Sunday, July 15, 2007

Dave Sim's blogandmail #306 (July 14th, 2007)


Fifteen Impossible Things to Believe Before Breakfast That Make You a Good Feminist

1. A mother who works a full-time job and delegates to strangers the raising of her children eight hours a day, five days a week does just as good a job as a mother who hand-rears her children full time.

2. It makes great sense for the government to pay 10 to 15,000 dollars a year to fund a daycare space for a child so its mother - who pays perhaps 2,000 dollars in taxes - can be a contributing member of society.

3. A woman's doctor has more of a valid claim to participate in the decision to abort a fetus than does the father of that fetus.

4. So long as a woman makes a decision after consulting with her doctor, she is incapable of making an unethical choice.

5. A car with two steering wheels, two gas pedals and two brakes drives more efficiently than a car with one steering wheel, one gas pedal and one brake which is why marriage should always be an equal partnership.

6. It is absolutely necessary for women to be allowed to join or participate fully in any gathering place for men, just as it is absolutely necessary that there be women only environments from which men are excluded.

7. Because it involves taking jobs away from men and giving them to women, affirmative action makes for a fairer and more just society.

8. It is important to have lower physical standards for women firepersons and women policepersons so that, one day, half of all firepersons and policepersons will be women, thus more effectively protecting the safety of the public.

9. Affirmative action at colleges and universities needs to be maintained now that more women than men are being enrolled, in order to keep from giving men an unfair advantage academically.

10. Having ensured that there is no environment for men where women don't belong (see no.6) it is important to have zero tolerance of any expression or action which any woman might regard as sexist to ensure greater freedom for everyone.

11. Only in a society which maintains a level of 95% of alimony and child support being paid by men to women can men and women be considered as equals.

12. An airline stewardess who earned $20,000 a year at the time that she married a baseball player earning $6 million a year is entitled, in the event of a divorce, to $3 million for each year of the marriage and probably more.

13. A man's opinions on how to rear and/or raise a child are invalid because he is not the child's mother. However, his financial obligation is greater because no woman gets pregnant by herself.

14. Disagreeing with any of these statements makes you anti-woman and/or a misogynist.

15. Legislature Seats must be allocated to women and women must be allowed to bypass the democratic winnowing process in order to guarantee female representation and, thereby, make democracy fairer.


UPDATE 26 JUNE 1154 HOURS EST – Prayer time and still no sign of the fine art folks from Toronto. Maybe they got Kitchener confused with Kingston as John Tran tends to do (Toronto people. Honestly.) and they're now looking for me somewhere up around the Thousand Islands. Anyway, time to post a "Back in 20 Minutes" post-it note on the door and do my noon prayer.

UPDATE 26 JUNE 1217 HOURS EST - Jalapeno and Basil Coleslaw on a whole wheat Kaiser roll again but this time I only have half a glass of V8 vegetable juice to try and douse the fire after the second one (why do I lie to myself every day and say that I'm only going to have one when I know better?). I'm pretty sure that's out of bounds relative to the Kitchener Fire Code bylaws governing the Handling of Hazardous Materials in a Confined Area but what the hey…

UPDATE 26 JUNE 1225 HOURS EST - Very tasty and the scorch-marks on the keyboard are hardly noticeable.

Okay, up next we have Robin Snyder's THE COMICS newsletter Vol. 18 No.3 March 2007 "The original first-person history est. 1990 by Robin Snyder" and -- with a little excavation from further down in the pile -- April, May and June 2007 as well. And from downstairs, November, December 2006 and February 2007. Parts 1 through 7 of Steve Ditko's serialized essay, "An Issue, Question". The lead paragraph/sentence should give you an idea of where he's going with this:

"How is it that World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War were featured in the comics but the Iraq war is not?"

Since I really haven't got the room that he does to answer the question or address all of his points, let alone to get into the fact that Robin Snyder has had a kind of huffy exodus of a certain number of subscribers just for bringing the subject up [if you'd like to help plug the holes in his subscription list it's $28 a year in the US, $35 foreign (that's me) to Robin Snyder, 3745 Canterbury Lane, #81, Bellingham, WA, 98225-1186] I thought I'd just sketch in a few broad strokes of my own view on the subject at slightly greater length than the opinion pieces Robin has been running. I think the subject is a good one and an important one that I wish more people would discuss).

Basically, I think it comes down to the enormous progress that anti-war sentiment has made in establishing itself first as part of the societal mainstream and then in taking over the societal mainstream.

It's entirely true that World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War were featured in the comics, but it's also true the if you picture them, mentally, World War II was the only one that was dealt with in the comic-book mainstream with Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and everyone else pressed into service to bring down Hitler, Mussolini, et al.

Batman and Robin driving around in a US Army jeep telling their readers to buy war bonds and stamps, Superman tearing a Nazi tank apart. That kind of thing.

When it comes to the Korean War, it's only the second string heroes that participated. Superman and Batman don't fight the Red Chinese, but Captain America and the Human Torch do and only for a short period of time, a brief revival. Reading between the lines, the ambition was to revive the Super-heroes at War motif from the 1940s – the only time Atlas/Marvel Comics had been really competitive with DC -- and ride the wave. But if there was a wave (and I would argue that there wasn't) it was a very short-lived wave. On the contrary, I think the wave was in the direction of sequestering war and certainly in trying to keep war and children's media (like comics) as completely separate as possible. My best guess was that Atlas/Marvel was seen as irresponsible and exploitive in their approach, retrogressive in trying to portray a UN Police Action as Just Another War.

By the time Vietnam rolled around, none of the super-heroes had even heard of it. Even while South Vietnam was becoming the primary theatre of operations – America's new "hill to die on" during the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations -- even the marginalised super-heroes were still basically fighting the Red Chinese as if hostilities had never ceased in the DMZ between North and South Korea. At least until Stan Lee appeared to get uncomfortable with the idea and then it just became this vague sort of Communist dictatorship (sometimes Soviet, sometimes Maoist) that Tony Stark was building munitions to fight against and even that was a minor motif when compared to the entirely stateless and ideology-free entities like HYDRA. HYDRA was the anti- SHIELD and that was as deep and philosophical as it got. Everything else was costumed super-villains.

In the interim it seems to me that the idea of war IN the comics had collapsed from the medium-wide core element that it had been during World War II to a specific genre – had collapsed around war comics per se which retreated/eroded to the periphery of the field and consisted of and subsisted on self-declarative tropes (you could no more mistake a war comic for anything else just by looking at it than you could mistake a love comic for anything else just by looking at it) – and had therefore become a specialized and marginalised interest for the comic reader. Most of the guys in my neighbourhood might have an occasional GI COMBAT and the Marvel completists would buy SGT. FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOES but it really wasn't until I met Gene Day that I even came to know about, say, Russ Heath's amazing work on the war titles. I could count on the fingers of one hand Gene's fellow war comic devotees that I have met since. And even in that genre-specific context, war comics went from being comics that glorified war to comics that presented war as an avertable tragedy and the choice to go to war as a societal failure. From Kurtzman's anti-war FRONTLINE COMBAT to "Make War No More" (as all of the 1970s era DC war comics declared in the last panel), the subtext is pretty obvious – if you're the sort of person who likes this kind of comic book then you need to be preached to about your interest and hopefully have your consciousness raised even while you're trying to enjoy it for what it is.

It had become a societal given (or was portrayed by society to itself – not necessarily the same thing) that no sensible, humane person would enjoy reading about war except as a cautionary tale. Don't Let War Happen To You. This is nothing that military men don't know about peacetime. You keep your head down and your powder dry (sometimes literally) and keep your mind on reality and try not to let the ignorant chatter about your livelihood get you down.

I don't know how large the audience was (or is) for war comics, but the idea that no sensible, humane person is interested in war was as demonstrably untrue at the time as it is today. There is still an audience for war movies but not, I don't think, for War Movies With an Anti-War message which have gradually eliminated the movie genre just as the Anti-war message eliminated the comic-book genre. I don't imagine for most military men that Saving Private Ryan is in any other entertainment category than "fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me". You can have CGI and computer effects out the whazoo but if the overall point is to show soldiers snivelling then you have effectively chased away your intended audience through ignorance of the nature of that audience.

The core audience for war movies and war comics is obvious: soldiers, marines, sailors, pilots, their families and their friends and their kids. Some watching them or reading them just for a laugh – "Wow! It is really amazing how goofy civilians can get when they're trying to write seriously about the military" -- and some watching and reading them because, hey, you know. Once in a while one of these guys will accidentally get it right and it's good to know that some kid somewhere might get a glimmering of what the military life is all about.

At the point of greatest reduction at least you have a story like Russ Heath's "Easy's First Tiger" and whatever else may be said of its merits and demerits, that is one accurate son-of-a-bitchin' two-page spread of a Tiger tank. Down to the last rivet.

A good war comic is the same as a good police comic or detective comic. It's about the good guys and how tough it can be to be a good guy. It's about the belief that the good guys always win. The going may get tight and the going may get tough, but hands down the good guys win in the end. How they win, how they almost lose, how they dig down deep for the needed fortitude to make it through, how some of them get wounded and some of them die, that's all part of the package. Unfortunately it's very easy to switch sides as Dr. Wertham pointed out, when police comics and detective comics become crime comics, glorifications of criminals and war comics flip over from interesting stories about soldiers into thinly-veiled racist sadomasochism (all those comely young white girls "just about" to be tortured by slavering Japanese on the covers of the wartime Timely super-hero comics)

The fact of the matter, if you come right down to brass tacks, is that most people in arts and entertainment (or Arts & Entertainment) are pacifists, devout believers that there is no good that can come of any military activity of any kind anywhere under any circumstances. They could sense the winds of change in the aftermath of 9/11 and they kept their own counsel but I don't think they changed their minds one iota. You could back them into a corner by saying, "Can you conceive of any situation where military force IS of any good whatsoever?" Some of them might come up with something. Most of them, I suspect, would just get sullen as they tend to do when you try to get them to say what they believe out loud.

So, let's leave all of that to one side. Maybe the core of the question is this: are soldiers -- who in the course of their jobs are laying their lives on the line on a daily basis at the behest of their civilian government and on behalf of their fellow citizens -- entitled to read favourable representations of themselves in the comic books and to know that comic books that treat them favourably are available for their sons to read?

I mean, on a purely human level quite apart from the exalted level of holier-than-thou innate superiority that they like to bring to the table aren't comic-book writers and artists who are NOT being asked to go to Iraq or Afghanistan and shed blood on behalf of liberty and democracy obligated to find some way (them being so all-fired imaginative and all) to tell some ten-year-old boy whose Dad is on his third tour of duty in Baghdad and environs, a Dad that the kid may not actually get to see again until he's twelve:

"Your Dad? Oh, say, listen kid, let me tell you a story about the kind of guy that your Dad is. Let me tell you a story about the kind of hero your Dad is and the other heroic Dads he's over there serving with."

You know, like Robert Kanaigher did, like Joe Kubert did for years, Russ Heath, Jack Kirby. All those guys. Page after page after page. This is what a soldier is. This is what being a good soldier is all about. This why everyone should be proud of our military.

No, I know you don't think there's an obligation there. Well, plain and simple, I think that's wrong. I can certainly understand not having war as an industry-wide motif with Superman and Batman and Spider-man and Wonder Woman doing nothing but kicking Muslim butt in Iraq for the next ten years. But I don't think it would kill Marvel and DC to tell a few heroic stories about American soldiers bringing peace and stability to a region that has only known tyranny and oppression for literally decades. I mean, you know, really bear down and see if out of the literally millions of stories that have taken place and are taking place in the US military over there since `03 you can't scrounge up two or three or four or (heck, throw caution to the winds) a dozen where the good guys win, where the US soldiers do the right thing and something good comes of it.

All right, I'm all done. I'll send a copy to Robin. Maybe he'll be interested.

UPDATE 26 JUNE 07 1440 HOURS EST – the fine art folks were just here. PACART Pacific Art Services Ltd. of Toronto. Ask for them by name. From there it goes to the US ART CO. INC. in Long Island City, New York, then to US ART CO INCO BOSTON and from there (God willing) to the NORMAN ROCKWELL MUSEUM in Stockbridge.


If you wish to contact Dave Sim, you can mail a letter (he does NOT receive emails) to:

Aardvark Vanaheim, Inc
P.O. Box 1674
Station C
Kitchener, Ontario, Canada N2G 4R2

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