Essay: Toward Making Comics Against Fascism

Over the last month, antiracist protest has embroiled the United States and other nations. One of the earliest responses from the comics community was a brief-lived campaign of “comics against fascism.” Our guest writer today evaluates that response and lays a foundation for thought about militating against fascism in the comics arts. 

For the purposes of this piece, our guest has chosen to remain anonymous. This is not because they are afraid of blowback, exposure, or repercussions, but rather because they feel that the work they have created is a synthesis of ideas from other writers and not wholly original work. They also feel that the work is collective and collaborative, and prefer not to center themselves as an “author” within the context of the piece.


The editorial board of SOLRAD has reviewed this piece in full and firmly stands behind it. The editorial board also notes that this application of anti-fascist ideas to the arena of comics is intended to be a starting point for a longer conversation about the way those engaged with the comics arts commit to meaningful antiracist work. We intend to commission responses to this piece from black and brown writers.

If you have questions about this work or our future plans you can contact me at publisher@solrad.coThank you.


Recently, many comics industry professionals have declared themselves “against fascism” while evading the question of what it means to make comics against fascism. This avoidance is cowardly and it is impotent and it renders this gesture as just that—a gesture. It keeps intact the object under fire. 

Militating against fascism must begin with an understanding of what fascism is—neither a political party, nor a historical aberration. Likewise, it is neither an attitude, nor a set of beliefs, though these things determine and direct it by providing its mental scaffolding, its conventions, and its terms. Fascism is a material practice, a set of habits, a way of interacting with the world and those others that inhabit it. It is a willingness to deploy violence, to dispossess, to dominate.  Fascism is the unequal distribution of resources amongst people and the violent enforcement of that maldistribution, which is itself violent. Fascism is not merely something the state does; it is something every one of us does, every day. To militate against these daily, habitual exercises is first, to refuse to perform them, and second, to militate against the very conditions that make them possible. It is to make the practice of fascism unthinkable. These conditions are economic (racial capitalism), political (settler colonialism), and social (antiblackness). To militate against fascism, therefore, requires a commitment to the health and wellbeing of black life, which requires a commitment to the health and wellbeing of black people. To echo Mariame Kaba and Ruth Wilson Gilmore, this commitment is a commitment to change everything. 

Because of its international and multi-racial distribution of labor; its interlinkages with other industries, including commercial illustration, journalism, book publishing, animation, and film; its preexisting critical infrastructure; and the cultural impact of its productions, the comics industry offers innumerable sites of struggle at every single level. Below are suggestions for how you can participate in these struggles from where you are, and vital questions that only you can answer for yourself. These are not comprehensive, and they are not dogmatic. They are proposals that must be responded to, developed, and employed—a truly collective undertaking, but one that must begin somewhere.     

Creators

Antiblack racism manifests in at least four ways that are, of course, interrelated and overlapping:

  • The unequal distribution of labor 
    • Who gets the jobs?
    • What kind of jobs do they get? 
    • What are the job expectations?
    • Is everyone required to meet those expectations?
    • Is anyone punished for failing to exceed those expectations? 
  • The unequal compensation of labor in the form of both capital and cultural capital 
    • Who gets the money?
    • How much money do they get, and how much do others get? 
    • How much prestige do they get? 
  • White supremacist aesthetic practices
    • What forms, styles, and art-making practices are valued?
    • What practices are devalued?
    • How are such practices talked about?
    • With whom are such practices associated? 
  • Racist social practices
    • How are coworkers treated? 
    • To whom are coworkers accountable? 
    • What work gets shared?
    • By whom is it shared?
    • How is it discussed?

Publishers and executives are more than capable of hiring more black and brown editors, affording them autonomy, latitude, and resources (material, emotional, intellectual). They have no excuse for not already having done this. These executives can likewise ensure the health and wellbeing of their employees by offering robust and comprehensive healthcare packages to their employees, or, even better than, they can struggle for universal health coverage for every single person living in this country (regardless of legal status).  

Editors are more than capable of hiring more black and brown authors year round, rather than giving handouts to their friends, neighbors, relatives, former bosses, and former coworkers. They are also capable of facilitating pay equity, the prompt remittance of wages, and the extension of deadlines to emotionally and materially support their crew. They are capable of organizing with their coworkers and making collective demands—regardless of union membership. They have no excuse for not already having done this.  

Editors can refuse to work with certain creators, and they can refuse to accept work that perpetuates antiblack racism, or contributes to the naturalization of racial difference. You have this power, and you are therefore responsible for how it is or is not deployment. These things can be overt and naked, but it can also include giving a white creator exclusive license to develop black characters. Why, for example, is Miles Morales’ black father named for the President of the Confederacy? If you are unsure about work and feel it may fall into this category, consult one of the thousands of people presently employed to make this assessment, and pay them their rates. A failure to do this is a dereliction of duty. 

Writers, illustrators, inkers, colorists, flatters, and every other person involved in the production of comics can choose to pass up work completely, to insist on the hiring of black and brown co-authors, or to pass on opportunities to black and brown authors. If you feel you are not the appropriate person to most effectively develop work? Pass it on to someone who is. Authors can also be transparent about their wages, and, to be more active, they can share their wages with friends and coworkers, which will make fighting for pay equity easier. While this is easier for some than for others, you must do what you can when you can.   

Additionally, creators should think critically about the stories they choose to tell. What are you depicting, and how are you depicting it? What are you trying to getting at? Is that really a worthwhile endeavor? Why do you believe you’re the best one equipped to handle this material? Should you do more research? Is this a story that needs to be told at all? Is this the best way to handle this material?  

Likewise, professionals are more than capable of divesting from people and with corporations who have demonstrated an unwillingness to stand in solidarity with you. This may be difficult, but it is necessary. Holding our community members accountable, demanding change from them, and working with them to achieve it (but ONLY if they demonstrate a willingness to do the work) is how lasting change is effected both inside and outside the comics community. 

Creators can refuse awards, challenge or refuse media coverage, and celebrate a diverse panoply of aesthetic practices, which include a variety of styles, genres, production methods, material forms, and subjects.    

Moreover, authors can choose to make and distribute comics on the margins or completely outside of existing industrial infrastructure—make them just for yourself, make them just for your friends, self-publish them, work with smaller presses, publish them online for free or pay-what-you-can. You can trade comics instead of buying them from one another, and you can donate time, money, and/or labor to one another in the form of collaborations. You can likewise employ your technical skills to educate people, and to contribute to street action by facilitating the dissemination of important information. And you yourself can participate in street action, as the exemplars Michael DeForge, Eleanor Davis, and Chris Kindred can attest. Ending antiblack racism requires the end of racial capitalism and vice versa, and the end of both requires the infrastructure of something different. That infrastructure must be made.  

EVERYONE can intervene in workplace expressions of antiblack racism, which includes the publication of racist material, the material support of racist, sexist, homophobic, and transphobic creators and production staff, and interpersonal microaggressions. Though, the more power you have in your workplace, the more effective these interventions will be. 

This also includes the deployment of police—stop calling the police right this second. Develop alternatives with and for your own community that do not rely on or reproduce punishment, or the violence of incarceration and policing. There are countless resources to learn more about these practices—seek them out; do the work. 

EVERYONE has the capacity to withhold their labor—to ensure pay equity amongst employees, to democratize your workplace (including virtual workplaces), and to politically challenge management to act. Organizing your workplace will make this refusal easier, and the more people involved the more efficacious such action will be. 

Critics

Though it is often understood as malnourished and malformed, a critical apparatus does serve an important role in the constitution of the comics-industrial complex. It helps shape the “canon” of comics, the “history” of comics, the dissemination and legitimation of particular comics, and even comics production itself. This apparatus includes blogs and vlogs, legacy publications, and academic publications—all of which have routinely failed black and brown critics, publishers, authors, and readers. 

If you are a comics critic, journalist, historian, or reader of any of these things, ask yourself: 

  • Who is writing the articles, the reviews, the essays? 
  • What books are they covering?
  • How are they covering them?
    • What words, approaches, and styles are being used? 
    • What subjects are they being applied to?
  • Who do they believe their audience is? 
  • Who is conducting the interviews?
  • With whom are they doing so?
  • In what forms are they doing so? 
  • Could that form be more accessible? (Making black life matter means making disabled black people matter)
  • What aspects, people, and work get celebrated as comics history, and what aspects get forgotten? 
  • What critics get praised and what critics get shunned?
  • For what reasons are they praised? For what reasons are they shunned? 

If you are a publisher of these things, you can work to diversify the assignment of work (both in terms of what is assigned and to whom it is assigned), and to stand behind your authors. The dearth of resources that many of these publishers have is a reality that needs to be addressed, but there are ways of compensating labor that does not include wages. Many comics critics will work if you can facilitate their access to material to work with, and to support and help develop of their ideas and them as professionals. Legacy publications, however, have no recourse to this excuse.  

Consumers

Unfortunately, comics buyers wield an inordinate amount of power under our current mode of economic organization—racial capitalism. While this power has often been seized by reactionary and counterrevolutionary tendencies within and adjacent to the industry (Comicsgate), it is not reactionary by nature. Though, it must be noted, it has its limits. We must refuse the idea that boycotts or changes in where we spend our money are the solution to our problems, certainly. This action still operates within the transactional logic of capitalism and does little to alter the organization of social life. However, it is a useful site of struggle and we cannot abandon it completely.

Participate in or organize a boycott. If there are changes within certain corporations you’re seeking, make specific, concrete demands of them. If you want to see those corporations gone completely? Stop buying from them altogether. This applies to comic shops, comic makers, and comic distributors, as well as comic publishers. (Might I suggest Comixology, or the comics-industrial arm of Amazon, as a target?)       

Support black authors and black owned publishers directly, though, do not do so indiscriminately and do not do so believing that that is sufficient action. While it is true that black and brown authors, black-owned publishers, and those serving black and brown audiences, can rarely access the same capital or cultural capital as their white counterparts, there are plenty such people/places that are just as predatory and exploitative. And again, changes in spending habits can do little to disturb the structure of the economy at large, so while they can prove effective as a tactic, they must be undertaken with a commitment to other sites of struggle as well.  

You may also need to change how you read in addition to what you read. Racial capitalism requires endless consumption, which manifests in our reading practices as huge to-be-read piles that never diminish, prioritizing speed or quantity of reading over quality, anxieties about having read enough or the right stuff, and failures to re-read and to sit with works. That is, racial capitalism insists on an inattentive, careless, and thoughtless reading practice. Perhaps you simply need to buy fewer comics, and to read the ones you do have with care. Refusing the consumerist impulse contributes to the dismantling of the consumerist system that persists through the exploitation of black labor and the segregation of black art. This applies to comics critics as well.   

Exhibitors 

The legacy admittance, prohibitive cost of application, and prohibitive cost of attendance makes comics conventions overwhelming white. Black and brown authors are segregated to panels on “diversity.” And their work is taken less seriously by, and less likely to even get in the hands of, awards judges. The emotional and material toll this takes on these authors is staggering, and insistences that they individually figure out how to circumnavigate these barriers compounds it.  

Table space might be set aside for black and brown authors, the cost of their application fee reduced or waived completely, and the cost of their attendance defrayed. There is no excuse for why this is not the industry norm. 

Black and brown authors—and poor authors of every color—have long decried certain awards’ practices of only accepting physical submissions, and multiple ones at that. Open your awards to digital submissions, which will instantly make submitting work more accessible to authors. 

Outside the industry

These struggles within the industry must be linked to struggles outside the industry. Comics industry professionals must connect themselves to one another, and connect their cohorts to and support labor struggles and antiracist struggles in the film industry, in animation, in video games, in journalism, and in traditional book publishing. They must be in solidarity with indigenous struggles for decolonization and the rematriation of land. They must extend into your everyday practices, and this project of making comics against fascism must operate at every scale, at every site of struggle, and in solidarity with the black people who are its most immediate victims, including those black people who are women, who are queer, who are disabled, who are poor, who are non-citizens. 

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