Tagged: Alison Bechdel

Mike Gold: You Are Not Allowed To Read This!

bad-little-childrenI hate writing about this. I hate having to write about this so frequently. But this is the world we live in.

As my ol’ pal Martha Thomases wrote a couple days ago, I tend to have a thing about free speech. I’m an absolutist. In my fevered brain, I figure we don’t have free speech unless it’s complete and it covers everything, in all forms of expression. Some people put limitations on what will be tolerated and they put restrictions on what can be said and where things can be said. Even if I were the one making those decisions – an amusing concept – that is not free speech. As I keep on saying, I would not remove Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf from the libraries, although I would use the book to teach high schoolers the cause and effect of hate speech.

This does not absolve the speaker (writer, filmmaker, videographer, broadcaster, Internet troll) from taking responsibility for his or her actions. That’s why we have anti-defamation laws, and if they make you think twice about what you say, well, you should be thinking twice anyway. I’m also pro-truth.

People like to quote the 1919 Supreme Court ruling that says you can’t shout “fire” in a crowded theater. They are mistaken. In the case of Schenck v. U.S., Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. wrote: “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.” The italicized words are my doing, but even if you note the critical difference… it doesn’t matter.

fun-home-coverSchenck v. U.S was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1969 in the case of Brandenburg v. Ohio, which ruled that speech could only be banned when it was likely to incite imminent lawless action – a riot. This test is a matter of established law. Yelling fire outside a building to prevent people from entering is quite different from encouraging people to stampede out.

Having been a free speech absolutist for about a half-century, I am particularly terror-stricken when a bunch of self-righteous assholes get books pulled from libraries. This time they not only got another book banned, they got the publisher to stop printing the book.

The good folks at Abrams published a clever little book titled Bad Little Children’s Books, written by “Arthur C. Gackley,” which is a nom de plume. It says “Kid-Lit Parodies, Shameless Spoofs, Offensively Tweaked Covers” right there on the cover. I am not going to comment on the quality of the material in the book because that is completely irrelevant, and besides such comment would only be my opinion and, as I noted above, I am not the arbiter of good taste. Yes, that is quite a shame.

The hubbub in social media was so great that the author asked Abrams to cease publishing his book. Abrams declined to withdraw the title, but they said they won’t be going back to press for subsequent printings.

habibi-coverMy favorite comments on said social media are those who say “it’s not funny.” Really? Who the hell are you to determine what is or is not funny? Roy Cohn, the far-right-wing lawyer who orchestrated Senator Joe McCarthy’s red scare in the 1950s and later became one of Donald Trump’s major influences, was a gay man so closeted he refused to accept his own sexuality to the point where he even refused to let his lover into his hospital room as he was dying from HIV. The fact that he died of HIV due to his unacknowledged sexual orientation is likely to have contributed to his death: if you can’t accept your gayness you might not be taking the necessary precautions for safer sex (note to heterosexuals: you, too). You don’t think his death is funny? To quote George Carlin, “Fuck you, I think it’s hilarious.” Neither you nor I are the arbitrator of “funny.”

This social media stuff is scary. It, too, has the rights of free speech and there’s no ifs about that. I do note it’s the same tool that elected Donald Trump, in part, because of false news implants by people like Trump’s designated national security adviser Michael Flynn and General Flynn’s son. The kid’s tweet about how Hillary Clinton ran a child sex slavery ring out of a Washington DC pizza parlor motivated one idiot to drive from North Carolina to Washington to shoot the place up. I gather this is because he thinks most theaters now are fire retardant.

cbldf_logoA few days ago the Washington Post ran its list of the top 10 books most challenged in schools and libraries and, once again, Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel Fun Home makes the list. It’s number seven with a bullet… right underneath “The Bible.” Number eight is Craig Thompson’s graphic novel Habibi. There are two ways of looking at this. The first is, well, I guess it’s nice to see graphic novels are being taken seriously, even by the terminally self-righteous. The second is, censorship sucks.

If there is anybody who I have yet to piss off, this should do the trick. I am just as opposed from removing books from school libraries. Often you hear parents say they don’t want to have to answer the difficult questions their children might ask after reading such material. I respond “You should have thought of that before you pounded out your kid.” Explaining such stuff honestly and in terms your child can understand is a good part of your job. It ain’t easy, but “childrearing” and “easy” are mutually exclusive, and if you didn’t know that when you decided to keep the fetus, welcome to Earth.

These articles on ComicMix usually end with “support the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund” and many of us who toil here do just that. If you haven’t already, check them out. If you’ve got some spare cash and you’ve already paid the rent and put food in the pantry, please send them some loot.

Molly Jackson: Pass or Fail?

pass failI went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens on opening night. That’s not incredibly impressive because so did almost everyone else. While I was on line for my overpriced movie snacks, I did overhear a very interesting conversation. Three guys in their late twenties, talking about the Bechdel test and if certain movies would pass or fail.

In case you don’t know what the Bechdel test is, here are some details. The Bechdel test (also known as the Bechdel-Wallace test) first appeared in Alison Bechdel’s comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For. In a strip published in 1985 “The Rule”, two women discuss seeing a film and one of them lays out these rules that we have all come to use. The rules are: 1) The movie has to have at least two women in it, 2) who talk to each other, 3) about something besides a man. After the comic strip’s publication, it has also become common to require that both women have character names.

Dykes_to_Watch_Out_For_(Bechdel_test_origin)It has been applied to TV shows on a regular basis. I’m fairly certain that every episode of Buffy hasn’t passed this test. Teenage girls do spend a lot of time whining about their undead boyfriends in between saving the world from the bad guy. And my favorite comic book, The Life and Times of Savior 28, definitely doesn’t pass. (You should still read it though.) These examples don’t diminish the fact that this test, while far from perfect, is our only real judge of women in movies or any form of media.

So back to my eavesdropping. Here are three fairly young good looking albeit kinda hipster guys chatting about the Bechdel test and how movies need to change to better represent women. They were talking about the movie The Big Short in the context that women weren’t as involved with the real life events (which I don’t know is true) so that is why it probably won’t pass. They actually got really serious and intense in talking about the gender inequality in movies, especially in relation to the Bechdel test.

So, in overhearing all of this, I started to giggle. One of them caught my eye and we began to chat. I told them that the test had worked perfectly in their case because it made their discussion happen. When this comic was published, this conversation wasn’t happening on a movie concession line or probably anywhere else. When it finally started, it was women forcing the conversation upon men, as they explored the possibilities for equality in movies. Now, men are becoming equal partners in wanting to see change happen.

I’m not saying this change is going to be immediate; in fact it has been going on for longer than anyone’s lifetime who is reading this. Nevertheless, compared to 30 years ago when this was published, the conversation is happening on a public level. Yes, there are still people who deny the conversation exists, and we all know that equality is a hot button issue right now.

The world isn’t perfect and there is still a lot of room to grow. Sometimes the way things are really gets me down. But sometimes, I overhear the very best things and get re-inspired that we can change for the better.

Martha Thomases: Dog Day Censorship



These are the dog days of summer. There is relatively little news. The only movies being released are ones expected to tank, at least critically. Comics and television and other serial media are idling, getting ready to ramp up for their fall seasons.

I thought I would have nothing to write about.

I thought I would have to create a story that would be a metaphor for my recent battles with the health care industrial complex, which in this case means the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. I would name the villain after the medication prescribed by my doctor because of the super-human battle I had to wage to get my insurer to cover it.

And then this happened. Some Duke University freshmen objected to the fact that Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel Fun Home is on a suggested summer reading list.

Big whoop, right? It’s a “suggested” list. No one was making anyone read anything. There are lots of other interesting titles on the list. And Duke is a private university, so there is no overt issue of government coercion. No one makes you matriculate to Duke. If you don’t like what Duke offers, go elsewhere. Marketplace of ideas. Yada yada yada.

Even so, there are many who consider this an example of discrimination against Christians. They claim Fun Home is lesbian pornography and to read it would violate their consciences.

I’m not a Christian, so maybe I’m ignorant about certain inner-circle rules and regulations. Still, I’ve read all the testaments, and I don’t recall any injunctions against reading things with which one disagrees. Not even in Leviticus.

And I’m not a lesbian, nor do I consume a lot of porn (except for this, which makes me swoon), but I don’t know anyone among the millions of people who read it who have celebrated Fun Home for its ability to arouse the reader sexually. Again, it’s possible I don’t hang out with a fun crowd.

What’s so horrible about reading a book that contradicts your core beliefs? Most of us hold at least one or two ideas that are out of the mainstream, which means that we are bombarded daily with things with which we disagree. As a Jew, I’m subjected to two months of Christmas celebrations, plus Easter in the spring. As a New Yorker, I still get stuck watching news reports about fires on the West Coast. As a person who appreciates healthy food, I still have to pass the McDonald’s on my corner too many times.

It’s not all about me and what I want. (Hard to believe. I know.) And that’s something I learned in college, when I was exposed to ideas and ways of thinking that were different from those with which I was raised.

The straw-man argument usually made at this point in the discussion is to accuse those of us who are not conservative Christians of doing the same thing, banning books with which we disagree. I know this is something that so-called liberals occasionally do, because we are all humans and almost all humans act like assholes sometimes. Still, when I Google “liberal book-banning,” I don’t get any recent results.

I do, however, get links to articles that bemoan “political correctness” and “trigger warnings.” In my experience, both terms can be used to limit discussion, but that doesn’t mean they are the same as book banning. It is my observation that people who bring up political correctness have most likely already lost the argument. And people who dismiss trigger warnings don’t understand what they are.

This essay describes the situation well. The author says

“I also take issue with the idea that trigger warnings “coddle” college students and perpetuate hyper-sensitivity. Trigger warnings notify people of potentially triggering content, which means that they’ve already gone through the traumatic experience in question….Trigger warnings are not a form of censorship, but a form of courtesy. It doesn’t mean people shouldn’t write about controversial or painful topics.”

Trigger warnings provide more information, not less. Providing more information is not usually considered a form of censorship. It does, however, require more work.

To me, the best part of college was the smorgasbord of ideas that were offered to me to sample. I could taste as many as I wanted. I learned that I liked Chinese literature and African history. I learned I didn’t like lentil loaf, a dish that didn’t exist in either Youngstown or boarding school.. I learned about conceptual art and Soviet-era cinema.

I didn’t have to read Fun Home, because it didn’t exist yet. Which is too bad. Fun Home showed me that accepting your parents for who they really are is the only way to love them, and to love yourself.

Martha Thomases: New York is Comics Country

There used to be a wonderful street fair on New York’s Fifth Avenue in the fall, usually on a Sunday, called “New York is Book Country.” Publishers would show their wares. A few bookstores would set up shop on the sidewalk in front of their shops (there were still bookstores on Fifth Avenue then), and one could stroll down the middle of the street, meeting authors, finding new treasures, and enjoying the city that was, then, the center of American publishing.

That was where I met Madeleine L’Engle, a true high point of my existence.

New York used to be Book Country and, even more, it was Comics Country. Comics were born here. The largest comic book companies were here (or, in the case of Archie, in our suburbs). The business was small enough so that one could no everyone in it. An outsider (like me) could become an insider by learning where people hung out and arranging to be in those places often enough to become friends.

Last week, DC Comics moved its offices to Burbank California, and many noted that this was the end of an era.

Yet just as I might have tumbled into a pit of nostalgic regret, the very next day saw the beginning of this year’s MoCCA Festival. In the heart of the hyper-hip Chelsea gallery district, MoCCA was a breath of fresh air. Literally, in that it was housed in a building with a lovely rooftop terrace.

MoCCA is unlike most of the other New York comic shows in that it doesn’t include retailers or dealers. There are a few booths from publishers (including Abrams, Pantheon, .01, Fantagraphics and others), but mostly it is individual creators, selling their own creations. And while sometimes this can make me feel like an old fart, it’s also exciting and energizing. Every year, there is so much eager new talent.

As I walked down West 22nd Street from Tenth Avenue, I noticed that almost all the other pedestrians were women and girls. I think most of the people inside the facility were also women and girls. Klaus Janson tells me that more than half of the people who take his class at the School of Visual Arts are female.

Another sign that this is a new era for comics.

The very next evening after MoCCA ended, there was a panel discussion at Columbia University about the work of Denis Kitchen, who just donated his archives to the library’s collections. He spoke, along with a few academics and Howard Cruse about the early days of underground and independent comics. At one point during the Q & A part of the conversation, one of the academics said he looked forward to a time when comic book studies were considered to be just as important as film studies.

Still another sign.

In two weeks, the City University of New York will host a two day conference titled, “08,” which will feature keynote speakers Howard Cruse and Alison Bechdel. Alison’s keynote is already sold out.

Publishing comics might not rely on New York City anymore, but it’s still home to a lot of people who love to read them.