What is it like to be a man in comics?
So yesterday I tweeted this, and there was quite a bit of outcry before during and after about Janelle Asselin’s Tumblr post, linked to in this said tweet. The kind of short version of it all is: • Janelle write a column on CBR about the cover for the new Teen Titans title, pointing out that despite starring teens, this book seems to be aimed at a non-teen audience, based on the cover.
Even the newer series, “Teen Titans Go!” premiered as the #1 show in its time slot, not just for boys but for kids aged 2-11. Kids and teens are into the idea of the Teen Titans, and there’s money￼ to be made off of even tangentially relating to that crowd. Virtually all of DC’s New 52 books appear to be aimed at the exact same demographic: Males 18-39. And this cover is made for that demographic. It shows that, once again, DC is relaunching a book with no thought to targeting wider demographics or a new audience. This is not a cover you run if you’re trying to appeal to teenagers, and it’s especially not going to appeal to teen girls. Sure, the team may not be the same as the animated Teen Titans team, but there are ways to frame the characters to draw in new readers. For one, they could look like an actual team. For another, you could avoid cluttering up the background with imagery that offers nothing to a new reader, instead creating a distraction from the team you’re presenting.
• Commenters took offense to this observation and acted like assholes. A comics pro took great exception to it on twitter. One sample:
Signature placement and this idea that the old TT would sell better because of the cartoon. They did a comic like that, it was cancelled. — Brett Booth (@Demonpuppy) April 14, 2014
There were like 1000 more, but this seems to kind of get to the heart of the marketing matter, which is what Asselin was actually talking about. I think it’s worth pointing out that The Teen Titans Go comic was indeed cancelled…in 2008 after a 55 issue run, which is longer than any currently running DC comics aimed at adults. 55 issues is hardly a failure, even allowing for the difference between 2008 and 2014.
• Anyway the original column has racked up more than 500 comments. Which is crazy. I know there is mad hate for the Teen Titans Go! cartoon among DC comics fans, and, seemingly, frantic hostility in regard to anything that strays from the core demographic. I know I make fun of Bombshells and Giant Tits Teen and all that, but I guess playing to the base is what works in the DCU, no matter what the size of that base is.
• AT THE SAME TIME, Asselin began an online survey regarding sexual harassment in comics that has gotten more than 1000 responses. And some of them used the sweet sweet anonymity of the internet to threaten Asselin with rape and imagine rape fantasies involving her and other prominent women in comics. From her Tumblr post:
I’ve gotten all manner of bullshit within the survey now, but at least the ones with the rape threats or other asshole comments tell me which responses to disregard. If you really want to “get me” and prove that sexual harassment doesn’t exist in comics, I don’t know, maybe it’s better for you to answer honestly about how you haven’t been sexually harassed. Because certainly sending me rape threats proves my point, not yours.
• And you know, that’s fucked up.
So two things: 1) As far as the whole marketing thing goes, the Wikileaks for all of this is this interview with Paul Dini where he explains what really goes on in cartoonland, and why the female audience is dismissed. The DC Teen Titans cover is part of a whole legacy of that thinking—when I saw that and the New Suicide Squad cover, I thought they were both harsh-looking and seemed rushed, not because of the artists involved but just because that’s how things look now. And like I said, this is marketing to the base. For whatever reason.
2) I was chatting with a few men in comics and they were shocked about this whole rape threat thing. I’m sure I have way less of it than most women in comics for whatever reason, but I’ve had threats and posturing and innuendo and blah blah. Some people are devastated by this kind of thing, and I’m not here to judge them. But I’m kind of amazed that men are unaware of this. And it is true that male editors and writers and artists in comics have gotten death threats over some stupid comic book thing, so there is a whole culture of insane threats. But the rape thing is a special gift just for the girls.
And you know what? This is not women’s problem. This is MEN’S PROBLEM. I know most internet trolls are teenaged boys who don’t know any better, but this is MAN’S THING. This is something you men need to figure out and condemn and deal with. There should be MAN RULES about it, like how you’re not supposed to go into the urinal next to another guy, that kind of thing.
Belittling, embarrassing, threatening and shaming women should not be some kind of masculine rite of passage. It should be the opposite of being a real man.
The other night, I was walking home, as I do just about every night, and someone threw a bottle at me from the high rise next to the building where I live. I didn’t see the bottle, but it landed behind me and shards of broken glass hit my head. There are some crazy people in my neighborhood—I live a few blocks from Bellevue—but in general it’s pretty safe. Someone threw an egg at me a few years ago, but that missed too. I do not feel that it was my fault that I was walking home at night and someone threw a bottle at me. I feel that it was my right to walk the street in front of my house. And I think most people would agree that throwing a bottle at someone walking home is the aberrant behavior here.And that’s what we’re talking about with these rape threats. They are the internet equivalent of bottle throwing.
Some people criticized my tweet on the basis that no woman should eve be threatened with rape PERIOD. And yes, no woman, man, child or anything in between should ever be threatened with rape for anything, not a video game review, a comic book cover criticism, wearing particular clothing, going out in public or anything ever. I did add “for analyzing a comic book cover” to highlight the absurdity of the whole idiotic event not because I think there are some things women do that should be answered with a rape threat.
In closing, I would like to salute the bravery and professionalism of Janelle Asselin. She put her opinions out there knowing what kind of response she would get and she still did it, in hopes of perhaps getting people to think and to shed light on matters that are not discussed enough. Just because these things are hidden does not mean that men do not have this problem.
I would also like to thank the many, many wonderful men in comics who have been supportive and proactive about this. Because, as I’ve said many times, comics people are the best people. A few rotten apples don’t spoil the barrel…but no one likes the smell.
I have turned the comments on this post off. If you like what I have said, there are social media buttons at the top of the post. Or you can email me at comicsbeat at gmail.com. Thank you.