Comics can break your heart. And I’m not just talking the slew of poignant moments during Tom King’s early run on Batman.
No, the industry can take even the most cheery-eyed nerd, expose them to enough toxicity and consumerism and ceaseless summer events until they’ve been “SHAZAM-ed” into a true cynic. As much as comics is all about heart and imagination, these pillars of virtue don’t exist in a vacuum, and once they’re out in the big, cruel world, they tend toward perpetual entropy.
The latest such heartache stems from Dynamite’s decision to work with a noted Comicsgate creator on a new story/campaign. If you don’t know about Comicsgate, it’s basically the answer to, “What if the worst parts of comic fandom congealed together in a festering mass of racism, sexism, and white male fragility?” I was proud when AIPT and other groups and publications instantly made the decision to end all ongoing coverage of the publisher as to not further promote such needless hate and bigotry. It’s the sort of sudden, organic happening that reminds you of the good things in comics, and how we all really want inclusiveness and diversity in telling these amazing stories.
But then I got to thinking about this “group-mind” approach, and if we’re actually just playing into the nasty stereotypes of Comicsgate trolls. Namely, that we somehow all perpetuate the idea that we make knee-jerk reactions to things we don’t like and shut down any conversation we may be having. And after a few more seconds of contemplation, it dawned on me that it doesn’t matter if the Comicsgate fiends have ammunition or not; they’ll forge it somehow from their own dumb ideas and stunted emotions. What comics — the fans, creators, and critics — had done was to react in glorious unity in the name of goodness and decency.
The thing about “group-mind” (or whatever is actually taking place) is that it’s not about shutting down ideas — it’s about shutting down sh*tty notions that serve only to diminish conversations and storytelling. Debate need not exist when we all know to stand up for something good and decent, like not having more hack creators spew trash into our industry and call us “soy boys” for reacting so viscerally to a deluge of half-cocked -isms in comics form. I hope I’m alone in this momentary uncertainty, because it would show me that we’re all better off as a collective. Most folks, it would seem from their immediate reactions, understand this idea that as a united front, we can have a real impact in the name of justice.
I then got to thinking about what this means for another common complaint of these Comicsgate vermin: that we’re perpetuating cancel culture. Are we, in fact, just slamming the universal “CANCEL!” button on things we don’t agree with? Sure, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If cancel culture were a real thing (and who’s to say it is?), we should be proud of a moment when we’re cancelling degenerates and assh*les, not to mention people who might empower these dweebs. To paraphrase a quote I heard recently, sometimes there are witches to hunt, and we can’t deny the power of our collective decision to say “bon voyage” to anyone who dares stand for ideas that might hurt or diminish others. Violence is never the answer, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still act with force and a conviction in our actions.
Is this an entirely perfect mechanism? No way. Should we be afraid of something as nebulous as “cancel culture strikes again!” when the jerks of the world scream it till they’re raw and hoarse? Maybe. But as the Dynamite incident proved, our swiftness and lethal efficiency are good things, and we can make change take hold in real-time like never before. Comics have taught us “great power = great responsibility,” and so far I haven’t seen us using our Cancel Powers for anything that didn’t deserve it. It’s never fun and easy, but then it’s always been about what’s ultimately left: an industry that better suits us all.
Finally, all my thinking led me to the idea of whether Dynamite (and, by extension, other creators/outlets) can ever come back once they’re “cancelled” by the larger public. Dynamite tried to make amends, and even if it was a mostly imperfect apology, I suppose it’s a start. (If you ask me, such awareness is actually promising, even as it took the threat of a dwindling bottom line to get anything done.) Only time will tell if people can “forgive” the company — that, and the collective desires of creators, fans, news outlets, etc. The thing about group-mind is that, there’s no real manual for this process. Some people might think Dynamite’s cancellation of the campaign is enough, and others may feel like it’s a badly executed effort to save their own hide. Either way, no one’s really the arbitrator, and the decision will be left to what happens in the spaces we all share.
It’s the many voices of true comics fans that will “decide” if Dynamite deserves our attention again, and how that will look. Group-mind doesn’t strip power or individuality, but place it on a playing field where all of it seems more equitable. No one has the final vote because that’s not how the process works. It’s huge and imperfect, and decisions and ideas may clash, but we can forge a true consensus through continued discussions about a company’s responsibility and what amends actually looks like. This might make some folk uneasy, but we live in a world now that’s no longer black and white about such things. It’s this many endless shades of gray that help us understand things and react in a way to consider everyone’s opinions with thought and understanding. It’s not easy, but it sure beats the alternative: sh*tty gatekeepers stifling comics’ larger potential.
I hope what I’ve offered is somehow new or novel. Or, it just offers some level of comfort if you already agree. Perhaps it may even persuade some folks about how the modern comics industry operates in these regards. Either way, I just hope it makes you think, as I have for the last several days. And I’ll continue to do so, regardless of what happens with Dynamite or any other comics stakeholder. The larger point is this process, no matter how imperfect it may be, is that we can never stop shifting and transforming. The second we all do do, we then go back to a world that left out marginalized voices for the status quo. Or, we do away with the progress we’ve made (no matter how slight) in building something that’s better in guiding us morally in our creative pursuits. We must remain committed to endless personal and professional contemplation as a means of being better for ourselves, our collaborators, and whoever picks up the comics torch down the line.
Comics will break your heart, regardless. But this industry can also lift your spirit, heal grievous wounds, and guide us toward something much better.
— Chris Coplan, AIPT Comics Editor