Yup. It’s another long one!
Let’s start with the disclaimer. The following represents the opinions of Me as an individual and not Me as a representative of CCI, where I have been on volunteer staff for many years.
For quite a few people the primary leave-behind of The Black Panel was not the news that Blokhedz landed a deal at Simon & Schuster, nor the news that Urban Ministries, Inc. launched the Guardian Line, a collective of comics aimed at the Christian market, and hired a black woman to write one (or more?) of its books.
What clouds that panel is the ignominious treatment of a female audience member by certain of the panelists. For me, the secondary stunner was the message delivered by the level of gender-based creator cluelessness on display by another panelist’s wearying myopia. And the continued attacks against her and anyone else who has expressed doubts? Not helped the cause much.
Because this is even longer than the longish ones, and I’ve gotten complaints about letting the long ones go up without a break, this ONE time I'm going to capitulate. The rest is under the jump.
How panels get on the grid for show is complicated. The Black Panel is among those which came pre-assembled, brought to the table by creator Michael Davis, who also served as moderator. If you remember my programming highlight reel from a couple of weeks ago, I made a passing query over why other high profile, highly accomplished black creators weren’t included on the panel, and hinted that something else was behind this. A panel with blurbage claiming to be “the definitive panel for what’s up in black content” but does not have powerhouses such as Kyle Baker or Keith Knight as participants for example, or dip into the alt world to snag David Walker, maybe, is not “the definitive panel for what’s up in black content.” Nicely played hype, though. There's nothing wrong with hype.
This was a panel with a specific, corporate focus and mainstream (read: superhero) leanings. Compared to last year's track of black programming, this was not a panel diverse in content; a majority of its participants have spent the bulk of their career in comics working on the capes for DC, Marvel and Milestone. That would be Cowan, Davis the First, Dokes, Hudlin and McDuffie. Two participants, Wright and Hudlin, have ties with major media operations. (UMI is major. Anyone who has spent time in a black church has encountered a product or 90 created by UMI. I grew up with them. Looking at the previews, their new comics line clearly stems from superhero tropes.) One participant, Rza, is co-founder of arguably the most influential hip hop group in the history of the universe. If you haven’t figured it out by now, hip hop is firmly in the cultural mainstream. (Because I get a sense some don't get his inclusion on this panel, a few quick data points. The group’s comic series, Nine Rings of the Wu-Tang, came out from Image at the end of the 90s, Rza is attached to the Afro Samurai project and pretty much all of them are on record as having a deep love for comics.) To me, the Davis Bros were the most indy of all the panel participants as far as comics are concerned. That they have created artwork or animation for folks ranging from Wu-Tang to Toni Braxton does not negate the indy roots of their book. They have done award-winning work for the general cultural mainstream, but their comic book falls within the indy sphere of comics. (Their deal with Simon & Schuster represents yet another solid indy work snapped up by the big traditional publishing houses.)
So, what this panel was about was different forms of Mainstream entertainment in the general culture (hip hop) and comics (superhero). I think that’s key to the disconnect with the woman whose question sparked the roil. To a smaller degree, her approach also set some of the panelists them off. More on that, later.
Move Aside And Let The Men Come Through
Here’s what happened. I’m paraphrasing the panelist responses rather than providing direct quotes. As mentioned earlier, I didn’t write full notes.
A black woman got to the mic and asked the panelists why she is more likely to consistently find rounded portrayals of black women in books created by white British male authors. She gave a bunch of examples, primarily from Vertigo books.
Rza answered that she has to wait for the men to get established, as they are just now getting through the door. Judging from the hoots, jeers and inarticulate screams of outrage from the crowd, that did not go over well. Davis the First’s joke about angry black women was funny, but didn’t completely diffuse the vibe.
The woman then said that she’s 47-years-old, she’s been reading comics since she was a little girl, and asked how long was she expected to wait.
Rza’s response: You’re 47? Wow, you look good for 47. No, really, isn’t she hot for 47? And so forth. Additionally, Rza mentioned his child’s love of manga, which left the implication that he ladies will have to wait a generation or two for these young black female manga fans to come into their own.
With that first comment, Rza utilized the standard gender-based approach misogynists have relied upon since the beginning of time to completely dismiss women who presume themselves to be in possession of a working brain. His follow up made it worse. In the end, neither the questioner nor anyone else in the audience got an actual answer to an interesting question – How Long Do We Have To Wait, not to mention How Come It’s Only Guys Sitting Up There? After all, why bother to take seriously and attempt to engage with a difficult question from a 47-year-old female hottie?
I’m fully aware of how unfair that statement is. But there were seven microphones on those two tables, with eight guys sitting behind them. The panel was not running so fast that it was impossible for anyone to jump in and take a minute to attempt to provide a more nuanced, thoughtful response. Risky, sure, but better than the silence.
Lots of people left the room wondering about that silence.
Hey Good Lookin’! Why Don’t You Shut Up, Now?
Since the panel, Hudlin has characterized this woman as "a whiny nutcase" who was ignorant of her comics facts. So not only did her valid criticisms get ignored at the panel, she was later subjected to a lovely round of character assassination from the chief programming executive for BET.
Nice. With that attitude, I guess we don’t need to look for content improving over there on Booty Entertainment Television anytime soon, huh?
Following links and more links, we see that Hudlin has also tagged as “whiners” any person who has expressed concern over the events of the black panel. (For those keeping track, so far, he’s hit #1, #2 and #4 on The How To List. Not bad.)
It’s possible that coming from a mainstream default Hudlin is ignorant of the materials she was talking about. Her examples – Ellis, Gaiman, Moore, Morrison (though personally I’d quibble with Morrison), told any informed person listening from precisely where on the comic book spectrum she was speaking. I knew what she was talking about, which books, storylines and characters she was probably referencing during her overly-long question. When I talked to her in the hallway toward the end of the panel I confirmed this. Also couldn’t help but to note her level of Unhappy over what went down.
One thing she told me was it’s not that she doesn’t want to read superhero books, it’s more those books routinely do not provide her with the type of content or storytelling she wants. She hung on for a while before finally giving up and turning to Vertigo. (Because the cell was buzzing I forgot to ask her if she had picked up the Eric Jerome Dickey wedding miniseries, or if she read any books in the alternative or “new mainstream” realm.)
But Hudlin’s ignorance of the content of works in the realm beyond capes and his lack of perception is absolutely no excuse for his later calumniation of this woman. She was no more a “nutcase” than any other fan who stepped up to the mic during the panel. Just because Hudlin didn’t know what she was talking about and was unable to clue in to where she was coming from doesn’t mean her question lacked validity. Just because she asked her question without first letting the love gush does not mean she was out to bring everybody down.
I find the later depictions of her as filled with hostile intent curious. She did not thunder into the mic with the aim of, to borrow a term my crew uses at faire, calling down the hate. She didn’t truly get pissed off until the end of her time at the mic, when she spat out the anti-BET comment. By then, she had every reason to be angry.
Thinking about it over these past few days, I think her major misstep was opening her question to this panel of black males with praise for the depiction of black women within books created by white males from another country. It’s possible those words were enough to make certain of the panelists selectively deaf to everything else she said. It’s not too big of an assumption that those black men would not appreciate being told by that black woman that the white guys do it better. Those are fighting words. Those words, lacking proper context, are an insult.
Mind you, I say possible. Equally plausible is that any statement tainted with criticism would not have gone over well.
Some creators and fans consistently fail to understand that loving a thing does not negate your ability to examine it with a critical eye. Sometimes they have paper thin skin. If this woman didn’t care, she wouldn’t have been in that room. There were five panels going on during the hour this one took place, and 17 other panels overlapping with that hour. There was the lure of the exhibit floor. There was the peace offered by the Gaslamp District, which, compared to the convention center, is relatively empty at that time of day. She had options to be anywhere else but she cared enough about this issue to not only show up for The Black Panel, but to remain for a significant period of time after Rza and Hudlin essentially dismissed her.
A Barrel Full Of Nutcases
All that happened a scant few minutes after another fan encounter worth mentioning.
A guy got up to the mic and launched into Testifying about martial arts movies. Something about the love black people have for kung-fu flicks, and the spiritual dimension of kung-fu flicks, and black people are spiritual, and why hasn’t there been a black kung-fu flick out of Hollywood, and how do we get one made.
Hudlin said, wanna see how to get one made? He looks to his left and says to Rza, wanna do a black kung-fu flick? Rza says, sure! They shake hands. Cowan reaches over with let me get a piece of that, bumps fists with them, and he’s in on it too. And the huzzahs rose joyously from the audience.
Boom! Just like that, we all witnessed a deal go down. Well, a verbal deal, anyway. I’m sure many legions of lawyers, reams of paperwork and numbers crunching will have to be involved before this concept gets to green light. Of course, as was pointed out to me by many, it’s possible their whole response was for show. But I don’t think it was.
Anywhoo, in an instant the boys have their black kung-fu movie. The women were told they have to wait for their representation, but guys? Totally all over the kung-fu movie thing! A man can get up at a panel about black comic BOOKS and ramble about black kung-fu MOVIES and be taken seriously enough for a handshake deal to go down. That man is not considered nutcase, nor is he denigrated for his size as a way of dismissing his input. He was a big guy. Nobody on that panel said to him wow, you’re into martial arts? Couldn’t tell by lookin’ at ya. Maybe you should look into signing up for a martial arts workout program or something.
My beta-readers told me to cut that bit as it could be construed as a petty, personal attack against whoever that guy was, diverting from the main issue. Obviously I have chosen to ignore that advice. I think noting the treatment of his input and use of his physical being as compared to the treatment of her input and use of her physical being is part of the issue. It speaks volumes as to the sexist mindset that is a plague throughout this industry, no matter where you fall on the color line.
How about the white woman who stood up toward the end asking where she could find creators to help her diversify the content of the products produced by her gaming company? She asked this in a building where 80 percent of the 125,000 people wandering around were either working creative professionals or aspirants. She asked this while located right down the hallway from an entire portfolio review area set up for free use by any company hunting for talent. She asked this when standing above an exhibit floor where thousands of creators were planted behind small press and artist alley tables, not to mention big time booths pushing their products and looking for the next paying gig.
She got a nice, respectful response. No panelist said to her, hey cutie! You’re standing in a building full of artists, in case you hadn’t noticed. Go up to one of the not-white ones and make with the business card. I have yet to see anyone since characterize as “nutcase” for her lack of perception. Well, except maybe for me, just now.
But I’m Just Not Comfortable Writing That
The second incident was, for me, a bigger jaw-dropping moment.
Either just before or after the 47-year-old woman stormed away from the mic, Hudlin said that he doesn’t feel entirely comfortable writing women and he would prefer a woman write women’s stories.
Where have we seen that type of avoidance language before, and very recently? Rather than link to the ones I know about, let me just quote myself responding (again):
It's one thing to choose to not acknowledge the myriad Other around you when you set out to do your fiction. I might even argue that this is your right, in a Woody Allen sense, if you choose to unleash your skills exploring a unique cultural subset with as much verisimilitude as you can muster to which this type of issue is not entirely applicable. But it's something else ENTIRELY to recognize those differences, yet be too afraid to even make the attempt to engage with them on any level in the fictional worlds that you create from your soul. What's wrong with your creator soul that the thought of realigning yourself beyond your default boundaries is so very frightful that you won't even make the attempt? If you are too afraid to do that, perhaps it's time to take another look at the job description.
There are a couple of big problems with Hudlin’s direct and Rza’s implied I’d Rather See A Woman Write A Woman response. I’m just going to zero in on one of them for now.
Obviously there are men out there who can write women. Their books sell fairly well. It is a coward’s approach to say men can’t write women. It is a lazy approach to say only women can write women. It is ridiculous to imply we have to wait a generation or nine before we get a woman in a position to write a woman. It is wrong when the white folks say can’t deal with the coloreds. It is wrong when a black comics ProBoy says to a black comics FanGirl he can’t do women and that’s just the way it is for now.
You have black women who are your mothers, sisters, aunts, girlfriends, wives, cousins and (with hope) just everyday friends. Start there. It’s called Research 101.
But if that’s too scary, there are other options. I bet you have access to Eric Jerome Dickey’s phone number. Give him a ring and ask him how he’s managed to figure out the whole writing women thing. I bet if someone like you called Fantagraphics and asked one of the honchos to put you in touch with Los Bros, they might just do it. Anyone can go to Gaiman’s site and send a message to him through the linky there. One of the Top Shelf bosses might be willing to pass along a message to Alan Moore. McDuffie was sitting right there on the stage; you could have asked him to go out for a drink and explain how he pulled off Rocket and Misty Knight (ignoring the faint howl from a certain member of the peanut gallery by my bringing up Knight).
A creator must make the attempt. You might screw it up, and badly. They’re all gonna laugh at you. So what? Get up and try again. It’s the only way to confront your boundaries and improve past them.
That woman stood in front of men from her community and said she wanted to see solid representations of black women in the books her men create. One of them told her to wait for the men to get situated, the other told her it’s too hard.
Oh, wait. They didn’t say that to her, only. They said that to all of us.
Pot, Meet Kettle
To address another point, is the sense of victimization deep in Black America? Well, you know, DUH. I think they even did a whole special about it on Frontline.
But is pointing out sexist behavior an expression of victimhood? Is asking a creator attempt to fulfill the requirements of the job description a treasonous act against the tribe?
Going around characterizing as “nutcase” a woman who offered a point of criticism qualifies as wallowing in victimhood. Attacking others who have expressed anything other outright adoration about that panel is the action of someone who feels himself victimized. Need we get into how this -- Why don't you post the link to that next to the guy bitching about the black panel (which wasn't just my panel)? Or the redjack's response to the guy bitching? -- is a textbook example of passive aggression?
Really, who’s dissembling, here?
It's very simple:
- How that woman was treated at the panel was sexist, demeaning and wrong.
- The misogynistic attacks against her since are appalling and wrong.
- Implying that women must wait, or men can't write women is wrong.
- No amount of hiding behind the alleged transgressions of the moderator, or the length of the panel, or screaming everything's fine! Nothing happened! Nobody's upset! Will change those Wrongs to Rights.
Let the rashomon over The Black Panel continue.
Posting will be light for the remainder of this week.
Oh! Post title! That was said by a panelist toward the end of the presentation. Irony, thy name is Robert Diggs.