white privilege, white audacity, white priorities: Strange Fruit #1
July 14, 2015 1:48 PM   Subscribe

J. A. Micheline on The White Privilege, White Audacity, and White Priorities of STRANGE FRUIT #1:
I was hardly surprised to find that for every white person who says something racist, there is always either (a) a white person to tell the other white person that they're wrong or (b) a black person to say nothing and show no resistance. (b) happens only once, while (a) happens pretty much throughout the work. It's a perspective common to stories of racism written by whites — in order to make white audiences comfortable, white creators (of any medium) frequently show that "not all whites" were pro-slavery or racist. It is simply inconceivable to write a story in which every white person is racist, because, in their minds, how could that possibly be true? You set the Klan up, the obvious racists, just to knock them down with white saviors, to remind readers/audiences that whites are still good people and knew better and wanted to help.

[For reference: First Details and New Art from Mark Waid and J.G. Jones' "Strange Fruit"]

Originally published by Women Write About Comics, Micheline's critique was just awarded the first grant from The Harpy Agenda, "a no-strings-attached microgrant of $100, for an exceptional piece of comics criticism or comics journalism, by a writer of color." The grants are co-administered by [MeFi's own!] Shing Yin Khor and Taneka Stotts, with monthly awardees chosen by a rotating cast of writers and critics of color. As-yet-unpublished pitches and already-published nominations for future grants can be submitted here.

Another new project by the indefatigable duo of Stotts and Khor: Elements, an upcoming spec fic comics anthology for creators of color. Submissions will open on August 1, 2015.
posted by divined by radio (163 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm trying to be surprised at this, but yeah, I'm not.

After all, all discussions about race in America revolve around white people's feelings.

But, just so my bases are covered: #NotAllWhitePeoplesFeelings
posted by qcubed at 1:54 PM on July 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


Well written, well argued. Haven't read Strange Fruit #1 nor do I intend to.

But thank you for the post.
posted by kalessin at 2:01 PM on July 14, 2015


I actually was really put off by this write-up, because Mark Waid and Dwayne McDuffie were pretty close friends and she didn't mention that at all. It's the equivalent of taking a guy to task for writing a book about women, mentioning how his mother inspired you, and never saying that she was his mother (and what effect she may have had on him). Her aspirational relationship to McDuffie is all well and cool, but erasing Waid's actual relationship with the man seems disingenuous at worst, ignorant at "best". Neither of which are good ways to start the thing.

I wish Dominic over at Deadshirt had gone in a little deeper with his take.
posted by taterpie at 2:02 PM on July 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is my horrified face.
posted by Kitteh at 2:03 PM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Waid and Jones had to know that someone was going to ask them “Why you?” and “Why you on this comic?” — so I’m wondering why they didn’t answer that up front.
An excellent question, but the premise of it is belied by a later observation:
Waid and Jones spent a lot of time considering what white folks are or aren’t going to like without once stopping to think about what black folks really ain’t gonna like.
I could list a dozen such things that we've discussed here on MeFi (and a hundred others) that all boil down to the same thing: White straight cis men don't even know enough to know what they don't know about non-white-straight-cis-men, but they so, so rarely get called on assuming it. Waid and Jones didn't know that someone was going to ask them "Why you?", at least no one in the serious comics press. And if they did think about it, they probably thought that it would be more like "Why would you risk your comfortable status in the industry by making a risky comic about race?"

I know, I can't believe I just used the words "serious comics press" together, but here we are.

I actually was really put off by this write-up, because Mark Waid and Dwayne McDuffie were pretty close friends and she didn't mention that at all.

Are you seriously pointing out that one of Mark Waid's best friends was black?
posted by Etrigan at 2:08 PM on July 14, 2015 [31 favorites]


I actually was really put off by this write-up, because Mark Waid and Dwayne McDuffie were pretty close friends and she didn't mention that at all.

Maybe she avoided that because it doesn't matter. Maybe McDuffie knew he couldn't afford NOT to be friends with a bunch of white dudes in the comics industry. Maybe he was friends with Mark Waid in spite of Waid being kind of racist. Maybe maybe maybe - it doesn't matter they were friends.

It matters that Strange Fruit's a big pile of hot racist mess and you can't justify that with "oh and Mark Waid has a black friend" because a) that's a shitty defense, b) Dwayne McDuffie is dead, and couldn't slap Mark Waid with a "Hey, that's racist" response, and c) did I mention that's a shitty defense?
posted by FritoKAL at 2:17 PM on July 14, 2015 [18 favorites]


Are you seriously pointing out that one of Mark Waid's best friends was black?

I'm assuming taterpie is mentioning that in reference to the article's line that "this comic, announced on Dwayne McDuffie’s birthday, about racism in the South by two white men is being marketed as a 'deeply personal passion project. Do I need to go into why I have some questions about why a story about racism is deeply personal to white people?'" It would seem that the reason why Strange Fruit, however flawed, is a personal project and had its first issue released on McDuffie's birthday is because Waid and McDuffie were friends, and Fruit is a tribute to McDuffie. That obviously doesn't automatically make the comic good, but it does provide some insight as to why Waid would write the book.
posted by lunch at 2:19 PM on July 14, 2015 [10 favorites]


I hadn't heard of this. Looks really, really weird. I just can't believe that if these guys were really interested in telling a story deeply rooted in black history, that they wouldn't say like "damn that could be really cool - let's go hit up some of the black creators in the industry and pitch them."

Well, I can believe it, but it's idiotic.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 2:22 PM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


People are entitled to their opinions, but this write comes across as horribly written with a bit of personal axe to grind. Going out about this being announced on McDuffie's birthday and taking it as an personal insult is an odd take. It's hard to read in that aspect, as it comes off as a rant, not a nuanced critique.

I'm also troubled by the idea that only black people should have done this story. It's seriously limiting and ignores the toll slavery in America took on blacks and whites. While blacks clearly suffered more, there are still plenty of possible stories to be told from the white perspective. The only problem is so far, most have been from an extremely limited slice of that perspective. I'm still waiting for the stories that look at the mental hoops a person has to jump through to think slavery and racism is ok.

That said, the image of the black man wearing a confederate flag is disturbing, especially after the Charleston shooting and you gotta wonder where the creators are going with this.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:23 PM on July 14, 2015 [15 favorites]


Another thing about Dwayne McDuffie -- when he ran Milestone, he went out of his way to find creators of color to tell stories about characters of color. His issue with the industry wasn't the lack of titles like Teenage Negro Ninja Thrashers -- his issue was that black characters written by white guys tended to be defined by race in really problematic ways. I never met McDuffie, but I feel pretty confident that his reaction to this title would be along the lines of "Mark, what the fuck do you think you are doing?"
posted by Etrigan at 2:23 PM on July 14, 2015 [8 favorites]


Some will be eager to point out that the lyrics of “Strange Fruit” were originally written by a white Jewish man, Abel Meeropol. I will be equally eager to contend not just that Jewish people, at the least, have their own personal history with slavery, but also that the first time “Strange Fruit” was actually recorded as a song, Meeropol made sure to have a black singer, Laura Duncan, perform it.

This is wrong, as it happens. Meeropol published "Strange Fruit" (under the title "Bitter Fruit") originally as a poem. He then wrote music for it and turned it into a song. The song was performed by various people--white and black--in addition to Laura Duncan. Duncan sang the song at Madison Square Garden in a performance which was seen by Robert Gordon who worked for Barney Josephson, who owned the club where Billie Holiday was headlining. Meeropol got a chance to pitch the song to Holiday, who went on to be the first to record it. I don't think Duncan ever recorded it, in fact.

Meeropol was an interesting guy. He and his wife (who was one of the people who used to perform the song before Holiday recorded it) raised the orphaned children of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg after their execution.
posted by yoink at 2:28 PM on July 14, 2015 [26 favorites]


i saw the comic, thought it sounded interesting, saw that it was labeled as a personal passion project, so i went to find more from the creators assuming they were black, found out who they were, and almost immediately saw this write up. i enjoyed her take on it a great deal and now i follow her on twitter and my timeline is at least 10% more awesome with her inclusion. i'm really glad to hear she got that grant, i had missed that, and she certainly deserved it.

i wouldn't have a problem with white men telling the stories of black people or women or whatever else if we had non-white men employed at numbers that even approached their representation in the population, but the fact of the matter is we don't. it's always white guys writing black stories, or white guys playing what should be asian parts in movies, or white guys producing women centered entertainment. yes, everyone should be able to tell the stories that they feel some connection to for whatever reason, but in the system we have now, it's not the white guys being denied those opportunities, it's everyone else.
posted by nadawi at 2:50 PM on July 14, 2015 [19 favorites]


Hoo boy, what a mess.

I suspect Waid and Jones are sat around wondering what the fuck just happened. 15 or 20 years ago this would have been seen as some kind of super progressive new take on superhero stories and now everyone wants to beat them with sticks for it and call them the worst racists in the world.

99% of the problem is the name. If they wanted to tell that story they sould have just gone ahead and done it and avoided anything in the promotional material that could have been seen as patting themselves on the back for it, but mostly, especially, most important of all they shouldn't have used that name. It seems so obviously I'm wondering why nobody told them that. Maybe that's why they ended up at Boom rather than somewhere higher profile like image

But anyway, what a big steaming mess. It's not going to do anybody a lot of good.
posted by Artw at 2:51 PM on July 14, 2015 [14 favorites]


I am in fact referencing what lunch said I was referencing - the thing Micheline used to lead off with and as her touchstone for just how insensitive Waid was being. The automatic reach for 'has a black friend' was pretty good there, tho.

My personal view is that Waid and Jones would have saved themselves half this heartache if they hadn't been so stuck on the damn name. Yes, Strange Fruit is all very cool to think of when referring to stuff from space, but considering the blowback Annie Lennox got for the song and that really, really dumb PR firm in Austin, why staple yourself to trouble like that?
posted by taterpie at 2:55 PM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh man that is a facepalm of a book.

I'm also not sure why this is supposed to be groundbreaking-whenever comic writers want to do an Afternoon Special comic on racism, it's set in the deep South, with the Klan and all that.

It's a lot easier to talk about racism as something in that "other place", performed by safely othered yokels than as something that's pervasive and institutional and current-and something white liberals are infected with. In fact, it's a way to deny the scope of the problem.
posted by happyroach at 3:05 PM on July 14, 2015 [11 favorites]


Is a $100 microgrant a joke? Am I missing something?
posted by xmutex at 3:06 PM on July 14, 2015


$100 isn't a joke.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:16 PM on July 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


See, this is why I worry about white writers* writing work that has characters of color as the primary viewpoint characters and that is set in a POC-majority milieu. I think it's just so, so easy to do something really dumb - like this comic, which sounds bizarre, why would you even?

It isn't that I think that priviledged people can't write well about marginalized people, but that so often they/we don't, and they/we are so often unable to see where they're going off the rails, and they/we just can't have the kind of lived, deep experience that is the necessary substrate for this kind of work. It's not that no one ever can, but it's pretty goddamn rare, in my experience both as a white reader and as a queer/gender-noncomforming one.

I know we keep saying on metafilter that white people should be able to write books that are told solely or primarily from the viewpoint of people of color, but I keep trying to think of really good examples, and I can think of very few - whereas I can think of many that strike me as kind of fucked up. (I can think of a number of books by straight writers - to speak to something where I have personal experience - that have good queer characters and/or deal well with Issues Pertaining To The Gays, but I can't really think of any that are totally about queer people and set primarily or exclusively in queer milieux that don't strike me as weird and exploitative.)

I think there's totally stories to tell by white people about Jim Crow and about racism, some of which could absolutely involve aliens. But I think that when we're writing about something really heavy duty like this, we have to accept that we're complicit in/the product of racism and white supremacy and we just can't use prose to hide that - who we are and where we're from will always shine through. To me it's better to incorporate that by writing openly about whiteness than to try to fake.

*And in general about non-marginalized people writing work of this kind about marginalized people - like a comic about aliens at Stonewall where all the characters were gay but it was written by a straight guy, or whatever.
posted by Frowner at 3:17 PM on July 14, 2015 [14 favorites]


Is a $100 microgrant a joke? Am I missing something?

Grant is a bit misleading in that $100 won't allow someone to pursue blogging full-time (hence the micro-), but it's awesome that there are people rewarding and promoting bloggers who are writing about issues of race in comics, as the subject is all too often overlooked, and it can feel like these pieces just fall on deaf ears.
posted by lunch at 3:18 PM on July 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'm a white comics creator who (like Waid and Jones) was born and raised in the South. Really, the reactions to this kind of scare me. Because I think that white Southerners should spend some time looking back at our fucked-up history with regards to black people and, you know, examining it, thinking about it, maybe trying to not continue it, maybe even mocking it. There is some nasty shit that needs processing by everyone from the South regardless of how much melanin they have, and pile-ons like the one this has been getting always leave me feeling like white people are just not allowed to try and talk about this, period. Someday I'd like to do some stuff that, like, actually contains black people, without worrying that the slightest misstep will result in the kind of flaming this has gotten.

Of course, it doesn't help that from all accounts the writing in this one is about as subtle as you'd expect from someone whose career is largely shaped by the superhero world.

Then again I am also a transwoman who kinda joined in the bandwagon on flaming the second issue of Airboy for a plot in which the tired old "tranny surprise" schtick was used as part of a general spiral of degradation so maybe I should just shut my hypocritical lily-white yap.
posted by egypturnash at 3:21 PM on July 14, 2015 [14 favorites]


and now everyone wants to beat them with sticks for it and call them the worst racists in the world.

Equating criticism with physical violence and slander is not really necessary. We can take the arguments on their own merit without simultaneously hyperbolizing and minimizing them. I'm sure that Eisner-Award winner Mark Waid risks, at most, his feelings being hurt.
posted by muddgirl at 3:28 PM on July 14, 2015 [29 favorites]


Also: I think people often mishear this type of criticism, hearing it as "white people [privileged people] should never write about people of color [marginalized people], ever", when what is usually being said is more like "it is really difficult for white people to write realistically about people of color due to privilege/marginalization issues, and that therefore the more heavily something leans on being a literally or emotionally realistic depiction of the lifeworld of a character of color, the more likely it is that a white writer will produce something messed up that is not what they intended".

I suspect that this is particularly true in the US about race, because IME even white people who have many friends of color are likely to spend most of their time around white people. (Perhaps this is less true in less segregated parts of the country, but it is absolutely true for many people here.) I think that if you're going to write something that rings true about people who are marginalized in relation to you, you need to have absorbed so much at such a subtle level that it is quite difficult to do well.

I think we really overestimate our ability to understand others complexly - or at least, the older I get the more I think that I do.
posted by Frowner at 3:31 PM on July 14, 2015 [18 favorites]


What specific qualifications does a white person need to talk about race? Do I need to field big comments, titles, sub-titles, captions, references before a committee? The argument that the author presents here feels like the same idea behind the justification "But lots of my friends are black!"
ie that race preselects your ability to present race-relevant situations in an acceptable way.

The critic also complains about the white savior complex, one issue in, before there's an identifiable protagonist.
posted by shenkerism at 3:33 PM on July 14, 2015


I submit that white people who want to talk about race should talk about our own race first.
posted by muddgirl at 3:36 PM on July 14, 2015 [15 favorites]


I think the author raises some interesting points, but I'm not quite ready to face palm yet, or to even conclude that this is a mistake.

I'm not saying this to invalidate her points - I think they're important, and we need to discuss them - but I've read other viewpoints that offer different narratives:

From Comics Bulletin:

Valid points made in a well-written review. But, as "a person of color", I have to admit that I came away from this first issue utterly in love with its execution and hopeful that the ideas presented play out in interesting ways. I'm not fully convinced Waid and Jones established the white characters such as they did due to any subconscious racial inclination. Rather, it seems they juxtapose a false sense of security (seemingly decent white characters start our story) with a harsh sense of reality and history (many of them seem either quintessentially ignorant, insensitive, or outright racist) in what may very well be a 'road story' that'll allow us to get to know at least two black characters well enough by the end.

That's conjecture on my part, but I'd argue the structure of the climax's panels, who's featured in them, and the specific plot beats all strongly suggest that the story will take a definite shift over the next issue or two. It seems obvious that this is a layered play on Superman's creation (both in-universe and out) and various multiversal origins (We're reminded of Milestone's Icon and DC's Martian Manhunter, which makes perfect sense considering their ersatz nature); the alien being is, of course, yet another play on the Ubermensch; whereas Jewish creators purposely played with the German ideal, here it is white creators playing with white expectations utilizing a black ideal. As a man of color, I personally find that *very* interesting. Since that seems to be the point, the perspective of the white creators of this story being essentially "White Only" is... rendered moot by the mere existence of this book? It's obvious the narrative of the book was designed around the idea of black lives mattering, particularly in comics, as much as science fiction does in the medium. Hardly an embarrassment.


From Comics Alliance (African American reviewer):

Given the era in which the fictional town resides, the villains are customary to the setting. Ill-tempered white men (though not all the white men who appear are villains) who sometimes don white hooded cloaks and dislodge the occasional N-bomb. It can be jarring on first read, but Waid truly encapsulates the vernacular of the period, some of which is not-so-friendly to the ear or eye.

The African American representations in the book vary. Early on, we’re introduced to a sheepish, yet well-educated engineer sent by Washington DC to help with the civilian evacuations before the oncoming storm arrives. Our primary protagonist appears as a loud but quick-witted man on the run, but we don’t get to learn much more than this about his character. The third major African American character is a more mysterious figure who is only introduced in the closing pages, and all we can say about him for certain is that he’ll usher in a change for Chatterlee, and take this story in the direction of science fiction.

______________________________________________
posted by kanewai at 3:39 PM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I submit that white people who want to talk about race should talk about our own race first.

They do. That's why you always see them as heroes, or, at least a good fraction of the good guys, in things like this.

When they bother to include a minority at all, anyway.
posted by qcubed at 3:39 PM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Christopher J. Priest: The Last Time Priest Discussed Race in Comics

I am so very tired of talking about this. I stopped dealing much in interviews awhile back because every interviewer would, sooner or later, start talking to me about race in comics. I don't wanna talk about race in comics, unless it's about Superman racing The Flash. I want to be asked the same kinds of questions you ask Mark Waid. I am not so different from Mark Waid, except he has more money and dates prettier women. Few if any interviewers ever ask Mark Waid about the state of race relations in comics, but its a theme I revisit over and over, to the point where I will, likely, now decline to discuss the issue. It's just kind of... done for me.

...

Circa 1980:
At the restaurant, as we waited for an open table, a lovely blonde and her lunch companion stepped past us, and the host appeared and began to seat them. [Larry] Hama objected, politely— we were here first, and the host quickly sat us instead. Hama sat at the table, removed his mirrored aviators, and said, "Jim— never let the white man take advantage of you."

And, I guess, that's when it hit me: Larry was Japanese American. A guy many people sidled up to and spoke loudly and slowly, hoping he could understand them. Larry was a Hollywood actor, having appeared in many films. His diction was perfect, and he spoke English better than I did, and in as many dialects as he wanted to.

Larry suddenly made my world make sense. Suddenly, somebody at Marvel had my back. Staffers were much less likely to rub my head or make the black-hands jokes once Larry arrived.

posted by scaryblackdeath at 3:46 PM on July 14, 2015 [10 favorites]


micheline is on a great run on twitter right now.
hmmm how do I feel about Marvel's hip-hop theme vs the number of black creators they're currently employing
oh, I know how I feel: black culture and people are tantamount to window dressings at Marvel right now

Marvel will pretty much not employ black creators - has NEVER in 75 years had a black female writer. EVER.
But black culture is just fine as a tool to sell their books. They want to sell you 'how cool it is to be black' but don't want blackness.

Alternatives: (a) hire way more black creators so I give less of a shit that black characters are handed to white guys
(b) opt NOT to drop a hip-hop variant until I have got the anti-blackness of my company in order
(c) look at my hiring practices from the top to the bottom and ask myself how I got here
posted by nadawi at 3:48 PM on July 14, 2015 [16 favorites]


I get all of this, and as an employment lawyer, I've seen tons of blatant racism. But I find the shaming aspects in the US's current discussions to be counter-productive. It only creates defensive reactions in whites and sure drives a lot of money into GOP coffers which is used to help the 1%.

I find a big part of the problem is that white folks think straight up racism is over and only soft racism exists. That isn't the case. Its only when overt straight-up racism is acknowledged that we get progress. And there's tons more of that than folks realize. I see it in my cases all the time.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:49 PM on July 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


When they bother to include a minority at all, anyway.

Here's hoping writers don't give in to that particular strain of thought, whether it's coming from people with good or bad intentions.
posted by Artw at 3:51 PM on July 14, 2015


Here's hoping writers don't give in to that particular strain of thought

Damned if do, damned if you don't. Some may choose the safer option.
posted by MikeMc at 3:56 PM on July 14, 2015


Having now read the comic and Googled a bit of info from the creators, I strongly disagree with the linked review. The author clearly made up her mind months ago and pulls out every trope she can to enhance that already decided view.

It's a horribly written review of the comic, that doesn't nothing to illuminate the story is actually about, The Great 1927 Flood of Mississippi. I can not emphasize how utterly terrible it is to read a review of comic book and gain so little knowledge about its actual content. The book is not specifically about black characters (or white characters) but a rural town steeped in the racism of the late '20s and facing a couple of epic events, the flood and the arrival of an alien.

Of course there's vivaciously racist white. Of course there's some who aren't, why still being prejudiced. Of course there's black people being accused of wrong doing and having little recourse. Yes, the story could have gone another way, but that's clearly not the creator's intent, for good or ill. Sometimes you just gotta see where the story goes.

And the black man wearing the confederate flag. That's clearly done by the local character, Sonny, to fuck with white people, particularly the ones who are interested in lynching him for a crime he says he didn't commit. Viewed in that light, it's actually darkly humorous and easy to see happening.

Strange Fruit is a four issued mini-series and this is just the first issue. While it feels too little happens in this first look to really say how the story is going to go, I don't see anything truly terrible occurring that should make anyone swear off the series.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:00 PM on July 14, 2015 [10 favorites]


Frowner: I think that if you're going to write something that rings true about people who are marginalized in relation to you, you need to have absorbed so much at such a subtle level that it is quite difficult to do well.

Yes...In which case, it's helpful to have multiple friends or colleagues who belong to the marginalized demographic in question, with whom you have already had respectful conversations about these sorts of issues. "Hey, would you have time to skim this thing I'm working on and tell me if my blind spots are fucking it up? Or can you think of other people in this demographic who'd be interested in looking it over? I'll compensate for the time it takes."

They may not agree with each other about the issues or your blind spots, but at least you'll have made a decent effort at getting out of your own viewpoint. Online friends can certainly work, if IRL circumstances make it difficult.

(No idea if Waid did or did not do this. It's just something I've come to as a result of various tricky conversations over the years, and thinking about my own blind spots.)
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 4:13 PM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I agree with Micheline's direct points about Strange Fruit specifically, and I agree that this is a colossally misconceived project.

That being said, I disagree sharply with the idea that persons of privilege should abstain from writing about people of other ethnicity/orientation/gender identity etc.

If all straight CIS white people can write about is straight CIS white people, do you know what you get? Victorian literature, and the first 40-50 years of the New Yorker magazine.

As fumbling as it can be, as tactless as it can be, as stupid as it can get, the exploration of the life experiences of less privileged people by more privileged people is necessary, if society is to have any hope of developing a greater multicultural consciousness and sensitivity. It is necessary for empathy, it is necessary for the progress of social justice. Did Alfred Dreyfus condemn Emile Zola for not being Jewish when he wrote J'Accuse?

You're not always going to get Dickens, or Harper Lee. Like with all art, there will be a high dross/creme ratio.

But if people are merely silent, they do not learn. One does not emerge with innate racial and gender sensitivity- sensitivity and awareness need to be cultivated, and that cultivation can be a painful season, filled with gaffes and illogics.

I get that there are many people that are tired of 'white people talking about their feelings'. Racism flourished during a time when you didn't have white people engaging about discussions as to why they were or weren't racist.

So as obnoxious as instances like Strange Fruit may be, I'd rather have that than the alternative. Progress isn't always pretty, any more so than politics or sausage making.
posted by LeRoienJaune at 4:14 PM on July 14, 2015 [16 favorites]


pile-ons like the one this has been getting always leave me feeling like white people are just not allowed to try and talk about this, period. Someday I'd like to do some stuff that, like, actually contains black people, without worrying that the slightest misstep will result in the kind of flaming this has gotten.

Man, you should read the post from a few days ago about how, when confronted with racism, white people immediately start talking about how the discussion hurts their feelings. and then maybe go and reread your comment.
posted by shmegegge at 4:20 PM on July 14, 2015 [23 favorites]


I've been trying to figure out why this review bothers me so much - especially given that I am 100% in agreement with the basic thesis that it's problematic when white authors try to explain the black American experience.

Brandon Blatcher just beat me to the punch (and saved me some writing) - it's a sci-fi story set in the deep south, and the focus is on the 1927 Flood. And the authors have been up front that a lot of it is based on their experiences growing up white in the south in the civil rights era. It's not a comic about black people for white people.

We seem to have created a no-win situation here: the authors are criticized for focusing too much on white characters, and also criticized for not focusing enough on black characters.
posted by kanewai at 4:20 PM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Rockwell’s focus was on idyllic American life

Well, no. There's the painting he left the Post over, for instance, as well as a whole host of paintings on similar themes.
posted by Artw at 4:22 PM on July 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


Oh wow. A black man who's super-humanly strong and never speaks? Black people not talking to each other for the whole issue? White saviors everywhere? This sounds apalling.

Because Waid and Jones spent a lot of time considering what white folks are or aren’t going to like without once stopping to think about what black folks really ain’t gonna like.

This is really what it boils down to.
posted by a hat out of hell at 4:23 PM on July 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


They do. That's why you always see them as heroes, or, at least a good fraction of the good guys, in things like this.

Apologies if I wasn't clear, but that's not the kind of "talk" I meant - I was specifically referring to the comment above mine.

If I were a writer who wanted to tackle my white heritage and slavery, I would start there. Many of my ancestors in Virginia were slaveowners - how did they benefit from slavery? How have I benefitted from that heritage?

Failing that, there are literally countless African-American heroes in history whose stories are untold in the larger culture, including stories centered around the 1927 flood. Centering a nominally historical story around an alien superbeing seems like a cowardly start.
posted by muddgirl at 4:27 PM on July 14, 2015


i also don't agree that white straight men should only write about white straight men things. i agree with micheline in her tweets about marvel - were there more black creators, (inkers, editors, pr people, and on and on) this wouldn't be as big of an issue because it wouldn't be the only time you could even come close to hearing a black voice in comics. if actual for real representation was better, the stories told in comics would get more diverse naturally and white dudes stumbling over a dumb concept wouldn't cause such a splash.
posted by nadawi at 4:28 PM on July 14, 2015 [12 favorites]


Also: I think people often mishear this type of criticism, hearing it as "white people [privileged people] should never write about people of color [marginalized people], ever", when what is usually being said is more like "it is really difficult for white people to write realistically about people of color

I don't think that that's a "mishearing" in this case, though:
my general thesis is this–Strange Fruit #1 could literally have been comics’ Second Coming of the Messiah and I would still think it shouldn’t have been made.
This isn't just "white people tend to fuck this stuff up" it is also, quite explicitly, "white people simply should not try to tell these stories." Not having read the comic I can't comment on the fairness of her criticisms of it, but leading off your critique with a declaration that you'd decided to hate the piece before you ever read it strikes me as not the best way to convince readers of your even- handedness.
posted by yoink at 4:35 PM on July 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


i also don't agree that white straight men should only write about white straight men things. i agree with micheline in her tweets about marvel - were there more black creators, (inkers, editors, pr people, and on and on) this wouldn't be as big of an issue

I'm a straight white male writer, and I create characters that are women and LGB (haven't done T yet) and of many different races. I care a lot about diversity and representation and feminism. One of the things I dread most is eventually being called out for doing one of those populations wrong (by said population), whichever and however that may be, because it seems inevitable. The fact is, I always look back and realize what I could've done better, so I know that when that call-out comes, it may be totally legit and I'll feel worse for it. But I keep going for it anyway. It's what you do if you want to be a creator.

The difference between me and a big publisher like Marvel, though, is that I'm just one guy writing his own stuff. Marvel could and absolutely should hire with an eye toward a broader diversity than I can create in my own self.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 4:40 PM on July 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


it is also, quite explicitly, "white people simply should not try to tell these stories."

It's not. The clarification of that statement is a little further down if you continue to read:
The reason why this comic was, amongst other things, A Bad Idea is because two white men are writing and drawing this book about racism and they have already decided that it is about them.
posted by shmegegge at 4:43 PM on July 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


the more heavily something leans on being a literally or emotionally realistic depiction of the lifeworld of a character of color, the more likely it is that a white writer will produce something messed up that is not what they intended".

I think this is indeed a better formulation than is usually seen. By all means write stories with an inclusive cast but don't pretend to have a deep understanding of perspectives you don't really understand.
posted by atoxyl at 4:47 PM on July 14, 2015


shmegegge: that is not presented as a "clarification" of the preceding comment, nor does it function as one. Nor, in turn, does it contradict the previous statement. She is saying, in the sentence that you quote, that the book is "a Bad Idea...because two white men are writing and drawing this book about racism." The fact that she believes they are also fucking it up ("they have already decided it is about them") is an additional problem with the book, but she is quite explicit in saying, above, that even if the book had been well written she would be opposed to it on the basis of the race of the authors.
posted by yoink at 4:48 PM on July 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


I haven't read the comic, other than linked excerpts here and there, and I feel that Micheline's anger may have caused her to over-egg the pudding a bit ... but I think she's right. Racist tropes are very seductive; consequently, artists need to consciously avoid them. To do otherwise is implicitly racist, centred as it is within a racist worldview; it is also bad art. This is literally a Magical Negro story.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:57 PM on July 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


I haven't read the book, and it may well be crap. Some of her objections to this specific book make sense to me. Making a book about the racist South starring a superhuman alien POC who never speaks, and calling it Strange Fruit? That's a big, bulging, quality assortment of awkward. (And as she pointed out, there is already a contemporary graphic anthology out there using the title!)

But I have a problem with the idea that white people simply have no business creating a book about racism in the South. Even if it's an anti-racist book written by and arguably for white people, I don't think that's a bad thing. White people were the problem in the South, they did horrible things and their descendants have to grapple with that and acknowledge it. Would she say that German gentiles have no business writing about the holocaust? No, their ancestors weren't the victims. But as the descendants of the men who perpetrated those crimes, they may have something worthwhile to say.

She implies she'd prefer it if the book's whites were just evil across the board. But there's a fair argument to be made that that would just make for a less complex, nuanced story, and the truth is that there were some anti-racist white people in that time and place. (Again, haven't read the book, and maybe its depiction of heroic white saviors is totally unrealistic and truly obnoxious. But to suggest that a book would be improved if an entire group was depicted as just totally evil, with zero nuance? That's generally not how good fiction works.)

She says there is "too long a history of white people writing about what they genuinely cannot understand". Well, you could make that argument if this was a book about the POC of the era. But as she makes very clear, it's not. She calls this "oppressors continuing to control the narrative of the oppressed". But isn't this more a narrative about the oppressors themselves?

I feel like I can't say this enough: I get many of her objections to this specific book, and I'd strongly agree that comics would improved if more creators were POC. You can say these particular guys have no talent or this book is horrible. It's her objection to white people writing a story about white racism at all, that's what bothers me.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:57 PM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


yoink, you're asserting things that aren't true and providing nothing to back up your assertion. I'm sorry, but just saying "no it isn't" as a response isn't actually supporting what you're saying.
posted by shmegegge at 4:59 PM on July 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


I have not read the comic myself. I thought the review was a thought-provoking analysis.

But I was confused by one bit:

"This comic should never have been made because there is...too long a history of white people writing about what they genuinely cannot understand."

This seems to be at odds with another criticism of white output -- that it ignores POC realities. What's a white idiot to do? They can't write worlds that ignore POC, but they can't arrogate themselves to depict POC POV either. WTF?

I'm just a simple country content creator, not some super savvy critic, so I think some subtlety here is probably just escaping me.

I accept that a white person's take on stories involving racial issues is going to have blind spots, and that some of those blind spots hurt. But is the alternative discouraging white people from exploring POC issues?

How can white artists be expected to acknowledge the reality of something they're not allowed to depict, for fear of depicting it imperfectly?

Critique those imperfections, critic! Good critic, good!

But suggesting the work should never have been undertaken seems melodramatic to me, and might have a chilling effect on other content creators who want to include POC realities in their work.

Alright. Tell me how wrong I am, MeFi.
posted by Construction Concern at 5:00 PM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I basically disagree with the principles she's arguing completely, but hoo boy is she right on the individual execution.

The thing is, we have a pretty good example of what a super hero story that examines the racist history of the United States looks like already. And what strikes me about it is that it's not just "let's make a Superman type hero black!! take that straw racists!!!" and also to give people an "out" of having to identify with the horrible throwback racist people who oppress black Superman and throw around the n-word, but to use the whole concept of an "origin story" of Capitain America to draw a parallel with the "origin story" of American (white supremacist) society.

I haven't read Strange Fruit and normally I'd feel like that should disqualify me from comment, but ignoring the identity politics of who gets to write about what, I'm not really seeing any space in the setup for actual critique in any way. Maybe the whole point isn't "hah hah if Superman had been black he'd have been lynched and there never would have been a Superman, take that straw racists!!", but it sure seems like it. The cool thing about T:RW&B is that it wasn't trying to chastise probably non-existent people for views that are already out of the polite mainstream, it was pointing out that hey, even Cap himself has no control over the fact that he directly benefited from a racist legacy. Individual choices, individual purity and even individual racism aren't the problem so much as the way they contribute to a system.

Even from a non-critical perspective, Strange Fruit just looks like the art isn't good and it's not likely to be very entertaining, either. Or rather, the art is technically good, but I'm not seeing the appeal, the interest of the art in T:RW&B. I mean, the Rockwell-evocation could be used to do some interesting things but I'm not seeing it. Maybe the review is cherry-picking, but combining mainstream comics staging and posing with that water color style, which is really only superficially Rockwellian anyway, just isn't do it. The writing (what little I've seen to compare) just isn't good either, it seems... staged? didactic? Ham-fisted? I really did get a sense that the authors were winding up to "take that, straw racists!!", from what little I saw.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 5:01 PM on July 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


We lost a good writer in Robert Morales.
posted by Artw at 5:12 PM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I accept that a white person's take on stories involving racial issues is going to have blind spots, and that some of those blind spots hurt. But is the alternative discouraging white people from exploring POC issues?

Speaking as a white person, I think that one thing white people can do is examine specific instances of white writers writing protagonists of color, look at reviews or scholarly material by critics of color, develop our own opinions and try to figure out how those books work and how the writers came by their ideas. For instance, Terry Bisson wrote an SF novella, Fire On The Mountain, which has black narrators for about 2/3 of it along with one white narrator. It's an alternate history of the raid on Harper's Ferry and was recently excerpted in Octavia's Brood, so at least some SF writers of color think it's pretty good. How does it work? Where does Bisson draw his experiences and ideas?

Or you might look at Michael Chabon's Telegraph Avenue, which got a lot of critical reviews - what seems to have failed there?

You could look at all kinds of instances where white people write characters of color - Alison Bechtel does, Peter Beagle does (The Folk of the Air is IMO interesting especially for 1979 though a bit off in places), Justine L'Arbalestier does...all with varying degrees of success.

This doesn't take the place of reading work by writers of color or doing research; it's a specific kind of research to figure out how white writers have handled this in the past.

You could also read Writing the Other, by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward, plus some of the other books that pop up on Amazon when you google that one.

"How can white people write characters of color effectively and respectfully" is a question that I think a lot of white and POC writers have considered especially in the past twenty years.
posted by Frowner at 5:12 PM on July 14, 2015 [12 favorites]


Would she say that German gentiles have no business writing about the holocaust?

That's an interesting comparison. My experience has been that European non-Jews tend to exhibit the exact same behaviors ascribed to white Americans writing about racism. They (their parents/grandparents/whatever) weren't aware of it.1 They helped Jews. Look, here's a Jew willing to criticise other Jews, so don't you come blaming us! And we'd love to have Jews playing that klezmer music and doing Hasidic dances, but there aren't any Jews around here any more for some reason ... so here are some Polish guys with black hats and fake beards doing Jewish stuff for your amusement.

So when someone says that a couple of white guys shouldn't purport to write about black experiences with white oppression ... I wince and nod, despite being a white guy myself. Because the most generous justification I could claim is that POCs don't have the presence or the privilege or the ability to tell their own story, while I do. Even if that were true - and it isn't - it would only mean that I was complicit in silencing them.

1 These apologists presumably mean that they weren't aware of the death camps, not that they weren't aware that their neighbours had been disenfranchied, had their property confiscated, forced into ghettos, deported, and used as slave labour. Because the death camps were a step too far!
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:16 PM on July 14, 2015 [9 favorites]


I accept that a white person's take on stories involving racial issues is going to have blind spots, and that some of those blind spots hurt. But is the alternative discouraging white people from exploring POC issues?

The point is you should mostly be exploring them from the POV of white people. Or straight people. Or cis people. Or -- you get the point.

I have no interest in hearing a straight dude's take on what life as a gay woman is like. None. Zip. Zilch. Zero. Don't care, fuck off, go away, not yours, you don't know shit and I'm not interested in your lame projections or self-aggrandizing attempts to empathize, either. When it comes to people who are different from me, what I'm interested about is their perspectives and experiences of their own lives, not my own.

You fret about people being "scared off" of creating more content and I'm just sitting here thinking... so? If you're trying to directly address these kinds of issues, you shouldn't be addressing them from any other perspective than your own.

There's also a difference that privileged people in these dynamics just seem to Not Get, which is that having diverse characters is not the same thing as writing about The Issues That Affect "Diverse" (ie, non-privileged) people. You're writing a superhero comic and one character happens to be a lesbian with sound control powers? Okay, cool, I'm fine with that. Do you want to write a story about this lesbian using her sound control powers to start a band and you draw on your own experiences with band drama and musician humor and stuff? Cool, sounds great, that's pretty universal and you've experienced it. You want to write Very Special Issue about her being gay-bashed or coming out or [complicated issues of gender presentation wrt lesbian identity]? No thanks, I'll pass, and I'll also think you're a stupid, arrogant asshole for thinking you should write it, because you really don't have any basis for thinking you'd have enough experience to portray it accurately and with empathy and with a good eye for the reality and the artistic possibilities (pathos, humor, whatever) in it. Now, if this lesbian with sound control powers has a fight with her girlfriend, I might or might not be okay with it, depending on how much you try and self-consciously insert Lesbian Stuff that you have no experience with into their dynamic, or whether you just write them as two people going through a breakup for non-lesbian reasons. You can't use bad attempts at "representation" as a shield from your own failure to understand these kinds of distinctions.

This really isn't hard. Write what you know, and if you're wondering whether what you know extrapolates far enough that you can write about other people's stuff with sensitivity, err on the side of caution and also humility, not because people will be less likely to yell at you, but because you'll be writing more good stuff and less ham-fisted shit.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 5:29 PM on July 14, 2015 [23 favorites]


What I take from her is not "white people can't ever write POC stories." It's "white people can write POC stories, sure, but when they start digging into certain areas, they should really think about whether they are the right people to tell that story, and at the very least, team up with a POC creator who can provide perspective."

Example: I'm a white creator. I'd feel OK making stories about black kids going to a college, but I wouldn't make stories about life at a HBCU without getting a co-creator or consultant.
posted by cadge at 5:33 PM on July 14, 2015 [10 favorites]


[Couple things deleted. Folks, this discussion needs to happen without the "I am ironically saying things that I think racists would say" and subsequent sarcastic retorts. Thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 5:44 PM on July 14, 2015


This whole discussion has become surreal, as people talk about a comic they haven't read, based on a terribly and clearly biased review.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:59 PM on July 14, 2015 [10 favorites]


I accept that a white person's take on stories involving racial issues is going to have blind spots, and that some of those blind spots hurt. But is the alternative discouraging white people from exploring POC issues?

The point is you should mostly be exploring them from the POV of white people. Or straight people. Or cis people. Or -- you get the point.

But that's where this review really fails - by all accounts this book is from the POV of white people and not an attempt to explain the black experience.

But I'm basing this off of multiple reviews; like others I haven't read the book and do not know if it succeeds or fails. I am a bit surprised by how many haven't read the book either and yet have such absolute positions.
posted by kanewai at 6:04 PM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


This whole discussion has become surreal, as people talk about a comic they haven't read, based on a terribly and clearly biased review.

If it makes you feel better, I'm basing my very cursory opinion of Strange Fruit on the panels illustrating the review and other bits I've seen, not the review itself. It's not an enormous sample size, to be fair, but then again, my opinion's pretty much just "what I've seen of the dialogue and writing looks ham-fisted, and the art is technically proficient but seems to get in the way of visual storytelling and actually takes away from the impact". Going back to T:RW&B, I can't remember and can't imagine any single panel coming across as clunky in the same way, even in the early issues.

And I'm not really trying to say that's for reasons of authenticity to the black experience, either, given that I'm lily white and would have no clue anyway. It just seems "not very good" on the level of pure execution. I make snap aesthetic judgements about comics I might or might not buy based on that much (or that little) all the time, regardless of any political content. Why should a comic get extra consideration just because it happens to touch on something "controversial"?
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 6:19 PM on July 14, 2015


This whole discussion has become surreal, as people talk about a comic they haven't read, based on a terribly and clearly biased review.

... so you're saying that people can't have an informed opinion on something they haven't personally experienced?
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:25 PM on July 14, 2015 [11 favorites]


I think it's sad that "write what you know" is no longer advice for writers but a directive instead.
posted by Cpt. The Mango at 6:27 PM on July 14, 2015


Honestly, you guys, it's a $4 comic book. I feel like four dollars is a lot for a comic book. But it's average now. If you want to talk about it this badly, just buy it so you can actually read it. If paying money for it is inherently objectionable to you, which it may be and that's fine, also give four bucks to the Southern Poverty Law Center to balance out your karma. If you want to have an opinion on this or any book, reading it must be a prereq. It just must be.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:28 PM on July 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


Mainly referencing what's above the fold in this post about the not really racist nature of All White People historically, there are variations on particular phrase which I've seen used in a few stories about time-displaced individuals over the years. It seems to be used as the barest acknowledgement of historical racism whilst also handwaving it away. Upon first encountering a black person, the white traveller from the past will usually think or utter a paraphrase of "Good Heavens, a Negro!", before rapidly acclimating to the existence of African-Americans/Black British/whoever people in modern society. Ugh!

Fwliw, I do obviously acknowledge that it's a function of white privilege that I experience this largely as "bad writing" and not something more direct.
posted by comealongpole at 6:29 PM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


This whole discussion has become surreal, as people talk about a comic they haven't read, based on a terribly and clearly biased review.

Okay, I took one for team and read it. Yeah, not especially good. Maybe it'll get better? I can't see anyone being particularly thrilled about how they're being portrayed thus far. A lot of the characters border on caricature, the Kracker Klansmen are straight up central casting villains.
posted by MikeMc at 6:29 PM on July 14, 2015


So, to give an example of a characterization people might find problematic coming from two white guys. I get what they're trying to do but it's a bit cringe worthy. Oh, and your Ku Klux Klowns.
posted by MikeMc at 6:53 PM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


OK so if the book is really a "sci-fi story set in the deep south, and the focus is on the 1927 Flood" then why the hell did they name it after a very well-known song about lynchings? That title is going to most definitely me think right off the bat that this is about lynching. Perhaps another title would have allotted them the benefit of the doubt-- cause a scifi comic about a real historical event is 100% relevant to my interests-- but as it is, I really am having a visceral reaction to that title, all I can think of is the first time I heard it and the dreadful awful feelings that dawned on me as it played.
posted by holyrood at 6:54 PM on July 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


That title is going to most definitely me think right off the bat that this is about lynching.

SPOILERS: Well, there are guys in hoods and one of them is carrying a hangman's noose which attempts to use on The Brother From Another Planet (who then proceeds to fuck them good ol' boys up with a tree trunk)
posted by MikeMc at 7:05 PM on July 14, 2015


So I just read the book. I definitely see where the issues are. So far, the white people are either Ku Klux Klowns, as noted above, or Noble Rich Folk. The Black characters have very little characterization. Silent Black Alien Man is mainly defined by his muscular naked body, which is drawn very lovingly, terrifies white people and their dogs, and is the focus of many pages. The sum result is it feels an awful lot like Let's Objectify This Magnificent Black Athlete What Genetics He Has! to me.

I definitely see where this critique is coming from. Right now Waid & Co. have not demonstrated their comic has added anything besides a tired Noble Savage storyline, with a bunch of bumbling country racists to make it seem progressive.

It isn't that it is impossible for a White person to write at POC perspective well. It's that they get it wrong so very often that you wonder why they don't write about race from their perspective. Of course, the answer to that is "White people don't think of themselves as a race". White people think of writing about race and they only think about it from a POC perspective because they're unable to see how their own race has shaped their perspective and life as surely as a POC's own race has shaped theirs.
posted by schroedinger at 7:19 PM on July 14, 2015 [15 favorites]


"This seems to be at odds with another criticism of white output -- that it ignores POC realities. What's a white idiot to do? They can't write worlds that ignore POC, but they can't arrogate themselves to depict POC POV either. WTF?

I'm just a simple country content creator, not some super savvy critic, so I think some subtlety here is probably just escaping me.
"

In between those two options, you can do a lot of active research on PoC and talk to them about their stories. Not everything has to be perfectly true, and some people are gonna hate it no matter what you do, but even things like knowing enough black people to make a decent amalgam out of their stories can help. Reading stuff from PoC helps too.

Also, I hear Brandon's available for a modest fee and a co-producer credit.
posted by klangklangston at 7:33 PM on July 14, 2015


like others I haven't read the book and do not know if it succeeds or fails. I am a bit surprised by how many haven't read the book either and yet have such absolute positions.

Well, the author of the essay started the debate by saying she would not accept this book even if it was a masterpiece, because white people have no right to do a book about racism in this era. So, by her terms, this particular book's quality becomes less important than arguing about whether authors of a certain ethnicity have the right to create such a book at all.

But I'd agree, it is kind of silly for so many people, myself included, to argue about a book we haven't read!

Don't care, fuck off, go away, not yours, you don't know shit and I'm not interested in your lame projections or self-aggrandizing attempts to empathize, either.

Do you really believe that the only reason somebody would write a story about somebody who isn't them would be because of "self-aggrandizing attempts to empathize" and that the inevitable result is "lame projections"? By that logic pretty much every story ever written is offensive, and a black woman (for example) has no business writing about the life of a white man.

It's this kind of absolutism that really bothers me. You don't have the right to say that somebody else doesn't have the right to create fiction about somebody else. You can certainly attack that specific story when it's done, but it's not right to attack a story unread based purely on the ethnicity or gender of the person who wrote it.

When it comes to people who are different from me, what I'm interested about is their perspectives and experiences of their own lives, not my own.

So, you believe all fiction should be rather strictly autobiographical? The Heart is a Lonely Hunter must make you insane. The gall of that white lady, thinking there was anything worthwhile in her portrait of the lonesome, yearning population of a small Southern town! Why, she dares to take us inside the minds of black characters, deaf characters, all sorts of characters who aren't tiny white ladies beset by a cruel series of disabling strokes! Instead of admitting that these people aren't her and she can never hope to understand them, she actually makes an effort to empathize.

(Pardon that little fit of self-righteousness. But that comment really bugged me and as I saw it rack up the favorites I just couldn't keep my trap shut.)

It's that they get it wrong so very often that you wonder why they don't write about race from their perspective.

But... isn't that exactly what this book attempts to do? You can say it fails at that, but it sounds like they make very little attempt to portray the lives of POC. (God damn it. Now I'm gonna have to buy this stupid book, just so I can know what I'm talking about when I argue about it!)

(All snark aside, read The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Bitch was 23 years old when she wrote that book, and it's one for the ages.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 7:35 PM on July 14, 2015 [13 favorites]


By that logic pretty much every story ever written is offensive, and a black woman (for example) has no business writing about the life of a white man.


False equivalences don't help much. Context really, really matters.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:38 PM on July 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


... so you're saying that people can't have an informed opinion on something they haven't personally experienced?

Not when they're basing their views on a half assed review that's just looking for issues.

But I'm available as a black persons perspective for a modest fee and co-producers credit.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:41 PM on July 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


But... isn't that exactly what this book attempts to do? You can say it fails at that, but it sounds like they make very little attempt to portray the lives of POC.

Yeah, so far they just use them as props.
posted by schroedinger at 7:46 PM on July 14, 2015


And before the whine of "I can't have any POC characters in my book WAAAAHHHH", of course you can. Just hey, maybe don't make them walking stereotypes, and be mindful of when you're playing into racist tropes when constructing them.

I mean, I'm not going to shut the book down yet but I dearly hope it improves.
posted by schroedinger at 7:49 PM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


But I'm available as a black persons perspective for a modest fee and co-producers credit.

You could make a seal like the Comics Code Authority. "Read and Approved by a Black Person". Think about it, there's an opportunity here, maybe you could post on Fiverr.
posted by MikeMc at 7:50 PM on July 14, 2015


I think it's sad that "write what you know" is no longer advice for writers but a directive instead.

It's actually still just advice.

It's also just that, well, a lot of people keep writing about things they don't know much about, but other people do.

But it's nice to see such recurring displays of fragility. Closer and closer to the event horizon I go.
posted by qcubed at 7:55 PM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


You can say it fails at that, but it sounds like they make very little attempt to portray the lives of POC.

It shows a juke joint, tells us who Sonny works for and his frustration at low wages and shows a black engineer at work.

White people are mostly shown acting like fools as they try to build a levy or chase Sonny or telling Klan members to fuck off when they come looking for Sonny. So not a big look at the lives of white people either.

But that's just my opinion as someone who read the book...
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:05 PM on July 14, 2015 [8 favorites]


In between those two options, you can do a lot of active research on PoC and talk to them about their stories. Not everything has to be perfectly true, and some people are gonna hate it no matter what you do, but even things like knowing enough black people to make a decent amalgam out of their stories can help. Reading stuff from PoC helps too.

While I think your suggestions have merit, none of them would protect an author from the vast majority of attacks being made here.

The general attitude, neatly summed up, is

You want to write Very Special Issue about her being gay-bashed or coming out or [complicated issues of gender presentation wrt lesbian identity]? No thanks, I'll pass, and I'll also think you're a stupid, arrogant asshole for thinking you should write it, because you really don't have any basis for thinking you'd have enough experience to portray it accurately and with empathy and with a good eye for the reality and the artistic possibilities (pathos, humor, whatever) in it.

where we make all sorts of presumptions about an author regarding who they are, what they think and what insights they have.
posted by Maugrim at 8:10 PM on July 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


But that's just my opinion as someone who read the book...

Oh sure, throw that in our faces. Wait, I read the book too. Yeah, what he said. Honestly I probably won't finish the series because the first issue was, to put it plainly, mediocre. In a comic book world where if I want something a bit deeper I can read Alan Moore or Grant Morrison (shut your hole, I love Grant Morrison) this just isn't cutting it.
posted by MikeMc at 8:10 PM on July 14, 2015


Wait, I read the book too.

That's what, three people? We should form a club! I can dibs on President.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:18 PM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


If white people want to write a story about black people why don't they raise up a black artist to a position where they can do it instead? I'd be a lot more interested getting a black person's POV on slavery and events that affected them. Like, it makes sense that Spielberg did a movie about the holocaust because that's close to his heart. Can a person who doesn't have a connection to an event really imbibe the emotional toll into the story? Not only that, but can people who benefitted from the history of those events really do that either? I'd so much rather read a story by someone with an emotional and living connection than someone who just wants to do a story. It seems weird. I can't personally write about things that I don't have an emotional connection to or didn't experience first hand, it's why I did so terribly writing reports in school. I can read about it and know a lot about something but my writing fails.

This could have been a great opportunity for a black artist to get some needed exposure in an industry that doesn't seem to value them at all.
posted by gucci mane at 8:30 PM on July 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


False equivalences don't help much. Context really, really matters.

What's the false equivalence here?
posted by Maugrim at 8:59 PM on July 14, 2015


I took my own advice and read the book.

So, first things first -- because, atypically for comics, the artist's name is listed first -- JG Jones's art is fantastic. I don't think anyone would deny it. Even if the style isn't your thing, the craft is undeniable. As with Fiona Staples on Saga, listing Jones ahead of the writer just seems...well...perfectly fair. I have no doubt that Waid worked very hard on this, but Jones is working overtime.

As far as the story goes...I mean, look. This is the first of four issues. You can read it in about ten minutes. That means, when all is said and done, you'll have a finished story you can read in well under an hour, probably. If the characters seem broad, that's probably because this is essentially a short story, not a novel. There isn't room for great depth of character. You can argue that maybe subjects like this should not be given such a treatment; that the treatment is inherently reductive, and leads to a simplistic portrayal. Shit, you could argue that doing a sci-fi/superhero book about Jim Crow era southern life is inescapably trivializing and in poor taste. It might be! I'll feel better weighing in on that when the story's over, but it might be.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:00 PM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Shit, you could argue that doing a sci-fi/superhero book about Jim Crow era southern life is inescapably trivializing and in poor taste. It might be!

You'd be hard pressed to make that argument given a comic about the Holocaust featuring cats and mice won the Pulitzer Prize, I think.
posted by Justinian at 9:08 PM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


If the characters seem broad, that's probably because this is essentially a short story, not a novel. There isn't room for great depth of character.

I read a lot of short stories, and often the whole point is to develop a great depth of character in a few words. To say that this graphic novel failed to do so, to me, is the same as saying the writing is not good.
posted by muddgirl at 9:13 PM on July 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


And since this is a graphic novel, it seems to imply that the art, while beautiful, is also failing at one basic job of graphic novel art.
posted by muddgirl at 9:15 PM on July 14, 2015 [5 favorites]




That doesn't change my original point, but good call, I don't think that's entirely right. I like the point the author of the article made about a song about slavery being written by someone Jewish, who then used their position to get a black artist to sing it. Spielberg directing Amistad could be analogous in a way.
posted by gucci mane at 10:15 PM on July 14, 2015


You'd be hard pressed to make that argument given a comic about the Holocaust featuring cats and mice won the Pulitzer Prize, I think.

Maus was in fact criticized quite a bit for using animals. (Harvey Pekar, for instance, was offended by Poles being depicted as pigs.) The book's considered a classic now, but the animal aspect of it was controversial at the time.

None of which is to endorse or denounce the sci-fi element of Strange Fruit. Again, I haven't read the book. It sounds awkward to me, but then again science fiction can be an effective way to address difficult subjects, as has been proved by everybody from Roddenberry to Cronenberg.

Come to think of it, it's interesting how much this book has in common with Brother From Another Planet, a film written and directed by a white guy, about a silent, super-powered alien who looks like a human black man. It's been a while, but I remember being impressed by Brother before it kind of fell apart at the end. I'd be curious if the essayist would hate that movie on sight, or if she'd find something worthwhile there. It certainly did well with critics. (92% on Rotten Tomatoes!)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 10:25 PM on July 14, 2015


I have no interest in hearing a straight dude's take on what life as a gay woman is like. None. Zip. Zilch. Zero. Don't care, fuck off, go away, not yours, you don't know shit and I'm not interested in your lame projections or self-aggrandizing attempts to empathize, either. When it comes to people who are different from me, what I'm interested about is their perspectives and experiences of their own lives, not my own.

You fret about people being "scared off" of creating more content and I'm just sitting here thinking... so? If you're trying to directly address these kinds of issues, you shouldn't be addressing them from any other perspective than your own.


The endpoint of this line of thinking is creative solipsism, i.e. nobody can write about anything except their own experience. Do you really want a gay woman's novel to only have gay female characters who are also the author's race, who all grew up in her hometown, and who all had variations on her exact set of life experiences? If nobody can write about anything save for what they themselves have experienced, why even have fiction in the first place?
posted by Ndwright at 11:19 PM on July 14, 2015 [9 favorites]


I like the point the author of the article made about a song about slavery being written by someone Jewish, who then used their position to get a black artist to sing it.

This is her weakest point. Strange Fruit wasn't iconic when Meeropol wrote it, of course, and I haven't found any indication that Laura Duncan was specifically chosen because Meeropol didn't want to appropriate the black experience - if that concern was even a thing back then.

Meeropol was a teacher at the time (he may have taught James Baldwin!) and I don't suppose he was especially well known as a musician or had the ability to promote someone else. Laura Duncan was a known performer and undoubtedly more of a draw than him. In hindsight, we know him as a lyricist and as the man with the courage to adopt the Rosenbergs' children. That wasn't true at the time; at the time, he may have considered that he was lucky to secure a public performance.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:51 PM on July 14, 2015


I always get a kick out of how thoroughly Brandon Blatcher is ignored in these threads about race in America. I think it's because he doesn't parrot the popular message. A black guy who lives in the South who has read and is okay with this comic? Pshaw! He isn't as credible as the Londoner. After all, she's outraged!
posted by five fresh fish at 12:21 AM on July 15, 2015 [9 favorites]


He's certainly not ignored: he's got responses and favorites - including a couple from me.

I think Brandon Blatcher's right in saying that this comic isn't the worst thing in the world; I also think that Micheline's right in many of her criticisms. His lived experience1 certainly gives his opinion in this area more weight, IMO, but you can't bundle the report of someone who says "this hurts me" with the report of someone who says "that doesn't hurt me" and split the difference.

1 And the fact that he is President pro tempore of the "people who have actually read the comic" club.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:15 AM on July 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


I have no interest in hearing a straight dude's take on what life as a gay woman is like. None. Zip. Zilch. Zero. Don't care, fuck off, go away, not yours, you don't know shit and I'm not interested in your lame projections or self-aggrandizing attempts to empathize, either

Fine, no argument with that. But ... would you extend it to say that you don't want straight guys to even include gay women characters in their work? This is where it gets problematic for me.

I personally cringed throughout Philadelphia - I couldn't shake the feeling that it was a movie that a straight guy made for a straight audience, and that it had nothing to do with me. Yet most of my queer friends loved it. I also cringe at what I see as Tarantino's fetishization of African American culture. And yet most of my black friends had no problem with Django Unchained. I'm glad that OITNB features so many great black actresses ... and yet suspect that they don't have many African American script writers. If any. A lot of the characterizations feel just a little bit off to me.

I want our media to have more direct queer and POC viewpoints. It's something worth fighting for. Until we reach that point, I feel that it's *usually a good thing that we're seeing variety and diversity, even if it is coming from the dominant culture.

(* Usually. Not always. I just came back from seeing Jurassic World, and I'm a bit appalled at how outright nasty their take on professional women was. It might have been a better movie if the boys really did just stick with the boys this round, and not bother with female characters at all).
posted by kanewai at 3:09 AM on July 15, 2015


A black guy who lives in the South who has read and is okay with this comic? Pshaw! He isn't as credible as the Londoner. After all, she's outraged!

There's some truth to what you're generally saying here. An emotional statement or appeal can often trump a more reasoned argument. Neither is inherently bad (or good)and I certainly don't think my comments trump those of Micheline.

But if I have to Google around to get the basic plot of the story, it's a terribly written review. It's nice that we know all about how Maicheline feels, after all most stories invoke an emotional reaction in the reader. But I want to know more than just how a reviewer feels or thinks, tell me the plot and characters, what's going on etc, etc. Otherwise it's just one more rant on the internet.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:49 AM on July 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


comic reviews that don't include much about the plot are pretty par for the course - and even though i know she calls it a review, this seems more like a critique, and as such it's going to include a different amount of plot stuff than someone who is just writing straight reviews on their site. i disagree that media critiques are "just one more rant on the internet." somewhere along the line we stopped recognizing essays and critiques and started calling them all rants and thinkpieces.
posted by nadawi at 6:53 AM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Fine, no argument with that. But ... would you extend it to say that you don't want straight guys to even include gay women characters in their work?

The bits right after your quote answered that question in some detail.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:15 AM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


comic reviews that don't include much about the plot are pretty par for the course - and even though i know she calls it a review, this seems more like a critique, and as such it's going to include a different amount of plot stuff than someone who is just writing straight reviews on their site.

"Different amount" is nowhere close to "not a bit of the story premise".
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:19 AM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Joel Christian Gill, a black writer and illustrator, published his comic anthology Strange Fruit, Volume I: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History over a year ago. (Do you think they knew and decided to use the title anyway? ) Publicizing, buying, and reading his book would be a good way for folks who don't like the Boom! book to put their money where their mouths are.
posted by milk white peacock at 7:28 AM on July 15, 2015


joel christian gill discusses the title and privilege on twitter (including a note that waid had apologized to him).
posted by nadawi at 7:33 AM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


The endpoint of this line of thinking is creative solipsism, i.e. nobody can write about anything except their own experience.

I think it's easy to make that argument without endorsing that endpoint. The endpoint isn't inevitable.
posted by OmieWise at 7:44 AM on July 15, 2015


Fine, no argument with that. But ... would you extend it to say that you don't want straight guys to even include gay women characters in their work? This is where it gets problematic for me.

It would be nice if all the people who keep objecting to that comment of mine would actually just keep reading instead of turning their brains off at the exact moment where the lesbian tells the hypothetical straight men that she's not interested in hearing their hot takes on life as a gay woman. I mean, I understand why it happens (hint: starts with butthurt and ends with entitled), but this is a thing that has happened three times now. Now granted, you didn't take your hypothetical to a ridiculous slippery slope place so partial credit for that, but I answer the exact bullshit rhetorical you're ringing your hands over in the very next paragraph, bud.

Joel Christian Gill, a black writer and illustrator, published his comic anthology Strange Fruit, Volume I: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History over a year ago. (Do you think they knew and decided to use the title anyway? ) Publicizing, buying, and reading his book would be a good way for folks who don't like the Boom! book to put their money where their mouths are.

That was me last night! I decided okay fine, time to pledge my allegiance to President Blatcher, went looking for a copy to buy, found that graphic novel instead and bought it, then promptly fell down the Amazon "people who bought this also bought that" rabbit hole of graphic novels by black authors and artists I had never heard of before, including his other title, Tales of the Talented Tenth, Bass Reeves being a popular subject for obvious reasons. Haven't finished either of them, but I will say that I like the way he handled having to use the n-word in his dialogue, especially in light of the fact that the books are all-ages stuff that should absolutely be read by kids and school districts have a problem with historical context and the whole use/mention distinction (see: Huck Finn) You can definitely tell it's at least partially pitched to kids, but it's actually refreshing to read a western comic that's not self-consciously grimdark and gritty and hyper-violent, but without being whitewashed either.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 8:41 AM on July 15, 2015 [8 favorites]


I had always assumed that the work should stand on its own merits and the writer should be irrelevant. Maybe the pen name should make a wider comeback.
posted by Phyltre at 8:46 AM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


I always get a kick out of how thoroughly Brandon Blatcher is ignored in these threads about race in America. I think it's because he doesn't parrot the popular message. A black guy who lives in the South who has read and is okay with this comic? Pshaw! He isn't as credible as the Londoner. After all, she's outraged!

No doubt you’re aware of this, five fresh fish, but black people are not a monolith; even U.S. black people. And just because we don’t jump in and stand up and be counted for or against or whatever in every damn thread about race doesn’t mean that we’re not here. A diversity of reactions isn’t a discourse bug, it’s a feature, even if we choose to stay silent or skip to the next FPP or AskMe.

You mention credibility, but to me, this also about different perspectives and Micheline’s criticism, while emotional in places, did have a whole lot of meat. And speaking as black person from the U.S., Brandon Blatcher and I have enough divergence of opinion about media and characters in the media, not to mention on other topics, that I’m not going to just take his word on this one. I’m not taking Micheline’s either. I can make up my own damn mind. Since I prefer long-form graphic works, I’d rather wait until all the episodes are available and then either find someone whose recommendations usually align with mine or take a risk because I think the art looks well-executed.

My primary concerns about the work lie with the authors own words via their interview.

Yes, that interview is ‘out of band’ so to speak, and in theory (in a world of infinite time and money and willingness to put up with bad/offensive/boring art), I might let the art speak for itself. And if these were authors I knew and trusted, I probably would! However, since I will not be experiencing the art in full quite yet for the reasons I describe above, I listen to what the authors have to say and their own words signal me to beware and to wait. So the review was useful in that regard: it pointed me to material that helped me to decide to wait on this one until I get more data.
posted by skye.dancer at 9:03 AM on July 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


I had always assumed that the work should stand on its own merits and the writer should be irrelevant. Maybe the pen name should make a wider comeback.

It's not now, never has been and never will be, irrelevant to consider authorship in the context of any work. In fact authorship is essential to understanding art. Basquiat's meditations on race and masculinity, for example, would carry entirely different meanings were they done by someone other than a.black man. Context really does matter, and in my experience the overwhelming majority of people who argue otherwise are white and usually (cis) male, which is a useful clue to where privilege is being wielded.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:27 AM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


No doubt you’re aware of this, five fresh fish, but black people are not a monolith

But wouldn't it be neat if we were like Voltron, i.e. each person joining to form a giant robot against a common enemy. No more Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:45 AM on July 15, 2015 [8 favorites]


Writing The Other: Hard, Like Space.
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:47 AM on July 15, 2015


Why do white people argue so hard for the allegedly inalienable right to tell the stories of disenfranchised and marginalized people? Rather than listening when a person of color says "Hey, don't do that." or "Do it in a less problematic way." or "Why not give black writers a voice instead?", white people would rather double down and offer up straw man arguments than address why it's problematic to co-opt the lives of black people as a storytelling device.

In this thread, for example, multiple people wrote these fabulously derailing responses that boil down to "But if white people can't write about people who aren't like them then why even have fiction at all?" The level of butthurt here is seriously off the charts.
posted by i feel possessed at 10:13 AM on July 15, 2015 [11 favorites]


Why do white people argue so hard for the allegedly inalienable right to tell the stories of disenfranchised and marginalized people?

At least in part because white people want to write, and don't want to be criticised for their works not including the stories of disenfranchised and marginalized people.
posted by Phyltre at 10:22 AM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


but I answer the exact bullshit rhetorical you're ringing your hands over in the very next paragraph, bud.

Wow. I agreed with your post. I guess that part got lost. Sorry for not making that clearer.

I thought you were arguing that 'incidental' non-dominant characters were fine, but not POV characters where the dominant voice explains them. My intent was to show examples where I generally felt the same, but to acknowledge there were cases where:

- The dominant voice does try to explain the 'other'
- Where I personally still think they fail
- And yet where it's still probably a step in the right direction

I'm not sure which "bullshit rhetorical device" this is.
posted by kanewai at 10:23 AM on July 15, 2015


"If white people want to write a story about black people why don't they raise up a black artist to a position where they can do it instead?"

That's not really an answer though. "If you want to do this, you should find someone else to do it."

"That doesn't change my original point, but good call, I don't think that's entirely right. I like the point the author of the article made about a song about slavery being written by someone Jewish, who then used their position to get a black artist to sing it. Spielberg directing Amistad could be analogous in a way."

Spielburg also directed The Color Purple. It's not like there weren't black directors that could have helmed the project, but most people feel like Spielburg did a pretty good job. And just swapping "Jewish" for "black" is dubious.
posted by klangklangston at 10:29 AM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


it's interesting to me how the act of being criticized is seen as some sort of huge burden. if you create art that is seen by a wide enough audience, there will be criticism. it's not some violent, silencing thing.
posted by nadawi at 10:31 AM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


I had always assumed that the work should stand on its own merits and the writer should be irrelevant. Maybe the pen name should make a wider comeback.

Might want to ask Forrest Carter about how well that works.

Do you think narrative appropriation is unnoticeable or unidentifiable, that it's all just a question of us muddle-headed "diverse" folk getting all PC gone mad!!! and going reverse racist/sexist/homophobic/ableist, because let's face it we're the REAL racists and we totally could never tell the difference if everything was done blind through a screen like orchestra auditions or it was all anonymous like 4chan?

It's a pretty reductive and extreme example, but it's not like anyone actually needs a demographic survey to figure out that 4chan and the more horrible derivatives like 8ch are mostly populated with young white men. Hell, nor is it particularly hard to notice that MetaFilter is older and way more educated than Reddit. If you think a mismatch between an author's identity and experiences and what they're capable of writing isn't usually glaringly obvious to people who are in a position to tell the difference, I'm sort of skeptical that you're all that good a judge of quality or merit anyway. Authenticity and verisimillitude aren't the same thing but they are related and they can both be marks of quality and merit, and their abscence is generally a glaring flaw.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 10:53 AM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


I have no interest in hearing a straight dude's take on what life as a gay woman is like. None. Zip. Zilch. Zero. Don't care, fuck off, go away, not yours, you don't know shit and I'm not interested in your lame projections or self-aggrandizing attempts to empathize, either. When it comes to people who are different from me, what I'm interested about is their perspectives and experiences of their own lives, not my own.

If I adopted a similar strategy as a gay male reader of fiction, I would have to give up, for example, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, as it features not only a gay character, Sammy Clay, but a major plot line that depends on his sexual orientation. So I don't think this is a useful guide for readers or writers.
posted by layceepee at 10:59 AM on July 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


If you think a mismatch between an author's identity and experiences and what they're capable of writing isn't usually glaringly obvious to people who are in a position to tell the difference, I'm sort of skeptical that you're all that good a judge of quality or merit anyway.

No, that's my argument exactly. It's going to be obvious in the work, where it matters. If it is not obvious there, it is more difficult to make the argument that it matters.
posted by Phyltre at 10:59 AM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


layceepee, you may be interested in this autobiographical essay by Michael Chabon: "I had slept with one man whom I loved, and learned to love another man so much that it would never have occurred to me to want to sleep with him."
posted by reclusive_thousandaire at 11:15 AM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


No, that's my argument exactly. It's going to be obvious in the work, where it matters. If it is not obvious there, it is more difficult to make the argument that it matters.

Then why the argument that pen names should make a comeback, unless you think there's already a great deal of incorrect judgement based on identity going on? This reminds me of all the people who lost their damn minds over the mere suggestion that people affirmatively choose to read books by women or authors of color, while simultaneously patting themselves on the back by how open-minded they were for totally being willing to read books by straight white men and not all prejudiced and close-minded.

I can't take any of this nonsense seriously, it's pretty much just some form of "if I, a white cis straight man, should choose to to write a narrative appropriation of someone else's identity, no one should hypothetically be allowed to judge me based on that fact! I could totally be awesome and really good at it if I wanted to, it wouldn't be fair if I didn't have the maximum possible audience!", ie, it's just more defense of privilege.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 11:17 AM on July 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


> Alternatives: (a) hire way more black creators so I give less of a shit that black characters are handed to white guys
(b) opt NOT to drop a hip-hop variant until I have got the anti-blackness of my company in order
(c) look at my hiring practices from the top to the bottom and ask myself how I got here


For real. A huge contributing factor when it comes to figuring out why we so often wind up with stories about racism told from the perspective of white people is that it's difficult for creators of color to ascend to a position where they'd be able to tell those kinds of stories to such a broad audience in the first place. Along the same lines, they're also much more likely to be labeled as "activists" for doing nothing more "political" than telling stories drawn from their own lives and experiences.

Part of the reason for this is that individuals who belong to marginalized groups are often held up as spokespeople for the marginalized group at large, while (let's say) individual straight white men are often just seen as people, as opposed to having their opinions enshrined as singularly representative of the world's entire straight white dude population. Moreover, if a pair of black guys tells a story about racism in the deep South, it's much more likely to be viewed as a project with an explicit agenda, whereas white guys telling the same story are likely to be seen as just a couple of humans creating some fiction, and if you've got a problem with that, you obviously think fiction as a genre should be eliminated. White people telling stories about racism are treated as perfectly normal or even brave (and if they get fired up about it, they're just being passionate); black people's stories about racism are seen as inextricable from political activism (and if they're anything but endlessly calm and patient, they're just so angry).

> Why do white people argue so hard for the allegedly inalienable right to tell the stories of disenfranchised and marginalized people?

Hell if I know. Posting this, I was expecting a fair amount of noise from people who hadn't read the book, but I definitely wasn't expecting it to unleash a torrent of the same reduced-to-absurdity shtick ("so what you're saying is that white people are never allowed to write anything about people of color ever again???") that we get in discussions about, say, catcalling ("so what you're saying is that I'm never allowed to speak to a stranger in public ever again???").

The way even otherwise ostensibly progressive folks have been interpreting Micheline's take on "nothing about us without us" as nothing more nuanced or subtle than "shut up forever, white people" has been instructive to me. White fragility in action.
posted by divined by radio at 11:26 AM on July 15, 2015 [11 favorites]


Then why the argument that pen names should make a comeback, unless you think there's already a great deal of incorrect judgement based on identity going on?

Because then we wouldn't be having quite as many incisive arguments as are occurring presently in this thread.
posted by Phyltre at 11:28 AM on July 15, 2015


I have no interest in hearing a straight dude's take on what life as a gay woman is like. None. Zip. Zilch. Zero. Don't care, fuck off, go away, not yours, you don't know shit and I'm not interested in your lame projections or self-aggrandizing attempts to empathize, either. When it comes to people who are different from me, what I'm interested about is their perspectives and experiences of their own lives, not my own.

You know, I’ve seen this paragraph by The Master and Margarita Mix quoted several times in the context of upset responses and I finally had to go back and reread the original post because at the time I read it, it didn’t seem especially controversial to me.

She is one voice stating one, pretty nuanced opinion. She describes several levels of representation of lesbian characters, with examples, that when written by straight guys she is willing to read (assuming she’s aware of their identity, one assumes). She sets boundaries on her own reading experience, however (“You want to write Very Special Issue about her being gay-bashed or coming out…? No thanks, I'll pass”) and passes judgment on straight guys who go beyond the level she describes (“I’ll also think you're a stupid, arrogant asshole for thinking you should write it”), but I do not see her saying ‘writers, never include lesbian characters in your stories unless you’re a lesbian!’ Because, why on earth would she say that?

nadawi says: “it's interesting to me how the act of being criticized is seen as some sort of huge burden. if you create art that is seen by a wide enough audience, there will be criticism. it's not some violent, silencing thing.”

And, seriously, this. If someone doesn’t like your art or even thinks your art shouldn’t exist, then you need to come to terms with what that means to you and your artistic process, otherwise, you’ve really got to stop sharing your art until you do. It also seems awfully pearl clutchy to assume that criticism along specific axes (e.g. race, sexual identity) automagically leads to stifled creativity and stale, bland fiction.
posted by skye.dancer at 11:59 AM on July 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


By that logic pretty much every story ever written is offensive, and a black woman (for example) has no business writing about the life of a white man.

False equivalences don't help much. Context really, really matters.

What's the false equivalence here?


I'd say it's false because the black writer has been exposed to endless examples of various media/stories/art dealing with white life and/or problems, so she has all of that to draw from when she's creating her white man. It's part of white male privilege that a problem that a white man has isn't a "white man" problem, it's just a problem, and you see those problems dealt with almost every single time you turn on the TV or read a book or whatever.

Also, the black writer does have some experience with what it's like to be a white person... every time she goes into a store and isn't followed by security, every time she isn't pulled over for no reason when there's a police car behind her, every time she's treated with the same respect that we take for granted. The white writer obviously can't have any real idea what it's like to be a black woman.

Here's a listicle about all this by Daniel José Older.
posted by Huck500 at 12:03 PM on July 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


Then why the argument that pen names should make a comeback, unless you think there's already a great deal of incorrect judgement based on identity going on?

Even with pen names, I would bet that I could still tell with 90% accuracy if a book or movie with queer characters had a queer author or director. It's the little things, the nuances, that usually give it away.

I think this is what separates the great from the good. Michael Chabon, John Sayles, Spike Lee, & Ang Lee are all great at presenting a point of view from a different identity. I actually had to google "Is Ang Lee gay?" just to make sure he should even be on this list. They're the exception, though.
posted by kanewai at 12:42 PM on July 15, 2015


It's interesting to me how the act of being criticized is seen as some sort of huge burden. if you create art that is seen by a wide enough audience, there will be criticism. it's not some violent, silencing thing.

Seeing art that you've poured blood, sweat and tears into get savaged by critics has got to be stressful. "A huge burden," we could argue about, but I'm just saying that it's probably not much fun.
posted by ColdOfTheIsleOfMan at 12:59 PM on July 15, 2015


has it been savaged by critics? or have some critiques been positive and some negative - like pretty much all other artistic critiques ever?
posted by nadawi at 1:06 PM on July 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think one thing that frequently gets lost in these discussions is that there really are (sometimes very) significant cultural differences between marginalized groups and the dominant group. Obviously I'm painting with a broad brush here, and people carry around many cultures all at the same time, some of which are more dominant than others. But African American culture, for instance, is broad, deep, nuanced, and has many aspects that are not at all readily visible to most White Americans. Reading through the #askrachel tags after the Spokane NAACP thing was fascinating in this regard. At the same time, dominant culture appropriates to itself the expectation that it is a full description of culture. So White writers writing Black characters, or heterosexual writers writing queer characters, are operating from two disadvantages to"getting it right:" probably lack of full access to the culture they are writing about, and a probable inherent belief that they understand more than they do about that culture.

That isn't to say that it can't or shouldn't be done, but it is to suggest that there is a great possibility for room for criticism.
posted by OmieWise at 1:27 PM on July 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


If white people want to write a story about black people why don't they raise up a black artist to a position where they can do it instead?

What does that even mean, in practice? The starving writer is supposed to... what? Magically conjure up tens of thousands of dollars to pay somebody black to write? What planet is this on? This is just profoundly disconnected from reality, as is that review.
posted by amorphatist at 2:52 PM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


What does that even mean, in practice? The starving writer is supposed to... what? Magically conjure up tens of thousands of dollars to pay somebody black to write?

Mark Waid is one of the most influential people in comics and hasn't missed a meal in a long, long time. If he had gone to Boom! Studios (of which he was editor-in-chief for several years) and said, "Hey, I have an idea for a comic about racism, but I think I should hire a black co-writer," Boom would have said "Sure, here's tens of thousands of dollars to pay somebody black to write."
posted by Etrigan at 3:07 PM on July 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


This is just profoundly disconnected from reality, as is that review.

There is a very real person of color talking about what she finds problematic in a work that focuses on racism which is written by two white people. Saying it's disconnected from reality is really dismissive of Micheline's completely valid points and it makes me think you didn't actually read or understand what she wrote. (Or that you're white and like many white people you ignore what POC say when they talk about racism because you have the luxury of ignoring racism.)
posted by i feel possessed at 3:16 PM on July 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Seeing art that you've poured blood, sweat and tears into get savaged by critics has got to be stressful. "A huge burden," we could argue about, but I'm just saying that it's probably not much fun.

I have yet to see any savaging from anyone, critic or commenter. Regardless, dealing with criticism, even spit-flying invective is part of making a living selling your art. Or selling anything to the public, for that matter. Hell, people will judge you for putting peas in your guac and for mixing plaid and stripes. If they shell out cash for your work, they're damn sure going to comment, and yes, it can sting. (Ask me how I know. Deafening silence and zero goods sold is in a way, worse, though. Damned with faint praise doesn't feel too great either.)

But why a criticism like: "writer too often fell into stereotyped characterizations and situations with their characters of color; this might have been remedied by engaging a broader pre-publication readership or a more knowledgeable editor" should be met with so much more hang-wringing than: "writer uses too many ellipses, epithets, and adverbs, and could stand to strengthen their understanding of police and medical procedure" surprises me.

Some criticism can make your future work stronger, if you choose to read it. Other criticism is primarily meant for readers/viewers/consumers of your art and you might not look at it or take it to heart anyway.
posted by skye.dancer at 3:19 PM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


To clarify, I'm using my examples in quotations above as a stand-in for the kinds of hypothetical criticisms I can imagine being written about a story involving race where the author failed to do a very good job. I don't mean to imply that they would apply specifically to Strange Fruit.
posted by skye.dancer at 3:23 PM on July 15, 2015


Mark Waid is one of the most influential people in comics and hasn't missed a meal in a long, long time. If he had gone to Boom! Studios (of which he was editor-in-chief for several years) and said, "Hey, I have an idea for a comic about racism, but I think I should hire a black co-writer," Boom would have said "Sure, here's tens of thousands of dollars to pay somebody black to write."

Do your homework. The idea was the artist's, he asked Waid to join him and the comic isn't directly about racism.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:32 PM on July 15, 2015


Mark Waid is one of the most influential people in comics and hasn't missed a meal in a long, long time. If he had gone to Boom! Studios (of which he was editor-in-chief for several years) and said, "Hey, I have an idea for a comic about racism, but I think I should hire a black co-writer," Boom would have said "Sure, here's tens of thousands of dollars to pay somebody black to write."

I...can't really think of a lot of times when something like this has happened. "I have this idea, but I realized I'm not really qualified to write it." I think it's much more likely that Waid would have decided he wasn't qualified to write the book, and then written something else.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:34 PM on July 15, 2015


Apparently, I need to state for the record that I was not reproducing an actual conversation there. It was a hypothetical, answering the question that I quoted.
posted by Etrigan at 3:40 PM on July 15, 2015


The idea was the artist's, he asked Waid to join him and the comic isn't directly about racism.

Not contesting any of your other points, but "the comic isn't directly about racism" is completely ridiculous. The first scene is a white guy going to violently threaten a bunch of black workers into doing dangerous, underpaid work and using racist language and logic to justify it, completely apart from the threat of white power and authority. It is directly about racism.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 4:03 PM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Like, I mean, using the logic you're using, To Kill A Mocking Bird wasn't about racism, it was about a rape trial. Just, what?
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 4:08 PM on July 15, 2015


Ursula Hitler: Well, the author of the essay started the debate by saying she would not accept this book even if it was a masterpiece, because white people have no right to do a book about racism in this era.

Your assertion that Micheline "started the debate by saying she would not accept this book even if it was a masterpiece, because white people have no right to do a book about racism in this era" is a complete mischaracterization.

Here's what she actually said:
Strange Fruit #1 could literally have been comics’ Second Coming of the Messiah and I would still think it shouldn’t have been made.
And here's why she said that:
This comic should never have been made because there is too long a history of white people writing stories about racism and blackness, too long a history of white people shaping these tales to their own purposes, too long a history of white people writing about what they genuinely cannot understand. And above all, too long of a history of white people, particularly men, being able to do this. Not even a perfect, eleven out of ten comic would have justified the continued erasure of black voices.

But I'd agree, it is kind of silly for so many people, myself included, to argue about a book we haven't read!

This is incredibly dismissive and it's a way for you to have your cake and eat it, too. You want to air your grievances with the idea that white people should stop writing about POC yet you don't want to actually examine why POC are suggesting such a thing or what that means about you as a white person. All of this ridiculous hang-wringing is basically tantamount to #notallwhitepeole.

It's this kind of absolutism that really bothers me. You don't have the right to say that somebody else doesn't have the right to create fiction about somebody else. You can certainly attack that specific story when it's done, but it's not right to attack a story unread based purely on the ethnicity or gender of the person who wrote it.

One, you're not the moral arbiter for who has the right to criticize a work and when in the process of its creation they're allowed to do so. Two, it's fairly hypocritical to declare who can and can't criticize something when you're decrying absolutism. Three, classifying Micheline's criticism as an "attack" is, again, a misrepresentation of her critique. Four, your use of the word "attack" can be construed as a codeword for "untruthful" and "specious" without you coming right out and saying it. Five, POC should absolutely have the right to call out a work they feel is appropriative and to question the motives behind it.

So, you believe all fiction should be rather strictly autobiographical? The Heart is a Lonely Hunter must make you insane.

You are being terrifically ableist and dismissive right now. Please stop.

(All snark aside, read The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Bitch was 23 years old when she wrote that book, and it's one for the ages.)

I think that I probably wouldn't have used the word "bitch" in this particular thread. I want to point out that just because you're a marginalized person yourself, it doesn't give you free reign to be offensive in other ways. You might want to think about the privilege you do still have and try to understand whether you're using to harm other people.
posted by i feel possessed at 4:41 PM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Why do white people argue so hard for the allegedly inalienable right to tell the stories of disenfranchised and marginalized people?

I don't find this hard to understand. If you're writing about marginalised people you have access to so many classic themes (e.g., Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, the Lost Prince, &c.) You have a reason to sympathise with your character. You have (assuming you're writing from a position of privilege) an "exotic" culture. There are so many reasons why a writer would believe that stories of marginalised people are better, and easier to write. And once a writer has seized on a plot - even a good writer, even a creative writer - they're not going to want to back down and throw away their literary creation. Your attack on that story will inevitably be seen as an attack on them. In fact, your attack on their right to tell a hypothetical story of that sort is an attack on them: you're saying that they're not good enough or something. It's totally understandable.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:47 PM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


The first scene is a white guy going to violently threaten a bunch of black workers into doing dangerous, underpaid work and using racist language and logic to justify it, completely apart from the threat of white power and authority. It is directly about racism.

The first scene is about a bunch of white men driving to a juke joint, while worrying about the rain, flood and levees. The second scene is about a black engineer from the North trying to convince a local white man just how fucked the town is going to be in this flood. It's the third scene that has the men from the first scene entering the juke joint and getting all threatening like.

So yeah, racism is clearly going to play a part, but it's about the great flood of 1927.

Like, I mean, using the logic you're using, To Kill A Mocking Bird wasn't about racism, it was about a rape trial. Just, what?

It was about a young girl growing up in the south, of which racism was a part.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:10 PM on July 15, 2015


So yeah, racism is clearly going to play a part, but it's about the great flood of 1927.

You know, I have no real opinion about this comic, which I have not read. Therefore I haven't said anything about it. And I know, Brandon, that you like to play the role (which is needed, no doubt) of reminding people that Black experience is not monolithic and that you yourself are a contrarian when it comes to some versions of social justice storytelling and language.

But, I think you do yourself, and intelligent conversation, a disservice when you try to parse things literally like this in support of your argument. The 1927 Flood was not a racially neutral event. Many Blacks were forced onto work gangs to build levees while Whites fled. There is a long tradition (see Charley Parker, et al) of singing about the flood in apocalyptic language that was also specifically about the racism that Blacks encountered during the disaster. I just don't think it shows respect for your interlocutors to talk about the event as if it isn't already racially coded. Maybe you don't know that history, which is fine, but in that case you should maybe take some of your own advice about doing your research.
posted by OmieWise at 5:42 PM on July 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


The first scene is about a bunch of white men driving to a juke joint, while worrying about the rain, flood and levees. The second scene is about a black engineer from the North trying to convince a local white man just how fucked the town is going to be in this flood. It's the third scene that has the men from the first scene entering the juke joint and getting all threatening like.

What you're calling the first scene has them going to a specifically black juke joint, where they are about to do Evil Racist Things, and from which the white racist father specifically forbids his son on racist grounds, and what you're calling the second scene happens before the first chronologically and is itself totally racist. I'd argue that it's all one continuous scene, pretty much, but even if you want to break it down into minute bits including the scene with the kid and the dog, the entire thing is absolutely directly about racism.

It was about a young girl growing up in the south, of which racism was a part.

Hey, fff, if you were wondering about why BB sometimes gets politely ignored in threads like these...

If Strange Fruit actually depicts the inside of a Klan meeting, then is it about racism, or is that only "of which racism was a part" the way that the attempted lynching by actual Klan members was apparently not directly about racism? Are you arguing that nothing is ever "about racism" unless it's, what, a scholarly exegesis of the fourteen words? If you're going to make this argument I think you need to actually explain what a comic book that is "about racism" would look like, because this is getting to be farce on the level of arguing what the definition of "is" is.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 5:51 PM on July 15, 2015


Charley Patton
posted by OmieWise at 5:54 PM on July 15, 2015


The 1927 Flood was not a racially neutral event. Many Blacks were forced onto work gangs to build levees while Whites fled.

No one's is disputing that at all. Race is clearly a big part of the story, no question. We simply disagree on the degree of its part in the story.

What you're calling the first scene has them going to a specifically black juke joint, where they are about to do Evil Racist Things, and from which the white racist father specifically forbids his son on racist grounds, and what you're calling the second scene happens before the first chronologically and is itself totally racist.

Eh, we're seeing this very differently, which is fine, but ok? Your'e seeing race, race, race and race. I'm seeing flood, maybe religion, power, race and some damn dog.

The difference in opinion seems to be that the story is only about race. I'm seeing a few other things going on, hence my comment.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:00 PM on July 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm seeing flood, maybe religion, power, race and some damn dog.

When you listen to the song the book takes its title from, do you hear agriculture, maybe weather, bird-watching, race and some damn fire?
posted by Etrigan at 8:01 PM on July 15, 2015


Insofar as the only point of agreement here seems to be that people's experiences are difficult to understand if you're not actually them, maybe we could hold off on telling Brandon what he should think and, you know, mocking him for it.
posted by Maugrim at 8:09 PM on July 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


Yeah, the people discounting Brandon's opinions seem, how do you say, unqualified to do so.
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:06 PM on July 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


I honestly wouldn't have a problem with it if one of them weren't arguing,

Write what you know, and if you're wondering whether what you know extrapolates far enough that you can write about other people's stuff with sensitivity, err on the side of caution and also humility, not because people will be less likely to yell at you, but because you'll be writing more good stuff and less ham-fisted shit.

at the same time. I'm not seeing tons of "caution and also humility" in response to Brandon.
posted by Maugrim at 9:21 PM on July 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


Insofar as the only point of agreement here seems to be that people's experiences are difficult to understand if you're not actually them, maybe we could hold off on telling Brandon what he should think and, you know, mocking him for it.

No one is arguing that Brandon isn't sincere in his belief that Strange Fruit is in some way "not primarily about racism". I'm not, Etrigan isn't, OmieWise isn't. We're questioning why he believes it and questioning his reason, but no one is insisting he is lying about his beliefs or questioning his experience of... thinking Strange Fruit isn't primarily about racism. You're confusing "why" with "whether".

This is as opposed to, for example, the way that I am right now at this very minute questioning whether you're genuinely misunderstanding the distinction or just bearing a grudge and making a bunch of dumb false equivalencies to play gotcha and nitpick. Now, please note, I don't give a shit either way, but it's an excellent illustration of the principle so I'm making it.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 9:55 PM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is as opposed to, for example, the way that I am right now at this very minute questioning whether you're genuinely misunderstanding the distinction or just bearing a grudge and making a bunch of dumb false equivalencies to play gotcha and nitpick. Now, please note, I don't give a shit either way, but it's an excellent illustration of the principle so I'm making it.

Listen, this conversation isn't going anywhere. I'm simply quoting what you've said elsewhere in this thread. You can make up all the theories you want about my intentions and abilities, that's on you.

Have a good night.
posted by Maugrim at 10:07 PM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Good old bullying tactics.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:35 AM on July 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


When you listen to the song the book takes its title from, do you hear agriculture, maybe weather, bird-watching, race and some damn fire?

No, I hear racism, classism, sexism, violence, bitternes, frustration, sadness, depression and pecan trees.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:43 AM on July 16, 2015


No one is arguing that Brandon isn't sincere in his belief that Strange Fruit is in some way "not primarily about racism". I'm not, Etrigan isn't, OmieWise isn't. We're questioning why he believes it and questioning his reason...

Perhaps, but all three of y'all are doing it in this snide and condescending way that would probably rain down a bunch of comments in protest and a mod note if this situation was about feminism or sexism.

This is a demand that y'all stop or things are so unfair, just an observation.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:51 AM on July 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


Did you really read my comment as snide and condescending? That wasn't what I was going for at all, so if that's where I ended up, I apologize. I did sort of quote your comment back to you, but I meant it sincerely.
posted by OmieWise at 3:51 AM on July 16, 2015


Yeah, I really did, hence why I ignored most of it and dealt with the main point.

No worries, apologies accepted, take it easy!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:13 AM on July 16, 2015


I have no doubt that Waid worked very hard on this

I personally have every doubt that Waid has worked hard on anything in at least several years. The degree of phone-it-in I perceive from him has led me to drop every book he's been working on for... I can't remember how long now. The most recent thing I bought with his name on it was a Daredevil run because I have now been buying and not getting around to reading Daredevil for I am unsure how many years now. I think he's not even on that book anymore but couldn't tell you for sure because see previous about not reading it.

So color me not remotely surprised by the idea that he'd do a pretty meh job of examining any ideas in something he's working on. He's probably just used to getting away with it because boring go-nowhere character development doesn't get called out as much as sloppy handling of race issues.

I liked all of Micheline's article and agree with her for the most part, though I think there's a flaw in drawing conclusions from interviews with creatives that amount up to "they're making it about them." If there's been a creative in the history of the universe who didn't make their work about them I've never heard about it. That's not an excuse for lazy or flat out bad handling of important topics, of course, but I can't imagine anyone helming up something - particularly something they think is important to them - not viewing it from the perspective of their own passion.

But really I think that's irrelevant. There's plenty of support for her criticisms in the actual meat of the problematic tropes she points out. I'm also surprised neither she or anyone here has commented on the poses the artist has put the black characters in. This one in particular evokes really ugly old cartooning to me.
posted by phearlez at 12:10 PM on July 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


This one in particular evokes really ugly old cartooning to me.

When I first saw that panel I wasn't sure if he was about to throw up some gang signs or if he was channeling Joe Cocker.
posted by MikeMc at 1:12 PM on July 16, 2015


A subsequent essay from Micheline:
Creating Responsibly: Comics Has A Race Problem

Also see Wired's reponse to this issue:
It’s Time to Get Real About Racial Diversity in Comics
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:35 AM on July 26, 2015 [2 favorites]




Who got the author of Time Wankers to moderate a women in comics panel?
posted by klangklangston at 11:53 PM on July 31, 2015


The thing sounded horrifically misconceived before I knew he was moderating, now I wonder if the whole thing was out-and-out trolling.
posted by Artw at 12:26 AM on August 1, 2015


I read this a couple of times because it literally didn't make sense to me. So, they initially had a panel on "writing women friendly comics" that had no women on it? And they then added women, but had a male moderator? And it wasn't even, I don't know, a man chosen because his comics were famously popular among women, but just because ... something something? How does a plan like this even get made?
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:13 AM on August 1, 2015


His comics *are* pretty popular amongst women, he's just a known asshole.
posted by Artw at 5:21 AM on August 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


If I still had my Fables trades (I donated them to our library), I'd be in the backyard burning those fuckers right now.
posted by Kitteh at 9:03 AM on August 1, 2015


I'm not surprised, but disappointed. Not surprised because Willingham is a White conservative cishet man, and so what do you expect.

But disappointed because Fables is the longest-running series I can think of that's consistently maintained a broad cast of complex, entertaining, and interesting women. Yeah, basically everyone is ciswhitegorgeous, but given he's working from a European fairy tale base and how the comic succeeds in every other aspect I am willing to give him a pass. I mean, the two most repugnant characters he wrote were specifically considered repugnant for their misogyny. I can't think of one female character who functioned as eye candy or a prop. Those are pretty revolutionary for a mainstream print comic that started in 2002. Given that, you'd think he'd be a little more sensitive to these issues.

Perhaps writing good female characters comes naturally enough that he is blind to the idea that, in general, lived experiences and listening to other's lived experiences are tremendously important for writing informed, complex characters from historically oppressed groups. Or maybe Fables is the sole work he's written with decent female characters and he happened to strike gold and all his other ones have been shitty. I don't know.
posted by schroedinger at 12:02 AM on August 3, 2015


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