Comics are a suitable place for social and political discourse


During the “sudden” debate that has erupted about the representation of homosexuality in comic books, with Northstar’s marriage and Green Lantern Alan Scott coming out, there have been various reactions that pissed me off. Some more than others.

There have been the obvious protests from the conservative right in America, who would never be at ease with the storylines in some of Marvel and DC’s comics. There have been those who have thought it as some huge cash in, as same-sex marriage is a hot topic at the moment. There have been those who think kids should be protected from this kind of thing. There have been those who been entirely fine with the whole affair…

And there have been those who said that comic books are not a place for social or political discourse. Which is funny, as most literature and comics over the centuries have been borne out from the interactions of their creators with the societies and politics that surround them.

From Geoffrey Chaucer to William Shakespeare to Jonathan Swift, to a certain Japanese manga artist in the 1700s (who drew some very rude images of Europeans), to Charles Dickens, to Hunter S. Thompson, to Alan Moore, to J.K. Rowling  – politics and social issues have always been present in popular media.

In a way, this misjudgement is based in part on the presumption that comics are for children. It ignores the historical tendency of media products to have been mainly created with adults in mind.

It was not until the 1800s that the true notion of childhood took hold as an idea – that those individuals under certain ages needed to be protected from as many aspects of the adult world as possible. This was the result of many factors including the rise of the middle classes and the popularisation of the work of certain learned men – think Rousseau.

There are comics and books for kids out there. But comics and books previously and now, as a whole, are frequently written with the knowledge that most of their readers will be over the age of sixteen.

Another part of the argument from people who don’t like “their” comics (and many other mediums) getting political is down to them wanting to hide from this aspect of the real world. In some ways, this is selfish to those creators who feel the need to express the context in which they write and to explore those aspects that make us human. And in my experience, a lot of writers want to experiment with the contexts of our own world within their texts.

Further, it’s not exactly a good idea to say that homosexuality is a political point. These readers still expect heterosexual relationships to take place, despite the fact that both are normal and in an ideal world neither would be a political issue.

From a creator’s point of view, not being able to use historical moments or socio-political contexts makes for some rather dull creating. I’m not saying that all creators use the times they’re in, or times past, as inspiration, because that’s certainly not the case. But I will also add that many of the choices a creator makes in how to portray their text and the characters within will be a political statement, whether they’re aware of it or not.

If readers of comics just want a story, where the fictional world has no contextual basis, no conflict, then they’ll have to accept that they’ll be reading some rather dull comics, because they’re asking creators to create with no inspiration by their side.


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