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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.