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The Wednesday Waffle issue #31: Open the gates!

It's Wednesday, and we have a waffle! It's also New Comic Book Day, and there are some great comics out this week - click here to check out this week's rack!


Before we get started though, some sad news to report:


JOHN PAUL LEON

26.04.1972 - 01.05.2021


Like many - if not most - comics artists, John Paul Leon was not a household name. But if you've read comics in the last thirty years then you've probably seen his work.


A page from Robocop: Prime Suspect, pencils by John Paul Leon.
A page from Robocop: Prime Suspect, pencils by John Paul Leon.

His life as a professional artist began in the late eighties when, at the age of sixteen, he started providing illustrations for Dungeons & Dragons magazine. It wasn't long before he made the segue into comics, landing his first proper comics job as the pencil artist on the Dark Horse mini-series Robocop: Prime Suspect in 1992.


He was twenty, and studying illustration at the School of Visual Arts in New York, under the tutelage of such giants as Will Eisner and Walter Simonson. It was pretty obvious that his star was rising, and would rise high.



A year later, his work on the comic Static was not just his first work for a DC Comics imprint, but was also accepted by his tutor Walter Simonson as his coursework for that semester! He was on his way.


Leon graduated from the SVA in 1994 and immediately began working for both Marvel and DC, as well as producing the style guides for several of the early DC movies, including Superman Returns and Batman Begins.


Our sincere condolences to his family and friends.




MORE GATEKEEPING


And now on to the opinionated bit.


A meme was circulating a couple of weeks ago along the lines of "The problem with new Star Wars fans is that they're like 'Oh, I love Rey and Kylo! Sorry? What's a Revan?'" The suggestion being, once again, that if a person doesn't know everything about every aspect of a franchise they're somehow not a real fan.


I've banged on before about how much that attitude infuriates me. Apart from anything else is the person complaining in the meme was a "real fan" surely rather than rolling their eyes at the person who doesn't know who Revan is they'd be delighted to be able to share their knowledge and passion for the character - that's the geek thing to do.


We seem to have hit a point in many fandoms where there's a vocal minority intent on making everything a "closed shop", excluding "outsiders" - by which they mean "people who are not like us". Another example of this was highlighted last week when Comic Book Resources ran an article on Eve Ewing's experience of writing comics (which you can read in full HERE).


Eve Ewing
Eve Ewing

If you're unfamiliar with Eve Ewing she's a distinguished academic, sociologist, author, poet, and an assistant professor at the University of Chicago. She also wrote the series Ironheart for Marvel Comics, and it's that experience that led to her interview with CBR. Suffice to say, it wasn't entirely positive.


I was vaguely aware of the issues she was having at the time simply because I spend a lot of time hanging around in comics groups on social media and I saw some of the reactions that a certain section of the comics readership had when her Ironheart series was announced.


Ironheart 1 cover. Art by Amy Reeder

If you're unfamiliar with Ironheart, by the way, it's the Superhero name of Riri Williams, a teenaged super-genius created by Brian Michael Bendis and Mike Deodato who first appeared in Invincible Iron Man #7 in 2016.


Like Ewing, Williams hails from Chicago. Unlike Ewing she's a gifted engineer who built her own Iron Man style armour from scratch and took it to Stark Tower to show Tony Stark.


Stark took her under his wing and for a while, when Stark was "mostly dead"* she took up the Iron Man mantle, before forging her own identity as Ironheart.


So to me, when Eve Ewing was announced as the writer for a new Ironheart series it made a great deal of sense to me. Sure, Ewing had never written comics before, but there was no doubting her talent as a writer. And there's an inescapable logic to getting a talented woman of colour from Chicago to tell stories about a talented woman of colour from Chicago. I'm not saying that people can only write about characters like themselves - given that Riri Williams was created by a male Jewish writer from Cleveland and a male Brazilian artist from Campina Grande such an assertion would be absurd - but equally there's no way to say that Ewing and Williams aren't a good fit.


As a sociologist who has published a great deal of research on civil rights and social justice Eve Ewing is no stranger to criticism and controversy, but she wasn't expecting any backlash from her work for Marvel. After all, she thought, this was "about the least political thing I had ever done". Yeah. She reckoned without that "certain section" of fandom.


In an article for the New York Times Ewing recalled:


"My Twitter notifications were a garbage fire. They said I had no talent, that I was a harbinger of everything that was going wrong in the comics industry. Some of them used coded language like 'forced diversity.' Other messages, like a simple image of a burning cross, were more direct,"


Now. I'm not suggesting that everyone who happens to not enjoy Ewing's run on Ironheart is racist. (I am going to question their taste in comics, but that's an entirely subjective thing...) Again, that would be absurd - not everyone is going to like everything. I am suggesting that some of the people who objected to Ewing being hired were not entirely honest about the reason for their objection.


Let's put the overt racism and misogyny to one side. It stands to reason that a racist misogynist isn't going to get enthusiastic about a series featuring a woman of colour being written by a woman of colour. The negativity from that section of society is pretty much a given. But let's look at some of the other objections.


First of all, "forced diversity". What even is that? Who is being forced? Speaking personally I think diversity of choice is important. I remember a time when almost all comics that you could easily get hold of were about big white men. If women or people of colour appeared they were generally in secondary roles - the side-kick, the assistant, the girlfriend etc.** Back then comics were overwhelmingly read by young white boys***, because kids from other demographics weren't being attracted by those characters.


Well, now if you happen to be a woman, or a person of colour, or a person who identifies as LGBTQIA+ you can look at the rack in your local comics store, and you can find a comic that centres around somebody like you. But nothing is being forced surely? The "Big White Men" are still around, and for the most part, still worth reading. Superman, Iron Man, Batman, Captain America, Hawkeye, The Punisher, Shazam****, the rest of them, they all still exist. More comics featuring "diverse" characters doesn't mean the other characters aren't around.


And if you have no interest in the adventures of Riri "Ironheart" Williams, or Kamala "Ms Marvel" Khan, or Miles "Spider-Man" Morales that's OK. You don't have to buy them. Honest. I won't make you. I think you're missing out if you ignore them, but that's up to you.


So "forced diversity" isn't a thing. It's just not. People making that objection seem to me to be saying "I have no interest in this, therefore there is no need for it to exist". Well, I'm going to respectfully suggest that that's a terrible attitude. I hate Mrs Brown's Boys with a passion. I think it's an awful show. But people watch it with every sign of enjoyment. Who am I to tell them that they shouldn't? I can choose to watch the other side.


The "no talent" accusation is perhaps a little harder to rebut, simply because that's not really an objective call. I've been guilty myself of lazily writing off creators whose work I don't enjoy as "talentless" - I've spoken before about my Rob Liefeld epiphany, I slagged off his work in comics for years as the daubings of a talentless hack, but any actual study of what he can do suggests that he is in fact neither of those things. So I can see that people who didn't enjoy Ewing's writing writing her off in a similar way.


I will say though that at least my criticisms of Liefeld's work were based on having actually seen it. Much of the ire aimed at Ewing came before Ironheart #1 hit the stands, and given that Ironheart is the only comics work that Ewing has done I'm not sure on what evidence that claim was being made.


But the complaint that really blew my mind was the idea that Ewing wasn't a "comics person" and she hadn't "paid her dues". Some people really seemed infuriated that she was "parachuted in" with no previous experience to write an important book for a major publisher when so many writers are working hard working their way up through self publishing, writing five page back up strips, getting their first deal with a small indie publisher somewhere and then finally hitting the big time with DC or Marvel. These people, the argument went, were somehow being "passed over".


And to that I say "the world doesn't work like that". There are some careers, I suppose where you start at the bottom and work your way up - although fewer than there used to be, I suspect. But one thing I'm sure of, none of those jobs are in publishing - or any other creative industry for that matter.


When novelist Catherine Cookson published her first novel she was forty six. It was a bestseller. Would we say that she hadn't "paid her dues"? That she should have published a string of moderately popular short stories and a couple of novels that didn't quite hit first? Of course not. Stephen King doesn't have much of a track record in comics. Does that mean that him and his son Owen shouldn't be allowed to bring Sleeping Beauties to the rack? I don't think so.


I genuinely don't know whether Ewing pitched her idea for Ironheart to Marvel or whether Marvel reached out to her - or whether it was some combination of the two - but either way it doesn't matter. If Ewing read Invincible Iron Man, liked the character and pitched a story to Marvel, that makes sense. Her reputation as a writer and poet would have meant that editors would have taken a look. If there was an editor at Marvel who was a fan of Ewing's poetry had the thought "Y'know, given her background is similar to Riri's I'd love to see her take..." and reached out, that makes sense too. Why wouldn't you do that?


The idea that only people who are already in comics should get jobs in comics are absurd. Bringing people in with different experiences and fresh ideas is always good, so long as they do good work. Eve Ewing did good work. It sold as well as anything else, which is the only measure publishers care about, and for what it's worth, I absolutely loved it.


So I say again. Open the gates. Let everyone in who wants to come in. If somebody likes any part of Batman, then they're a Batman fan, even if they like the bits that don't work for me. Same goes for Star Wars. Or My Little Pony. Or Spider-Man. Or whatever. If somebody wants to write or draw comics and can convince a publisher - any publisher - to hire them? More power to them.


We're geeks. The essence of geekdom is to love what you love, and to enthusiastically promote the things you love to everyone else. We should be embracing new people to the fold, not telling them they can't play in our sandpit because they're doing it wrong, have never played in the sandpit before, or because they don't know the names of other people who have previously played in the sandpit. That's absurd.


So. Play nice.







*He can't have been "completely dead" because he got better...

**Yes, I'm generalising. Yes there were exceptions. But they were few and far between.

***Yes, generalising again. That doesn't mean I'm wrong though...

****And don't even start with the "He's the real Captain Marvel" thing - DC was too slow with the Trademarking and were beaten to the punch by Marvel comics. That's the way the cookie crumbles. I don't remember people complaining much about this when Marvel's Captain Marvel was a dude...