It’s been well-documented that one of the biggest issues that comics is facing is that it’s not attracting new readers. It’s also been well-documented how comics, and for that matter fandom in general, isn’t particularly inclusive and welcoming of members of marginalized groups: POCs, LGBTQs, women, etc.
Not surprisingly I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive.
Many in the comics industry, have what I would call a sandbox mentality. IE, this fandom is my sandbox and you can’t play in it unless I deem you worthy. And unfortunately, the only ones usually deemed worth able-bodied cis-gendered heterosexual caucasian men.
Not surprising, this is usually the reason why we see some of the blatant displays of author insert and bass ackwards storytelling that we witness. Industry “professional” have deemed these characters their possession and will do with them as they will, to hell with continuity, character or anything resembling logic or common sense.
But you don’t have to look far to see the sandbox mentality in action. Often, you only need to stop by a con or a comic book store.
The recent discussion of limited brains in regards to comic creators reminded me of something I’ve seen too often nearly each time I’ve stopped by a comic book store to pick up my stack of comics.
No matter what city I’ve been in, no matter how much I’m a regular in the comic bookstore (in fact in one case I worked there for two years), whenever I head over to the new arrivals aisle, I’ll receive the most hateful glares from middle-aged fanboys.
The “How dare you venture into OUR space, who do you think YOU are?” scowls.
The fact that they’ll read every issue on the rack and not buy anything (while I loyally drop cash each week), but dare look at me like I don’t belong there is always amusing.
Now typically, I don’t allow it to faze me. New comics bring out the happy kid in me, I’m not about to let some a bunch of losers harsh my fanboy squee. Besides if a bunch of elitist deluded obnoxious fanboys wanna make an issue of me being a comic book fan and daring to enter a comic book store, I’ll be more than happy to take them to the parking lot, and settle any grievances.
But then one day it occurred to me. What if I wasn’t a 6’5 strapping alpha male cursed with the burden of being strikingly handsome and athletic and humble obviously.
But seriously, what if I was 12-years-old again and I was getting into comics for the first time? How would I have felt going into the comic book store and trying to get into this fandom and I got hateful glares from grown larger men, simply because I wasn’t a cis-gendered straight white male? How would I react if they blocked my path with their larger frames because they didn’t want me in their area. Would I dare want to invoke the wrath of a bunch of a grown men who seem hellbent on intimidating and chasing me out of “their space.” I’d probably be scared to step foot into the store again, let alone get into comics.
What if I was a disabled fan being treated this way? What if I was a petite woman who had to deal with jerks like this? I can’t even begin to tell you how many reports I’ve received from women and girls who have been harassed and attacked by misogynists fanboys. And this doesn’t even count the regular racist, sexist and homophobic bile that get spewed in these settings on a regular basis.
And too often I’ve witnessed this shit first hand. One specific incident comes to mind. A few years ago, I worked at a comic book store in a southern town. And like most parts of the South, you don’t have the luxury of being out and open if you’re gay. Not if you want a job. Hell it’s a miracle my skin color didn’t disqualify me on the spot. Anyway, I remember one day a beautiful redhead came into the store and she and I were having an in-depth discussion on the awesomeness of Xena. We’re both rabid fans. Across the store a couple of asshole co-workers were mocking the redhead because she’s a trans woman. Luckily she didn’t hear them (at least if she did, she didn’t let on and me not wanting to upset her by reminding her of the bullshit she has to deal with was the main reason I didn’t cause a scene in the store) and I ignored them. While I enjoyed meeting the woman and our discussion on the warrior princess, it was a sober reminder that enjoying something you love is a luxury that too many of us don’t have.
Oh and just to put things in perspective for you, this was the same comic bookstore that each year had its company Christmas parties at the Plantation House (I shit thee not) and most of my (white) co-workers refused to understand why I as a proud POC would find that shit offensive and kept pestering me to attend. Thankfully, the health inspectors shut that place down for good a few years later.
What were we talking about again? ……………………………………………………. Oh yeah sandboxes.
This fandom snobbery is disgusting and yet bewildering to me because when it comes to fandom, I have the exact opposite mentality. You see I love comic books.
When done right, it’s the greatest genre of entertainment in the world as far as I’m concerned. Each time I enter that world, I’m like Harry Potter entering Hogwarts for the very first time. Often I’m 12 years old again. It’s Friday afternoon and I just got home from the comic book store. I survived another week of school, work, life and now I’m going to escape for a few hours. I lounge on my bed, probably scarf down a pizza and a soda, plug in my earphones, blast some tunes, flip open the newest comic and just fly to these amazing worlds and join these extraordinary characters in their journeys. Journeys that have inspired and challenged me, personally and creatively.
You see comics bring me happiness and in a world rife with such pain and misery, that’s a rare treasure. But it’s a treasure I love to share. For me, I love sharing fandom because it’s my way of bringing happiness into someone else’s life, the same way, it’s brought joy into mine. I’m like a rabid cult member.
“So you wanna learn about comics? OMG!!!! Welcome to the fold. We have cake. And Kool Aid. Lots of Kool Aid. Go ahead. Drink the Kool Aid. But come on, do you have any questions? What characters are you interested in? I have tons of recommendations, any titles I don’t know, we can look them up or I can get references from my friends. Don’t worry, we’ll make sure you get titles that you’ll love. No, I’m not being paid for this. Why yes I am criminally insane. But I also genuinely want you to enjoy comics as much as I do because I want them to bring you the kind of squee they’ve brought me.”
A close buddy of mine recently expressed an interest in comics and asked me for recommendations that I thought she would enjoy. I happily wrote this ginormous list of graphic novels and gave detailed analyses on why I thought she would enjoy them. But I would just as quickly do that for a stranger. That’s why this whole fandom snobbery is just ludicrous to me. Because to me, sharing the joy is what brings in new readers, diversifying and growing is what makes our fandom stronger and more awesome.
One of the catalysts that inspired this post was that I was forwarded a link to a blog post from a woman who shared her hardships of being a female fan and how it’s difficult to find a space where she feels safe and where she can enjoy comics and other fandoms because of the rampant misogyny and that on too many boards her feelings/ideas/concerns are often ignored and dismissed.
This is one of the reasons why many of us stand tall the way we do against bigotry and oppression. Because no one should have to deal with it, ESPECIALLY in fandom. This is what Scans was intended for and what we strive for, a safer space for marginalized groups to enjoy comics without fear or worry. This is also one of the many reasons why we still need communities like [info]deadbrowalking, [info]foc_u and others like it. Marginalized groups deserve the right to play in the sandbox.
So how do we combat the sandbox mentality? By no means do I have all the answers but I think one effective way is by starting at the top. I believe that demanding and challenging the heads of the comic industry to be more inclusive in comics, it’ll send a message to the fanboys that inclusiveness is about more than being PC and it’ll challenge and debunk the failed mindsets.
Which begs the question, how do we get the heads to change the sandbox mentality?
For me, I’ve done the following:
1. Speak out with my dollars. I support exceptional minority media and other titles that welcome me and other marginalized groups to the fold. I’ve also supported indy titles that aren’t afraid to be bold and progressive.
2. Be vocal. Continue to speak out on the fail and continue to boost the signal on titles and creators who are doing it right. Say what you will for the internet, it has been the great equalizer in this regard. The industry (and not only comics) have taken note, that as long as these issues exist, we are not going away, we will continue to be vocal and we will continue to stand tall. Change is never easy and it will not happen over night. Some will be resistant to change, they always are, but eventually as their profits continue to plummet (and make no mistake, most of the drastic changes/decisions going on in comics these days are moves of desperation), they’re going to have to address the issues we’re bringing to their attention. But them simply being aware that there will be pushback and consequences for their poor choices does make a difference in my opinion. How much of a difference……varies.
But at the end of the day, remember, they need us, not the other way around.
It’s as I stated in a previous discussion, if the industry genuinely wants to attract new readers, to me it’s simple:
-Make an effort to reach out to fans who don’t fall in the sophomoric cis-gendered heterosexual caucasian manchild fanboy demographic. There are plenty of fans: women, pocs, lgbtqs who would gladly support comics and boost revenues if they treated us with a fraction of the decency and respectability they treat cis-gendered straight white males.
-Infuse some new blood. This means expanding and diversifying the talent pool. Get new blood and new ideas. diversify your storytellers who have different experiences and different perspectives. I have no doubt there are more Talent Caldwells, Gail Simones, Phil Jimenezes, Marjorie Lius, Dwayne McDuffies who are as equally as talented as their straight white male peers who would bring so much to the industry but aren’t able to share their stories and their experiences thanks in large part to the rampant bigotry.
Or don’t. The industry can keep doing what it’s doing. We see how well that’s been working out for them.