Digital Femme

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

NYCC here.

October 13th, 2014

NYCC was surprisingly short on groundbreaking announcements this year—which I find to be a shame. While SDCC has clearly been overtaken by Hollywood (announcements regarding film and television projects in the science-fiction and fantasy realm are often reserved for the event), NYCC had been able to increase in size (and importance) while remaining largely about publishing. It’s where major series were once publicized, new companies and imprints were revealed, and contracts with celebrity creators were made known. This year, however, presented little to the public beyond an event logo or two and the revelation of a few new minor titles. NYCC’s loss of exclusive announcements removes what made the convention unique. It is now a grand spectacle and a boon for networking opportunities—phenomenal for professionals, but fans who are not locals have no need to attend. NYCC, like all major conventions, will only grow larger or stabilize, but the nearby hotels that once benefitted from gouging throngs of attendees may find only a limited number of professionals occupying rooms as fans simply get in their cars—be they automobile or subway—and go home. For me, NYCC (along with SDCC, ECCC, and DragonCon) has been scratched off the list of conventions to attend, but I’d advise any fan from Manhattan or Brooklyn to buy tickets for 2015 as soon as possible.

That said, NYCC did have a revelation or two. Let’s take a look!

Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple

Many fans will wonder why Dawson did not go for a meatier role such as Elektra, Misty Knight, or Kirsten McDuffie. Honestly, given Marvel’s propensity for making certain that all of its heroines of color pass Hollywood’s paper bag test, I’m relieved that Dawson is not playing Knight. However, while the role of Claire Temple is not a substantial role in Matt Murdock’s life; it is an enormous role in the life of Luke Cage and Goliath. Temple was the first love of both Cage and Goliath, and was a major component of two long-running love triangles in Marvel comics (Cage-Temple-Foster and Temple-Cage-Young). By selecting the role of Claire Temple, Dawson can now be inserted in four Marvel television shows (Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Jessica Jones) and one Marvel motion picture (Ant-Man). Wise choice. Dawson may not be playing a superheroine, but Claire Temple is a role that guarantees her a great deal of screen time and dramatic material. Get money, Rosario.

The Battle for Independents

There are a few independent comic companies nipping at Image’s heels by producing comics that are similar in tone to the work put out by Image. What these companies fail to recognize is that you cannot topple a thriving organization by imitating it. Image was able to best Vertigo by excelling where Vertigo had grown weak. It provides a home base for popular “counter-culture” creators who feel constrained by Marvel and DC and wish to broaden their creative horizons and perhaps cement a financial future by working on properties that they themselves own. Yes, this can be done at other companies or via self-publishing, but Image has name recognition and conjures up notions of literary celebrity and alt-glamour. Point blank, if you are a white male in your late twenties to early forties who occasionally eschews the mainstream and has an established fan following? You need to be at Image. And if you are not at Image? It is likely because another company foolishly thinks it can become Image by throwing substantial amounts of money in the direction of you and your peers. No. Image has a brand, a clear voice, and a steadfast determination to not repeat the mistakes of its forerunner. One can survive feeding from their leftovers, but one cannot thrive or build a brand of one’s own.

What an independent company (or alternative imprint such as Vertigo or Icon) needs to flourish is a unique voice that serves a specific mission or caters to a specific audience. And if said company cannot create one? Cribbing one from a company that clearly does not have its ducks in a row works just as well. Yet fledgling companies continue to crib from Image, which is neatly aligned from beak to tail.

Some, however, have moved in a new direction. BOOM! has created a welcoming space for female creators that has yet to be replicated elsewhere (though other companies should note that said creators could likely be wooed away with adequate monetary compensation). Dynamite and Zenescope have embraced and improved the bad girl trope popular in the nineties, and serve an audience that has drifted from companies no longer as focused on providing “cheeky” fantasy material. Moreover, Dynamite (along with IDW) has wisely picked up popular licenses that fall outside the superhero realm, and will benefit from the boost nostalgia provides without having to compete with the behemoth that is the “big two.” And finally, Archie Comics continues to aim for the irreverent to capitalize on past success. In order to make headway in these times a company must ask three important questions: whose stories aren’t being told? What popular genres are not being properly explored by the comics medium? Which companies have dissatisfied creators?

Ladies First

The rise in the number of female creators and female characters was considerable—and quite frankly, necessary. Not only did talented mainstream staples like Gail Simone and Kelly Sue DeConnick announce new projects to compliment their work at Marvel and DC, but Marvel and DC also relied on established methods of finding and developing talent to bring in female creators from other arenas, double the workload of existing female talent, and increase the number of titles starring female characters. While I’m a bit wary of the ability of the characters selected to find an audience (I would have asked the creative teams on Silk and “Spider-Gwen” to lend their talents to Spider-Girl and Jubilee), the fact that Marvel and DC are willing to work to recapture the success of Ms. Marvel and Batgirl is encouraging.

Yet the inroads made by Marvel and DC are miniscule compared to the presence of women in the world of self-publishing and small press. I was elated to see the immense line for Regine Sawyer’s Women of Color in Comics panel and women were also well-represented in Prism’s Women in Queer Comics.

Back to the Future

I am curious to see what the future holds for NYCC. As large as the convention is, the event still seems to center around comics—in marked contrast to SDCC. Will this change when Marvel is the only large publisher located in the Northeast? After all, it will be much easier for a convention like WonderCon to assume the mantle of the largest comic convention about comics given its location. Moreover, should DragonCon take great care in cultivating its comics track and unite with Atlanta’s SCAD division, it could possibly lure exhibitors away from NYCC. It provides legions of fans, promising new talent, celebrities, and tourist traps at a cheaper price point than New York City. Then again, the DragonCon showrunners do not know how to successfully embed the culture of Atlanta within geek realms in the same way that Reed is able to infuse geek markets with the flavor of New York City. Missed opportunities for one and a blessing for the other.

Next year, as I did this year, I will happily watch the events of NYCC unfold from the comforts of an easy chair—scrolling through interesting links on a tablet. May 2015 be even more successful than the last!

NYCC ya!

October 8th, 2014

When I’d heard that four-day passes to New York City Comic Con had sold out, I scrambled to purchase whatever tickets remained available. Unfortunately, the only tickets remaining were passes to Thursday’s show. Reluctantly, I decided to plunk down forty dollars for a ticket. After all, a chance to attend one day would be better than missing the show entirely.

Or would it? To be honest, New York City Comic Con has largely been a terrible experience. The commute from New Jersey to New York is expensive, time-consuming, and unpleasant. My time during the show is spent alone, for friends are required to work to cover exorbitant table and traveling costs. Nearby food is stale and overpriced. I am on my feet for the entire day, sans any hotel room to rest or freshen up. I am unable to socialize for long after the show–friends are often corralled into meetings or dragged to office parties by employers and I am unable to stay late due to a need to catch the last train back to New Jersey.
Do I want to spend ninety dollars, eighty minutes commuting each way, and seven hours on my feet to talk to twelve people I adore for six minutes each? I ask myself this each time I purchase a ticket to this convention. Previously, the answer was always yes. This time? It’s no.

I’m going to cut my losses, raise a glass to the showrunners for smartly separating me from a couple of my Jacksons, and spend tomorrow catching up on Sleepy Hollow. See you at the next ComfyCon! (Someone should really get that up and running again.)

‘Ello there!

September 26th, 2014

We are all aware of Ello, yes?

Slowly my Twitter list has been making its way to the new social media outlet. Having opened an account last night, I’ve spent the better part of the morning poking through the accounts of friends, amusedly observing their interests and acquaintances. It’s nice to see Ello reinforce my belief that I’ve surrounded myself with a number of smart and sweet people.

But what of the site that contains said people? Compared to its competitors (Facebook and Google Plus), Ello appears unfinished. I’d like to see features such as verification, customization, and a stringent policy regarding harassment added. In fact, the lack of customization—the ability to alter my profile page to match my main website—has kept me from utilizing Facebook and Google Plus, and has soured me considerably on Twitter. If I can’t have my pink and purple? Well, I just don’t want to be there.

However, I’ve given Ello considerably more leeway simply because it contains the people I like. (This is also why I continue to cling to Twitter.) Ello is Facebook or Google Plus sans the conservative bent and microaggressions that are often found on the two more mainstream social media sites. Ello is new and experimental—which means there is little obligation to interact with every distant relative and former coworker or classmate. Communication is limited to those with whom one has something in common. Connections are fostered through respect and interest rather than rote recognition.

I am extremely cautious on Twitter (to be fair, I don’t trust many), limiting my interactions to those with an interest in talking to me (rather than the motive of wishing to use me as a resource). My Twitter list is miniscule, and guided by the answer to one simple question: would I invite this person to a dinner party in my home?

Yet Ello is clearly reminiscent of Facebook rather than Twitter, and allows for less personal connections. It is the public soirée to Twitter’s private discussions over cocktails. I’ve wrestled with the decision as to whether or not to interact with new people on Ello and have yet to make a commitment regarding how I will use the site. However, I am leaning towards being more open—sociable. After all, is that not what social media is for?

Rose City.

September 25th, 2014

Leia WeathingtonThe day after Rose City Comic Con I had brunch with creators Leia Weathington and Karla Pacheco. I had salmon cakes; Leia and Karla dined upon the souls of men.

Rose City is a smaller con, placed just below Heroes in terms of its quaint and homey nature. The exhibitor floor was pleasantly crowded, but far from claustrophobic. Panels provided the ability to learn more about creators and their independent projects rather than issue a rundown of the basic plot points of upcoming mainstream events. Because of its location in Portland, the convention had an amazing array of West Coast talent with creators such as Jeff Parker, Gail Simone, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Matt Fraction, and more.

Given my previous posts analyzing conventions, it’s safe to say this post isn’t a write-up of my vacation, but a brief look as to whether Rose City is a welcome addition to the convention circuit. I’d say yes. For those already on the West Coast, Rose City is a fairly inexpensive opportunity to showcase wares to a welcoming audience. More importantly, the oppressive media maelstrom that encompasses the DC/Marvel machine has yet to descend upon the event. (Just wait three to five years.) Creators launching new independent works, for example the delightful Caleb Goellner and Jim Gibbons of Birch Squatch, have a place to speak directly to potential audiences without having to wait until everyone has gotten their full of discussions surrounding Batman and Wolverine.

Yet while Rose City provides an amazing platform to sell material and interact with fans, it provides limited networking opportunities for creators who are not already established. The convention is nestled in the heart of “Comics City.” After the sun goes down? Everyone goes home. There is absolutely no “bar con” to speak of. The large raucous gatherings of conventions like Emerald City have been replaced by charming get-togethers for long-term friends and colleagues. It is not a place for meeting new people but for forming even tighter bonds with those one admires or holds dear. Creators should not expect an opportunity to chat up an elusive editor; fans should not expect to seize an opening to buy their favorite artist a drink. Still, given the low-key nature of the convention, fans have ample opportunity to chat up creators at tables during the day. In addition, aspiring creators can seek advice and portfolio reviews. Rose City is the one convention where you can have a pleasant unhurried conversation with a writer such as Brian Michael Bendis or Sam Humphries. That is a rarity on the convention circuit now.

Should you go to Rose City? Well, it truly depends on the region you call home. Located in the Pacific Northwest or California? Yes. If not, there are other mid-sized conventions elsewhere that provide a similar experience.

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.

Digital Femme

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