“Cripping’ the Comic Con” Conference at Syracuse University

I am very excited to announce that I will be presenting a paper at the “Cripping’ the Comic Con 2014″ convention April 9 & 10 at Syracuse University! The conference revolves around issues of disability and marginal identities especially within comics and popular culture. Check out the conference website: http://crippingthecon.com/

 

Read this! Noam Chomsky on Zombies as the New Indians and Slaves

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/02/14/noam-chomsky-zombies-are-the-new-indians-and-slaves-in-white-americas-collective-nightmare/

“I think when you break it down,” Chomsky concluded, “much of it is just a recognition — at some level of the psyche — that if you’ve got your boot on somebody’s neck, there’s something wrong, and that they people you’re oppressing may rise up and defend themselves.”

Interesting to note how the walking dead originally takes place in Atlanta. The placement in the south is important. That is, the zombies overtake the city, or in Chomsky’s vain, the proletariat poor and racially oppressed rise up to swarm the metropolis of oppression. What more, they then move to a prison, and after that goes to hell, they move to a government sanctioned haven for congressmen and Washington elite (this is from the comic book, but I think the show is moving in that direction). I think Chomsky is spot on in his analysis.

Thanks to Bo Eberle for pointing me to this post.

Masculinity and The Joker in Greg Hunter’s Review of “Batman: Death of the Family”

Click to read: http://www.tcj.com/reviews/batman-death-of-the-family/#comment-596826

This is a great review/analysis of The Joker by Greg Hunter over at The Comics Journal. If you are vaguely interested in any of the Batman movies or comics, or if you enjoy the occasional pop culture critique, check it out. We need to rethink how we draw, write, think, and view (on-screen or on the page) evil and villainous characters. Hunter puts his finger on an important issue in the American cultural imagination surrounding masculinity and homosexuality.

Frank Miller’s depiction of The Joker in his acclaimed graphic novel, “The Dark Knight Returns.”

Would love to hear what you all think! Feel free to comment and start the conversation.

 

Muslim Ms. Marvel and Other Minority Superheroes

The last few years in the Comic Book world have been full of attempts (or one could say plagued by failed attempts) to write and draw more interesting and genuine minority characters. Marvel’s Ultimate Universe killed off its white mainstay Peter Parker, replacing him with a Black/Hispanic Miles Morales, while Marvel’s film studios are mixing things up by featuring the black character Falcon, played by Anthony Mackie, in Captain America 2, Dominican actress Zoe Saldana as Gemora in the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy film, and the possible casting of Michael B. Jordan as Human Torch in the future Fantastic Four reboot. Alongside of race, sexuality is emerging as a major facet to writing more complex and modern characters. Marvel’s X-Men member, Northstar, along with DC Comics’ Green Lantern and Batwoman, are all openly gay superheroes now, although there has been some controversy regarding Batwoman getting hitched. While issues of race, sexuality, and gender are becoming important for millennial comic book readers, the medium of comics rarely ventures into writing characters with religious diversity, especially when it comes to Islam in a post-9/11 America.

Well Marvel Comics is about to try and change that. Created by editors Sana Amanat and Steve Wacker, Marvel’s 40 year-old title “Ms. Marvel” will feature a Muslim teenager named Kamala Khan.

In George Gene Gustines’ New York Times article, Amanat noted that Kamala will be dealing with normal teenage angst, but through the lens of an Muslim-American girl from whose family is from Pakistan. But Amanat and series writer G. Willow Wilson, a professing Muslim, are aware of the negativity that may come with simply being Muslim in America, while also being true, yet unique, to Muslim readers who will no doubt flock to the title.

It is hard not to see the political swirling going on behind Kamala’s incarnation into comic book history. As pointed out by one of my professors at Duke, naming the character Kamala has to be related to the rising popularity and inspiring story of Malala Yousafzai. On a more subversive level, Her Pakistani heritage should tingle a nerve to those who believe Pakistan had some sort of involvement in hiding Osama bin Laden. Still, Kamala takes on the mantle of Ms. Marvel, a title formerly held by Carol Danvers, who paved the way for female characters by becoming the new and long overdue second female incarnation of Captain Marvel.

As much as Kamala’s turn at Ms. Marvel should be celebrated, there is much room for caution. As Gene Demby illustrates in his NPR article, “Who Gets To Be A Superhero? Race And Identity In Comics,” minority superheroes have never gotten the respectable treatment their deserve. Demby writes that superheroes, like the X-Men, have continually been a political canvas for allegorizing issues from the civil rights movement to the AIDS crisis. However, while superheroes seem to embody a small minority under government persecution, these characters are primarily white, creating a complicated relationship with racism. Quoting Orion Martin, Demby suggests that this sort of misnomer in depiction of minorities in comics helps “the white male audience of the comics to appropriate the struggles of marginalized peoples,” thus reinforcing and creating deeper social and ideological inequality.

Christian, white, male characters have totally dominated superhero comics since their inception in the 1930s. Inside this dominance lies a definite racial bias. When black characters are written in comic book lore, they end up being tribal or African, like Storm from the X-Men or Black Panther, with the possible exception of Luke Cage (someone needs to do work on his character). Gender inequality also plagues comics. Much of my recent work and interests at Duke is trying to deal with why and how these (male) heroes embody masculine desires and attempt to deal with social anxieties of WWI and II and the 9/11 tragedies. What I have found, with the help of several smart people and insightful books, is that even when comics venture out into female superheroes, they still seems to aggrandize male sexual fantasies.

If superheros and their likenesses reflect American ideology and ideas of social normality (what we should look like; who we should marry; who we should idolize; who we should fear) then minority superheroes, whether they are black, Muslim, or gay, threaten not only our comic book “allegiances” to the traditional white male histories of our beloved characters, but challenge us in the core of our personal and societal prejudices in their reflections and incarnations of social abnormality. What makes Superman “super” may not be his powers after all, but his bourgeois status, his Anglo-American jaw line, and his winning complexion. In Scott Bukatman’s words, maybe the only way for the comics to be socially relevant across the spectrum of identity is for them to shed their hyper white/masculine tendencies, for the X-Men to become Ex-Men.

The problems that Demby puts his finger on are hopefully the ones that Kamala’s creative team, led by Wilson, will try to upend. What a dream it would be to see a Persepolis-like character with superpowers. Honest depictions of racial and religious minority characters are threatening because they challenge our fan-boy obsessions with Iron-White-Man and Batman-Billionaire. In time, maybe comics can reroute their bias and become a place in which we can deal with the social and psychological dimensions of such problematic obsessions.

Ms. Marvel featuring Kamala Khan will be released in mid-March.

“Looney Tunes” and Self-Discovery

I have often said that I want my career to be about to teaching other people how to think about themselves. I would love help others to think about who they are through how they think about the world, the Bible, and other people, and, most importantly, why they think the way they think. A wise man once said, “The only thing that truth cannot penetrate is a closed mind.” I believe it is vital to teach people how to “see,” to give them a new lens to view the world. No matter how true the information is that I teach, people will not be able to grasp it without unless minds are open to it. I value this about my education at Mount Olive College and Duke Divinity above everything else. Learning to be self-critical has changed my life, what I wear, how I talk, and the trajectory of my most passionate aspirations. I would love the opportunity to return the favor.

Don’t let my romanticism for enlightenment fool you, though; self-criticism sucks. It hurts to discover that I was fundamentally wrong about so many things. Confronting myself actually messed me up quite a bit. During my freshman year at Mount Olive College, I became so angry with myself and the world that I left the church, broke up with my girlfriend (we are married now; thank God she took me back!), and became one of the most arrogant, cynical people you have ever met. A big part of this rebellion was that I saw the injustices of the world around me like never before. Still, what really screwed me up was the realization that I may have been implicated in the same injustices that I blamed on everyone else. I eventually learned to deal with these internal problems, with a few bumps in the road here and there, and with a lot of angry blog post and Facebook arguments. I am mostly on the other side now, and by that I simply mean I am mentally stable (ha!). Honestly, I am still recovering from that time of my life, still learning about and dealing with what I discovered.

It was my personal ideology that scared and still scares me most.  It’s easy to be mad with the world because of what it has dealt you and the crimes it has committed, but dealing with yourself, uncovering your mistakes and tainted world-view is most jarring. Although I dealt with a ton of problems as I worked through my own misconceptions, I am proud to say that I didn’t take the other, easier route of brushing it off and locking my monsters in the closest so I didn’t have to deal with them.

Discovering and subsequently refusing to deal with your own personal ideology is similar to a Looney Tunes character who runs off the edge of the cliff – you can keep running even though there is nothing under you; it is only when you look down and realize you have lost your footing that you fall. That is the true danger of self-discovery/criticism. And that is why it is much easier to condemn the other than to deal with the self.

Uh-oh

Uh-oh

Looking in the mirror is harder than staring through a microscope at others. Discovering your own subliminal horrors is far worse than picking apart the vomit of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh every week. The Apostle Paul was right: we do see in a mirror dimly. Here’s to hoping that our words become the spit that helps clean the mirror off, not the mud that makes it dirtier.

And that’s all folks. . .