Three Reasons Why Comics Are More Rebellious Than Other Mediums

2016 Artwork Why Are Comics So Rebellious

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.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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Why Literature Can Never Be Censored

2015 Artwork why literature can't be censored replacement sketch

Even though this is an article about imagination, censorship, self-censorship and the power of literature, I’m going to have to start by talking about my reactions to reading another article that I saw online a couple of months ago. There’s a good reason for this and I’m not just rambling about my own thoughts for the sake of it.

Likewise, although I’ll try to keep this article suitably undetailed, I should probably warn you that I’ll begin by discussing a genre of fiction that some people may disapprove of. I am writing about this genre purely because of the questions it raises about censorship, self-censorship and the nature of the imagination.

Anyway, although I won’t link to the exact article I read (for reasons that will probably become apparent later), I stumbled across an absolutely fascinating interview (on a popular American humour website, no less) with a professional author who writes lots of … how shall I put it?… short E-books that are designed to be read in private.

This is, if I’m being honest, a genre I’ve always been curious about writing in. But, on the rare occasions that I’ve challenged myself to write something of publishable quality in this genre, I’ve always ended up toning it down quite significantly. I’ve always worried that it would be too shocking if I didn’t self-censor quite a bit. Well, after reading the interview, I had a very different perspective on the genre.

From the interview, I quickly learnt that – even if I didn’t self-censor – my stories would, by modern standards, actually be extremely tame. Hell, they would probably be boring.

I won’t go into detail about some of the more obscure sub-genres of fiction described in the interview – other than to say that the fact that some of them actually exist freaked me out a bit.

And, when it comes to this subject, I like to think that I’m a fairly open-minded and non-judgemental person. Still, at least I was open-minded enough to realise that, although several of the sub-genres of this type of fiction certainly weren’t my kind of thing, the writer still had every right in the world to write and publish these stories.

Naturally, this also made me think about the power of the written word and of the dangers of censorship. In the western world at least (apart from Germany, thanks to a rather bizarre censorship law they recently passed), literature is one of the last bastions of true free expression. It is, as I think I’ve probably mentioned before, one of the few truly anarchic spaces that we have left.

Writers have, thankfully, been able to get away with far more than film-makers, videogame developers or comic creators have and I think that this is due to the difference between the written word and visual media.

In prose fiction, everything takes place entirely within both the writer’s imagination and the reader’s imagination. As such, literature is justifiably free from censorship for the simple reason that to censor literature is to censor thought itself.

Likewise, in order to understand a collection of letters on a page, you have to look closely at it for a few seconds – whereas, with visual media, it’s contents are obvious even from a distance. Prose fiction has much less of an immediate impact than, say, films do. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not arguing in favour of film censorship here, but this does explain why things like films, comics and videogames have been victims of censorship far more often than literature has.

A great example of this can be seen in the horror genre in 1980s Britain. Back in the early-mid 1980s, there was a silly moral panic about “video nasties“. These were gruesome horror movies on video that, by modern standards at least, are fairly tame.

Anyway, a bunch of stuffy old conservatives and preachy tabloid journalists got themselves worked up into an absolute tizzy about these films and this eventually led to the regrettable decision by the conservative government of the time to extend official film censorship to videos as well as cinemas.

However, were you to visit a bookshop at the same time, you could apparently find a plethora of splatterpunk horror novels which contained far more gruesome horrors than any film at the time did.

Hell, even when I first read second-hand copies of these books back in the ’00s, they still seemed wonderfully edgy and genuinely shocking. In fact, when I was finally old enough to lie about my age convincingly enough to buy some real horror movies, I actually found them to be quite disappointing by comparison.

Not only that, thanks to the fact that literature is often eclipsed by other forms of popular entertainment these days, controversial or shocking works of literature can thankfully slip under the radar in a way that, say, even slightly controversial videogames cannot.

I mean, even when “Fifty Shades” made a particular genre of literature popular again, there wasn’t really quite the kind of silly outraged moral panics and moralistic howls for censorship that there would be if someone had produced a film containing the exact same content as the book apparently has.

Yes, I’m aware that there’s a film adaptation of “Fifty Shades” but, from all I’ve read about it, it apparently had to be toned down a lot in order to avoid censorship and controversy.

Literature is a slightly obscure entertainment medium, it’s contents are not always immediately obvious and it takes place entirely within the anarchic private space of our imaginations. It is for these reasons that literature is not only one of the most powerful entertainment mediums in existence but also one of the few things which is thankfully well and truly out of the grasp of puritans, prudes, political fanatics and armchair censors.

Literature is a little pocket of anarchy in a world that is increasingly becoming dominated by censorship. Whether it’s the frothing moralistic censorship of the political right, or the self-righteous buzzword-ridden censorship of the political left, we’re living in a world where self-expression is often constrained by a few people’s personal feelings of disgust or offence.

Not only does literature manage to dodge most of this outrage by virtue of being literature – but also because of the sheer volume of it online. Even if a few people used their personal feelings of disgust to censor someone’s e-books, then there would be hundreds of other self-published authors out there who would take that writer’s place in less than a microsecond.

Although, when it comes to things like films, comics, videogames, advertising etc… the miserable censors on both sides of the political spectrum might win the occasional high-profile “victory”, literature is – thankfully – an entertainment medium that is far more powerful than all of these censors are.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Editorial Cartoon: “Britain, THIS Is Why We Cannot Have Nice Things”

"Britain, THIS Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things" By C. A. Brown

“Britain, THIS Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” By C. A. Brown

Although I try to keep politics out of this blog most of the time, I make an exception when it comes to the subject of free speech and censorship for the simple reason that official censorship damages creativity and can have a chilling effect on the kinds of things that writers, artists, film-makers etc.. can create.

Anyway, I read this article on Melonfarmers [ slightly NSFW] earlier and I’m currently watching a Youtube video that explains the situation too.

Basically, a UK-based political commentary show called “The UK Column” on Youtube (and I don’t know whether it’s a left or right wing show and I don’t care, free speech is free speech) has been censored by The Authority For Television On Demand (eg: they started to demand licence fees and that the channel submitted to their regulation) because ATVOD claims that the Youtube channel is “Television like” or something like that.

Supposedly we have “free speech” in Britain. But we really don’t! When the government starts meddling in political discussion on the internet, then we might as well abandon all pretence of being a democracy!

Luckily written articles and editorial cartoons are out of ATVOD’s reach for the time being, but it’s probably just a matter of time given how no-one in authority in the UK seems to really give a damn about free speech.