Real Talk: Today’s Mathematics

May 19th, 2007 by | Tags:

And you see, I don’t want to make the fucking comics. Making the fucking comics is hard fucking work. [snip]

But the fucking comics need to be made.

Cheryl Lynn, Digital Femme, 1998

I said “Yeah, Flipmode, Flipmode is the greatest”
Knowing as a shorty, I was always told
That if I ain’t gon’ be part of the greatest
I gotta be the greatest myself

–Busta Rhymes, Extinction Level Event, 1998

Bear with me, as I have things what need saying. This will relate directly to comics and the blogosphere a little further down.

Return of the Gangsta

I am a rap fan before I am a comics fan, if you have to pin me down. I grew up on rap and it’s the one genre that I’ve always found myself coming back to. I’ve been listening to it for most of my 23 years, through thick and thin. There’s an Atmosphere line that I’m pretty fond of. It goes, “I swear to God, hip-hop and comic books were my genesis.” It’s true for me.

There have been a number of different phases in rap. Party animal, afrocentric, thug, money rap, shiny rap, pop rap, whatever. The thing is, a lot of these phases come as a response to the previous phase.

’80s rap is generally fun and party-oriented. The Beasties, Run-DMC, Slick Rick– all these guys are about having a good time. Not exclusively, of course, but when I think Run-DMC I think of fun tracks like “My Adidas.”

Push forward a few years and you’ve got guys like Rakim and KRS-One who are focused on storytelling as well as partying. “This is life as we live it.” Move on a bit more and you’ve got NWA, who brings a different storytelling angle into the mix.

Then comes the serious people, people who think that music should be uplifting and not just about having a good time. KRS belongs in this group, too, along with a lot of the more afrocentric rappers. Digable Planets would probably count, along with Arrested Development. Afrocentric rap was an answer to the previous phase of party time.

Then comes the Wu-Tang Clan, and to a certain extent, Nas and Biggie. The “CNN of the Streets” rap, where being uplifting is all well and good, but it is better to tell it like it is. “After laughter, comes TEARZ.” An offshoot of that is the money/Scarface rap, where it’s all about making dollars through illegal means.

Nas started out as CNN of the Streets, but quickly switched to a more Biggie-style of rap with his second album, with a focus on crime and grime. Out of this rose the mafioso/thug rap, with the likes of Jay-Z, Master P, Life After Death-era Biggie, and The Lox. Take the money getting to a new level– you’re rich, man, if you got money, spend it. Spend it all and show off your stuff, but don’t forget that you’ll kill somebody if he steps to you wrong.

Right about now, timeline-wise, we’re in about 1997-1998. You know who came to mainstream prominence around then, though they may have already been recording for years?

The Roots, Talib Kweli, and Mos Def, poster boys for “conscious rap” or “neo soul” or whatever you want to call it. They saw what rap was in a negative place, so they got down to brass tacks and hit us with the positivity.

Back during the (sometimes pretentious) afrocentric days, we had killer freestylers, people who were about rhyming just because it was dope.

1999 and we’re looking at glam rap, where guys floss their belongings on an even higher level. I think that 22’s were the rims of choice at this point, and platinum chains weren’t cool yet. You know what the sound of the streets was at this point?

“Every time I come around yo city, bling bling. Pinky ring worthy about fifty, bling bling.”

The Cash Money Millionaires were on the rise and, despite catchy tunes, were ignorant -acting as all get out. At the same time, though, in 1998 and 2000, Outkast dropped Aquemini and Stankonia, two highly experimental albums that blended a number of different phases of rap. Friendship, money, fear, love, life, and death. Atmosphere was starting to bubble, as was Aesop Rock and Company Flow.

Ever heard of call and response? “When I say hip, you say hop!”

There is a call:
Every time I come around yo city, bling bling.
And then there is a response:
A playa just want to kick back with my gators off and watch my lil girl blow bubbles.

Do you see what I’m getting at here? Out of the party animals rose the real life. Out of that rose a darker shade of life. Out of that rose afrocentrism. Out of that rose realism. Out of that rose money making. Out of that rose crime. Out of that rose glam. Out of that rose positivity.

How This Relates to Comics

Activism is big in comics right now, or at least in the comics blogosphere. The Mary Jane statue thing is a big deal currently, though it isn’t without it’s problems, and it is honestly what prompted this post of mine.

Point one: I love seeing women and girls who read comics standing up and pointing out lowdown dirty things.
Point two: But sometimes, all I’m seeing is sound and fury, signifying nothing.

The statue is ugly and I can easily see how it would be offensive. But- the statue itself has been misrepresented in the zeal to condemn it. She isn’t washing clothes for Peter (she is folding laundry and found her husband’s suit in there), for one thing, and who actually wears shoes when they wash clothes?

The amount of response to it has been great. If something bothers you, speak on it. But- the signal to noise in that response seems to me, as a person who has read a lot of the blogs and posts on it, lacking. “Grarrr Marvel Comics! Screw Joe Quesada!” is, frankly, an idiotic way to go about things at best. Marvel Comics doesn’t make statues. You want the licensing arm, which I’m 99% certain Joey da Q has nothing at all to do with. If anything, he gets a flyer from them showing what they’re doing with Marvel’s characters every couple of months. I may be wrong, though.

Which brings me to the next point- When someone feels that they’re on the side of the angels, apparently any kind of behavior is excusable. I’ve seen name-calling, blatant trolling, and some disgusting insults leveled at the possible target audience for this thing. Apparently the only people who want this statue are sex-starved virgin nerds who’ll never know the touch of a woman and should stop breathing air. On the flipside, all the complainers are apparently sex-starved virgin geeks who need to get out more and worry about real problems.

Doubleplus uncool on both sides. My personal philosophy, and one that has served me well so far, is to avoid that kind of thing. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander– I don’t throw out ad hominems because ad hominems have no place in proper discourse. Trolling? Same thing.

If you can’t discuss something civilly, you aren’t interested in discussing anything at all.

Next point– what’s the point? Pedro Tejeda (full disclosure: I know this guy from elsewhere) posted this in a comment on Johanna’s blog

There is all this energy and rush going around but it feels so headless and pointless. It’s blind rage that strikes at everyone equally, focusing on the symptoms of sick industry and ignoring the real reasons why items that offend the fanbase will still be released.

I want to see a stronger non-white, straight, male force in both of the continuity focused super hero universes. I want to see better written characters. It makes all cape books better to read if they are well formed.

But my fear is that since the outrage by people who have the chance to change things will be lost in their anger. Has anyone changed opinions? Has it inspired more people to try to change the way Superhero books are written? What do the anti-statue supporters want out of a vague, better treatment of female characters?

I share the same questions.

I love Malcolm X. As a kid, I always felt more in common with him than I did with Martin Luther King, Jr. He was angry, and that’s hurt his image in the present day. But, one thing Malcolm knew was how to use his anger. You don’t let your anger respond for you. You use your anger to galvanize you to respond. It is a motivator and should be nothing more than that.

I think that a lot of people don’t realize that. There is all this wonderful energy, but where is it going? You’re angry and you’ve said why. Now what?

And this brings me to the next point.

Make The Fucking Comics

People don’t change unless you make them change, and even then, they’ll resent it. That’s just the way life is.

“Gandi said ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’ Fuck that. Be the trouble you want to see in the world.”

A Softer World, August 11, 2006

You want comics to be better? Make them better.

I want to see better portrayals of blacks in comics. I want black women that actually date black men (Storm), black men that aren’t thugs (Cage), and black lineages that aren’t forgotten as soon as the wind changes (Black Captain America). I want a comic starring a black character that goes for 600 issues. I want a realistic portrayal of race in comics. I want black women with finger waves and pink lotion and hot combs. I want black dudes to have hair somewhere between “bald” and “afro.” I want to see black women who have black hair that black women could actually have, rather than being a white woman palette swap. I want black characters that my kid cousins can grow up one day and point to and go “That’s dope” or whatever it is kids say nowadays.

I want to see me, reflected eternally. All three hundred and sixty degrees.

And I plan to write the comic I want to see. I’m going to make the fucking comics, because if I don’t, who will? I haven’t done it yet, obviously. I’ve got the tools in the tool box, but I’m not as proficient with them as I need to be. Excuse? No. I can’t write the comic I want to read yet, so I will write it when I’m good enough to do so, rather than dashing out something half-way done.

I plan to be the trouble I want to see in the world.

I’m not sitting on my hands, though. I’m going to talk about the things I see and the things that bother me. The thing is, criticism is 40% at most of making change. The other 60% is actually making the change.

It is good to talk about things. I wholeheartedly support that. But, get your game face on when you do it. Screaming and shouting? Sound and fury, once again.

Discussion is what needs to happen. Discourse.

Do you know what happens if I yell at you about something? You block me out and ignore me. That’s the response I have, and I’m willing to bet cash money that that’s the response you have.

Whenever I’m going to talk about something, I try to make it clear that it’s a conversation, not a soapbox. I made a post on how I can’t relate to Patriot and got some great conversation out of it. Thinking about Patriot sometimes makes me angry because it’s such an obvious thing to me– but that anger should motivate me to post, not motivate me to shout. If I’d approached it from the “All Dissenting Opinions of Whatever Degree” are wrong direction, I’d be a jerk and my post would be worthless to everyone except those who agree with me. I’d be preaching to the choir.

To people on the outside looking in, wanting to know what’s going on but being afraid to ask for fear of this kind of response, preaching to the choir looks a lot like circle-jerking, if you’ll pardon a bit of French.

Part of discussion is inviting opposing or differing opinions and educating those who ask for it. If someone says, “Help me, I don’t understand this, but I want to so educate me” and your response is “I’m honestly not certain whether you’re intellectually dishonest, or just missed the critical distinction, but I shall assume the former,” you are (and I realize I am breaking my own rule by doing this) a grade-A jerk who just lost. (I don’t believe in subliminals or passive-aggressive insults, by the by, so the comment in question is here .) That kind of response does nothing for your cause, except trying to hurt someone’s feelings for what’s really no reason at all.

I don’t get it. If you’re in a position where I, or someone else, agrees with you, but your behavior is on par with the worst of your detractors, how am I supposed to feel? I believe in your cause, but I don’t want to support a jerk, either. Jerks don’t convince anyone of anything except of their own jerkiness.

I think that I am right to want to see more positive portrayals of blacks in comics. You know what that means?

I have to be better than the people who think I am wrong. I have to be positively radiant before confronting the beast. Untouchable in thought, deed, and skill. Impeccable. That’s the mistake Malcolm made, I think. He let his anger do his speaking early in his life. After he traveled to Mecca, he learned and changed.

You know what bad things people say about Martin Luther King or Gandhi? Nothing. They were impeccable. They were better.

If you want change, you have to be better.

In this case, if you want change, you have to be better than the rest of the internet. Let them be jerks, you be good.

The End

You know what a pimp is? A Person In Making Profit.

–Common, “A Film Called Pimp,” 2000

Some have called “make the fucking comics” “separate but equal.” That dog won’t hunt, monsignor. Making the fucking comics is about forcing change. Marvel and DC are in the business of making profit. They are going to pimp the comics they have until they go out of business. Right now, this means catering to their fanbase.

I am in their fanbase, but I am not their fanbase. Would I like their fanbase to read my comics? Of course. I think that I’ve got good ideas and a wide audience would be dope. Do I need them to, though? No. No I don’t.

I won’t be able to make the fucking comics at DC or Marvel. That’s not what they’re there for and not what they are currently interested in. When a hit comic starring a black character comes out and gets a humongous buzz, then maybe they’ll glance our way.

Kyle Baker left them and he’s been making the fucking comics like mad. He knows what he’s doing and he is showing and proving that he is right.

You can talk about it or you can be about it, or both. Both sides are important and vital facets of making change. But, if everyone is talking about it, rather than being about it, there won’t be a change.

Kyle Baker, Reggie Hudlin, Chris Priest, Dwayne McDuffie– all these guys are willing to be about it. These are just the first four that come to mind. There are many more. The East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention was this weekend. Those guys are all about it, be it talking or being.

I’m a relative newbie to the blogosphere at large, I figure. I don’t know how my traffic compares with other people’s or what effect I’m having, but that’s no reason to not talk about it and be about it. I have to do what I can, because if I don’t, who will?

There are a lot of people out there who I am a big fan of because they’re willing to talk about it intelligently. I may not always agree with them, and I’m sure there will be some sword-crossing at one point or another, but I will always read what they have to say and scope their opinion.

Every time I read Cheryl Lynn or Johanna Draper Carlson, I feel like I’m not doing enough or being clear enough for what I believe in. Clear and concise, whether you agree with them or not.

Melissa Krause, Lisa Fortuner, and Rich Watson show me with When Fangirls Attack and Glyphs that there is a lot out there that is worth looking at. You are not alone, to borrow a bit from Michael Jackson.

I read all of them because they give me part of the motivation I need to man up and speak on it. The rest of that motivation comes from within.

There is a call, and then there is a response.

Call it a manifesto, a rant, or an essay. Either way, I plan to practice what I preach.

Real talk.

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16 comments to “Real Talk: Today’s Mathematics”

  1. Pointless to you maybe.

    Sorry. I just can’t think right now. I keep hearing an argument to “SHUSH”. Maybe that’s not what you’re saying, but that’s what’s implied.

    More importantly, you can’t make the comics IF YOU CAN’T WRITE OR DRAW! Or what if it’s not so much the comics but the CHARACTERS?

    Superhero comics aren’t just about the comics. They’re about the people in them.

    And to the “There’s not point in it” argument, I say that superheroes teach us otherwise.

    Now I’m ranting. SOrry. I’m just sick of seeing this argument repeated over and over again. It just annoys me. Greatly.

  2. You’re going to have to point out to me where I’m telling people to shush, or that making the comics is the only important thing, particularly in light of this:

    I’m not sitting on my hands, though. I’m going to talk about the things I see and the things that bother me. The thing is, criticism is 40% at most of making change. The other 60% is actually making the change.

    It is good to talk about things. I wholeheartedly support that. But, get your game face on when you do it. Screaming and shouting? Sound and fury, once again.

    Discussion is what needs to happen. Discourse.

    It’s cool that it’s about the characters for you. In that case, talk about those characters and how to make them better. Debate and discuss. Start a conversation about it and build some buzz. Pretty much every blogger I know does that, and a lot of them do it well. “Shush” is nowhere near implied in my words because it is not a position I agree with. If I did, I wouldn’t have a blog of my own, nor make the posts that I do.

    Just be realistic– you’re going up against a machine. If you aren’t flawless and pointed, you aren’t going to win. It’s John Henry vs the machine here. Back up your points. Treat the topic with the respect it deserves and no more. Once you descend into ad homs and hyperbole, you’re already losing. You are better, so you have no reason for rudeness.

    I confess that I’m not familiar with you or what you’re about. I clicked over to your blog to try and see what’s up, but I got a 404. Maybe you’re already doing what I’m talking about, maybe not.

    But, if all you got out of my post was me telling people to shut up, people who I generally agree with, I’d suggest that you calm down and reread it. I haven’t seen this argument anywhere online, in part because it’s a mix of three or four things I’ve had floating around in my head for a fair few weeks now. If you’re lumping me in with the jerks on the comment streams on Blog@Newsarama or Comics Should Be Good! who are more focused on calling the people mad at the statue names, you really didn’t read what I wrote.

  3. Love the article man. Golf clap for the
    Busta Rhymes quote.

    “Everybody wants to be a nigga, but nobody wants to be a nigga.” People want us to bow down to their standards or views but nobodys wants to put work out there to make that change in the community. It’s always “Do this because I am offended or else.”. You want the community to change then put some work out to make that change, put that discussion out there. Stop being haters.

  4. Pie is so good

  5. “More importantly, you can’t make the comics IF YOU CAN’T WRITE OR DRAW!”

    Sure you can. You might not be the writer or the artist of the work, but how about being the editor? Or how about being the finanical backer (aka, the publisher) for the kinds of works you want to see out there? How about a marketing rep, for someone with an idea and the creativity to make the work? There is more to “making the comics”, than just writing and drawing them. You can still be an important part of the process, even if you aren’t that creatively inclined, if you REALLY want to.

    “Or what if it’s not so much the comics but the CHARACTERS?”

    This is a bit trickier. But unless you own the rights to the character in question, it’s toally out of your hands. No matter how much you like a character or conecpt, you have no control over what those who owe the property will do with it, anymore than you have the control over what your neighbor does to his own home. You might think the addition they do is an eyesore, but it is their home, not your’s. You have no right to tell them they can’t do soemthing to it (unless what they do is illegal). It’s no different here.

    Personally, I think brand and character loyalty has become the primary cause for such out-of-control fan entitlement, which corporate mainstream comics suffer from constantly. As readers, we all must come to accept that we ultimately have little control over what will be done with a property that is not ours. And that, if we want to have comics we enjoy, we should focus more on the work produced, rather then on exactly what the property is or who is producing it. Support good work where you find it. Don’t let your emotions make you a slave to a character or concept, because it’s a battle you will never win.

  6. Excellent essay. I’ve mostly stayed out of this argument, but seeing your passionate words here made me want to speak up and congratulate you for being honest, positive, and willing to discuss and debate. Well done.

  7. > I keep hearing an argument to “SHUSH”. Maybe that’s not what you’re saying, but that’s what’s implied.

    I didn’t see that at all. I think there’s a very clear and basic message to be gained from everything that was written up there. And I hear it every time there’s a get together to discuss problems where I work:

    “If you present a problem, present a solution. Otherwise, you’re just flapping your gums.”

    Anyone can complain, it takes something more to see past crucifying someone. Will you criticize the artist or help them improve? Will you condemn a man and his insanity born ideas, or will you help him rise above them? I don’t necessarily think redemption was at the heart of hermanos’ piece, but being open to discussion and progress certainly was.

    He’s not telling anyone to “shush”, though I think stopping and thinking would be a step involved.

  8. I can’t tell you how much this is genius. I cannot communicate to you how much you have pulled every unfinished thought I have had in the last few days about all this and put it together, expanded and made something truly inspiring. Thank you so much for writing all this down.

    Now, if only I could go and nail it to the door of every comic forum I could find…

  9. Sorry. I hope the link to my site works now. Only two posts though. 🙁

    The John Henry analogy is flawed. The entire point of that story was that the machine can be beaten if you try hard enough, even though it may have great cost to yourself.

    I try not to be rude. However, sometimes, and I think this applies to every person, I run into people or things that just make we want to make ad-hominnm attacks because of how they present their argument. Or lack of argument.

    Though I disagree with your argument, you do present it better than some people, who I will not mention.

  10. Is it flawed? I don’t think so. John Henry killed himself beating the machine and proved that he and his men were worth it. How is that not what this is? You are trying to change a beast that may not want to be changed. You have to prove that you are worth it and better.

    The more I read, the less excuse I see for snark and rudeness. Once you dip into that, you aren’t trying to convince anyone of anything, you’re just trying to belittle and damage.

    If someone you disagree with is tossing out ad homs and acting the fool, and you sink to that level, are you any better, despite your cause? Not to someone looking on, waiting to be convinced. You’ve just lost the fight.

    Be better.

  11. Ok this is gonna take a bit since we seem to be of completely diffrent, like minds.On the subject of rap we should discuss this sometime cause I see a lot of flaws there but I dont feel like typing about them right now so maybe some other time. As a black male I would also like to see some positive, black, main characters. Hell, they could be negative but I’d be happy as long as they were real black characters. Look at all the cosmic characters (i.e silver surfer, quasar, galactus (sp), etc.) You see one cosmic nigga in the bunch? I don’t. All the main players in the comic world are white. Now when I say main I mean players that the casual comic fan, and non-comic fan can name, Batman, Superman, wonder woman, spiderman, the hulk, the flash, you get the picture. I think the most famous black hero/ine is Storm. This amazes me since Black history, and mythology are so rich in characters that are screaming to have thier stories told. Since I lack the artistic ability to make the damn comics, and really only have a passing intrest in them I guess those stories won’t get told. Now about the MJ thing come on its a damn picture/statue, at least women are in the main players field. Were are the complaints everytime some dude is half naked and super muscled up, isn’t that on the same level? Now the thing that really burns me. How can you say Martin Luther King Jr, and Ganhdi were “Impeccable”? MLKjr cheated on his wife while he was traveling, and Ganhdi, though I admit I dont really know to much about him, just seems like he played off of sympathy which would have left him dead and hungry in todays world. “Sound and fury”, anger, and action are what gets things done. Malcolm X believed in by any means, I repeat any means, and of course that you can’t accept help from others with first helping yourself. Which is what your saying here and this was all befroe he went to Mecca and united with the Muslim of the east. So what your saying is your messege which reflects Malcoms messege is flawed because people are rude to each other, cause and spit venom? Well welcome to America baby, or really neo-rome. Rule the crowd, and you rule the country. So since Marvel and D.C rule the crowd make all the comics you want, something has to collect the dust in the comic store. Cause until your ready to be crass, yell and make your voice heard your just going to be drowned out. You seem like an intellectual, so intellegently remember that might makes right, and the pen is mightier than the sword and that the “machine” has a mighty strong pen.

  12. sorry for the gramatical errors I’m thinking faster than I can type.

  13. Love this post, though I disagree a bit.

    re: “That’s the mistake Malcolm made, I think. He let his anger do his speaking early in his life. After he traveled to Mecca, he learned and changed.”

    I get your point but Malcolm’s complaints make fanboys’ look ridiculous by comparison. I’d say his anger was both justifiable and necessary.
    re: “You know what bad things people say about Martin Luther King or Gandhi? Nothing. They were impeccable. They were better.”
    People said bad things about Martin. Plenty of’em.

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