On History: Written by the Victors

By | Tuesday, February 09, 2016 Leave a Comment
The recent flap over that New York Times piece about Deadpool, Rob Liefeld, and Fabian Nicieza (CBR has a nice summary of the whole thing) brings to mind the old adage: "History is written by the victors." The NYT article takes a very singular -- and very distorted -- perspective on everything and, were it not for the fact that all of the participants and their friends are pretty active online, it may have stood unchallenged. As far as I know, nothing is technically inaccurate in the piece, but it's definitely written in a way to skew readers' perceptions.

That's not the first time this has happened in comics either, of course. There was that infamous New York Herald-Tribune article about Jack Kirby and Stan Lee back in 1966 that was incredibly dismissive of Kirby. Steve Ditko left Marvel shortly afterwards, and while Kirby stayed on a few more years, he moved to California -- working across the country was virtually unprecedented in comics at that time. Again, it wasn't technically inaccurate (Roy Thomas was a silent witness to the interview that was conducted and has since noted he recalled nothing factually incorrect) but it was decidedly skewed towards putting Lee on a pedestal. But without Kirby having a real outlet to critique the article publicly, it essentially stood as gospel for decades.

What about the histories of Superman and Batman? Siegel and Shuster were given credit for creating Superman, but for generations DC basically stopped mentioning them after a simple "created by" notice. While Bob Kane fared better with Batman, co-creator Bill Finger was relegated to the gutters remaining almost completely anonymous until the late 1960s and, even today, is only starting to get recognized for his work.

That's one of the reasons I study comic book history. Because every writer is promoting their own agenda (or, more frequently, the agenda of whoever's paying them) any given history is going to be skewed somehow. A history of DC Comics written by a DC staffer is going to paint a different picture than one written by a freelance journalist. Written histories reflect the biases of the writer and YOUR job, as a reader, is to figure out where the author is coming from and how that might be impacting the way they're relaying events. Have you noticed how many "history of comic books" pieces are completely focused on American comics exclusively? As if there were none anywhere else in the world? Or how about those same histories glossing over the number of women and minorities that worked in the industry?

When you read ANY piece -- including those written by me -- keep in mind that the author is coming to the table with her or his own ideas that may or may not do justice to what actually happened or to anyone involved. In the past, those who had the biggest platform generally won the discussion by the mere absence of the little guy's voice. With the internet, everyone has access to the same platform, but not everyone is as adept at using it, so the little guy's voice can still get lost. Keep your ears open to those little guys!
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