhaps a new owner with a vision unclouded by racism will be able to see the potential in the Hawks and craft the quality franchise Atlanta’s residents deserve.

Dark Arches.

September 5th, 2014

Archie Comics, in the past nearly consistent in presenting its leading brands as wholesome fare featuring small-town America, has branched out into horror with titles such as Afterlife with Archie and the new Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Heading in a different direction with the Dark Circle imprint, the company has also thrown itself headlong into the realm of the superhero and the world of pulp comics.

While Sabrina’s move from a humor title to one of horror is simply a twisted look at a theme already embedded in the character’s history—the supernatural—Afterlife with Archie stripped away the main premise of Archie—a suburban coming of age story (though one admittedly frozen in the penultimate stage)—to focus on zombies. While the title is a critical and commercial success, what if Archie Comics took a dark look at what Archie is actually about—small-town American life?

My suggestion? Black Betty, a title that takes the premise in Archie and presents a warped reflection of it. Riverdale has always been the idealized suburbia we dream about—close-knit, supportive, tolerant, wholesome, and diverse. Springvale would be the small town at its worst, a thin veneer of respectability cloaking corruption and intolerance—tawdry secrets kept behind closed doors. While character names and basic attributes should be kept the same, the art should be severely different from the traditional friendly and open DeCarlo style. It should serve as a clear indication that what is being presented is a Riverdale that is not quite right. Perhaps a style reminiscent of one of the newspaper masters such as Jorge Longarón would be ideal—a style that conjures up nostalgia for the soapy strips of yesteryear.

Black Betty is not my only suggestion! Just as Archie, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Josie and the Pussycats serve as a steadfast trinity for the publisher, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Black Betty, and Pussycats! could act temporarily as its dark triad. While Black Betty examines small-town secrets, Pussycats! could illustrate how the scandalous world of celebrity can quickly poison one seeking stardom. Dreamgirls meets Less Than Zero.

Each series should be capped at 6 to 12 issues—long enough to create a splash, tell an interesting story, and be bound into 1 or 2 trades, but short enough to avoid interfering with the main brand. I think it would be a great way for Archie Comics to shake off the shackles of its kids’ publisher status and show that it is willing to try new things.

An immodest proposal.

September 2nd, 2014

I am honestly wary about putting forth this idea due to recent current events! The harassment of critic Anita Sarkeesian and the theft and release of stolen pictures from notable actresses and singers shows an undercurrent of misogyny and immaturity in geek circles that does not allow for whimsical and balanced depictions of sexuality. Frankly, the anger of mainstream audiences towards women and the lack of female artists at mainstream comic companies might make the idea I am about to put forth impossible. But I will share nevertheless!

It is evident, even with the recent furor over Milo Manara’s variant cover for Spider-Woman, fans of all genders and sexualities enjoy well-rendered pin-up art. The success of a wide variety of artists—Touko Laaksonen, Matt Baker, Olivia De Berardinis, and even Manara himself provides evidence of that. It is often not the existence of pin-up art that angers critics, but that companies use pin-up art to objectify one group in particular—women—singling said group out and removing its agency.

I had joked to friends that while Marvel is in the hot seat over its Spider-Woman gaffe DC should plan a lingerie-variant month. Kidding aside, the idea has merit—and DC is the one company possessing the iconic characters necessary to make it successful. However, said success is nestled within a public relations minefield. The only way to maneuver that minefield safely is to make sure that the project as a whole celebrates equality, healthy depictions of sexuality, and consent. Male and female characters should be used as subjects; lighthearted scenes should be encouraged. For example:

  • A variant cover for Superman could show Superman in boxer briefs hanging his costume on a clothesline behind the Kent farm. He winks mirthfully at the reader.
  • A variant cover for Harley Quinn could show Harley in her underwear looking over her shoulder at the reader. Her skin is white save for a small patch of peach skin on her back. A gloved hand—meant to be the reader’s—is poised in the air, about to paint the last portion.
  • A variant cover for Batgirl could depict a scene from a pajama party. A group of young women have hogtied an intruder and are blithely explaining recent events to an amused Batgirl while they eat ice cream.
  • A variant cover for Grayson could depict a shot of Dick Grayson from behind as he approaches a seated woman in a business suit. The woman gazes at him seductively. 50 Shades of Grayson, perhaps?

The point is that the project should aim for a wider variety of readers—readers with varying interests and from various backgrounds. It can be done and it can be successful should DC take great care in hiring artists with open-minded views regarding sexuality and a firm belief in equality. But, no pun intended, can DC rise to the challenge?

Too black, two strong.

August 31st, 2014

Tim Hanley’s “Gendercrunching” articles are always of interest to me because while the perception of the impact of women and people of color upon the “mainstream” comics industry can be molded via marketing, numbers do not lie. This month, Hanley has added his yearly statistics regarding creators of color to his monthly presentation on gender. The results are far from surprising.

Race and Gender Statistics

Though for the most part they are not working at the “big two,” black people are working in comics and in related entertainment industries such as animation and prose publishing. It is important to reiterate because the reaction to the periodical release of the miniscule number of black creators working at DC and Marvel (1.4 percent) compared to the percentage of Americans who are black people (12.6 percent) is often anger followed by a rattling off of potential black creators to be hired and various methods DC and Marvel can use to find black talent.

DC and Marvel are well aware of methods such as hiring individuals from independent comic companies, inviting self-publishers to pitch, pairing established writers from other genres with comic writers in order to acquaint them with the comics industry, reconnecting with creators who have left the industry, and providing artists with back-up stories in order to gauge their ability. DC and Marvel routinely use these methods to bring creators who are not black into their companies. DC and Marvel are aware of the methods used to increase one’s talent pool. DC and Marvel are aware of black creators. The dearth of black pencillers, inkers, writers, colorists, and editors at DC and Marvel have nothing to do with a lack of available talent or an inability to communicate with said talent.

What is frustrating for black fans of Marvel and DC is the unfulfilled desire to read about their favorite black characters and hear black voices within the same work. And those fans will never be happy until they expunge that desire. DC and Marvel have little interest in hiring black talent. And until fans disturbed by that basic truth accept that fact, the lack of black voices will eventually poison the enjoyment of mainstream black characters. Trust me—I speak from experience.

Black readers can have it all—popular black characters and talented black voices—if only they are willing to commit to the simple task of buying two quality books instead of one. Of course, one can save money and forego mainstream books entirely, but I do realize that for some fans pastiches are just not enough. And for only a few bucks extra they can enjoy a great book featuring the “real thing” (though we should examine which characters are deemed “real” and why).

I will admit it is bizarre that mainstream heroes are not voiced by black people, that DC and Marvel routinely explore concepts such as government corruption and institutional inequality sans any input from African Americans, but we are not experiencing the silencing of the past where black people were denied means of distribution. Kickstarter, Patreon, and independent companies are available and black creators can be found there. Quality work can be found there. Instead of bemoaning the paths that are not available, let us celebrate (and widen) the paths that are.

To market, to market!

August 29th, 2014

If your product makes a segment of your audience feel inherently less than another group, you’re doing it wrong—be it creating or selling. This applies to comics, to movies, to television, and to literature—any form of entertainment.

How can my statement be true? Gendered marketing has proven effective in the past, no? And there is direct evidence that marketing a product to young men while snubbing young women has led to a segment of women consuming the product nevertheless. In addition, it has allowed for those companies to create a “girls’” version of their product, essentially crowding the women who felt ostracized—due to being deemed inferior consumers of the “regular” product—into a new lucrative market, a pink ghetto. If this method has worked so successfully in the past, why should it not continue to do so in the future?

Why? Because this type of marketing—essentially insulting a segment of potential consumers—only works in a society where inequality has already taken root. To reiterate, telling your consumers that they are inferior will only make them want your product (in order to prove their worth) if they truly questioned their self-worth to begin with. With a rise in parity and self-esteem old marketing methods are slipping into obsolescence as certain companies find their products no longer sell as well.

What does this mean for traditionally “geek” markets that catered to white men such as comics and video games? For companies that did not choose to produce material or advertising couched in inequality? Nothing at all. They will continue to cater to a shrinking, but fiercely loyal and dependable audience. There is nothing wrong with a company narrowing its focus. However, to narrow focus by insulting those who fall outside the intended market endangers a company’s health. It will result in a vocal groundswell of women and people of color who will push back against the products and marketing tactics they have been insulted by.

Those who are only able to enjoy products that glorify racism and misogyny will grow furious as companies scramble to placate the growing number of female consumers and consumers of color unwilling to accept such packaged hatred. In fact, their fury has already been felt in the harassment of notable female creators and critics. However, their fury is no match for the sheer number of women who have entered—and are continuing to enter—the market.

Screw you! You social-justice warriors won’t take my pin-up art and shooters from me! Sugar, for the love of God, sit down. No one is trying to. Women and people of color enjoy them just as much as you do. I’d assemble a keyboard army with the quickness should Empowered be pulled from shelves and I love the Grand Theft Auto series more than any reasonable person should. (However, let’s be honest, Houser and Humphries are incapable of writing an interesting and well-rounded female character.)

What female fans and fans of color want is parity. Luckily, parity is created via addition—new products, new characters, new creators, new markets, new points of view—not subtraction. Let us be clear, the only thing being removed is bigotry. And that is something no man who considers himself a human should believe is worth fighting for.

Multiversity–or Elseworlds.

August 27th, 2014

I’d stepped into the DC universe with Grant Morrison’s Multiversity, mistakenly believing the series was DC’s current line-wide event. It is not.

It should be.

DC’s current cross-series saga is Futures End.  I don’t plan to pick up the weekly series nor will I be selecting any of the tie-in books for September. My knowledge of DC comes from movies, television shows, and video games—leaving me ill-equipped to launch head first into a time-travelling yarn. If I know little about the New 52’s past and I am not emotionally invested in its present, why should I care about the quality of its future? I will stick with the Multiversity bookends and select any additional books in the Multiversity series that I find interesting.

Readers like me, who pop in to enjoy the latest Grant Morrison vehicle and pop back out when it has concluded must be frustrating to companies such as DC. Fans loyal to creators become increasingly disloyal to companies and characters. As their favorite artist or writer skips from company to company, readers realize that each company has its own version of whatever trope they may hold dear. I can read about Spider-Man or Static or Ryan Choi. Batgirl or Ms. Marvel. Storm or Starfire or Vixen. The character does not matter. It makes no difference.

What does matter? Two things: the first is the creative team and the second is the concept. That’s it. For companies to corral readers such as myself is a matter of tossing a multitude of projects before the public eye and waiting to see which projects resonate with the largest number of readers. It requires something that DC has drawn back from in the past—a commitment to diversity.

I do not mean racial and religious diversity, nor gender and sexuality. What is required is a variety of tones and of genres, which is in direct conflict with DC’s previous mode of operation—to pattern as many books as possible after its most successful series. But if a reader has one quality book with the character, creative team, and tone she craves, she will have no interest in purchasing fifty-one facsimiles.

This brings us back to my idea of a line-wide Multiversity event. Each existing New 52 series would have a “done in one” story taking place on a different Earth. New titles would debut as one-shots—for example, The Authority: Earth 45. It would give DC one month to safely explore myriad concepts and creative teams from outside the existing talent pool and see what the populace finds appealing. The following month, DC’s editorial staff would analyze sales figures and reader response to identify which books were deemed a success and incorporate the successful creator-concept pairs into existing series.

It is very difficult to launch a new series and correct course when it is evident that readers are not interested. A Multiversity event would greatly reduce the risk involved in experimentation; it would essentially be a stealthy line-wide reboot. Liked what you read? Well, we’ll find a way to give it to you every month! Hated what you read? Well, we’ll never check back in with that Earth again!

Unlike Marvel’s readers, DC’s readers are familiar with and even fond of the notion of a large number of worlds due to the current Multiverse concept and DC’s defunct Elseworlds imprint. An event embedded in the idea would not be foreign or appalling to its audience. And I firmly believe it’s something DC should try.

The fate of the universe is at stake.

Oh, what a web!

August 22nd, 2014

If a company markets one product to two diametrically opposed groups within the same arena, said company should expect a spectacle as those two groups angrily vie for the sole attention of the company and dominion over the product. The spectacle will be a boon to the company as those not even interested in the product will flock to the spectacle to witness the clashing of the two groups—promotion via chaos. It is a deeply exploitative form of marketing that I find distasteful, and it is a form that Marvel has recently used with greater frequency, causing me to shy away from its products.

The rapid growth of the number of women involved in geek cultures has sent various entertainment industries that once catered wholly to men scrambling to find material to sell to a new and untapped market. In comics, Marvel has wisely made space in its roster for empowering and entertaining works featuring female characters that are helmed by female creators. Ms. Marvel and Captain Marvel are notable examples. However, two books and two female creators are not enough to service the growing number of female readers. Demand has clearly outstripped supply.

One way Marvel has countered is by upping the number of books featuring female leads. The upcoming Spider-Woman was announced at Marvel’s Women of Marvel panel at the well-attended San Diego Comic-Con (the panel amusingly stated by Melissa Molina of Comic Book Resources to have dispelled stereotypes). It was here that Marvel marketed to its first group—men and women frustrated with poorly conceived, sexist, and sexualized material that objectifies solely women.

spider-woman-1-coverAnd it was here, in the cover created by erotic artist Milo Manara and in the choice of the notorious Greg Land as series penciller, Marvel marketed to its second group—men craving sexualized images of women to objectify—a group that is in direct opposition to the men and women who were in attendance at the panel. It is a group that is frustrated due to the belief that they are being stripped of the ability to enjoy erotic art featuring Marvel characters as an increasing number of female characters are used to create empowering works for women. These two groups were bound to clash—and clash they did in several notable places, which drew the attention of the mainstream media. And with the attention of the mainstream media Marvel got exactly what it set out to obtain when it first championed Spider-Woman to female audiences and then hired the industry’s most infamous “cheesecake” artist and its most talented erotic artist for the project. And it only had to gaslight its female readers, a group already battling sexism and harassment in an industry that is hostile to them to do so.

Multiversity.

August 21st, 2014

This is for writer David Uzumeri. The rest of you may ignore. You will not—for curiosity gets the best of us—so come on in.

Uzumeri has launched a series of annotations dissecting the work of beloved “comics god” Grant Morrison, examining the freshly released The Multiversity #1 from DC comics. I had planned to skip the series, assuming the work would only be of interest to historians of DC’s lore, but Uzumeri’s annotations have made the work enticing. Of course, the work of Morrison and Reis helps considerably in luring one in.

Upon reading the work it is more than evident that Multiversity is akin to a well-written children’s cartoon, providing entertainment not only for delighted youth, but also slipping in tidbits of information for experienced adults chained to the television, enslaved by the whims of their children. Multiversity is a fun read for kids excited by flashy costumes and earth-shattering confrontations. The work also provides a wealth of references to dated DC comics, delighting older fans of Crises past. But even more exciting than that is that Morrison has deftly inserted critiques of the comics industry in its entirety into the series—and that is extremely attractive to entertainment analysts more thrilled by sales charts and editorial changes than title launches.

And so here we are—me, in particular.

The Multiversity 10

My interest lies in the title’s villains—the Gentry—introduced on page 8 and seen here on pages 10 and 12. Gentry is a loaded word to give to any antagonist in times when American people of color, black people in particular, have raised concerns about the gentrification of their urban neighborhoods by middle- and upper-class upwardly mobile white people. Children simply see a dastardly group usurping a world that does not belong to them. Those interested in the history of comics and the history of America see something more.

The Gentry is representative of the worst of the comics industry. Lord Broken, a demonic house loaded with eyes and composed of haphazardly stacked stories, can clearly stand for a distorted Marvel, “the House of Ideas.” Note that artist Ivan Reis has chosen for each story to be thinner and less stable than the last, perhaps a nod to Marvel’s continued mining and refining of the work of Stan and Jack, producing weaker results with each incarnation—broken visions. Intellectron, a bat-like figure with one eye, is clearly the worst of DC—a single vision dependent on references to Batman—dark and myopic.

The Multiversity 12Note that this warped symbol of a company criticized for its lack of staff diversity—a company wholly dependent on a rich, white businessman, striving to tie all books in service to his—demands that two young black heroes, American and Aboriginal, give up their dreams to become like the Gentry. Instead of bringing their unique dreams—and what is a dream if not a story?—to the table, they are to cast them aside and assimilate in order to belong. For one who has critiqued the comics industry for scrambling to include black characters while shunning black creators, the panel is poignant. The worst of the comics industry wants black images but not black stories. The dearth of black writers today provides evidence of that. The scene is also a nod to the comics industry of yesteryear, which effectively chased out black creators like Orrin Evans and frequently used anti-black caricatures such as Ebony White to draw interest and delight white children with misshapen imps while reinforcing the idea that black people are decidedly different and inferior.

I do not believe the other Gentry members are direct correlations to companies, though Hellmachine could perhaps be a quick nod to a distorted Dark Horse—Hellboy becoming the sole engine that keeps the company afloat. Dame Merciless is no one company but indeed a symbol of the entire industry’s depiction of women—barely cloaked and deformed beyond belief. She is shown as a zombie—a puppet—voiced by the Gentry with none of her own, her life force robbed from her. Note that Nix Uotan appears in a similar zombie-like form once he has succumbed. Perhaps Dame Merciless was once a hale woman who had also given up her dreams, her stories, to be a part of the Gentry—an emblem of a comics industry where women are seen as monstrous aberrations—the “opposite of everything natural”—but not heard.

But all is not lost! This is comics, folks, where the good guys eventually win and there’s an assembly of heroes from “the rainbow of worlds” to battle the Gentry back from whence they came. If the Gentry is the worst of comics, the collection of heroes that have come together is its best. Multiversity is clearly a love ballad or ode created by Morrison and Reis to celebrate the industry. What the team appears to adore is diversity of race, gender, religion, body type, and sexuality; the inclusion of humor and child-like discovery; and the pioneering spirit of independent creators. There is also a deep love for the history of comics and the inspiring tropes created at Marvel and DC that we all hold dear. It is interesting to note that while comics history is represented in the Gentry and in the team of heroes gathered, the best of comics allows for the inclusion of one’s own personal history; the worst of comics demands that what makes you you be stripped away.

The battle of the multiverse will be a battle of multiple realities—multiple verses, multiple visions—fighting against one lone vision that has surrounded itself in facsimiles to provide an illusion of growth or change. And via annotations we can add our own realities as well.

Join in.

Ferguson.

August 16th, 2014

I forced myself to go to sleep at a decent hour last night. I hadn’t gotten a good night’s sleep since Mike Brown’s lids had closed forever—every waking moment since his last spent refreshing screens and consuming information and caffeine in likely dangerous quantities. A complete abandonment of any kind of long-form writing occurred; my words, angry and erratic, were quickly shot off via Twitter and Tumblr.

I’m still angry—for the obvious reasons. I’m angry that black life is worthless to people who are not black in America (and to some who are). I’m angry that Americans believe that we deserve the inequality heaped upon us for the crime of simply being black. The murder. The harassment. The silencing. The erasure. The blackballing. The punishment. I’m mad that many Americans still view black people as solely an inexhaustible resource to exploit, leeching from black communities and black cultures while promoting anti-blackness and purporting to speak for while speaking over black people.

But for the first time in a very long time I am also grateful. Because for all the comparisons between Ferguson and Selma, Ferguson is very different. Technology has provided black people the ability to burrow past the mainstream media and allow for black people to have a voice. And that voice is strong and unfiltered on Twitter and on Tumblr and in personal journals. And yes, the voice contradicts itself because black people are not a monolith and have a beautiful and infuriating and brilliant array of ideas.

We have never had a situation where black voices could not be crushed or warped beyond their meaning before. The television stations are owned by white people. The movie studios are owned by white people. The newspapers are owned by white people. The music labels are owned by white people. The radio stations are owned by white people. The publishing houses are owned by white people. They are owned by those who have been taught that black life and black cultures are worthless. And their teachings show in their word choice. It shows in the promotion and overexposure of negative depictions of black people. It shows in the dearth of positive voices. It shows in the selection of only black employees and clients who will mimic the tropes regarding black people that they have come to hold dear—the big black buck, the Jezebel, the tragic mulatto, the Sapphire, the Mammy, the minstrel—or it shows in the selection of no black people at all.

And for a very long time? It worked, churning out anti-black propaganda for centuries like a well-oiled machine, with black people having little recourse to combat it because we owned next to nothing. We stood on soap boxes, screaming to anyone who would listen that we were human and of worth, while those who opposed us controlled screens and airwaves across the nation.

That is thankfully no longer the situation we find ourselves in. When the mainstream media erroneously claimed black looters had taken control of Ferguson last night, black people were able to effectively use modern technology—affordable to most Americans—to show young black people protecting stores, not looting them. Pictures of black men using their own bodies as barriers with police nowhere in sight or on site to provide assistance, popped up across Twitter, gaining power with each reblog, barreling into the public consciousness. While Fox News is able to alter reality for a segment of old, technology-averse people salivating for tales of the black savage, their children and grandchildren are pulling up apps to hear directly from black men themselves. That is new and so very necessary.

And it is not just the news that affordable technology has altered. Black art is now able to reach the masses in an unfiltered state via online organizations such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo, allowing black creators to obtain the funds necessary to compete with the output of major publishing houses and movie studios that shun or subvert them. Square allows creators to sell directly to the people. WordPress and Tumblr allow black writers to reach an international audience in seconds. The means of distribution are no longer solely owned by white people; black art cannot be papered over mere moments after its creation. The mainstream media will most certainly continue to attempt to drown out or alter black voices, but those voices have been amplified by technology and sharpened by fury and determination. The task won’t be nearly as easy.

And I’m glad.

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.

Digital Femme

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