Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Comic Books and Real Life

Comics are a favorite form of escapism. But sometimes, real life intrudes. 

Marvel has terminated the contract of Indonesian artist Ardian Syaf after the artist inserted  controversial secret messages hidden in X-Men Gold #1.

Syaf hid references to protests against Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian and the current governor of Jakarta, the capital of the Republic of Indonesia. Syaf, who is Indonesian, drew X-Men character Colossus wearing a T-shirt reading “QS 5:51,” meaning Quran Surah 5:51. The translation reads, “O you who have believed, do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies. They are [in fact] allies of one another. And whoever is an ally to them among you – then indeed, he is [one] of them. Indeed, Allah guides not the wrongdoing people.” Additionally, the number “212” is seen in a crowd scene in the issue, a reference to a real-life protest on Dec. 2, 2016, where an estimated 200,000 Indonesians marched against Purnama for alleged blasphemy against the Quran during a speech.

As Marvel’s mutants in the X-Men books serve as a symbol for minority populations, it is disturbing to see these characters used to deliver messages reportedly against the minority religious populations in Indonesia.

Syaf wrote on Facebook, “My career is over now” and that the passage quote was a message of “justice” and “love.”

I'm going to go on a limb and say that Syaf seems like a nice guy who's zeal to protest the governor of Jakarta got the better of him. That being said, I think that an artist working for someone else should not be co-opting that work for any personal statements, political, religious or otherwise. As such, Marvel made the right decision.  

This incident is the latest public debacle that Marvel has had to deal with.  Last week, Marvel was coping with comments from sales VP David Gabriel that placed the blame for poor sales on a lack of enthusiasm for newer characters who were female or had more diverse backgrounds, like a black Captain America, a Korean-American Hulk or a female Thor.

A lot of people were quick to call bullshit on that statement when there was so much else to blame for Marvel's sales woes for its comics: too many event projects, too many issue #1 relaunches, a glut of books from too many titles and several that double ship and their high cost. Marvel's comics retail for $3.99. A title that's scheduled to come out every 2 weeks (like X-Men Gold), that $8 a month.  

Running counter to Gabriel's point is the series starring the female Thor. It's actually outselling the previous Thor titles featuring the more traditional Odinson version. It's also a title that benefits from a consistent writer/artist team following a long term narrative vision. 

No longer writing about comics related stuff is Comics Alliance. Comics Alliance went dark in 2013 after being shut down by parent company AOL. However, another investor reopened the doors but recently closed them again. Comics Alliance was notable for long form pieces not just on the art and craft of comic books but speaking to a love of the medium. CA also addressed head on issues within the comics community such as online bullying and adding diversity to comics and their creators.  

Good work to the lamented crew of writers at Comic Alliance. Good luck with your future endeavors.  

Another favorite online resource is back up and running, News From Me by Mark Evanier. Evanier had been unusually and conspicuously absent from his blog of late. Then Mark told us the reason why:  the passing of Carolyn Kelly, the daughter of Walt Kelly, creator of the classic comic strip Pogo. 

Carolyn Kelly drawing her father's characters.  

Carolyn was a cartoonist and a book designer and, most importantly to Mark, the woman he loved. Her death came after a precipitous and painful decline resulting from her battle with cancer. My thoughts and prayers go out to Mark in his time of grief for his loss. 

I am glad to have your voice back again. News From Me is my favorite on-line read.  

And that's that for me today. Until next time, remember to be good to one another.  

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