Well, today’s article was originally going to be titled “The Joy Of… Tank Girl” but, instead of rambling about one particular comic series, I thought that I’d take a look at comics as a whole.
One of the things that makes comics such an outstanding medium is just how rebellious they can be. Whilst you probably won’t find a huge amount of rebellion in the pages of a generic mainstream superhero comic (given how this genre evolved as a direct result of comics censorship), virtually every other type of comic can be surprisingly rebellious. Seriously, it’s part of what makes comics… well.. comics.
Whether it’s a candidly autobiographical comic like Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis”, whether it’s a stylised manga comic, whether it’s the wonderfully outspoken satire in Warren Ellis’ “Transmetropolitan”, whether it’s a gory horror comic, whether it’s Alan Moore’s “V For Vendetta”, whether it’s the general anarchy of old childrens’ comics like “The Beano“, whether it’s a slightly eccentric syndicated cartoon in a newspaper or whether it’s an out-and-out punk comic like Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett’s “Tank Girl”, comics are a wonderfully rebellious medium 🙂
So, why are comics so amazingly rebellious? There are several reasons for this.
1) Most of them aren’t mainstream: Generally, whenever there’s something about “comics” in the media, it’s often about the very mainstream superhero genre (and the two major publishers of these comics). Although this is kind of annoying, it also has something of a fringe benefit too.
Although there are obviously exceptions to this rule, most real creativity tends to happen outside of the mainstream. I mean, just look at heavy metal and punk music. These can be some of the most musically complex and linguistically intelligent genres of music out there (if you don’t believe me, then just listen to some Bad Religion, some modern Iron Maiden and/or some Cradle Of Filth), but they very rarely appear on the radio or on television.
Because they have a dedicated fanbase, and because they don’t have to focus on appealing to a “popular” audience, these genres of music can focus more on actual creativity and self-expression. The same is true for many comics too. Except, of course, for the superhero genre.
Being outside the mainstream, and slightly out of the public eye, also gives comic creators more freedom of expression too. Although comics certainly aren’t immune from controversies, it’s very telling that virtually all of the modern comics-related controversies tend to be about mainstream superhero comics.
Since most comics aren’t as famous as these comics, they’re less likely to attract controversy – meaning that the creators thankfully have more freedom to include rebellious, edgy, cynical, subversive, risque and/or satirical content without the fear of a major controversy.
2) They have all the advantages of film/TV, but none of the disadvantages: Like film and TV, comics are a visual medium that grabs the audience’s attention instantly. They’re also a medium that often doesn’t require a huge amount of “effort” to enjoy.
However, unlike films and TV shows, a comic can be created by just one person. One person can be in charge of literally everything that happens in a comic. In other words, comics can easily contain the same degree of unique self-expression as a novel can. Not only that, there are fewer barriers to entry when it comes to making comics. Theoretically, all you need to make a comic is a pen, a pencil, an eraser and some paper.
In addition to this, no-one has tried to formally censor comics (in Europe and America, at least) for at least a couple of decades. However, if you want to release a film in Britain, you are still legally obliged to get the approval of the British Board Of Film Classification first. Although the BBFC aren’t as bad as they used to be, they’re still not above doing things like counting swear words, setting rules about how certain subjects (eg: drug use etc..) are depicted and, in rare cases, even banning films.
But, thankfully, with comics, there are (usually) no censors to get between the creators and their audience.
3) Comics don’t have to be “realistic”: Yes, you can buy comics with very realistic art, very realistic characters and very realistic settings, but these are a relatively recent development. For most of their history, comics contained stylised art and a wide array of exaggerated, comedic, eccentric and just generally interesting characters. This means that they are the perfect medium for satire, parody and all sorts of other interestingly rebellious things.
Because comics don’t have to be realistic, they can do a lot of things that more “realistic” mediums like film and television can’t do easily or cheaply. If you want to include a ‘special effect’ in your comic, then the only question is “how do I draw this?” If you want to include an elaborate location in a comic, you don’t have to worry about building a set or using a green screen, you just have to work out how to draw it. Comic makers have far more practical freedom than filmmakers do.
Likewise, because comics traditionally don’t include “realistic” art, this changes the audience’s expectations slightly. Not only does it add more uniqueness to the story that is being told, but (with the exception of biographical comics) it’s also a very clear signal that “this is fiction, and literally anything can happen here“.
In other words, even the art in a comic tells the reader that they are entering a world of pure imagination and pure creativity. They are entering a small corner of the mind of the person who wrote and/or drew the comic. It tells the reader that they might encounter strange things, unusual opinions and all sorts of other stuff. Now compare this to the rigid storytelling conventions and visual traditions of the average Hollywood film….
This alone usually means that comics can be far more rebellious than most other mediums can be.
Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂