Friday, March 20, 2015

The Killing Art: Batgirl Cover Controversy

"It's just an homage to The Killing Joke, m'dear!"
"Yeah. Say -  it that MY blood?"
Recently DC Comics pulled a cover from production, thinking it inappropriate for the readership. This has caused a bit of controversy. Many pros, geeks and amateur artists are mad as hornets, crying "Censorship!"

I think they overspeak, but let me tell you why I feel that way.

First, censorship is an emotionally charged word, judging an editorial decision on prima facie evidence: art that is not overtly sexual or brutal has been denied publication. Doesn't seem right, and so immediately "Censorship!" is cried.

Problem is, visual art has a subjective value in the cultural milieu that is fairly undeniable. It is not in a vacuum, and it is not without implications.

We fill in the gaps when we see a single image or scene from a story. It lives and breathes because we can do this, we geeks. Take off your geek glasses and you might see it differently.

Secondly, artists - like writers - sometimes accidentally connect dots by implication: sometimes it gives more meaning than they intended, and sometimes it gives meanings they did not, ever, under any circumstances, mean.

I have known very good artists have to re-draw something because their director saw a false implication or a failure to be absolutely crystal clear.

One editor I know was showing off the wonderful artwork of a comic he'd just finished writing to us, his college buds. We were seriously impressed. Then, on panel X on page umpteen, one of us - Ashley was his name - said "Heh. It looks like the guy is pointing to his crotch!" We looked. Yes, it looked that way, but in context we knew he wasn't. Also, we knew brilliant Ashley loved to re-write ancient poetry using vulgar lyrics, so he had that internal bias.

But still... we couldn't shake it. One re-drawn thumb later and my editor friend was safe from any misinterpretation. His newborn hero and heroine would NOT be considered vulgarly gesturing in any form. Thus, a new comic was born and careers were started.

That was a valuable lesson.

I myself had to re-write an entire passage in my novella and change terms because of negative implications they had - this was pointed out to me by readers AFTER the fact. You get caught up in your craft, and well... let us say artists can go too far by several car lengths.

But brakes are not useful when you're creating: you need to let the beast out and express yourself. You need to write like you are hearing from God, and draw like you own the universe--or at least those eleven by seventeen inches in front of you.

So when should the brakes be applied? I mean, what the heck is wrong with the Joker being evil to Batgirl? He is a villain and he's obviously evil and he's painting her lips with...

...blood? Is that blood? Whose blood? Not Barbara's, is it?

She doesn't look shot. Where would you get a fingerful of blood from a woman? And why is Barbara looking so terrified and helpless? I mean, I remember when she faced the Devil himself .

What would unnerve Batgirl so much she is crying - not gritting her teeth, mind you - wide-eyed weeping in horror as an albino and vacation-loving sociopath draws blood across her lips...

...there are no other victims to be seen, so he must have gotten the blood from her... where can you get blood from a... woman... for her lips... with no obvious wounds...


ARE YOU @#$@$#%# ME?! TELL me you do NOT mean THAT!!

Yeah. Think about it.

Someone at DC saw this too. Maybe not to the degree I did, but they saw it as inappropriate.

Look, you may disagree. You may cry censorship.

I implore you to wake up and smell the coffee of community, consumers, and creative context.

This could be easily fixed by adding a paint can in the Joker's hand and a brush in the other. Or just changing it to lipstick - even go so far as to show him SHARING the same.

But it is blood shown - and it has an ugly implication.

DC made the right call.

That is my opinion, of course, but the more I consider the image, I see the problem.

Batgirl is a heroine. Let us not victimize her so callously. Let us protect her image.

She's been through enough already, I think.


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