Awesome post on an awesome AMA

Comic writer Kelly Sue DeConnick did an AMA on Reddit that just recently got linked by bestof.  Specifically, they highlighted this comment (excerpt):

Okay, last one and I'm done:

Why do you think it's been so difficult for Marvel to establish a female hero who isn't 1.) based of a male counterpart, 2.) made to give gender balance to a team or 3.) made to be the love interest of a more popular male hero?

Marvel is a publicly-owned company. They exist to make money. Period. If there was an idea that extra dollar could be made with female-led comics, Marvel would have more lady-led books than Avengers titles--with multiple variant covers, no doubt.

Why are there so many Avengers titles? They sell. Reliably.

[...]

The publisher's customer is not the reader. Follow? The publisher's customer is the retailer. Once the retailer orders the book, from the publisher's standpoint, THAT IS THE SALE.

Those sales figures you see on icv2 or whatever? Those do not indicate the number of readers who pick up a book, they indicate the number of copies ordered by stores.

The whole comment is an in-depth explanation of the mechanics that perpetuate sexism in the comics industry.  The best part, I think, was when she covers manga:

Think about the manga boom for a minute. The American notion had always been that women would not buy comics in significant numbers. There was even a commonly bandied about notion that "women are not visual." Who bought manga in the US? Largely women and girls. At ten bucks a pop, no less. Women spent literally millions of dollars on what? On comics.

[...]

Well, for one thing, they didn't have to venture into comic book stores to get it. No risks of unfriendly clerks or clientele, authenticity tests or the porn basement atmosphere that even if it's not the reality of most stores, is certainly the broad perception. They could buy manga at the mall. What's more, they didn't need a guide. All they had to do was find the manga section, flip the books over and read the description (just like they'd done with any book they'd ever bought in their lives) and then, once they found one that interested them, find the volume with the giant number 1 on it and head to the check out.

And, her solution:

So what can we do? As readers, the most powerful tool we have is the pre-order. PRE-ORDER, PRE-ORDER, PRE-ORDER. Why? Because when you pre-order with a store, that is a sale to the store. The store is not assuming any risk. Therefore they bump up their orders with the publisher, which is reflected in the title's sales, which then becomes a cue to the publisher... hm... maybe these books will sell? Let's make more!

The Economist on webcomics

(via Boing Boing)

The typical format for a web comic was established a decade or more ago, says Zach Weiner, the writer of “Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal”, or “SMBC” (below). It has not changed much since. Most cartoonists update on a regular basis—daily, or every other day—and run in sequence. “I think that’s purely because that’s what the old newspapers used to do,” says Mr Weiner. But whereas many newspaper comics tried to appeal to as many people as possible, often with lame, fairly universal jokes, online cartoonists are free to be experimental, in both content and form.

The Economist has published an article about the rise of webcomics, and the transformative effect they have had on the medium of comics.  They call the article "Triumph of the nerds," but I'll give the (unnamed) writer the benefit of the doubt that she or he didn't have any control over the headline.

It features a history of comics in Western journalism, the particular qualities of webcomics as compared to traditional newspaper comics, and the ways in which webcomics are opening up a significant method of free speech in oppressive nations or cultures.

That last section contained the most content that I hadn't heard before -- the Western webcomics artists they discussed were people I'm already familiar with, but I'm only passingly familiar with comics as a form of serious political dialogue.

 In China cartoons distributed across weibo, a collection of Twitter-like social networks, have become a powerful way of criticising the communist regime. Pi San, a cartoonist and animator from Beijing, creates carefully coded cartoons as a way of subverting China’s strict web-censorship regime. His most popular character, Kuang Kuang, is a lazy schoolboy at a prison-like institution where dissent is routinely persecuted. The drawings, full of jagged lines and dark colours, are as edgy as the politics. One recent animation, poking fun at China’s censorship of references to Ai Weiwei, a controversial artist, was viewed by a million people within just a few hours of its being posted online.

I think this might be the cartoon they're referring to:

 

(via Wild Dollop Appeared)

The Dark Knight Rises: Initial Thoughts

Okay, so I caved.  I couldn't wait until Tuesday, so I re-arranged my Friday to make room for a matinee showing.  Short version of the review: it's amazing, a brilliant end to an excellent trilogy.  Nolan took the best of the superhero genre, and made it into a set of films that are better than any other superhero films yet produced.[1. I haven't seen the new Spiderman yet.  Just saying.] Everything that follows is going to contain spoilers, below the fold.

I want to talk about the movie in a few different contexts, and I think it's best if I break them up into separate categories.

The political implications

Yes, I am one of those people who think that Nolan's Batman movies can be read as allegory for our times.  Certainly not only as allegory, but I do think the perspective is valid.  Nolan at least used the political and cultural fears of our time to drive the characterization of his villains.

Broadly speaking, the center of Nolan's Batman narrative is: everyone agrees that the world is awful.  Gotham is a scar for the human race. It's a wretched hive of scum and villainy.  People who live there are not very nice.

The good guys are the guys who believe there's a glimmer of hope among the horror.  They believe that the system works, in theory, and good people can pull it together for the good of humankind.

The bad guys aren't the corrupt, the mobsters and criminals, though.  The bad guys are the people who think things have gone so far bad that everything should be scrapped -- that civilization needs to be wiped clean, and if there's anyone left at all, those people will have the chance -- only a chance -- to build a world that's better.

But everyone's lost faith in the system.  The Dark Knight Rises makes that clear when Gordon takes a stand for lying to the people in order to get farther along, about how the rules can become shackles.  But those transgressions are all made in the hopes of restoring the functionality of the system.

The bad guys of the new film -- Bane and Catwoman -- represent two different levels of desire for collapse.  Catwoman has a fine-tuned sense of injustice, but all she wants is redistribution of wealth, and leniency for the survival-crimes of the poor, rather than our present state -- special increased consequences for them.

Bane, on the other hand, has completely abandoned belief in the existing system.  He wants to tear it down to its very core, a complete wiping clean.

Bane's prison is a vivid metaphor for this kind of belief -- Gotham is the prison, and the glimmer of hope just serves to make it more miserable.  No one has ever gotten out.

Except one child, born in the pit, born of extraordinary parents but orphaned by violence.

That escape, that struggle, represents hope.  Gotham's orphan who crawled out of the pit is an avatar for faith in humanity's decency.

Nolan and the Batman mythos

My favorite Batman book is Neil Gaiman's "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?"  -- in it, Neil postulates how the Batman story ends.  If you haven't read it, this section contains spoilers.

The ending Neil imagines is Batman's funeral, and all his friends and villains show up.  Each one tells a different story.  The story of how they were responsible for Batman's death.  In it, the story of Batman is portrayed as dark, warm, campy, psychologically weird, every way Batman's story has been told.

Batman never dies old.  He never retires, never fights cancer or drifts off in his sleep.  Batman only ever dies because if you're Batman, eventually, one night, something goes wrong.  And in "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader," every time, Batman is reborn.  Because the reward for having been Batman is, you get to keep being Batman.  And every time, you get those few years of happiness, growing up with your parents.

That's why I couldn't stop myself crying when Nolan's Batman manually flew a nuclear reactor off the coast to save Gotham from its explosion.

But Nolan didn't end up going that way with it. After a heart-wrenching montage of Bruce Wayne's affairs being wrapped up, inconsistencies start popping up.  And at the end, we see Alfred, looking across the restaurant in a cafe in France, seeing Bruce Wayne. Happy.  No longer haunted.

And he ended up with Catwoman.

The answers Nolan gave at the end of his movies are all the right ones.  They're also answers that he could only give because he refused to leave his series open to continuation.  He told the Batman story he wanted to tell -- a route I hope other Superhero franchises follow, letting the brilliant artists in their fields have their own crack at the whole thing, separate from the great intertwining canon.

A note on the Colorado shootings

I don't know what to say about this, but I feel compelled to.  The story of Nolan's Batman trilogy is a story of faith in humanity rewarded. That faith requires not that everyone be good, but that the good outweigh the bad, and that we let the bad plant the seeds for good.

My deepest sympathies are with the victims and their families, by which I mean everyone in the theater.  I hope that we as a country and as a fan community are able to pull together and honor the memory of those who died, and the humanity of those who still suffer, as best we can.

I trust that humankind is better than the man with the guns last night.  I hope that's what shines through.