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SOCIAL JUSTICE WARRIOR BEN COHEN
BEN COHEN is on the show today to talk about making indie comics and being one of those troublemaking “SJWs” online. Trolls have generally avoided Ben, who is a white heterosexual cisgender Jewish man.
We talked about some instances where comics, as an industry, has failed or improved with sensitive social issues such as race and religion.
“Comics at least superhero comics, are a reaction by oppressed people.” ~Ben Cohen
I shared a bizarre story about a commenter who went off on tirades about the casting of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman as being Unamerican despite other fans politely correcting him. He had also gone on and on about Superman, Batman, and Obama so you can imagine how he received any criticism.
“My representation is over-saturated. I don’t need to speak up.” ~Ben Cohen
Ben shared his personal journey as a cartoonist and the crushing weight of comparing onesself to others, even peers. Ben went to a great art school and feels like he slipped behind in building an art career.
BULLYING, SHAMING, BODY IMAGE
Ben grew up in Berkeley and around the San Francisco area so he was shaped with appreciation for things that are often oppressed like racial diversity, loving the human body in all shapes, and speaking up for people who aren’t being heard. His own heavy figure and his challenges with dyslexia perhaps gave Ben the tools to empathize with other people.
Often when we speak of body image, there’s only one version of criticism that gets the attention and that’s when it’s an overweight white woman being bullied or Photoshopped. But in the past month, we’ve seen a lot of headlines about Wentworth Miller and his fat shamed picture becoming a meme; but also of Kerry Washington, once again having her skin lightening and her bone structure altered so much that she didn’t even recognize herself on the cover of AdWeek. We as end users, consumers, and fans end up seeing things like Instagram forbidding body hair on women showing.
There are seldom breakthrough role models who seem above reproach with body image celebrity. Many of them like Amy Schumer get knocked down over and over again. I began following Harna Amkaur on Instagram and she’s the bearded lady and body confidence activist. She breaks the cookie cutter mold. Ben expressed how the exploitation of people who aren’t conforming is usually confused with inclusion.
“You can’t erase hate from your stories. That’s just dumb. And in fact, what you should be doing is you should be getting to the bottom of the character. You should be figuring out who they are, but you don’t need to make them the primary person. You don’t need to enter the story through their lens. You can make it about another person that has been marginalized and make it theirs – have them own, have agency in their own story and then through that also experience an understanding of what it is to be the person who’s hating.” ~Ben Cohen on writing characters who are racist or otherwise oppressive.
We talked some specific comics where representation or social issues are addressed either upfront or through metaphor:
- – Bitch Planet
- – Rise: Comics Against Bullying
- – Rat Queens
- – Dark Corridor
- – Lumberjanes
“Then in the marketplace, it’s super important to make sure you are promoting other types of people’s perspectives and you are putting their work forth sometimes ahead of your own if you’re the type of person whose work saturates the market already.” ~Ben Cohen
Harley Quinn became the catalyst for discussion about the ways characters evolve in a range from all ages friendly to adult/mature audiences only.