Friday, October 8, 2010

Indie vs Marvel and DC

I don't usually take time on this particular blog to speak about things like this, but I feel it is important to cover this topic, especially right now.

Marvel and DC, if you weren't aware, are the two largest comic book companies in the United States. They publish primarily superhero-based comics, and it is their output that has a significant effect even on independent comics and creators. Along with Diamond Distribution, they form a triumvirate stranglehold on the market, and it is because of that I come to you now with my appeal.

This is aimed at all of you who enjoy comics as a medium, but especially those of you who come here and are gay, or read my work because it features non-heterosexual characters portrayed in a positive light.

I know some of you still buy Marvel and DC comics. You still want to support your local comic shops, or you've had a subscription forever and have become used to it, or you like the character and are hoping that the title will improve, month after month. I'm not going to tell you to stop buying and expect you to actually do it. That's unrealistic for me to expect.

However, I would like to ask you to consider your purchases more carefully. And there are many reasons why I would like to do that.

The first is that the big two companies influence other comic creators. It can be viewed as simply as 'if you buy their comics, you won't have enough to support the independent, accessible creators that really care about you as an individual'. It's all too common that creators of online and independent comics get the shaft because people spend wads of cash on things they often enjoy less, and when it comes time to donate to their favourite comic or to buy a printed book from them, they don't have enough. Though I might also mention that even $5 is enough for most independent creators. If multiple people are generous, $5 from many adds up and helps them to afford the supplies they need to continue making comics. The big two, on the other hand, don't have these kinds of budget woes. If you don't buy the comics right when they come out, they'll still be there in a month and their staff will still have enough to buy their supplies.

The other and less obvious influence is that good or poor choices by Marvel and DC have a marked influence on the market for comics altogether. Their questionable moves have made many creators suffer, both independent and otherwise, and they keep doing these things because people keep irrationally throwing money at them.

I will be very frank here: things are not going to change. Things are not going to improve. The title you have been following for years in the hopes that it will improve, someday, is not going to get better. In fact, none of it is going to go anywhere until and unless people speak with their wallets and say 'I don't like this' and stop buying it. If you're complaining about it and still paying for it, you're not doing any good. You're still a part of the problem.

They have spent decades alienating all of the fans who were fans during the Silver and Bronze Ages, in the misguided mindset that readers want to see incessant mega-crossovers and visceral violence, where heroes stopped being heroic and every month holds a new, horrible, casual death, thinking that this will sell, sell, sell! And now they're finding that people don't actually like it -- after years of complaining and driving away everyone who had a grievance -- and attempting to get those fans back.

The good series and the consistent series always get put on hiatus or cancelled, and it's not due to lack of support by the readers and consumers, it's due to personal bias by the management. There have been numerous titles put out by both Marvel and DC that have done exceptionally well, especially in the economic climate, and gathered vast, strong followings that were cancelled or put on indefinite hiatus because someone higher-up just didn't want it to overshadow yet another 'dark' or 'ironic' book.

And if you think they care about you, they don't. While independent creators and labels generally do care deeply about every reader -- we know where our livelihood comes from and do this out of love and desire to create and entertain -- Marvel and DC don't. They don't at all. If you think they do, you're deluding yourself. And if you think they're going to bow to any pressure other than monetary, you're kidding yourself even more.

I'd just like to take the time to cover a couple of examples that illustrate this very well indeed.

The most compelling reason never to buy Marvel comics again is summed up in two words: Freedom Ring. An exciting character who happened to be gay and was given a novel power, he was met with enthusiastic approval and support...

...and killed off in one of the most horrible ways any character has ever met his end, not more than 5 issues later. Many readers were outraged, some put off Marvel permanently. The company was met with several threats of boycott. And why not? The incident was the comic book equivalent of a hate crime. There was no reason to do what they did.

So naturally Marvel immediately tried to backpedal and claimed that they had intended to kill him off from the very beginning, but they only made him gay at the last minute.


Does that excuse that sort of treatment? It doesn't, and it doesn't change what they've done.

They've never backpedalled enough to actually bring him back and give him decent treatment. Oh, and in case you didn't glance over at the ComicVine page I linked, they also had him paralysed almost immediately, for no good reason either. It's not really unreasonable for readers to get the impression that this virtual violence against a gay character was a thin veil for a much uglier reality: the well-known homophobia that has existed in Marvel practically since the beginning.

But wait, you say, they have a policy now that any character can be made gay! They made Rictor and Shatterstar gay lovers!


The policy is nothing more than damage control spin doctor magic in a desperate attempt to reclaim the massive alienated audience. Jim Shooter's policy in the 80s was that of strict homophobia, and the 70s were no different, with several stories openly demonising gay characters. The 90s had a desperate attempt to garner a gay audience with a disastrously tacky coming out story with Northstar, a character whom we all knew was gay and who made it abundantly clear long before then. And the only reason they haven't utterly done away with him -- and they've tried -- is because he's become Captain Gay, poster boy for gay characters and representative of all of them.

They don't care about you. And they especially don't care about you if you're gay. The Freedom Ring story would have been blatantly offensive no matter who they put in it and no matter what their sexual orientation. However, making him gay -- and then handicapped -- and treating him so badly is inexcusable.

Pair that with the overly litigious nature of Marvel, and you have a company that not only doesn't care about their readers, but is openly hostile to them. They are well-known for getting fansites shut down and loosing their overactive lawyers with threats aplenty to readers and fans. Regular readers of the popular Scans Daily community are all too familiar with their stunts.

DC's recent Blackest Night was unspeakably offensive in more or less every was possible, but one of the most offensive actions took place in a tie-in called, ironically, 'Cry for Justice'. One of DC's very few non-heterosexual (and non-promiscuous) characters, Tasmanian Devil, was brutally murdered and made into a rug.

A rug.

That's about as much as they care about you.

Before anyone asks why I should complain about that when characters everywhere are getting killed off, let me say that I disagree with almost every one of the disgustingly casual write-outs comics have been doing in the past 20 years especially. It doesn't matter who it is. But the fact is that they've chosen to do this especially to some of their already minuscule number of characters representing the gay readership, most of whom barely see any appearances at all.

Another classic antic from DC was allowing Chuck Dixon, who is well-known as a homophobe and a bigot in general, to write Connor Hawke, a character created to be different, built up to be the next best thing of DC: a new Green Arrow who was neither a womaniser nor promiscuous. He was presented as a naif essentially, fresh from a monastery and not the type of man to chase skirts, as his father had done.

Praise came in from everywhere, especially the gay community, who were enthusiastic that a hero could be shown that didn't have to be the kind of tiresome collector of sexual conquests as most superheroes had become. Naturally, some wondered if he might be non-heterosexual, especially since DC had not really kept up with the times very well and had a decisive lack of non-stereotypical gay characters. Pretty much the only one even discussed at that point was the Pied Piper, a Flash villain.

Dixon, who had inexplicably been given the reins to the Green Arrow title, did a predictably poor job. As if his bad writing wasn't enough, his bad personality added to that: he lashed out at gay fans and became well-known for his homophobia and opinions that non-heterosexual characters didn't belong in comic books. Drugs, teenage pregnancies, and everything else he wrote, apparently, was a-okay, but in his words, homosexual characters were unacceptable for comic books, especially when they're read by young people.

Kyle Rayner, another character built up to be the next big thing as the new Green Lantern, was a hard luck guy who honestly didn't have much personality. He was an artist, and a comic artist, which enabled most of the writers to write from (idealised) life. As their forebears had done, Connor and Kyle became close friends.

What many people don't know is that DC intended to make an event to remember out of their unique relationship. Connor's pure outlook and Kyle's social awkwardness would come together in a kiss. It may or may not have led to a relationship between them.

However, chiefly due to Dixon's constant remarks and threats, they did not do it. Rather than discipline one of the worst writers in the company's history, they instead allowed the two characters never to have their moment. It is perhaps unsurprising that both of them have been replaced and have faded into obscurity. And it is a very sad thing.

It just tells you where you stand in their esteem. Rather than oppose one obnoxious man, they chose to offend hundreds, if not thousands, of fans, readers, and most importantly, buyers.

I would just like to say that most independent comic creators aren't like that.

Unless you're dealing with someone who is a real homophobe nutjob -- and they're probably going to be that pretty obviously in their work -- most of the time, what you see with us is what you get.

We know where our bread and butter comes from. It comes from the readers who are supportive of our work. It comes from the people who support us not only professionally, but personally, and socially.

It comes from all of you.

So, while I can't tell you to stop buying Marvel and DC and start letting them know why, I can at least encourage you to buy less of their output. But do let them know why. That's important. It doesn't really matter how many do; they don't care about that, clearly, if their actions up to now are any indication. We don't have to be in the hundreds to make a difference. Being hundreds or thousands doesn't necessarily get their attention. If just a few will firmly let them know, maybe they will take notice. Maybe they won't, but the attempt should be made.

But we will take notice. We independents, we creators who care about our readers and their support. We do care, and we do take notice. And while it is important that we stretch creatively and do what we have to do, it is so very, very important that we do right by you.

I just want you to think about this, and I hope very much that you will.


  1. Intolerable. That is the only word for this. I dropped both Marvel and DC some time ago because I disliked what they were doing and the message they were sending. Initially I liked Frank Miller's 'Dark Knight Returns' as a one off, 'what if' dark adult story. I did not think it would become the whole damn industry's Raison d'etre! And killing off Capt. America was the Coup de Gras for me. What a 'fuck you' to those of us who honored Cap even in the 60s and 70s as a true hero. I wasn't thrilled with the whole story about Bucky but at least Winter Soldier made a certain amount of sense. The rest of this nonsense is nauseating.

    The fact that they treat Gay characters and Gay people this way, makes one wonder what other nasty beliefs they have. I, for one, refuse to support them. And I will write to their obnoxious editors and to Stan Lee, and to the GLBT, the comic book defense group and anyone else who will listen!! I don't want censorship.. just decency. Dixon complains about kids reading these comics, well there are gay kids, you waste of space. Are they any less human or worthy? I know you would say yes for which I loath and abhor what you represent, and any who espouse hatred over one group or another for who they are. I would hope you, Mr Dixon, were a decent enough man simply indoctrinated by the hate filled 'traditions' that mask themselves as 'good family values'. If you truly are such an offensive prick, then I cannot hate you. I pity you for your lack of humanity. You deserve the garbage you spout.

  2. I'm just disgusted in general with entertainment companies - not just comic book companies - treating their characters with so little respect. Left 4 Dead 2's first DLC killed off my favorite survivor in the series without so much as a proper send-off. Then, when this outraged so many players, what did they do? They made ANOTHER DLC where you have to PLAY THROUGH that tragic moment. It's enormously frustrating that these comics and games that are otherwise fantastic are deliberately tarnished by idiot writers.