Fictional Dealbreakers?

In March I wrote a piece about Orson Scott Card writing Superman, and asked if readers let a writer’s offensive personal beliefs and politics (or the perceptions of same) get in the way of enjoying the work they create, even if the work they create seems free of those beliefs.

But what about when a story itself conflicts with your personal beliefs?

In some ways it’s a problem specific to comics. When you purchase a book, short of returning it a few chapters in if you don’t like it (do people do this?), you’ve already invested your money in the product. So if you don’t like what’s inside and find the content offensive it’s mostly too late.

But with comics, every month is an opportunity to either keep investing in a story, or cut and run.

...with comics, every month is an opportunity to either keep investing in a story, or cut and run.

This happened to me not long ago with the “new” Wonder Woman comic by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang, two creators I like very much working with a character I adore. It was a book I was excited about in every way, and the execution was very strong overall. But in issue #7 the storyline became incredibly offensive to me and I found myself dropping the book. Wonder Woman is currently on issue #19 and I haven’t supported it since issue #7, not because of the writing quality, not because I don’t love Wonder Woman any more, and despite the fact that one of the best artists in comics is drawing her, but simply because I couldn’t come along on the destruction of the DC Universe Amazons, one of the few remaining symbols of feminism in DC Comics.

I’ve dropped monthly comics before of course, but it’s generally about more mundane things than the ethical direction of a storyline. Sometimes the artist or writer changes and it’s no longer something you like. Sometimes the book just drops off in quality and you have to make tough choices based on your pocket book. But Wonder Woman was one of the first times for me as a comics fan where I felt I had to “vote with my dollars” and take a stand against what was being portrayed in a book, despite its overall quality. Still buying it seemed like a tacit endorsement of the choices they were making. So despite it being one of my favorite characters and a genuinely stellar writing and art team, I stopped reading after issue #7.

My experience with Wonder Woman, and the recent Orson Scott Card controversy got me thinking about what constitutes a dealbreaker for readers. A lot of people in the previous column expressed an ability to easily separate creator from content, but in something like comics where you’re asked to invest repeatedly, and to continue showing support financial and other wise — what kind of things can you not separate? What is a bridge too far, as it were?

There’s certainly nothing wrong with reading material that you fundamentally disagree with, and it can even be good for you — how else would we learn and grow? What a boring, sad, and dangerous world it would be if we only read things we already knew, understood, believed in, etc. But when something you strongly believe in like gay rights, religious freedoms, equality (in my case with Wonder Woman #7 it was feminism) etc., is being attacked and or disintegrated before your eyes in a fictional work seemingly for no purpose, where do you draw the line in supporting that work?

We’re not talking about something like, say, 1984, where the messages inside are horrible truths and warnings that are uncomfortable to read but invaluable, we’re talking about something important to you that is thrown away, for no reason other than to be controversial or to drum up sales.

Where do you draw the line in supporting quality work when you don’t actually agree with the messages within said work?

Image of Wonder Woman Vol. 1: Blood (The New 52)
Manufacturer: DC Comics
Part Number:
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Kelly Thompson

Column by Kelly Thompson

Kelly Thompson is the author of two crowdfunded self-published novels. The Girl Who Would be King (2012), was funded at over $26,000, was an Amazon Best Seller, and has been optioned by fancy Hollywood types. Her second novel, Storykiller (2014), was funded at nearly $58,000 and remains in the Top 10 most funded Kickstarter novels of all time. She also wrote and co-created the graphic novel Heart In A Box (2015) for Dark Horse Comics.

Kelly lives in Portland Oregon and writes the comics A-Force, Hawkeye, Jem & The Holograms, Misfits, and Power Rangers: Pink. She's also the writer and co-creator of Mega Princess, a creator-owned middle grade comic book series. Prior to writing comics Kelly created the column She Has No Head! for Comics Should Be Good.

She's currently managed by Susan Solomon-Shapiro of Circle of Confusion.

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Comments

Megan Gedris's picture
Megan Gedris May 29, 2013 - 8:45am

I am way too busy and way too poor to keep buying and reading stories that are offensive to me on that level. I drop things all the time for sexism, homophobia, racism, transphobia, body shaming, etc. And not just because it's offensive, but because it's boring. Oh, the only female character in your story is a prostitute who dies to motivate the hero? I've already read 100 stories like this. Who's doing something new? I'll go read them instead. Just got no time for messing around with writers who can't see beyond their own nose when there are so many better, if less well known, writers I could be patronizing.

jfitze's picture
jfitze from New York, NY is reading White Noise by Don DeLillo May 29, 2013 - 8:49am

Kelly —

This is a really fascinating topic, but I think it might be helpful if you went a bit more in depth on what happened within the comic that you found so offensive, and how you reached your decision to quit the series. 

Whenever I come across something offensive to me in literature, I tend to do a lot of research -- author bio, papers, reviews, blog posts, etc. -- to try and make sure I'm getting the author's intent correct, and not mistaking it for, say, them propping up an offensive position to later knock it down.

So what, for you, was the final straw, and how did you reach your conclusion? Inquiring minds!

Best,

James

bmartin2009's picture
bmartin2009 from St. Paul, Minnesota is reading Dune May 29, 2013 - 8:55am

I think you hit on a really good point here. I love reading books or watching movies where the writer/heroes/protagonists/philosophies clash with my own ideals. Especially when they're well written and admirably defended, without resorting to straw-(wo)men and authorial authority.

That line when something crosses from stimulating to deal-breaker is hard to pin down. So far I haven't been able to come up with a pattern for it, past the Justice Stewart rule (I know it when I see it). Thanks for bringing this up. :)

Jhoh Cable's picture
Jhoh Cable May 29, 2013 - 10:05am

I was curious about what the breaking point for Wonder Woman was also.  I know in one of the reboot issues there was a big thing about her dad being Zeus and people were like "waaaaaaaat?"  But I think that was revealed before #7.

I have to admit it makes me feel shallow, but I will drop a book in one single sentence if I don't like it's politics.  I don't want to read Orson Scott Card because I think he's an arch conservative (and most likely completely humorless) dope, and I don't want to read Harvey Pekar because he's too liberal (and he doesn't even bring politics into his writing that often).  I'm not saying they should take their politics out of their stories, I'm just saying I won't read them, and there's nothing that's going to change that, ever.

bryanhowie's picture
bryanhowie from FW, ID is reading East of Eden. Steinbeck is FUCKING AMAZING. May 29, 2013 - 10:28am

My biggest beef with the new Wonder Woman direction was that (spoiler) they now say that she is the daughter of Zeus.  

Wonder Woman was a biblical analogy of Adam (created from clay) but brough to life by a Goddess.  She was a virgin birth.  She was also a counterpoint to Hercules (who was created by Zeus cheating on his wife), in that she was a gift from a Goddess that celebrated the feminine ideals.

It was an example of reproduction without 'male' influence, and made Wonder Woman the daughter of two mommies.  It was progressive in so many ways.

I don't know why it bothers me so much to make her origin the same as Hercules, but it really pisses me off.

1979semifinalist's picture
1979semifinalist from California but living in NYC is reading Joe Hill's NOS4A2 May 29, 2013 - 12:04pm

@Jfitze

Fair point. I wrote a massive essay about my issues with the details of Wonder Woman #7 (and it's linked to above). I thought about going into more detail here, but I couldn't find a clear way to neatly summarize the issue (which is complicated) without making THIS piece about about WW #7 instead of about fiction in general.

If you're interested though, I definitely suggest clicking over to the piece - as a hint it's titled: Is The Destruction of The Amazons is the Destruction of Feminism in DC Comics?

@Jhoh Cable and @bryanhowie -

I also hate the new WW origin and @bryanhowie - you sum up why it's a problem WONDERFULLY, but it was the utter destruction of Wonder Woman's Amazons (in the aforementioned WW #7) that was the final dealbreaker for me with the book.

 

 

 

Gerd Duerner's picture
Gerd Duerner from Germany is reading Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm May 29, 2013 - 2:00pm

Well, I dropped one of Marvels Ultimate series (The Avengers?) after the author decided to write off the Bombardment of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as an preemptive strike against - well, some Marvel aliens... anyway, I thought that to be at the least in bad taste, if not an outright insult to the real life victims of that attack.

I did put Spider-Man on hold for less thought: I simply didn't like what Stracinsky did to the memory of Gwen Stacy.

Mayhaps I'm just easily offended.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated May 29, 2013 - 4:26pm

@Jfitze - That is so odd to me, because I do my best to avoid knowing any of that so the work can stand on merit. Not saying your wrong, but I don't get how that stuff helps.

@Kelly Thompson - Do what you want with your money, but oddly this is the first thing I've seen that sounded vaguely interesting/empowering to normal women about Wonder Woman and the DC Amazons. They always seemed like they conveyed the message that the only ways to have interesting/powerful women were power you didn't earn and isolation from people who were better then you, like men. I hadn't read this because I'm not a big DC fan, but at first glance it seems to show people who have the ability to like those who are really different (like the way normal women know men they like) are way nicer then those who don't. And that seems like an okay message. For sure going to give this a read.

1979semifinalist's picture
1979semifinalist from California but living in NYC is reading Joe Hill's NOS4A2 May 29, 2013 - 11:35pm

@Dwayne:

Feel free to give it a read, I will say that your take on DC's Amazons (which keep in  mind is not the same thing as the Amazon myth in general) is vastly different from mine. They were sort of the last bastion of anything resembling positive female power/empowerment in DC Comics and were turned into absolute monsters (murders, rapists, liars, and theives) for no real discernable purpose, except to isolate Diana, who was already isolated from them by function of the previous issues.

I'll also say that this sentence of yours:

"They always seemed like they conveyed the message that the only ways to have interesting/powerful women were power you didn't earn and isolation from people who were better then you, like men."

Is EXTREMELY problematic.

But if that's really how you feel, then you may well love the "Nu 52 Wonder Woman" the writing and art ARE beautiful, as I said.

 

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated May 30, 2013 - 6:17am

I'd agree it is problematic, but I think the problem lies in a positive depiction of an extremist isolationist/sexist group. I can't think of one other group it would not automatically come across as messed up to isolate yourself from on an island; gays, straits, a religion, a race, whatever. The DC Amazons, despite being a very powerful group, just can't hack it in the real world. Comparatively, despite all of the very many flaws in her portrayal, even a romantic interest like Lois Lane is a more positive role model. She needs her superhero boyfriend to save her from her super villains she was at least able to be a successful journalist, often in an era that generally didn't allow (or at least strongly discouraged) women from having a career.