One Fan's Opinion: Issue #37

Fri, May 12th, 2006 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Erik Larsen, Columnist

For the sake of argument.

Now, I'm an easygoing kind of guy. It may seem at times that I'm somewhat opinionated but hey, so are you. You just don't write a column, that's all.

The thing is, folks sometimes take things that I say out of context and give it their own spin and start a big bitch fest over it and that's not entirely fair. What I said is what I said and what you may have thought I said and interpreted and reworded really isn't what I said.

But that's the way the whole argument game is played.

I remember years ago, Larry King was on late night radio and I'd listen to him on a pretty regular basis following my viewing of "Late Night with David Letterman." At one point an elderly woman called in, clearly upset, and went on a veritable rant about the public service advertisements for the United Negro College Fund which concluded with the exhortation: "A mind is a terrible thing to waste." She kept going on about how she really didn't feel that "a mind is a terrible thing" and she couldn't understand why they kept saying that, "a mind is a terrible thing."

Clearly, she didn't get it. The slogan for the United Negro College Fund was about as clear to her as it was for the (later) Vice President Dan Quayle who once uttered the now famous words, "How terrible it is to lose your mind. Or not to have a mind at all. How true that is."

Profound.

I can remember when Vice-President Al Gore was ridiculed for claiming to have "invented" the Internet. But Al Gore never made such a claim. Al Gore didn't claim that he "invented" the Internet, nor did he say anything that could reasonably be interpreted that way. In an interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN's "Late Edition" program, when asked to describe what distinguished him from his challenger for the Democratic presidential nomination, Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey, Gore replied (in part) that, "During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet. I took the initiative in moving forward a whole range of initiatives that have proven to be important to our country's economic growth and environmental protection, improvements in our educational system." Like the woman who called in to Larry King, selective hearing and the omission of words that clarified his point lead a number of people to jump on poor Al.

Yes, Gore's phrasing was clumsy (and arguably self-serving), but he was absolutely not claiming that he "invented" the Internet (in the sense of having designed or implemented it). What he was saying was that he was responsible, in an economic and legislative sense, for fostering the development of the technology that we now know as the Internet. That claim is, in fact, true. The allegation that Gore was seriously trying to take credit for the "invention" of the Internet is, frankly, just silly political posturing that arose out of a close presidential campaign.

Al Gore never used the word "invent," and the words "create" and "invent" have distinctly different meanings - the former is used in the sense of "to bring about" or "to bring into existence" while the latter is generally used to signify the first instance of someone's thinking up or implementing an idea. (To those who say the words "create" and "invent" mean exactly the same thing, we have to ask why, then, the predominantly right-leaning media overwhelmingly and consistently cited Gore as having claimed he "invented" the Internet, even though he never used that word when transcripts of what he actually did say were readily available? You might also question why sound bites were not played and replayed from the broadcast that had been fired out over the public airwaves? Simply put, it didn't serve the purpose of those who spread this misleading distortion to quote The Vice-President accurately. Telling the truth was not part of their agenda -- making Al Gore look like a liar was).

Much of the information from the preceding few paragraphs was taken from an article found at snopes.com. I've paraphrased and practically plagiarized for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!

A while back, when Image Comics started up, we put out a press release in regard to this new company. In it, I said, "In many ways, we've been holding back. Some of our best characters have yet to be seen and will appear here for the first time."

In the months that followed it would become abundantly clear to anybody but those with their heads in the sand what I was talking about, as a mountain of characters, concepts and ideas came pouring out of the books at Image. Even taken at face value it was pretty obvious that I was talking about characters being withheld as the second sentence included in the same paragraph clearly spells out.

What one fellow (another sufferer of selective hearing syndrome, it seems) got from that was that he thought I said that, we were "dogging it" when we did work at Marvel.

Well, I didn't.

My point was that there were a lot of creations that we all had that we held onto rather than give them away to Marvel comics. At no point did I say that we weren't putting in our best effort while employed there, but once more, telling the truth and accurately interpreting the intent of the quote did not serve this individual's purpose. He had an agenda as well.

And too often that is the case.

People hear what they want to hear and argue with what they thought they heard. And just how fair is that? To put words in someone else's mouth and argue with those words is not really arguing with that person but rather arguing with one's self. Still, if a person is determined to paint me as the bad guy I have no doubt that they can find a way.

Take last week's column, which, among other things, tried to encourage comic book artists not to draw every character with the same uniform build. In it, I said a number of things about a number of characters. At one point I stated that, "The Phantom Lady's whole claim to fame was looking like a porn star with her impossibly perky Triple-D breasts as the star attractions to her book" and that point, to some, has become something of a sticking point.

The problem is; it's true.

The Phantom Lady has been singled out time and time again as the unqualified poster girl for "headlight comics" from comics' Golden Age. She had as much to do with the formation of the restrictive Comics Code Authority as EC Comics' horror line. Her personality may be unique for all I know, but the selling point of the Phantom Lady comics were, undeniably, the leading lady's physical attributes. Her ample headlights were the #1 reason that dimes were flowing into tills whenever her funnybook was purchased.

Now, I'm not suggesting that creators should have pandered to their readers' baser desires. I'm just stating that the Phantom Lady was drawn with an impossible figure on the majority of covers that have worked their way into comic book readers' collective shared consciousness. And yeah, some artists have toned her down over the years, but there are covers from her headlining years that threaten to poke out the eyes of ogling fans everywhere and there's no denying it. Drawing her to those specifications is, to some people, offensive. And by suggesting that doing so means drawing her "on model" I was, apparently, offensive to some folks as well.

Personally, I think characters should come in all sizes and shapes -- which was pretty much my point. I'm not suggesting that Kitty Pryde be drawn with pendulous knockers or that Aunt May needs implants. My point was that I think it's fine for the Phantom Lady to look like the Phantom Lady and that it's fine for Little Lulu to look like Little Lulu. My beef was with all characters having the same basic build, but I guess there are fans of that sort of thing as well.

It's funny to see what gets people all riled up.

The whole notion of realism in comics seems to do that. I'll hear arguments loud and long about women characters wearing high heels.

Yes, they're impractical. Yes, it's ridiculous to expect anybody to run in them -- much less to fight crime in them, but guess what? This isn't reality! People draw high heels for the same reason people wear high heels -- because they look good. They make women's legs look long and sexy and the practicality of wearing them in action doesn't enter into the picture. It's fiction, folks. We can do that.

And if you want to start talking practicality, let's turn our attention to Batman, a guy who hauls around a bright blue bed sheet that would forever be getting snagged on everything in sight or slammed in doors or caught on windows, has a mask with tiny eyeholes, which can't help but restrict his vision, has ten-inch long ears that would get caught in doorways and could easily be grasped by enemies in a fight and given half a twist so that his eyeholes no longer lined up with his eyes not to mention the underwear on the outside of his pants and the bright yellow target in the middle of his chest! Talk about an impractical outfit!

And lets not forget Robin -- bare legs, slippers, and bright red, yellow and green colors. He should have been named the Human Taget -- not that other guy!

For all the talk about revealing superheroine costumes, do any compare with those worn by Namor, the Sub-Mariner, the Silver Surfer or the Thing? These guys are out there fighting the good fight in Speedos, for cryin' out loud! These cats don't even have shoes -- high-heeled or not!

One of the reasons given for women not reading comics is the overly developed females that adorn many comic book covers. I find that notion a little ridiculous and somewhat insulting to the intelligence of women. Women aren't stupid. They're certainly capable of discerning what magazines are aimed at them and what ones aren't on a magazine rack. Why should a comic book rack be any different? There are plenty of titillating pictures to be found on various magazine covers and women can figure out, in short order, the difference between "Playboy" and "Cosmopolitan" even though both feature attractive women on their covers. Women don't avoid all magazines because the covers on a few of them offend their sensibilities -- the very notion is ridiculous. There are magazines aimed at women that sell hundreds of thousands of copies. The reason women don't go into comic book stores is not because of a few covers --it's because there's little to attract them into these stores and, if they did dare to wander into one of these often filthy little dens there's very little in there for them to read. Women simply aren't interested in adolescent male power fantasies. (At this point a number of you will take offence at the term "filthy little dens" but don't overlook the qualifier "often." I'm not talking about your specific store, Mr. Great-comic-book-storeowner -- I mean those others -- you know the ones, those with walls decorated with posters of half-naked women and shelves lined with statues of the same. Those unclean, poorly lit establishments that more closely resemble porn shops than a bookstore. Given their appearance, it's understandable that women would not feel welcome there).

I don't think that it's fair to lay all the blame on any one kind of book or to think that getting rid of them would make women want to come into comic book stores.

There are magazines for men and ones for women and that's fine. Women buy the magazines aimed at them. But dress up a place that sells magazines with shots from men's magazines and women won't dare step inside to buy a copy of Cosmo. The fault is not the magazines themselves -- there should be men's magazines -- but rather, the way the storeowner has opted to display his or her merchandise. Racy comics are not to blame, but rather the storeowner who puts cheesecake shots on his walls and makes women feel unwelcome there. In the comic book stores that I go to, you are not assaulted by images of scantily-clad females at every turn (those stores are Comic Relief in Berkeley, California and Dr. Comics and Mr. Games in Oakland). They do carry those kinds of comics, sure, but their walls aren't adorned with pictures of Lady Death and DarkChylde. Consequently, they tend to attract more female readers than many stores -- they're not there to buy most superhero comics, but these stores tend to stock books of interest to all readers -- not just guys. Women can (and do) feel welcome there. Women don't go to stores that specialize in baseball cards either and I don't think it's because of the racy posters and half-naked statues to be found there. There simply aren't things of interest to women to be found there.

Not many women read superhero comics, period. The subject matter, most often, does not draw them in.

I've been to a lot of comic book stores. Some are filthy little shit-holes, some are clean, well lit, organized establishments that are as presentable as a Hallmark store. The latter shops tend to get more female customers -- and male customers as well.

The shit-holes do okay in places where they're the only show in town. Open a clean, well-lit establishment in that burg and the shit-hole would vanish faster than a piece of cake in Oprah's dressing room.

The often shirtless, Goth pretty boy Sandman is a star of unparalleled magnitude for many women that do seek out American comic books. The near-naked Adonis Namor is another and who can forget Nightwing? Be still, my beating heart.

Some will say that a shirtless fellow with a pretty face and tight abs is not the male equivalent of a busty female with pert nipples struggling to be free of the clothes that confine them, but I've found that most women aren't attracted to wrinkled nut sacks and bulging packages. Most women are (sorry, guys) subtler than most men.

Manga seems to have broken down a lot of barriers. Girls buy manga. They're still not going to poke their heads into one of those shit-hole-esque comic book stores (and again, I don't mean all stores here) but they will read them in a presentable bookstore.

But I've digressed somewhat from the point I started out making and that is that it is nearly impossible to stick in enough qualifiers to make any statement bulletproof and that even with said qualifiers in place to deflect any argument, those determined to take offence will find a way, be it taking isolated sentences out of context, misquoting or deliberately ignoring a person's intent in order to start a fight.

And that sucks.

I say enough stupid things without somebody going out of their way to make me look like an insensitive, uneducated clod.

Not that I'm not an insensitive, uneducated clod.

The Internet seems rife with prickly individuals determined to argue minutia 'til the cows come home and beyond. Hardly a statement goes by without some anonymous killjoy assaulting it with some snarky comment. Perfectly wonderful projects are announced that get immediately dumped on by these prolific-posting wet blankets. I have to wonder if these pithy party poopers read anything at all other than columns, blogs and press releases that they can find fault with and poke holes in. Why so many of these boobs seem to idolize and aspire to be the "comic book guy" from the Simpsons is anybody's guess but I, for one, get a little tired of it.

(Cue the snarky comments from a few sullen spoilsports calling me a hypocrite for having posted my own comments on occasion. Cue me responding that at least I use my real name. Cue another caustic killjoy bringing up the infamous "Name Withheld" letter where I didn't do that. Cue yet another extended rant where I explain where that letter came from and why and that I did sign my name to the letter, but requested that my name be withheld. Cue the sound of loud snoring from those who couldn't give two shits about any of this crap. Cue the sound of crickets chirping. Enter tumbleweed stage right. Exit tumbleweed stage left).

Sigh. It never really ends. Not as long as there's a nit to pick, anyway.

But that's just one fan's opinion. I'm willing to concede that I could be wrong. And I'm betting that many of you won't hesitate to tell me that I am.

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