Comic books have had several eras with distinct writing and artistic styles. In the 90s, barrel chested men with too many abs and pouches and women with, um, no place to put pouches or pockets ruled the comic book store. In the 00s, there was a huge increase in dark, brooding comics and the ramp up to the boom in the indie comics movement solidly starting in 2012 with Saga and Ed Brubaker’s move to independent comics.
If you walk into a comic book store right now, you may notice a new wave of comics geared at a hip, young audience. Characteristics of these books include: plucky protagonists, bright colors, communal living, and seamless political commentary. There are many titles which exemplify this new era of comic book storytelling. Patsy Walker, a.k.a. Hellcat! about Patsy Walker, a real life comic book character who lives with a telekinetic roommate and runs a temp agency for super-abled people who need work; The Wicked + the Divine where reincarnated gods are pop stars and make the most of their two year life span, Batgirl of Burnside in which a teenaged Barbara Gordon must solve mysteries while keeping a lid on her secret identity from her roommates, and even the DC Comics/Hanna Barbera launch of The Flintstones comic, which I will let the summary from DC Comic’s website speak to the hip-ness of this book, “Welcome to Bedrock, where Paleolithic humans head to dinner for a taste of artisanal mammoth after shopping at Neandertall & Big Men’s Clothing, where Wilma shows her modern art, and where, if you take a plane, you could literally end up sitting ON the tail section.”
There are a few theories I have about why this shift away from brooding, mysteriously independently wealthy superhero and in are the sarcastic, hipster, multiple jobs holding superheroes, took hold. Many comics are being written by younger authors with different life perspectives which is reflective in their art. They also started off in WebComics and Zines fostering an incredible DIY attitude and a stronger, more independent voice. It seems like no subject is taboo anymore. There are gay, lesbian, transgender, single parents, political activists, financially unstable, Muslim, and many more diverse characters, and many more female lead books, albeit most of them are cancelled after a trade or two, in comics than ever before. As seen time and time again, representation matters, it makes people feel honored and welcomed. Just check out this amazing story about Diego Luna’s accent in Star Wars: Rogue One.
But not all people appreciate the current comic book trends.
I just read Mockingbird vol.1: I Can Explain by novelist Chelsea Cain and Kate Niemczyk and I thoroughly enjoyed it. As I read it, I felt that Bobbi Morse was a relatable character dealing with a lot of issues women deal with in a very sarcastic way. She felt like aspects of my friends and I all rolled into one and as a long time comic book reader, it felt great. Bobbi looks like a normal person and acts like a normal person while juggling her superheroing duties.
Many have praised the change in comics to represent a more diverse readership. Others have rallied against it. After the release of Mockingbird #8, in which Bobbi wears a t-shirt that says, “Ask me about my feminist agenda,” and Cain’s announcement on Twitter that the series was cancelled, Cain received death threats, abusive messages, and had her home address posted online. You can read more about why Cain left Twitter on her personal blog.
Our world is filled with many people with diverse views which are manifested in many library collections. Most do not see libraries as an art gallery, but they are filled with the expressions of artists in the forms of films, music, books and anything you can think of that a library collects. It is extremely unfortunate that Cain received personal threats in response to her art. We are beginning to see a culture of demands rather than dialogue. It is perfectly okay to disagree with an artistic sentiment, but it is more important to open a dialogue and ask why an artist represents a person the way they do instead of dismissing them and assigning labels. Check out this in action by reading the CBLDF’s article about artistic censorship in the Capitol in which Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland satated, “In America, if you don’t like a painting you see in a display, you simply move on to the next one. You don’t take it down.”
Libraries are quintessential to opening paths of dialogues. Not only do we provide original texts, but also items which allow people to question or dig deeper into the opinions expressed by the original item and develop their own opinion. But it is up to the individual and those around them to challenge themselves to look deeper into the opinions they hear and take an empathetic and compassionate stance towards people with differing opinions.
So I ask fans of all sorts, instead of a knee jerk, name calling, threat hurling reaction to a book you disagree with, start asking questions like why does the author/artist/publisher think this is important? Who would find this book enjoyable and why? Why do I have such a vitriolic reaction to it? Your opinions are always your own and you have just as much ownership over them as does someone whose opinion you disagree with, but consider opening up a dialogue instead of instantly shutting down someone’s artistic expression.
And, as always read more comics. Read comics you love, pick something up you’d never want to read.