My friend Stephen Sutherland has a new comic coming out in September. Check out his Tumblr for more news and sample art!
Signs and Voices is a new comic book produced by the Deaf Power Publishing House. Featuring a team of deaf heroes, the comic makes use of Sign Language (which, despite being fundamentally visual, isn’t something you see a lot of in comics) and is set within the Deaf community. There’s an interview with one of the creators over at Bleeding Cool.
I haven’t had chance to read Signs and Voices yet, but I’ll admit to having a vested interest in its success: I’ve loved comics for years, and my stepson is Deaf. I have no idea if he’ll ever be into comic books, but it’s good to know that, if he ever is, he can read about heroes who use BSL.
Add to this the fact that comics are inherently conservative and characters tend to default to being white, male, western and able-bodied and there are issues around just how representative comics are. I don’t think that’s malice – just sadly reflective of prejudices from a time when the industry was really big – but it’s nice when characters break that mould. It’s also good to see more diverse voices involved in comic production.
So check out Signs and Voices, see what you think – it is new comic day…
My friend Stephen Sutherland has been interviewed by Geek Syndicate about his comic Taking Flight. Check it out, it’s a nice article!
This should have been a response to a nice post over at Tastes Like Comic, but my legendary IT skills meant that I couldn’t get comments to work on my iPhone. I’m sure there’s an app for that, but I figured I could turn my comment box ramblings into blog ramblings…
In case you’ve missed it (because I think the reach of some memes is still overstated), the recent Occupy movement(s) have drawn attention to the phrase “We are the 99%” (as opposed to the 1% who control the majority of the world’s finances, some of whom caused the current economic poopstorm).
It wasn’t long before fan art started appearing showing Bruce Wayne acknowledging he’s a billionaire member of the 1% and that he’d happily pay more taxes for the betterment of society. Fair enough – if he’s willing to do that and beat up criminal scum then who am I to argue?
It raises interesting questions about where some of our fictional icons fit into this whole debate. In one sense it’s fairly straightforward – they’re superheroes, and therefore they automatically side with us (Joe Public) against them (monsters, serial killers, Death Robots From Space). Beyond that, it gets complicated.
Take Batman, for instance. Bruce Wayne is old money, American aristocracy. He lives in a stately home; he has a butler, for goodness sake. He’s 1% up to his eyeballs, but crucially to this debate that doesn’t make him a bad person or the enemy – he’s probably the sole reason Gotham City hasn’t gone straight to hell. It’s probably also a little snarky, but maybe important, to note that his parents were murdered by one of the 99%. Bruce fits into a tradition of American philanthropy – he’s Gotham’s Andrew Carnegie, but would he be camping out on Wall Street? Probably not – he may support the 99%, but he’s not part of them. That’s part of the tension of Batman’s character – everyone says he’s more relatable than a character like Superman, but is he? Is Bruce the screwed up billionaire really more relatable than Clark the boyscout?
Superman’s another interesting character to look at, because he’s definitely one of the 99% – he grew up on a farm in Kansas and now he’s a journalist, so while he may make a comfortable living, he’s not exactly rich. Certainly I’d imagine that one bad harvest during his childhood means that he’s more familiar with economic difficulties than Bruce will ever be. It’s interesting that in the recent DC Comics reboot Grant Morrison has returned Superman to his 1930s roots as a social crusader, sorting out corrupt landlords and domestic abusers with vigilante glee. He’s far more likely to Occupy Wall Street, if only because he’s more willing to see himself as part of a wider community. The tension here is that he’s an outsider, protecting a life-altering secret, an alien trying to fit in even though he has his own Fortress. It’s interesting that his arch-nemesis Lex Luthor is completely and utterly 1%, and the dark side of the 1% at that, revelling in his power. However, I doubt Clark thinks in terms of percentages – he’d rather talk about the 100%.
(And I think this is fair, by the way, because while “We are the 99%” is a snappy slogan, the numbers are too big to be anywhere near meaningful. I’m a 99%er, technically, but I doubt I could say that to someone living on 1 dollar a day and then look at myself in the mirror later…)
Of the big three superheroes, it’s the third who probably best fits into the 99%. After all, Spider-Man was devised to be 99% at heart, rather than someone masquerading as such. Peter Parker is a hard-luck hero – his life isn’t great at the best of times, and even his alter-ego is traditionally castigated in the media. He was created as someone readers could relate to, rather than a patriarchal role model. He’s also more tied to the real world – he’s a New Yorker, and the Big Apple is the epicentre for the Occupy movement. He probably takes it personally.
All of this is just a thought exercise – there isn’t much that superheroes can add to decades old debates about inequality and corruption. And yet it ‘s interesting that Batman was co-opted into things fairly quickly; we know how we want things to be and we express that in a bunch of ways – through protest, through art, through superheroes. And while comics tend to shy away from specific politics, it’ll be interesting to see what impact, if any, the global wave of protests will have on an aristocratic Batman, a crusading Superman and a downtrodden Spider-Man. Maybe Occupy Metropolis isn’t that far away…
So last night I went to see Captain America: The First Avenger and it’s a fantastic film. It’s Indiana Jones with superheroes, which sounds dismissive until you realise that Indiana Jones with superheroes is an awesome idea. It’s also one of those films where the casting really works; Chris Evans manages to sell the clean-cut sincerity of a man who only wants to stand up to bullies, be they local jerks or super-Nazis, and Tommy Lee Jones basically plays Tommy Lee Jones in a role that really just requires someone to be Tommy Lee Jones. That’s a winner, but the real stand-out is Hugo Weaving, who turns in a quiet, subtle, layered performance of tragic dignity*.
Anyone who’s read this blog before will know that my film reviews either end up taking the mick, or using them as a springboard to waffle on about the film’s themes. This is going to be one of the latter occasions, because Captain America isn’t the sort of film you can mock. While the Red Skull is gloriously over-the-top, the whole thing is a homage to WWII comic books and pulp storytelling so it really doesn’t matter. He’s called the Red Skull, for goodness sake, saying he’s OTT is just missing the point.
Meanwhile the lead character could have come across as horribly jingoistic but the film takes time to undercut any propagandism, going on to show why everyone should feel free to respect and sympathise with Cap, regardless of whether or not you feel moved to chant “USA! USA!” at any point.
The heart of the movie is seen right up front. Steve Rogers is a scrawny seven-stone weakling with a liat of ailments as long as the film’s credits, all of which mean he’s declared unfit for the army, and therefore punching Nazis. Recognising something in the way Steve refuses to quit trying to enlist, he’s recruited for a secret experiment to turn him into a peak physical specimen – a ‘super soldier’. The experiment is successful but can’t be repeated, with the film following Steve’s journey from being used as a propagandist laughing stock to becoming the central hero of the Marvel Comics universe, all of which is driven by his total refusal to give up or back down.
I guess that’s the lesson of the movie: never give up, never surrender (as another good film once said). I wonder how many times the same story is repeated – we’re young, idealistic, full of hopes and dreams, then as time goes on we get worn down, become clockwatchers, abandon those dreams as naive and hopeless. We give up, and even when we tell ourselved it’s necessary, it’s still an act of surrender.
Despite this, there are still times we have a choice, aren’t there? Times when we need to either speak out or stay quiet, take a stand or hide in the background. It’s interesting that the movie gives Steve these choices when he’s at his weakest, before he gets his powers, and when he’s sidelined by the army he so wants to serve – yeah, his moral code says he’s going to take on the bullies, but at key points he doesn’t have much in the way of back-up. It’s easy to make the right choice when, say, Tommy Lee Jones is growling at your side, but what happens when you’re on your own? How does that affect the ethical choices we have to make?
In the end, the world of Captain America didn’t need a colossus striding the skin of the world, or a stooge of politics, it just needed a brave and decent man to do the right thing. And I guess that’s all that can be asked of you and me as wel: do the right thing; never give up.
* Not really. He plays a skull-headed loon weasel. But he does it beautifully.