Recognizing Who Is Being Ignored

By | Wednesday, July 19, 2023 Leave a Comment
Eric Kim posted the following on Mastodon earlier this week...

He's got several excellent points here.

One thing I've been very keen on since college is being able to put the pop culture I currently like in context against where/when/how/why it was produced and by whom. I recall originally coming to this as a codified realization in respect to comedy; you can only understand (and laugh at) a joke if you understand what's being implicitly or explicitly referenced. Whether that's what expectation is being subverted or how you're deliberately conflating two homonyms or whatever, the joke is only funny in light of the audience understanding that. I later applied the idea to cartoons. I was a fan of the old Merrie Melodies and when I began to realize just how much Carl Stalling and others were borrowing from other composers, I began listening to classical music.

And this is a large part of the approach I've long taken to comics. I've said before how I first really got hooked on comics through John Byrne's Fantastic Four. This led me to digging through the rest of their history. Which led me to Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. Which led me to Marvel Comics as a whole. Which led me to superhero comics as a whole. Which led me to comics as a whole. I'm always trying to put my current reading into the context of everything that came before.

And because of all that, I can put in some measure of perspective when presented with someone's narrative of the craft and/or medium, whether that's How to Make Comics the Marvel Way or Understanding Comics or The Smithsonian Book of Comic Book Comics. Because I've expressly gone out of my way to read up on not only the official company line about Batman, but also what Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson and Jim Steranko and Jack Kirby had to say about Bob Kane, I can put the Wikipedia article about him in some measure of context. And that's not to say every first-hand account or Wikipedia article is wrong, of course, just that they're being presented with a specific agenda and knowing a broader context can help me discern what that agenda might be.

Bill Finger being sidelined in the creation of Batman for so many decades is an easy go-to for comics fans, but it's hardly unique. Frankly, it barely counts compared to many "people from maginalized backgrounds" as Kim puts it. None of Jay Jackson's decades of work was ever collected and/or reprinted until this past December, despite it being immediately worthy of an Eisner nomination. There's no Wikipedia entry at all for Chu F. Hing, creator of the Green Turtle. How many biographies have you seen of Filipino comic book artists? I know of only one. Much of Trina Robbins career over the past two decades has been bringing to light all the previously overlooked women in the history of comics. There are tons of people there who developed incredible work, but have long been glossed over because of their gender, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, or whatever. They're no less imporant than all those cis-het white men, but they were pushed aside when the history books were first written so others could take all the credit (and accompanying rewards).

So as Kim says, be aware of not only who is saying what, but also what they aren't saying. Who is being left out of the conversation and why? If you understand that, that's when you finally start to understand the medium.
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