Tagged: Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye

Martha Thomases: Banning Yourself

This week is Banned Book Week. Read a banned book.

Luckily (I say sarcastically), more and more often, this means to read a comic book or graphic novel.

I think this happens because, despite nearly three decades of graphic novels aimed at adults, comics are still perceived as a children’s medium. Almost all defenses of censorship wrap themselves in the guise of protecting kids from “harmful” ideas. What constitutes “harm,” is, of course, wildly unspecific. It can be sexual content. It can be political content. It can be the idea that racial differences don’t make one group of people less (or more) human than another.

Most recently, it seems that most objections to graphic novels have to do with LGBTQ content as if the mere existence of queer people is in and of itself obscene. To quote Marika Tamaki (This One Summer), “I stand by my assertion that any person who wants a book removed from a library for having queer content should have to make their case to a panel of LGBTQ readers as to why their lives shouldn’t be represented in the library.”

Banning other points of view doesn’t make reality change, it only makes the perception of reality change. So banning books with queer characters doesn’t make everybody straight.

I assume most of you know how strongly ComicMix supports the First Amendment. I also assume you know about the many such organizations that support free speech and diversity of opinion.

Therefore, I’m going to talk about another form of censorship — self-censorship. This isn’t a First Amendment issue, but I think it can be just as relevant to you, Constant Reader, and to living your fullest life. I’m going to talk about going out of your way to encounter other points of view.

It is easier than ever to live one’s life without ever hearing a significant disagreement. I, personally, live in one of the most progressive zip codes in the country. I read lots of news and opinions, online and on paper, and while I watch less television news than I used to (talking heads drive me batty, because they rarely dig down into facts but rather tend to blather in sound-bites), I still spend a few hours a day trying to keep up with the world.

And I still don’t see every perspective.

Here’s an example. During the debate over the GOP plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, I heard a lot of different perspectives about what was wrong and right about Obamacare. However, I didn’t see any actual defense about what was in the specific bills designed to replace it. The CBO said the plans would push tens of millions out of the insurance markets, and I couldn’t find a single Congressperson who said this was a good thing, or why.

When we discuss what’s wrong with the news media, I would say right there is a problem. Reporters weren’t asking that question.

Lucky for me, the New York Times did, finally, run a few Op-Ed pieces defending the Republican plans or criticizing Democratic plans on policy terms, not popularity contests. I disagree with both of these columns (and we can discuss that in the comments, if you like), but I appreciated the thoughtful — even wonky — articulation of the situation.

As a fan of graphic story-telling, I especially enjoy a deep dive into other worldviews. Most recently, I’ve found it in Irmina and The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye. The first showed me how it felt to be a loyal German in World War II, and the latter immersed me in the history of Singapore that was entirely new to me (and I studied Asian history in college).

Censorship is wrong, not only because it shuts people out, but because it shuts them up. I will never be able to consider every opinion and perspective, but my life would not be worth living if I couldn’t try.

Martha Thomases: Holiday Facts and Checking Facts

How is your holiday shopping going? Mine is mostly finished, because I am a selfish person and don’t give gifts to very many people. However no matter how many people you love or how many people to whom you feel obligated, I’d like to make a suggestion for the perfect present.

The truth.

I don’t mean the excellent graphic novel by Robert Morales and Kyle Baker, although you should definitely consider it if you haven’t already. No, I mean the actual truth.

If the last several months have shown us anything, it is that, to most Americans, the truth is a fungible thing. Anything is true if you want it to be true. Fact-checking is for suckers. This isn’t healthy for us as individuals, nor for the country as a whole.

It certainly doesn’t bode well for our government. And by forcing news-gathering organizations to make profits, we ensure that we will not get the best news, but the most popular. We won’t get the most facts, but we’ll know if Kanye dyed his hair.

(I’m very sorry that I know this.)

It’s important to get the news from reliable sources. My go-to page is The New York Times. They make mistakes, and they have a bias towards their most affluent readers, but they hire good people and give them the space to write real stories. You could do worse than to send someone a subscription.

I don’t just read the Times, however. I read all sorts of things, and you should, too. Your hometown paper could probably use a few more subscribers. It’s useful to check in with the BBC and other international sources. The Week is a magazine that collects and digests news from all over. Full disclosure: I worked for a PR firm that had The Week as a client a decade ago.Different national perspectives are important. So are different cultural perspectives. The overwhelming majority of professional journalists in this country are white. I’m not questioning their commitment to the truth, but no single one of us can represent every single possible perspective. Give yourself a gift this solstice and seek out news and opinions from people who don’t look like you. If I might quote from this fascinating piece:

“… over my relatively short career, I have met so many wildly talented and generous and serious minority journalists who have provided me with emotional and spiritual sup
port that I will never be able to repay. These relationships are still there. The talent is still there. The audience for our work is still there. What’s changed is where we will publish that work and the spaces in which we will foster new friendships and rivalries.

“But, comics!” you wail. “I come to this website to read about comics!” I hear you, Constant Reader. As a comics fan, you have an opportunity to discover lots of important ideas in the very medium you love. For example, Brought to Light is a spectacularly paranoid and well-researched book from 1988 about spies and drugs and American duplicity. It’s a beautiful and bloody masterpiece.

If you want to give something more recent –and slightly more upbeat – I suggest Trashed, an autobiographical discussion about environmental issues, class and capitalism. Not only did this book encourage my efforts at composting, but I also tie up my trash bags much more securely since reading about all the gross things sanitation workers have to put up with.

For your loved ones who enjoy musical theater, you could do worse than give Fun Home, Alison Bechdel’s moving story about her father, her mother, and her own coming of age. It’s the inspiration for the Tony Award winning musical, and it tells a harrowing story about families and how dangerous it is to live in the closet.

I’m learning more about Singapore than I ever knew I wanted to know in The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew. This biography of a fictional cartoonist reveals so much about pop culture, colonialism and the twentieth century.

And I didn’t even know this book, Black Women in Sequence: Re-inking Comics, Graphic Novels and Anime even existed, but I sent away for it so I could learn about an area of our beloved medium that is new territory to me. Stay tuned, and I’ll tell you if it’s any good.

It should be obvious that I don’t know every possible gift that can expand your world – or mine. Please leave your suggestions in the comments.