I’ll Have To Ask My Daddy

13 Aug
By Darryl Ayo

In 2010, a book called Black Comix: African American Independent Comics Art and Culture was published by Mark Batty Publisher and directed by Damien Duffy and John Jennings. I’m a contributor, you can see excerpts of my webcomic Little Garden Comics “Beautiful Monster” on pages 36 and 37. Today I am more concerned with pages 106 and 107, which contains an essay written by a Mr. Turtel Onli, who founded the Black Age of Comics Convention in Chicago in 1993. He puts forth that this is a “Black Age” of comics (as in: Golden Age, Silver Age, Bronze Age). Seeing more and more black professionals working in the field Onli decides that the “Black Age” is upon us. Nevermind that the other comic “ages” don’t refer to single demographic trends, but overall industry trends. Onli’s essay contains the usual rah-rah hollow talk that is common among people who suppose themselves as leaders of a community. What really hit me between the eyes is the following passage:

Some refuse to even acknowledge that there is a movement at all. Some say the idea of a distinct black movement in comics hurts them. They maintain the egotistical stance that their work is beyond categorization, yet they still lament racial tensions or the isolation they feel working in settings with few blacks. They will still lament the sting of being unknown to other blacks for the amazing work they create.”

“Egotistical?”

Let me explain this, let me talk about this, let me drop the science: this Onli guy never did anything for me, never gave me work, never created a career opportunity for me, but still–without even knowing that I exist–claims me as a part of his movement (whether I like it or not) and puts ME down if I disbelieve that the sort of nonsense that his ilk (“black leaders…if you have to ask: long story) spout. That a guy can make up a phrase, run a convention in 1993 and then extend his arms, claiming ownership of every dark skinned person to come into comics for all time is the height of arrogance.

Due to the context of this essay within this book, we have an unforgivable insult in which the artists contained within (such as me) come across looking like followers of a guy (Onli) who probably never had any interaction with them. Stereotype goes that blacks often lack father figures. So there’s no shortage in the black community of people who rise to power by trying to assume paternal roles. No thanks, my dad’s name is John Edward Brathwaite.

I’ve attended the East Coast iteration of Onli’s convention once. Nobody in attendance even knew what a minicomic was. I was more isolated and shunned at the Black Age of Comics Convention than I had ever been at a traditional independent comics show. And that’s saying a lot, to be completely frank. Pay attention: sharing superficial physical characteristics with people, sharing a continental ancestry with people, sharing a gender with people DOESN’T AUTOMATICALLY MAKE THOSE PEOPLE YOUR FRIENDS.

So Womanthology:

Womanthology started out a lot like Black Comix did. A minority-interest showcase book created with the goal to raise awareness in the comics industry for the work of members of that minority. Neither Womanthology or Black Comix paid any of the contributors for their submissions, despite having lavish production values. The difference, in my view, is that there are a lot more women who are deeply involved in comics than there are African Americans of either gender. Womanthology was crowd-funded, Black Comix wasn’t. So when the staggering amount of money behind Womanthology, coupled with the understanding that none of it would go to the contributors became apparent, a small murmur of discontent rose to a roar.

But that is only criticism. Everyone involved in Womanthology, the editor and the contributors entered into the project with the best of intentions. I think the discontent is a result of expectations for funding being exceeded by such a wide margin (Womanthology received FOUR TIMES the requested funds), a changing the expectations for compensation.

On my side of things, when I was involved with Black Comix, I didn’t think much of it until I saw the lavish production values of the final product. I was flabbergasted, jaw agape like a cartoon character. My first thought was “if I had known that they were going to go all out on the production values, I wouldn’t have contributed!” The reason that I felt that is that I was under the impression that I was giving my art to a small, modest niche project that would add my voice to something that (a) was nominally about a group that I belong to (black cartoonists) and (b) probably could use all of the voices that it could get. I was mistaken in my understanding of the scope of the project and I felt put off that some of that budget couldn’t have offered the contributors even a tiny bit of financial compensation for their work which, frankly is the basis for the book.

It is the same story with Womanthology today. Cartoonists have contributed their efforts to a project believing that it needed all of the voices that it could get. But then when the amount of money behind the project became apparent, they suddenly found themselves wondering why NONE of it was being offered to them for compensation. Changing scope leads to changing expectations.

This morning, I woke up to a counter-discussion on twitter led by DCWomenKickingAss (Sue, last name unknown) and 79SemiFinalist (Kelly Thompson), which was highly critical of the women who have been speaking out over the past few days against Womanthology. Particularly, they both claimed that it was inappropriate for these people to discuss on Twitter and Tumblr the problems that they had. Unfortunately (and please believe me, I respect Thompson and Sue GREATLY) these very same two have never ever been shy of publicly criticizing institutions (such as DC Comics) on Tumblr and Twitter. It seems that when the target of criticism is an institution that they support, their expectations for public discourse changed. Sue, with her DC Women Kicking Ass has specifically given many people an understanding of how to use public social media to air grievances that they may be too afraid to talk about privately.

Secret: many cartoonists–I would argue that MOST cartoonists–are timid of authority. Cartoonists are typically one of the most under-appreciated groups of professional artists out there. The comics industry is very VERY small and cartoonists are often afraid to “make waves.” When a cartoonist stands up and makes waves, she (or he) often faces harsh criticism, condemnation, threats, intimidation and social and professional ostracization. There is a reason why people are discussing these in public places. Because if a cartoonist is going to be disgruntled about a contract that she  signed, she’d better make sure that she can at the least be a lightning rod for anybody who might agree with her. She had better make sure that anybody else who shares her point of view can see her and possibly be encouraged to stand with her.

It broke my heart a little bit to see Sue and Kelly Thompson (who I am still a fan of and who I still rely on for opinions, views and perspective) condemning much of the discussion against Womanthology. Womanthology is supposed to support women cartoonists. Women cartoonists have an issue with Womanthology. Even though Sue and Thompson don’t agree with the way in which the discussion is led, how can they condemn women standing up for themselves and loudly making a fuss about what concerns them? This is largely people following their own example.

And I’m very sorry to Kelly Thompson and Sue. Again, I greatly respect your work in comics commentary, but I don’t think that you’re completely correct in this particular aspect. Cartoonists need to stand up and be MORE outspoken, MORE critical of those that come to them as friends. Cartoonists, particularly minority groups who feel disenfranchised need to put their feet down and learn to not be  as timid as they typically are. Comics is a heartbreaking business and the killing blow is often delivered with the best intentions by a friend, rather than a hand-rubbing villain. Everybody is following your example. Just hear out their criticism and try to see where they’re coming from.

Thanks for listening.

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13 Responses to “I’ll Have To Ask My Daddy”

  1. Costa August 13, 2011 at 1:54 pm #

    I am not even going to lie, someone running a Tumblr blog that mostly focuses on criticism and is out there for EVERYONE to read commenting on the inappropriateness of Twitter as a microblogging platform being used to air grievances is kind of cracking me up.

    I wish everyone involved in Womanthology the best. But the backlash against people asking about some specifics when it comes to a project and what’s A LOT of money makes me really sad.

    • 1979semifinalist August 13, 2011 at 7:39 pm #

      Don’t be sad. That’s not the accurate backlash.

      You’re a victim of mis-information! Congratulations!

  2. Sue (DC Women Kicking Ass) August 13, 2011 at 3:48 pm #

    As I said SEVERAL times on Twitter this morning I have absolutely no problem with people asking questions. My issue, as I said several times, was people who chose to not go and ask the organizers questions but instead chose to ask their questions to everyone over Twitter. Why would someone do this if the organizer was there? Why were people asking if it was for a charity WHEN IT SAID IT ON THE FAQ? Why were they not going to Renae? Why would they choose not to ask HER “Hey where is this money going” or “Hey why aren’t you paying them” all questions that have been answered by her, were instead put out over Twitter to everyone. They are all fair questions. The excuses I heard for the questions being asked in this manner were not fair. “I didn’t know how to get in touch with her.” Really, given that I found her Twitter address using Google in a second that seems a weak excuse. “They didn’t want to confront her.” Really? Asking to email her a question is confrontation? “People ask questions all the time on Twitter” Yes they do but not ones that were frankly implying something wasn’t kosher with a funded venture.

    I have no issue with people who believe people shouldn’t do work without being paid. That’s their choice. I have no problem with people who believe this project isn’t the best way to raise visibility for women in comics. That’s their opinion and they can choose not to buy it and post all they want.

    I do have issues with people who are implying that the participants are “poor women” or are being treated poorly because to me that’s implying these women are incapable of making their own decisions. As all the women are over 16 to my knowledge that seems like a moot point as all of the participants chose to volunteer their services without any remuneration.

    What I do have a problem with is someone recasting my single point into my not wanting an open discussion. Which is what you did here. And I find that disingenuous.

    • darrylayo August 13, 2011 at 4:02 pm #

      Sue, thanks for responding.

      I do understand the nuance of what you were saying on Twitter, ie, your assertion that the cartoonists should have asked the organizer of Womanthology directly, versus on Twitter. I am clearly not a contributor and have no first-hand knowledge of what people did or did not do in private. However, I have observed that some did complain of asking questions of Renae and either felt ignored or felt that the received unsatisfactory answers.

      However, not having first-hand knowledge, I am only able to trust what all participants say to be accurate to the best of their own abilities.

      So on that note, how do you know that these vocal dissenters did not contact Renae privately? How do you judge that? You are seeing, just as I am, the public dimension of this debate. If I am wrong, it is because my viewpoint is informed by wrong information. Given the information that has been made available to me, it just seems unreasonable to come down so harshly on the people who are being vocal in their dissatisfaction.

      I feel very bad that you feel that I am mischaracterizing your argument, but I take great pains NOT to be disingenuous. I take great pains to try to understand various people’s points of view and in this particular instance it seems like you are essentially–whether or not these cartoonists are being inappropriate–it seems like you are essentially shouting them down.

      It seems that you are personally more invested in the tone of the discussion than the content of the complaints being raised. Whether the cartoonists were rude or inappropriate is actually completely separate from whether they have a valid point worthy of discussion. I am trying not to point fingers or escalate the bad feelings here but I think it’s disingenuous to make this conversation more about how Renae’s feelings may be harmed while ignoring the actual complaints.

      • Sue (DC Women Kicking Ass) August 13, 2011 at 4:18 pm #

        Complaints? Or questions. There is the issue in a nutshell. Thanks for making my point.

      • darrylayo August 13, 2011 at 4:23 pm #

        Not even slightly.

        Don’t…do that. Do not try to play semantic games with “thanks for making my point” and such nonsense with me. You are better than that. You are smarter than that. I expect more of you.

        The questions are complaints, the complaints are questions. Whatever term we use, the cartoonists have serious issues that warrant debate. Do not play word-games and presume to sweep their concerns under the rug. That is wrong and…disingenuous.

      • 1979semifinalist August 13, 2011 at 4:37 pm #

        I would say in answer to your “how do you know that these vocal dissenters did not contact Renae privately” question…that I know that because nobody that I saw started a blog, Tumblr, or Tweet, with “I’ve asked thees questions to Renae and have received no response”.

        I don’t expect every person on twitter etc. to have the same reporting chops as the NY Times, but it just seems wise to let people know you’ve done your due diligence before taking it to the streets and trying to make a massive controversy where there isn’t one. There’s a reason why reports say things like “The White House did not return call requests for comment” etc.,…it’s so that people can acknowledge that they have TRIED to do the right thing and get the information. As a backer and then as a contributor the information was readily available so far as I have seen and experienced and I know of several people, myself included that reached out directly to her and got a response. So yeah, I don’t think there’s much of that, if any, going on.

  3. 1979semifinalist August 13, 2011 at 4:22 pm #

    I’m sorry, but yet again, there seems to be a basic lack of reading comprehension or interest in understanding WHAT people are actually saying…and then an extrapolation of that to something that is just wildly inaccurate. I have ZERO problem with people asking questions.

    But De Liz is EASILY available for questions. If you know where the Kickstarter page is, then you know how to get in touch with her. And if you know how to get in touch with her, then why on earth is the appropriate way to ask legitimate questions of a small positive funded project for charity, by writing about it on a Tumblr that does not have any discussion function enabled, so that the only people who can discuss it with you are people re-blogging your content or writing their own posts and linking to you, etc.?

    I find the METHOD completely unacceptable, especially given the nature of this particular project.

    That is why I took to twitter (arguably 140 characters is not a premier avenue for discussion either, but again, had commenting been a possibility, I would have talked there, instead of elsewhere), lamenting the fact that people will criticize even the most positive of projects, and that I don’t understand why they do this. I think it’s disingenuous at best to act like it’s being done “for the good of others” or “to get to the truth”. If it WAS about those things, then research would have been done – going to the Kickstarter page, the blog, etc., and then if there were still questions to be asked, then going to De Liz directly (as I know some reasonable people with reasonable questions did). If a person still didn’t like what they found then sure, write a blog about it (though preferably something that can enable discussion – as you have here) and not something that seems fueled entirely by its ability to be linked to and reblogged for maximum “let’s get everyone up in arms over nothing” factor.

    The “questions” that I have seen lobbed at this project are all easily answered…without much work I’ve known the answers for ages now. So I don’t really understand them as questions…I see them as thinly veiled criticisms and accusations, without people just first going to the source. I don’t understand what is noble about this.

    Comparing criticism of a grass roots project like Womanthology with criticizing a major corporation like DC comics seems odd at best to me. If I don’t like the look of a comic book cover and want to question it or criticize…who am I to go to? The artist that drew it? The colorist? The writer that figured out the story that drove the content? The editor who approved it? The editor who laid down the law about how things should look/be/etc. , the corporation itself? Who? Seriously. Tell me. If I have want to question or criticize Womanthology who am I to go to? Oh, Renae De Liz…and oh, look, there is her email address.

    How are these the same things?

    Again, question things all you want, frankly, I encourage it. It makes the world better almost always. And I absolutely think there are interesting arguments to be made about the philosophy of artists being paid for their work or not. I tend to fall on the side of artists should know their value and be paid, but that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with donating your time and talent to charity…and that doing so frequently helps you as much as it does said charity, just for being involved and on many levels from spiritual to financial. But I understand that it’s a controversial subject and that not everyone is of the same mind on it. That’s fine. But I don’t understand Womanthology as some lightning rod for this issue. And I take umbrage at people acting like others shouldn’t be able to volunteer their time and talent if they so desire…it’s their own choice and I don’t think we should be taking it away from them.

    I have also seen a massive well of enthusiasm, excitement, and general inspiration for this project from the contributors involved and only a couple complaining that they want to get paid, or that they think it should be a consideration. Squeaky wheel gets the grease I guess?

    I posted on The Beat today about why I feel as both a backer and a contributor that changing the rules and starting to pay volunteers partway through the funding of this project would have been both a bad idea and pretty unethical. But the bottom line is that everybody knew what they were getting into when they started this and people funded the project knowing it was all volunteer creators. Everyone had their eyes open, the information was as available as it could possibly be.

    Is De Liz or Womanthology or anyone out there perfect and incapable of making errors, of course not. Do I think she and the project are an amazing thing with the best of possible intentions and that it doesn’t deserve the sudden criticism leveled at it? I surely do.

    • darrylayo August 13, 2011 at 5:35 pm #

      Hi, thank you for your reply.

      Perhaps *part* of our disagreement comes from not approaching this matter from the same angle. Based on your reply here, it sounds as though you have been reading different blogs than I have. Perhaps we are basing our observations on different actors in this episode.

      Or perhaps not and we have disagreement to how and where the controversy started.

      I do have empathy for the point of view that you’ve indicated in your replies and I *think* that I see where your criticisms are coming from. However, I still happen to remain unconvinced that the dissenters/complainers/critics/etc are uniformly behaving badly. I do agree, in light of your explanation that some of the concerns could be handled either through personal research (The FAQs) or private questioning of the editor. Sure.

      I think that in all cases, discussion in in this internet age is difficult because it doesn’t appear that anybody agrees with how discussions should be carried, or what is even up for discussion at all. But while Tumblr is not conducive for nuanced, layered, organic debate, it is a tool that all of us employ nonetheless. And twitter becomes harsh and overwhelming due to the combination of its ubiquity and its brevity. But even given that, I suppose that I have given up on condemning the tools for conversation and the baggage that goes with those tools in favor of attempting to engage with the content of said conversations.

      As I said with Sue, I truly apologize if you feel that I’ve mischaracterized your positions. That said, there may be some disagreement at the core of this discussion and I’d like to think that that’s okay. I see the Womanthology dissenters (at least the ones that I’ve observed) putting forth points and arguments that ring very true for a good number of people. And yes, I’m sure that at least some of them took to the streets without seeking satisfactory discussion from the editor first. I’m certain that there is truth on both sides.

      Thanks again for your time.

      • 1979semifinalist August 13, 2011 at 6:59 pm #

        I’m not trying to be a dick here…seriously…but if you’re (the general you, not YOU) are trying to get to the bottom of something, get answers, educate the public, have an intelligent debate, engage in criticism of something…what reason on earth is there to not just get the facts first? Because, otherwise you just end up looking like an asshole that doesn’t know how to read. Especially when said answers are a click of the mouse away? We’re not talking about lots of legwork here…we’re talking maybe half an hour (max) on the internet. If that doesn’t answer all your questions, maybe a quick email fired off to an actual live human being on the other end.

        How is “attempting to engage with the content of said conversations” even relevant when the people doing the talking…don’t know what they’re talking about? This is fundamentally my problem. And you’re right. Maybe we ARE reading different debates. I was MIA for most of Thursday and Friday, so came to some of this a bit late…so perhaps we’ve read different things…but what I’ve seen has been…not an intelligent debate and more throwing barbs just to throw barbs.

        As for “while Tumblr is not conducive for nuanced, layered, organic debate, it is a tool that all of us employ nonetheless”

        I object. I try to never engage in Tumblr unless there are comments enabled. And you’ve answered right there why I DO NOT have a Tumblr, despite the fact that I know it would bring me drastically more traffic. I’m not interested in traffic…well, not over intelligent
        discourse.

  4. Sue (DC Women Kicking Ass) August 13, 2011 at 5:16 pm #

    No I actually feel pretty comfortable that you made my point Darryl. People weren’t looking for information, which is why you ask questions. They were looking for a way to express their disapproval. As Kelly clearly articulated above, there are easily accessible answers or an easily accessible person for the questions that were thrown out over the Twitter stream. I’d have more respect if someone came out and did a blog post saying “this is why this is wrong” AND provided an easy way for the topic to be debated. The Beat, for example, has a number of differing opinions on the topic. As I said if these people truly want answers, they were there for them or the person who could answer them was easily accessible by Twitter, email and her blog.

    • darrylayo August 13, 2011 at 5:20 pm #

      Okay, I’ll bite.

      What is wrong with expressing disapproval? I disagree that you are making a fully accurate assessment of other people’s mindstates. I also disagree that these people’s issues are so cut and dried.

      But sure: if they are only looking for a way to express disapproval…why is that wrong?

      • 1979semifinalist August 13, 2011 at 6:51 pm #

        I don’t see anything wrong with disagreeing with the project, although I do question why people feel the need to come so hard for a cause FOR CHARITY, but whatever Tomayto, Tomahto I suppose.

        My original tweets were a reaction to two Tumblrs and one in particular that incensed me not because it disagreed with the project but because it was highly accusatory and wildly inaccurate. And there was no method for discussion, because it was a Tumblr with no discussion enabled. It was unacceptable. I’m not going to broadcast the site for a variety of reasons, but if you want to DM me on twitter or email me I’ll be happy to give you the links.

        I read some interesting pieces over the last few days that were honest and insightful and not so accusatory and that I agreed and disagreed with to varying degrees – MK Reed’s pieces on The Beat, Heidi’s piece on The Beat, and Meredith Gran’s piece, though in Gran’s piece I have to say I think it was poor timing to try to draw attention to this issue in that way, but whatever. Free country and all.

        I just don’t see the point of doing things this way. There are ways to get things done, to get answers, to search for the “truth”, and to try to legitimately help women in comics (or whatever the pet cause for the day is), etc. And then there are ways to just be a jerk and try to drum up controversy. A lot of stuff I’ve been reading felt dramatically like the latter.

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