In comics, things are very different: words and pictures are far from being redundant. In comics, that is, words and pictures don’t just mirror one another, but interact in many different ways, and each of the two contributes its own share for the interpretation of the text.
William Moulton Marston, the guy who created Wonder Woman, was a noted psychiatrist. He’s the guy who invented the polygraph, the lie detector. He was one of those bohemian free-love guys; he and his wife, Elizabeth, shared a lover, Olive, who was the physical model for Wonder Woman. What he and Elizabeth did was to consider an Amazonian society of women that had been cut off from men for 3,000 years. That developed along the lines of Marston’s most fevered fantasies into a lesbian utopia. Although they’re supposedly a peace-loving culture, all these supergirls’ pursuits seem to revolve around fighting one another, and this mad, ritualistic stuff where girls dress as stags and get chased and tied up and eaten symbolically on a banquet table. The whole thing was lush with bondage and slavery. Wonder Woman was constantly being tied up or shackled—and it was hugely successful. When Marston died in 1947, they got rid of the pervy elements, and instantly sales plummeted. Wonder Woman should be the most sexually attractive, intelligent, potent woman you can imagine. Instead she became this weird cross between the Virgin Mary and Mary Tyler Moore that didn’t even appeal to girls.
Comics must be the only art form where the most prominent commentators in the field (who shall remain nameless) regularly dismiss or deprioritize discussions of the art form they are engaging in. The art form I am referring to is not comics but criticism.
It seems like cartoonists and any freelance craftsperson or artist has to constantly be skirting around the outside of society, trying to find random ways of making money without getting a job. You never know how long the money you have is going to have to last.
One of the historical roots of modern comics is of course the political cartooning of the early newspapers; the mechanical reproduction of images finally allowing art to be consumed by the masses rather than the privileged few, with cartoonists leaping at the chance to communicate complex political situations via their deceptively simple form.
The idea of comics as a political tool is not without its controversies, from grumbles amongst novelists to riots over religious icon portrayals. Any fan of superhero comics can tell you that comics don’t have to be overtly political, but the recent insistence by creator Todd McFarlane that historically no comic book that has worked has been ‘trying to get across a message’ was largely met by the rolling of eyes.
There’s always room for more, there’s always room for further diversity. Whether it’s more Latino characters, or more Black characters, or more LGBT characters — you pretty much can pick any group of people, and as long as you’re not talking about middle-aged white men like myself, they’re probably underrepresented in the world of superhero comics.
The small subculture of engaged comics reviewers is getting older, myself included. I really hope that members of the younger generation will start writing about each other. I’m seeing some hints of it here and there, but not many organized voices. So much of comics culture is death-dealing to makers in their early twenties. The “pap pap” demographic of comics is so insular – which is fine – but out on the circuit younger makers are telling me that they never read this site, or any websites related to comics at all. There’s really not much for them in most comics sites that reflects their tastes or their concerns.
The real name for She-Hulk was Slut-Hulk. That was the whole point. Let’s just make this green chick with enormous boobs. And she’s Hulk strong but not Hulk massive, right? (…) The whole point of She-Hulk was just to appeal sexistly to ten-year-old boys. Worked on me.
American writers often say they find it difficult to write Superman. They say he’s too powerful; you can’t give him problems. But Superman is a metaphor. For me, Superman has the same problems we do, but on a Paul Bunyan scale. If Superman walks the dog, he walks it around the asteroid belt because it can fly in space. When Superman’s relatives visit, they come from the 31st century and bring some hellish monster conqueror from the future. But it’s still a story about your relatives visiting.
She-Hulk was the extension of the male power fantasy. So it’s like if I’m going to be this geek who becomes the Hulk then let’s create a giant green porn star that only the Hulk could fuck.
There’s an entire generation of young artcomix makers whose work just isn’t being reviewed at all. (…) An entire generation, an entire movement, of altcomix creators who are doing vital, defiant, personal work is badly underserved by criticism, and that will have a huge effect on both comics and comics criticism moving forward.
Once I’m finished drawing a comic, it’s done for me. It’s over. Everything that happens outside of that, with it being published and people reading it or writing about it is out of my control. That’s just the way it is.
If you want to sell things, then sell them—send them to famous cartoonists, influential publishers, and comics critics who are interested in selling things. One influential Tweet by a comics celebrity will do more good than a 3000-word review of the highest quality produced by a nobody. And for god’s sake, don’t send your comics to critics who want to criticize them. Find someone who cares more about how many copies you sell than about the quality of your work. If we could only separate these comics critics from comics marketers, comics criticism might be in a more healthy state.
I don’t normally feel like being a woman in this field is enough to justify having to answer questions about it all the time, most frequently: ‘What is it like to be a woman cartoonist?’ Let’s face it, this is not dangerous work. This is not even physically demanding. I am not a police officer, I am not a fireman, I am not in the army. I don’t put my life on the line every day. Hell, I don’t even work in an office where some asshole could potentially pinch my butt. I work from home! I am practically a housewife. So please, stop asking that question.
And there are struggles. I would be a fool to deny that. I face the same anxieties as many of my male counterparts, but the difference is that once in a while something kind of gross happens: a weird pass is made, a sexist comment is said, someone checks me out, or some creep corners me at an art opening. Those are the real challenges of being a woman doing anything.
It’s exceedingly easy to type up your strongest single impression of a new work and post it to Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr, and receive feedback almost immediately. And since your strongest single impression could be nothing more complex than ‘This is so good, you guys,’ and the feedback can just be a like or a fav or a reblog or a retweet or a share, it’s tough to build up a thoroughgoing interrogation of a comic. The energy is diffused.
Everyone doesn’t like their early work. It’s just a gut reaction, feeling sick. I can’t look at them or think about them.
I’m probably the quintessential hack writer. I don’t get inspirations as such. And when I don’t have something to write, I’m not thinking about it at all. But, I’m sort of a pressure writer. If somebody says, ‘Stan, write something,’ and I have to have it by tomorrow morning, I’ll just sit down and I’ll write it. It always seems to come to me. But I’m better doing a rushed job because if it isn’t something that’s due quickly, I won’t work on it until it becomes almost an emergency and then I’ll do it.
Translating comics requires special skills beyond the purely linguistic. For a start, the space allocated to speech/ thought balloons and narrative captions both defines and confines what can be written within them. And the language of comics is not only verbal but visual, so words and images must interact smoothly. It is no coincidence that perhaps Britain’s greatest living translator of comics, Anthea Bell, famed for her dazzling work on Asterix, is the daughter of Adrian Bell, the first cryptic crossword setter for The Times. As a girl, her lateral thinking was honed every morning when her father would test his latest puzzle on her over the breakfast table.
Comics criticism doesn’t actually need more people who are interested in comics (that is a given considering the insular nature of the hobby); what it needs is people who are interested in criticism.
I really think comics are more fun when they play to their strengths, and do the things that movies can’t do, and go to places in the imagination where movies can’t go. Let’s take up the type of storytelling that movies daren’t do, you know? Why are we conforming to Hollywood storytelling styles and losing sales when we can do anything? I think its time for comics to become, you know, more Matt Fraction, much more Brendan McCarthy, more psychedelia, more cosmic, more freewheeling, more internal. Comics begin with a guy, with a pencil and an imagination, or a guy at his word processor, and after that anything can happen. And so rarely does.
In terms of newspaper cartoons, I tend to go for something that makes me laugh first, rather than a political angle. And even when that does turn out to be political, I try not to draw politicians too much. Partly because it dates the comic quickly, partly because it’s so much a ‘part of the gam’ that politicians will just ask to buy the cartoons for their toilet wall as an ego-boost, which is annoying.
The main reason why comics can’t work as films is largely because everybody who is ultimately in control of the film industry is an accountant. These people may be able to add up and balance the books, but in every other area they are stupid and incompetent and don’t have any talent. And this is why a film is going to be a work that’s done by dozens and dozens and dozens, if not hundreds of people. They’re going to show it to the backers and then they’re going to say, we want this in it, and this in it… and where’s the monster?
Go to Germany kids. Maybe Budapest if you’re not Jewish. But this is something that I’m remembering from interviewing Al Hirschfeld. He had lived in Paris for a number of years when he was just out of college.
I asked ‘Did you know Picasso?’ And he says, ‘Yeah. I’d see him at Gertrude [Stein]’s House.’
So we were off and running and I said, “What was it in Paris? The graphic design was good, the painting was good, the writing was good, the architecture was good. Was there something in the water?” He goes, “Nah. Cheap real estate. I got that place I was living in for the equivalent of $300 a year.” At those rates, you can find out if you’re an artist or not.
I never thought that Spider-Man would become the world wide icon that he is. I just hoped the books would sell and I’d keep my job.
No idea has proven more damaging to the comics industry than the myth that its professionals — not just creators, but retailers, even distributor — work for love and not money. It’s a philosophy that has justified exploitation of creators and theft of intellectual property. It’s allowed the entire industry to pass the buck for its failures — from publishers to retailers, and retailers to — for decades. And it’s why the comics industry lingers in a frozen adolescence, clinging to a shrinking target audience like a sea captain railing at the storm—when the real problem is the rotting wood of his own hull.
If the character can do no wrong and is perfect in every way, he is not a terribly interesting character.
The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen film cost 100 million because Sean Connery wanted 17 million of that – and a bigger explosion that the one he’d had in his last film. It’s in his contract that he has to have a bigger explosion with every film he’s in. In The Rock he’d blown up an island, and he was demanding in The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen that he blow up, was it Venice or something like that? It would have been the moon in his next movie.
Gayness is built into Batman. I’m not using gay in the pejorative sense, but Batman is very, very gay. There’s just no denying it. Obviously as a fictional character he’s intended to be heterosexual, but the basis of the whole concept is utterly gay. I think that’s why people like it. All these women fancy him and they all wear fetish clothes and jump around rooftops to get to him. He doesn’t care — he’s more interested in hanging out with the old guy and the kid.
The most energizing thing about comics these days is you don’t have to be in any school. Each and every gem of a comic seems to exist in its own, infinite, contextless universe. This is also a product of the extreme hybridization of all forms as well. The “international style” of comics that is gaining ground in the actual mainstream (libraries and books) is one that draws equally from America, European and Manga influences, and the internet insists we mash everything up all at once all the time. Context seems to have less and less inherent value against this backdrop where immediate emotional resonance is the currency. Perhaps it’s this very quality that makes comics one of the most vibrant and relatable mediums of the day.
DISCOURSE was deemed Man’s noblest attribute,
And written words the glory of his hand;
Then followed Printing with enlarged command
For thought — dominion vast and absolute
For spreading truth, and making love expand.
Now prose and verse sunk into disrepute
Must lacquey a dumb Art that best can suit
The taste of this once-intellectual Land.
A backward movement surely have we here,
From manhood, — back to childhood; for the age —
Back towards caverned life’s first rude career.
Avaunt this vile abuse of pictured page!
Must eyes be all in all, the tongue and ear
Nothing? Heaven keep us from a lower stage!
I don’t have bad blood with Marvel per se, aside from the fact that I think they’re a poorly run company that is partially destroying the comic book industry.
What sets the Marvel movies apart from a lot of the other superhero movies is they start with the comics. They don’t thumb their nose at the source material. They’ve effectively mined everything there is to mine from the comics.
dear william stanhope:
most important decision i ever made came at age 9…i was collecting Buck Rogers comic strips, 1929, when my 5th grade classmates made fun of me. I tore up the strips. A week later, broke into tears. Why was I crying? I wondered. Who die? Me, was the answer. I have torn up the future. What to do about it? Start collecting Buck Rogers again. Fall in love with the Future! I did just that. And after that never listened to one damnfool idiot classmate who doubted me! What did I learn? To be myself and never let others, prejudiced, interfere with my life. Kids, do the same. Be your own self. Love what YOU love.
I’m outraged and deeply concerned for the future of digital comics. You should be too.
Shame on you, ComiXology. Shame on you, Amazon. Shame on you, Jeff Bezos.
And shame on you, supposed comic book fans, if you don’t make your voices heard against this.
I prefer to work out my thoughts on the page and to challenge my own certainties by creating characters who disagree with me.
I collected every comic strip that existed, from Mickey Mouse to Superman. The next thing that arrived was rock ‘n’ roll when I was around 10 or 12 years old. (…) My parents hated the comic strips, they hated rock ‘n’ roll, and when they found out what movies I was going to they also were against that. So everything I loved I had to defend.
I think every time you take a female character, a black character, a Hispanic character, a gay character, and make that the point of the character, you are minimalizing the character. I have written anything you can possibly think of. I have created Storm who was the first black female superhero. I created a number of other characters, and it never matters to me what the color of their skin was. I was writing about who they were as human beings, and it wasn’t Black Storm. She was Storm.
An actual increase in the volume of comics criticism is not necessarily desirable or even achievable considering the state of the industry and art form.