Saturday, 4 June 2011

The Ugly Side of Indie Comics

I recently read this article on Gothamist about an anti-circumcision group called Inactivists that created a comic. Yes, it is as creepy, weird and awkwardly drawn as you can imagine (don't take my word for it, see it here: www.foreskinman.com.

But the really disturbing thing is not the awkward dialog in computer comics font, the bizarrely inserted cheesecake t&a in 2/3rds of the panels or icky genital fixation of the whole thing; it is the unabashed anti-semitism running through the comic's veins. The description of the villian, Monster Mohel (here quoted): "Nothing excites Monster Mohel more than cutting into the penile flesh of an eight-day-old boy. And after the glorified brit milah is complete, the delicious metzitzah b'peh provides the icing on the cake." He charges in, replete with gun-toting hasidic "goons", with a monstrous grin and clawed fist.

As the blond superman battles him over the fate of a small child, a really cold chill runs through my body. In fact the same cold chill I received while researching Cerebus earlier this year for a paper. The power that comics has is revealed in its caricature which has sometimes (thankfully fading, yet still present) been used in the service of racism (or misogyny, homophobia, etc.). As of my writing of this, there is a large exhibit at NYU called Marvels and Monsters examining Asian stereotypes in comics and Jeet Heer has an ongoing series in The Comics Journal on race as a stylistic choice in comics; just to offer two places to explore this further.

Comics have a power in their exaggeration, which taps into our fantasy and feeds on our fears. As mainstream comics have stayed, well, mainstream, their editors, investors and honestly fans have kept the dial turned way down (sometimes off) on this trend. Indie comics remain a playground where anything can be said, anything done. It is both the blessing and the curse that self-publishers have; freedom. But indy comics do not have the burden of responsibility.

Yes, nobody gives a shit about "Foreskin Man". The comic is a vanity project, I can't imagine anyone who isn't involved in the "inactivist" movement picking it up (unless, maybe they have a wildly different idea of what it's about based on the title). Yet David Heatley and Johnny Ryan have successful careers out of comics hipster racism. This comic exists in an entirely different fringe world... yet it is still an indie comic, still functioning in the exact same way, just sans irony.

I hope that the indie comics community takes notice. It is not time to point fingers, but to open the discussion. No one of us is perfect, and if we are to continue to use the freedom that comes with indie comics, we also need to use the responsibility of comics creators and comics fans to keep the communication open... not resort to name-calling or petty shots, but to help comics creators big and small build a better community and make better comics. We are better than this.



I hope you will add your voice here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Finally a blonde, jew hating superhero! Save those dick skins. ;)

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