Wednesday, 16 April 2014

New Teen Titans, Rape Threats and How We Debate Comics

Internet, this is you!

I think “Gone to Hell” is the correct term to use here.

For those out of the know; Teen Titans is getting relaunched as New Teen Titans this July. It’s being written by Will Pfeifer, who picked up the slack after Scott Lobdell’s run on Red Hood and the Outlaws, and drawn by Kenneth Rocafort, who also worked on Red Hood and the Outlaws. Red Hood and the Outlaws seems to have a thing for presenting former Teen Titan Starfire with large... um... let’s say assets.

Anyway, last week a new cover was released for New Teen Titans #1. Here’s the picture below.
Where the bad kids hang out

Former DC editor Janelle Asselin took issue with a number of things that this cover did wrong. To be fair, most of them were water-under-the-bridge style things; too many background objects, some perspective problems- fairly nitpicky stuff.

But there was one problem in particular; upon which she was right on the money;

“Let's start with the elephant in the room: Wonder Girl's rack. Perhaps I'm alone in having an issue with an underaged teen girl being drawn with breasts the size of her head (seriously, line that stuff up, each breast is the same size as her face) popping out of her top. Anatomy-wise, there are other issues -- her thigh is bigger around than her waist, for one -- but let's be real. The worst part of this image, by far, are her breasts. The problem is not that she's a teen girl with large breasts, because those certainly exist. The main problem is that this is not the natural chest of a large-breasted woman. Those are implants. On a teenaged superheroine. Natural breasts don't have that round shape (sorry, boys). If you don't believe me, check out this excellent tutorial from artist Meghan Hetrick.

A secondary problem is that no girl with breasts that large is going to wear a strapless top for anything, much less a career that involves a lot of physical activity. In previous New 52 "Teen Titans" covers and issues, we've seen this same costume, but more often than not, WG's breasts are drawn smaller, or the top is pulled up higher. The way Rocafort has drawn her here, we're one bounce away from a nipslip. On a teenager. In case you forgot that entirely relevant point.”

This is a fairly valid point; sure, lots of women in comics are drawn with exaggerated figures, but most of them are 20 or older. All the same, acting on the assumption that it’s even okay to sexualise women who are of the age of consent (I don’t think it is), it’s still wrong to do that to someone who is, in the eyes of the law, a minor.

But what does Asselin get for her honest and well thought-out opinion? Various fans unloaded truckloads of abuse on her; from terms like “Feminazi” to more serious things like rape threats.
But this article isn’t about Asselin’s article. It’s about debate in comics (and other mediums for that matter).

I hate, let me repeat; HATE looking at comment sections on IGN and other sites when those involved cannot produce decent retorts to what they have read. You can tell them instantly, they’re the ones who label others as “DC fanboys”, “Marvel Zombies” or “Image... Goblins?”. When people don’t have an 
effective response to an argument, they normally resort to attacks on a person’s character.

This isn’t something that’s limited to one side of argument, either. I get just as irritated when I read “Homophobe” as when I read “Religious Bigot”. “Mysoginist” annoys me just as much as “Feminazi”. “Right-Wing Moron”, bothers me just as “Left-Wing Hippie” does. But it seems to be all over the internet.

In the comics-community, its sadly just as bad. Did you criticize a Marvel movie? You’re just a DC fanboy! Get over yourself. Don’t like the New 52? Pfft, Marvel must be paying you, moron! Not interested in Image? That would be because you’re not intelligent enough to appreciate anything non-superhero. It’s a dismissive style of comment that kills intelligent discussion. More importantly, though, you’re not converting anyone by saying it. Those DC fanboys will still be DC fanboys. The Mavel kids will still say “Make mine Marvel”. Image fans will still come back for the next issue of Saga. Your attack on their character just makes them mad at you!

Since when is a personal attack- be it over a comic, movie, policy or theological viewpoint- akin to having a solid argument on anything? When did it become okay for us all to act like four-year olds when we get online? Most importantly, why can we not come up with an argument that enforces our position due to its own merit, rather than one that vilifies our opposition?

Let’s face it; we’re better than that. If you’re reading this blog, chances are that you’re reading it for one reason: you love comics. Yet, for some reason, we as a fan community seem very uncomfortable in our fandom. We seem to tell ourselves that unless we’re tearing down someone else’s favourite thing, our favourite thing becomes less valid. Heaven forbid that those who were excited about New Teen Titans just ignore the article and continue enjoying it anyway. No, we need to bash, we need to demean, and we need to decry those who disagree with us as moral and intellectual weaklings. For what? A few “up-rates” on a comments section? Is that worth it?

Let’s face it, comics community, we’re better than that. We’re more intelligent than that. If you disagree with Asselin, go ahead; disagree. If you have a decent, mature argument to make, go ahead; make it. If you are interested in the comic anyway, go ahead; read the hell out of its 22-page-excluding-adds backside. But if you’re argument consists of name-calling, harassing, and threatening, then the problem is with your argument, not hers.

It’s become painfully clear to me over the last week that we really need to change the way that we come to debate in popular culture. The current state of it is not good, and last week’s drama just proved it. If we really expect to be believed, we need to start developing smart arguments that address the issues, not the opponents.