DOES IT MATTER IF SOMEONE HAS READ THE BOOK?
AMBER LOVE 26-MARCH-2015 This might sound preposterous but critiquing a cover image on a comic book is not the same as reviewing the series. This is not specifically to be yet another discussion on the BATGIRL #41 variant cover, but it can be used an example. I’ll ask this: Why does it matter if someone has read the book when they are talking about the cover?
COMIC COVERS VS INTERIORS
The obvious reason would be if the critique is focused on how the cover image ties into the interior story. Disconnected cover images are a normal part of comics publishing process. It’s been done with loads of superhero comics in particular. Cover artists can be commissioned months before and separately from the creative team of the series. Do people think Milo Manara was reading scripts of Spider-Woman before drawing his infamous cover that sparked rage in 2014? He was more likely commissioned to draw the character and it was left at that. If the very artist crafting an image hasn’t read the book, why are people dismissing comments by the fanbase and comic reviewers who haven’t read a book yet?
Sometimes, a reviewer gets a book in advance through access to press copies where content is embargoed until the day of or the day prior to publication. Some even get exclusive access a day before other reviewers. It’s not a lot of time to keep up with the to-be-read pile. In the cases of BATGIRL, TEEN TITANS and SPIDER-WOMAN, the discussion about the contents of the story can be and should be discussed even before the stories are out. How? It’s a matter of marketing.
PROMISES BY PUBLISHERS
Both DC and Marvel have made public statements claiming to care about audiences. The publishers and the creators have said that female voices matter, though sometimes they are hypocritical about it. DC’s Dan DiDio makes statements that don’t seem to mesh very well with his DC peers Geoff Johns and Jim Lee. There’s a reason fans refer back to 2011 as if it was the stone age. It was during that time when DiDio would skirt the issue about DC’s hiring practices and failure to account for female creators in his mantra, “We hire the best people,” disregarding how few women were considered good enough to be among those best people.
Jump to this year and DC’s announcement of yet another universe reboot. The announcement came with fervor about diversity and how there were more female, non-white, and LGBT creators and characters in the spotlight than they ever had before. DC’s statement didn’t specifically mention “female,” only “diversity,” because the executives are still afraid of touching feminism in any form despite feminism being about equality across a variety of marginalized people. “But we have Gail Simone therefore we care about women,” is the comic book version of, “I have black friends therefore I’m not racist.”
“We are looking to extend that experience within publishing to ensure there is a comic book for everyone.” Jim Lee, co-publisher DC Comics
So, from the critics’ and fans’ perspectives, we have some promises, some announcements, some things to look forward to over the next couple of months. It’s a wait and see game until June. However, we’ve already been given teasers in images that show cover or promotional art. We’ve already seen Black Canary with a punk rock edge. We’ve seen Starfire with slightly more clothes than before. We’ve seen We Are Robin about Batman’s legacy of sidekicks and that image shows at least two female Robin figures albeit with modern makeovers.
None of us have been able to read the stories yet. Yet, there are people who believe we have no right to criticize art alone. Why can’t someone criticize a picture of Starfire and point out a moment in time where she’s more object than empowered if that’s happening?
“In addition to complete makeovers for DC’s iconic trinity of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, the fresh lineup will include new comics starring women and heroes of color in their own solo series such as Cyborg, Black Canary, Starfire, and the first female teenage President of the United States, Beth Ross, in Prez.” The Advocate interview with DC Comics
Why can’t someone judge the BATGIRL Joker variant without having read the series? The answer is that the cover is art. Art gets judged. Context matters. The cover in these cases like BATGIRL, TEEN TITANS, and SPIDER-WOMAN are not related to the contents of the books so there’s no context. Promises by a publisher are out there and if those statements are not reflected in their own art, I see nothing wrong with pointing that out.
MARKETING AND TRENDING IS NOTICED
When this current BATGIRL series launched, it was driven by the imagery of Barbara being younger in a rad new costume. Twitter exploded. Batgirl was trending. The creative team was wholly interactive and engaged with fellow professionals and all the fans because everyone across the board was excited. Some have been and will always be upset about Barbara’s miraculous healing and erasure of her wheelchair since her Oracle identity to this point was far more visible in the comics than her Batgirl identity. It’s Batgirl that has been seen by larger audiences on television, in cartoons, and at the movies. This recovery is worthy of debate. But there’s no denying that fan squeals were resonating around the new, young, fresh Batgirl being presented.
The youthfulness and the modest costume appealed to people looking for books for YA fans. The new look removed the trope that a female character has to represent every single type of woman and instead gave Barbara some definition. Hopefully the new Black Canary will do the same thing for her own audience.
“She never expected such an enormous positive reaction. Batgirl was trending on Twitter nationwide for twelve hours.” The Daily Geekette interview with Babs Tarr
Without even having read the series, I was able to see those BATGIRL pages about Dagger Type because fan sites had them posted. It was enough to get context about the problems with Dagger Type. I was able to have a conversation with a transgender writer and ask openly about his opinion. Only those few pages were necessary for this to be a discussion.
“Barbara Gordon’s transgender friend and former roommate Alysia Yeoh will continue to be a reoccurring character in the pages of Batgirl, while writer Daniel H. Wilson assures Green Lantern Alan Scott will retain his status as a high-profile gay superhero in Earth 2: Society.” The Advocate
I don’t need to read volumes of BATGIRL old and new to have an opinion on that Joker variant. I’ve read THE KILLING JOKE. I have a request in for the galley of BATGIRL volume one. But I’ve already seen the rescinded cover and know it’s all wrong for that book. Part of that basis is that I listen to other comic book fans and professionals. If I can listen to them, if the artist can listen to them, if the publisher can listen to them – it shows the power behind one cover image and how important it was to have discussions about it. Without having read it, I can look at the image and say the heroine doesn’t look particularly heroic; she looks terrified; she doesn’t look like she’s thinking five chess moves ahead to get out of that situation; she looks weak. I don’t need the interiors, which are not even about TKJ story, to judge that cover image for its misogyny and the poor taste of the publisher.
DIRECT MARKET REFLECTIONS
BATGIRL was the #24 best selling comic book in January when measuring only the Diamond sales to retailers. I cannot wait for the day when digital sales are included in charts. We will see a shift. We will see the “46.67%” number change to back up what many are feeling – that female voices are equal in the comic book market. By the way, THOR was #8 and I’m one of the people that doesn’t like calling her Thor because I’m hung up on the mantle vs. name debate. Even still, with my hangup about the name, I cannot and will not dismiss the evidence that a female character is rocking the hell out of that book and I do not need to be one of 69,497 readers to say so. (Source on figures: ICv2)
“She probably doesn’t even read the comic.” That’s a common mantra of fanboys looking to cred check female fans in the neverending Fake Geek debates. It’s said in cosplay all the time as if you can’t like a character from your childhood unless you’re reading all the comics published today.