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January 27, 2014

Go, Read: The Beat On Powerpuff Girls Cover Morality Face-Off

Heidi MacDonald at The Beat covers a bit of the back-and-forth fallout from a recent decision by a company to pull a kids comic cover after complaints by a retailer. It should come as no surprise given the age of the Internet we seem to be slipping into that because the original protest was afforded a bit of oomph by criticizing the pin-up qualities of the cover as not just inappropriate for its intended market but inappropriate, period, that those who worked on the cover, primarily the artist, would push back with a moral argument of their own: from what I can understand reading Heidi's piece that the retailer in question got to grandstand a bit but isn't of high moral character having been photographed at a post-convention strip club evening.


I thought the more interesting story here was that apparently the cover was asked for by the company licensing the property rather than initially commissioned by the comics people. This is something that from what I understand happens a bit more in the other direction (licensing partners spiking solicited work) than the way it happened here, but it's interesting to note a unique pressure of those kinds of comics-making relationships. It never occurred to me at all that some sort of negative spin would be directed at the artist -- who was just doing their job -- or that there would be an implied moral component to this, or that the other side of things would hit back by taking the moral high ground. I don't really put a lot of stock in those arguments, either side, but I guess if people want to make them they will be heard.

It's going to be a fascinating year in comics. There's something similar going on in culture in general. I was reading some sports sites the other day and one of the "stories" was simply details on what the soccer player Diego Maradona said about the soccer player Pele. It wasn't laudatory. This makes no sense from a news story standpoint -- there's nothing at stake here, there's not even an underlying story illuminated -- until you realize that one famous old guy dissing another famous old guy is the kind of "you and him fight" thing that drives interest in talk radio segments. So I wonder if we're not at a point in comics where stories are starting to be shaped a bit by the possibilities of having certain kinds of rolling, rambling discussions on the Internet, or at least that those discussions are kind of extending these stories in an odd way, like an annoying plot line on a television soap opera that has to be discussed furtively in hallways before the next plot line hits.

I don't want to go all the way back to the days -- okay, they're basically still with us -- where bottom-line economics are the only moral currency and everything is justified in terms of people acting however the hell they want if they can show that they're out to get theirs. So in a very real way I welcome the impetus here. But I think there's significant danger in making any sort of story that gains traction into a giant robot fight of situational ethics and perceived moral character. I'm not a gossip -- I wish I could be, I'm just not good at it, people don't bring me stuff. But even just being around 20 years kind of standing off in the corner not even dating anyone I can sit here this morning and think of the hundreds of people I know in comics and I'm betting two of them -- maybe three -- have failed to do something I could write down on a piece of paper if given a few minutes that then tweaked just a tiny bit or in many cases not at all could be used to beat the shit out of them in Internet Court, that haven't done something that could be presented to people in a way where they'd all go, "Okay that person is not my favorite person." Myself included.

So in this case I think it was a dumb cover, the pushback implied stuff it didn't need to, the pushback against that ditto, and licensing companies should always trust their comics people to know their markets. Everyone can go back to what they were doing originally, none of which was wrong, except perhaps the strategic foresight of that company rep.
posted 7:35 am PST | Permalink

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