A couple of things I probably would have commented on if I had been around the last couple of weeks. WARNING: Some of this stuff is very, very old now.
-Why does Paul O'Brien have a grudge against Fantagraphics/TCJ? First consider some of his statements in the comments field to Tim O'Neil's recent post about the lack of online reaction to his negative review of Scott Pilgrim in a recent issue of the Comics Journal. Particularly this one:
The Comics Journal has been way out on the fringes of comic book discussion for as long as I can remember, in large part because it spent years only covering material that was way out on the fringes of comics. I regard it as, loosely, the comic industry's equivalent of WIRE - the music magazine that reviews such things as entire CDs of mixing desk feedback and hour-long bassoon improvisations.
This leads ADD to fire back with one of the best comics-related rejoinders I've read all year:
I think the Comics Journal has a great new pull quote for its subscription page:
"The Comics Journal has been way out on the fringes of comic book discussion for as long as I can remember."
-- Guy Who Bought Every Issue of Howard Mackie's Mutant X
On a more recent (but not that recent) front, O'Brien also showed up in the comments to a Beat post about Harlan Ellison's foot-dragging re: the settlement to his lawsuit with Fantagraphics. (Which, for the seven or eight of you out there who are more out of touch than I am, requires Ellison to publish a statement by Gary Groth on his website for 30 days.) O'Brien suggests that Groth's statement contains ad hominem attacks against Ellison, which the settlement expressly prohibits. He and Eric Reynolds do a little back-and-forth on the issue, with Reynolds taking the position that Groth's words are more "color" than ad hominem. (If you want to read Groth's statement, check the link above.)
There's certainly something to O'Brien's argument--the bit about "physical assaults" might be pushing it. But one can't help but see it in the light of his earlier comments on O'Neil's blog. (The bit about "hour-long bassoon improvisations" is especially dense.) I'm reminded of the last great O'Brien-ADD controversy, when O'Brien announced he was "bored with comics" and received heaps of well-deserved scorn. The most revealing part of the whole ordeal was O'Brien's follow-up column, which suggested a deep-seated resentment for non-superhero comics and the people who read them. I still think that might be the most annoying comic-related thing I've ever read on the internet. (Interestingly enough, O'Brien didn't show up for the recent "why do comics shops suck" debate, or its sequel, although his argument is certainly there in spirit. Even stranger, ADD has little to say on the matter.)
Anyway, I guess my point is this: it's a little weird that a seemingly bright buy like O'Brien (who does good work on the Marvel sales analysis thing for the Beat) seems so bitter about America's leading publisher of art/literary comics. No reasonable person expects O'Brien to give up all his mutant comics in favor of the Ignatz line; personally, I don't care what he likes/buys/reads. But I don't think I'm out of line in saying he's carrying a sizable grudge against Fantagraphics (and maybe art/literary comics in general, though I'm not prepared to make that statement definitively). Maybe it's the same old "how dare they insult my favorite intellectual property custodian" thing (which I'm pretty sure is the cause of about 80% of all the anti-TCJ sentiment among online fans), or maybe it's something deeper. Since O'Brien is a fairly well-respected pundit, I think it's worth casting light on this bias.
-On a similar note: where are all the die-hard Marvel defenders? Tim O'Neil and David Brothers probably come the closest to the DC drum and bugle corps, but I don't see them rushing out to defend Marvel against vociferous fan reaction. I'm not sure exactly why that is--maybe Marvel's recent success, largely at the expense of DC (it's a zero sum game, like it or not), has made such defenses superfluous. I definitely perceive a "circle the wagons" mentality when I check in on decidedly pro-DC communities. It's also possible that Marvel's most vocal defenders (and I'm talking the folks who leave comments on Blog/Newsarama articles) come off as exceptionally clueless.
But here's the thing: many of the most prominent voices advocating diversity and sensitivity in superhero comics are dyed-in-the wool DC fanatics. I really should point out that this is not so true for those bloggers who focus on race; Brothers is clearly a Marvel dude, while I can't really detect what, if any, allegiance Cheryl Lynn or Rich Watson hold. I know Guy LeCharles Gonzalez was very critical of Dan DiDio back when he was still an active online presence. His and Loren Janvier's absence, however, seems to be tipping the balance towards DC partisans.
I wonder to what extent this influences Lisa Fortuner, Melissa Krause, and Dorian Wright to defend DC against (apparently) irrational fan behavior. 2007 has not been a great year for DC, sensitivity- and diversity-wise (it hasn't been great for Marvel either, but there was a two or three month period where DC just seemed to have one controversy after another). I haven't read the comic alluded to in the posts above, and I sure haven't read any online reaction to it. Maybe these responses are justified; maybe I'm just not invested enough in DC's crossover wrangling to care about these overreactions; maybe there's a shared fear that these particular overreactions are vastly overblown, and exactly the kind of thing which will undermine the cause of feminist superhero fans. But I found it a bit odd that all three would devote so much time to overheated fan rhetoric. Fortuner in particular dwelt on the subject for a number of posts.
Again, this is all well and good when seen in the context of the larger struggle for greater sensitivity and diversity in superhero comics. More problematic is Fortuner's defense of the overall editorial direction at DC; even more problematic is Krause's response to Valerie D'Orazio's "why DiDio is on his way out" piece. Fortuner reveals that, while she wants to see sexism and misogyny eliminated at DC, she would prefer that this be done without the elimination of DiDio as executive editor. Krause's response, on the other hand, is total wishful thinking (exactly what she accuses D'Orazio of!) combined with willful neglect of certain realities of corporate culture. Take this for example, re: Mother Jones' recent criticism of DC's handling of female characters:
As for "Mother Jones", I'm not saying it's not an influential publication. It is. It may even have a greater readership than the entire comics industry.
But by the same token, most of those readers do not read superhero comics. (The ones who do already know this stuff.) And as much as Levitz and company are trying to court female readers, I don't necessarily think the readership of Mother Jones is the target audience. Do you really think that Time Warner is going to care that Didio managed to get a bad reputation among people who aren't reading superhero comics anyway?
This completely ignores the reality of Time Warner's position as a publicly traded company. Public relations are a crucial part of corporate culture; the issue isn't keeping DC's minuscule fanbase happy, but keeping Time Warner's army of shareholders happy. (One might also consider that Time Warner is in the entertainment industry, which is dominated by liberal types who might not be crazy about working for a company which produces stuff like Infinite Crisis or Supergirl. But that's a lesser argument.) Negative publicity is more important than a few dozen titles selling 20,000-100,000 copies per month. Even if DiDio, Levitz, et al, never hear a word from Time Warner's suits, the threat of corporate interference (or massive firings) would surely have some effect on DC's day-to-day operations. Putting external pressure on the corporate parent is one of the easiest paths towards achieving the goal of more woman-friendly DC comics, but Krause almost seems to be keeping her fingers crossed that the mainstream media won't pick up on this story.
I'm kind of shocked at how intransigent both Fortuner and Krause are in their defense of DiDio. Firing DiDio would be the clearest way for Time Warner to send the message that the content of DC's comics must be more sensitive to women. I can understand the potential concern that replacing DiDio would be a cosmetic measure which would do nothing to eliminate a culture of misogyny/sexism at DC (though I don't think either Krause or Fortuner are arguing this; in fact, I don't recall either spending much time discussing the editorial culture at DC). But here's the thing--DiDio's most likely successor is Jann Jones--a woman. This doesn't necessarily mean that all DC's misogyny and sexism would disappear with Jones' ascension; one only need look at the career of the late Carol Kalish to dispel the notion that shared sisterhood will win out over cold, hard economics. But still, who do you trust more--Jones (probably best known for this at the present stage of her career) or Dan "we need a rape" DiDio?*
Again, people are free to like whatever they like, and write about how much they enjoy it. But I think there's a fundamental disconnect between the desire to see DC's portrayal of women improve and the desire to see Dan DiDio remain in power at DC. DiDio's removal wouldn't solve all, or even most, of DC's problems. But until DiDio seriously addresses these concerns (and I'm talking policy, not lip service), it's the most logical step toward effecting meaningful change at DC. Krause and Fortuner have a lot to be proud of; I genuinely think they've done as much to change the discourse about women in superhero comics as anyone else writing on the internet. As they become more successful in effecting change at Marvel and DC, I strongly suspect that they'll eventually be in situations where they have to decide between their fandom and their politics. That's not going to be an easy choice for two people so passionate about both.
*This isn't entirely fair to DiDio, whose involvement in the great rape decision isn't entirely clear to me. But, at the very least, he oversaw the shop where this mentality raged, and should be held responsible for allowing it to persist.