Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Feminist Comic Book and the Scary Side of Comics Fandom

Cover art by Joelle Jones 



Last week, Chelsea Cain found herself in the spotlight. As a successful novelist who has sold a million of books, Cain is hardly an unknown person. But what brought Cain to the attention of a lot of people had to do less with the million novels she has sold but more to do with a comic book series she wrote that posted sales in the low tens of thousands. 

And it was not a good kind of notoriety.  

Earlier this year, Marvel Comics released a new solo series spotlighting Mockingbird, a character who has been around Marvel for about 40 years off and on but has recently came into a higher profile thanks to her appearance on Marvel's Agents of SHIELD series on ABC. 

Marvel has been particularly keen on not only putting the focus on female characters but employing female writers and artists to bring those adventures to life. Marvel has also been looking beyond the usual of pool of comic book creators, making appeals to TV and movie writers and novelists. An excellent example of that outreach is Ta-Nehisi Coates, an an African American writer, journalist, and educator who was recruited to write a new Black Panther series. While Black Panther comics in the past had middling sales, the involvement of Coates has propelled this latest series to a higher level of success. 

Novelist Chelsea Cain entered into this environment of expanding the base of comic readers and creators beyond straight white males and increasing diversity. 

Most reviews I read of Cain's Mockingbird series praised the series innovative storytelling structure. I did see some criticism that the way Cain chose to tell Mockingbird's story may have been too complicated or trying too hard to be clever. But for the most part, the feedback I saw on Cain's Mockingbird series was positive and praised for its innovative storytelling structure. 

Positive reviews don't always translate to strong sales and Mockingbird was cancelled with issue #8 with Cain breaking the news on Twitter. But she added, "But we need to make sure @Marvel makes room for more titles by women about women kicking ass.”

She also tweeted out the cover of the last “Mockingbird” issue (which I included at the start of this post) and encouraged followers to buy that issue and “send a message to @marvel that there’s room in comics for super hero stories about grown-up women.”

It was then that the backlash began.  Cain noted that “the tweets that bothered me were never the ones concerned with content; they were the ones that questioned my right to write comics at all, and were disgusted by the idea of a female hero having her own series.”

Chelsea's Twitter feed was exploding with comments "coming in, fast and furious, every second. I’d never seen anything like it.” Some messages were supportive, some were just “people yelling at one another,” and “a lot of them just seemed mad at women in general.”

So Chelsea Cain came to the very sensible conclusion that she didn't need this kind of crap and deactivated her Twitter account. Said Cain, "I left Twitter because of the ordinary daily abuse that I decided I didn’t want to live with anymore.”

Marvel Editor-In-Chief Axel Alonso spoke out against the harassment and voiced his support for Cain.  

Meanwhile, the situation with Chelsea Cain being the subject of bullying and abuse on Twitter is sadly not an isolated thing and it is a particularly troublesome problem for the comics community. Unfortunately, there are way too many stories of women creators as well as women readers who have been subject to harassment online and even in person at conventions and other public forums. 

First and foremost, such behavior is wrong and it shouldn't be tolerated no matter who such loathsome bile is directed to, men, women, people of color, gay, straight. It is simple common decency that all people should be treated with respect. 

Secondly, let's be blunt: crap like this is bad for business. The model of producing and selling comic books cannot exist the way it has. We need to bring in different people from different walks of life if this format of entertainment that we have loved for so many years remains viable in the future. Women readers and creators as well as readers and creators of different races, sexual orientation and more need to be welcomed into the fold, not driven away. 

Chelsea Cain and Mockingbird may have their final comeuppance over the haters of the world. Orders for the trade collection of the Mockingbird series have been very strong. If the sales of this collection are strong enough, Marvel may want to commission a new Mockingbird series. 

But would Chelsea Cain return? Would she want to? Would she even need to? She was doing just fine as a novelist before all this blew up and I'm sure she'll be just fine if she never writes another comic book. 

But the future of the comic book industry hinges on women like Chelsea Cain and the types of readers her work attracts. We need women like Chelsea Cain in the world of comics more than they need us.

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That's that for today. Another new post is coming your way tomorrow. Until then, remember to be good to one another. 

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