Friday, January 27, 2012

DC’s First Editorial Standards, Marvel Profanity


Not Who Are These Guys 

Sorry. It’s taking longer than I thought to put the reference together for that post, which is about the essential natures of classic characters.

Coming soon.


Clean Up on Aisle WW

In my review of New 52 Wonder Woman #1-4, I complained about Wonder Woman head butting a centaur. Seemed to me that would hurt her as much as the centaur. Several commenters insisted that the head butt is a legitimate hand-to-hand (head-to-head?) combat tactic.

I suppose that if you slammed the hardest part of your head into the squishier, more breakable parts of someone else’s, the nose and mouth, for instance, they will be hurt worse than you so I concede the point. But, don’t you just hate it when you get those nasty tooth shards stuck in your forehead?

Anonymous/TKay pointed out that the first page of #3 was in medias res, that is, it was actually the last page. He’s almost right. The second page is the last page, and when I checked it out again, the meaning of Hippolyta’s words, mysterious to me on my readings, became clear.

I am familiar with the technique. I’ve seen movies that used it, though I’m having trouble calling any to mind. I think Angels and Insects did, and if I remember right, I had no trouble with that. TKay said it took him three readings of WW #3 to suss it out. He said that a clue was that Aleka, who had been punched by Wonder Woman, was leaning on another Amazon’s shoulder.
WW 3, Page 1
Honestly, I took that as camaraderie.

Near the end of the book, Wonder Woman hit Aleka hard enough to send blood spewing, but there was no sign of damage to Aleka on page 1, presumably moments later.
WW 3, Page 17
Moreover, the last page shows Wonder Woman, tossing down the torch and striding away from the pyres. Panels before, she vowed she was leaving never to return, and started walking away. On the last page, she’s well on her way—pyres behind her. The final panel shows her a substantial distance away from the pyres and the crowd. Hermes, Zola and Strife are trailing after her, also some distance from the pyres and the crowd.

But on the first page, Hermes, Zola and Strife are in front of the crowd, standing, facing the pyres. Near Aleka, in fact, in what seemed to be the center of the crowd. What did they do, decide to circle back, find a good viewing spot and watch the flames for a while?

The creators do not make it easy to follow along at home.

Most of all, I was so taken aback by Strife, who caused all the deaths, standing there among the mourners, her presence being tolerated by the Amazons, their Queen and Wonder Woman, that I was, what’s a good word…? Distracted.

Still, I probably should have figured out that the scene was in medias res. Sorry.

Other than that, I stand by what I said.

Everyone else is entitled to his or her opinion, too. You like what you like for whatever reasons. If something works for you, it works. Let freedom ring.

However, one other comment does merit a reply: Stuart Moore thought he’d better clue me in that “stories can be told all different ways…”

When have I ever said otherwise?

But whichever way you pick, you have to make it work. I take ‘em one at a time and I calls ‘em as I sees ‘em.


DC’s First Editorial Standards, Marvel Profanity

This comment came in:

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Wonder Woman #1 – 4, More":
I'd be curious to know Jim's opinion on profanity and so forth in comics. Frank Miller was openly critical of Garth Ennis' Preacher when it came out.
Posted by Anonymous to Jim Shooter at January 24, 2012 11:47 AM 

I replied:

Depends on the comic. When I was at Marvel and our newsstand comics were on spinner racks that touted them as wholesome entertainment for kids, I wouldn't allow profanity. In EPIC Comics, sure. In comics not limited by a commitment to the Comics Code or otherwise, then any non-actionable material is okay by me. Boiled Angel was okay by me, though not the sort of thing I particularly cared to read. Penthouse Comix were okay by me. Freedom of expression is okay by me. I am a supporter of CBLDF. The debate gets a little muddy with characters like Superman and Batman. Their comics were made for and sold to kids for a long time. Does the lingering perception that stories featuring them appeal to children limit them? That has been debated on and off here. I don't know. DC owns those particular characters and will make whatever judgment they see fit. If it were up to me, if I were managing the careers of those characters, I would probably keep them at the prime time broadcast TV level of mature content, and no more. If I were managing the career of Mickey Mouse, I'd keep him squeaky clean.  : )

Apropos of that, these are some things I came across recently:

Here’s the first anti-profanity memo I wrote at Marvel.
I sent several more such memos along the way after that. Some were a little more elaborate, but the drift was the same: no profanity in newsstand books and I wanted to be in the loop if someone planned to use hells or damns in, say, an all-direct book.

I never wrote a “guidelines” memo for Marvel Creators. I didn’t have to. The editors knew my feelings about staying within the same limits as broadcast, prime time TV in all our color comics, and unlike today’s editors, they actually exerted some governance over the books in their care. (As little as possible, mind you. My goal, and most of them agreed, was to encourage creators who had vision and some chops to do their thing and provide training and help those who needed it. But, I digress….)

My memos and directives about content weren’t meant for EPIC material. Archie knew what he was doing and didn’t need me honking at him. I think Archie drew the line at anything that would cause his books to be pulled off the stands and sold from behind the counter.


NEXT:  Made to Order

71 comments:

Anonymous said...

Glad you included the "not just for kids" idea - because that is precisely what people will use to justify poor and injudicious use of expletives

And, good and judicious use of expletives, or anything, will always result in a better product

DJ said...

Jim,
I've just dipped my toe back in the pool. I've heard talk of Mark Waid's Daredevil being a good read. So, I sourced out a few issues. Well, it's not good, it's great! It looks good, it reads well, and pretty much all the information you need to keep up is presented subtly. More importantly though, this is the Matt Murdock I grew up with, this is the Daredevil I enjoyed reading adventures about, and this to me is the icing on the cake. Honestly, I was smiling as I read it.
I'm not asking you to review it, just tagging it as a highlight of the current crop of underacheivers.
Keep Blogging.

David J.

Stuart Moore said...

Jim: I wasn't trying to clue you in to anything; I was responding to some other comments about rules for storytelling. You have indeed always said that stories can be told different ways, though I suspect we have very different standards for flexibility in storytelling.

Anonymous said...

I remember back in the late 70's-early 80's that Iron Man used more adult language than other books. I don't remember the writer (Michelinie maybe?), but Layton was doing the art.

Neil

Keith Howell said...

When I was in Jr. High, I encountered the first profanity (that I recognized as such) in a comic book. It was IRON MAN and the mere beginnings of the longform alcoholism plot for Tony Stark. I don't have the comic anymore, but I recall Tony suiting up as Iron Man to avert a disaster but he's inebriated and kind of screws it up and throws something in anger while yelling "Dammit!" First "profanity" I remember on TV was Capt. Kirk saying "Let's get the hell out of here." on STAR TREK. THE SECRET OF NIMH was the first kids cartoon I remember that was rated G and had a character mutter "Damn."

These moments stand (or rather, stood) out to me because of the fact that the wider popular entertainment of the day did seem to respect a sense of family decorum and good taste. There were moments in which the context of the story made it plausible...and even effective to coarsen the language for a moment. And because of that, those moments had more impact. Now, those moments are meaningless to most people because the parameters of acceptability in language have been pushed so far that we now have things like Miller putting a line like "I'm the goddamn Batman" into a universal Batman comic book.

Just as effective storytelling leaves some things to the reader's imagination, keeping your characters' dialogue within an all-ages range most of the time makes the rare occasion when you pierce the barrier with something stronger into a memorable moment with a reason behind it.

When writing universal comics, books, tv or movies, dropping coarse language in a false attempt to sound "real" is just cheap and weak writing from my pov.

El doc. said...

In Media Res is used in "Memento" and "Casino" as well. I believe it is also used in the Fight Club; however many winters have passed since I last saw that one.

Anonymous said...

I also saw "cripes" and "muck", among others as thinly veiled substitutes for actual curse words.

Neil

Anonymous said...

El doc - good point. I would clarify by saying it was done well in Memento and Fight Club

Keith Howell said...

A child in 1975 was much less likely to get a beating from his parents if he exclaimed "Cripes!" than if he yelled "Christ!" :) Nowadays, the parent would probably just correct the kid's mispronunciation.

Michael Hoskin said...

>I recall Tony suiting up as Iron Man to avert a disaster but he's inebriated and kind of screws it up and throws something in anger while yelling "Dammit!"

Keith - you might be thinking of Michelinie/Layton's Iron Man#117 (1978), when Spymaster tricks Iron Man into chasing a remote-controlled vehicle; Tony was less than pleased to discover the deception, leading to that early use of "Dammit!"

Anonymous said...

The Daily Show did a nice bit last night on profanity and network standards, the upshot being that if you use current network standards for comics you'll be able to do an awful lot ... of violence and using the word "sodomy".

There's a great deal of sense in understanding your audience and calibrating content toward that (Uncle Scrooge would probably not be improved if he talked like an actual salty miser), but at the same time I'm irritated by a lot of the pearl-clutching and "won't someone think of the children" that tends to surround the topic, as well as the hypocrisy that is fine with showing kids ultraviolence but believes seeing a naked breast or hearing the word "fuck" will irretrievably break them.

--kgaard

Anonymous said...

Jim, what's your opinion of Marvel's X-Men Forever series which continues Chris Claremont's original X run (with him writing the story again from where he left it in 1991)?

Larry Hama also continues his G.I.Joe run from 1994, so does Simon Furman his work on Transformers. I don't know about the others, but Simon even brang back his old co-creators, Andrew Wildman and Stephen Baskerville to make it in the style how they did it originally. (Only difference is that Hama and Furman continues their Marvel's run at IDW now.)

I for one love to see these, because both of these guys are terrific storytellers, and it's interesting to see them to develope their own (?) creations, where they wanted to bring them originally (or at least close). Also, I think these comic lines are less marketing driven, as they are for the generation, which loved the original - the way the original was told to them. (Which I consider a much better way, than today's methods.)

Here's Chris' comment on the subject:

"The one significant difference and advantage that Forever has over Uncanny is that we don't have to worry about corporate needs. The one great disadvantage with Fantastic Four or with X-Men or with Spider-Man or with any book in the mainstream Marvel line is that the characters must be preserved for Marvel's sake. But since these characters are being preserved in Uncanny, they can be altogether frighteningly mortal in Forever, as we'll be demonstrating fairly early on. The fact is, if a character is unlucky enough to die, it's a real thing and it isn't corrected a week later. They won't come back. There are consequences and from that basis everything proceeds."

- David

Keith Howell said...

That sounds right. Spymaster was a part of the story. :)

Shawn James said...

I remember those Iron Man issues where Tony used Damn and in X-men 120 where Cyclops used Hell. They fit the story in each context.

But some writers today use profanity to cover up their shortcomings as a storyteller. It's a crutch some use to make characters sound tougher or feel more dangerous and to cover up a weak plot.

A good reader can see right through through stuff like that.

I remember reading an issue of New Avengers I got with a Sentry action figure and it mortified me to hear Captain America using mild profanity like ass. Worse, it didn't really help the story at all, nor did it show anything pertinent to his character like in those Iron man or X-men issues I mentioned.

The small amount of language there had an impact. Tony was showing how he was losing control due to the alcoholism, Cyclops was expressing his anger about Wolverine and Nightcrawler being captured in Canada. Moreover, he was determined to get his team members back safe and sound.

What I've learned over the years from studying people is that people who use a lot of profanity don't sound tough, it just shows how illiterate they are. So they substitute the profane words for the nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs they don't know how to use.

A good writer of all-ages entertainment knows that there's no real need for profanity in telling a story. They'll find a way to get across the same plot points using cleaner language.

Shawn James said...

I remember those Iron Man issues where Tony used Damn and in X-men 120 where Cyclops used Hell. They fit the story in each context.

But some writers today use profanity to cover up their shortcomings as a storyteller. It's a crutch some use to make characters sound tougher or feel more dangerous and to cover up a weak plot.

A good reader can see right through through stuff like that.

I remember reading an issue of New Avengers I got with a Sentry action figure and it mortified me to hear Captain America using mild profanity like ass. Worse, it didn't really help the story at all, nor did it show anything pertinent to his character like in those Iron man or X-men issues I mentioned.

The small amount of language there had an impact. Tony was showing how he was losing control due to the alcoholism, Cyclops was expressing his anger about Wolverine and Nightcrawler being captured in Canada. Moreover, he was determined to get his team members back safe and sound.

What I've learned over the years from studying people is that people who use a lot of profanity don't sound tough, it just shows how illiterate they are. So they substitute the profane words for the nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs they don't know how to use.

A good writer of all-ages entertainment knows that there's no real need for profanity in telling a story. They'll find a way to get across the same plot points using cleaner language.

Keith Howell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I'd argue that Miller's Batman language was effective, because he was setting the tone for the entire book.

Whereas, Bendis, in the Avengers, just throws cuss words around for no reason - cheap and lazy

Now, does goddam belong in a Batman book - that is another conversation.

Anonymous said...

Hey Jim - What about the short-lived "Void Indigo" ?

Wasn't it a rejected Hawkman pitch Gerber reworked into an Epic project?

There's was a graphic novel followed by two of what was supposed to be a six-issues miniseries, all illustrated by Val Mayerik.

Seem to recall the bombastic, myopic & microscopically "talented" Bob Ingersoll referring to the book as a crime against humanity. But, such harsh criticism from a guy who spent YEARS of a monthly fanzine column dissecting the real world implications of The Trial Of The Flash was a red flag regarding the credibility thing.

Also recall a local comic dealer mentioning how the mother of a customer showed up at his store and ripped up the book. Her son was a middle school student and she was incensed by the book's nudity and violence. Local police later responded to a complaint about "dirty comic books" but never bothered the store again.

Thought it was pretty stupid for the shop owner to sell "Void Indigo" to a younger teen. But he wasn't especially bright or professional.

Did Archie regret publishing "Void Indigo"?

I never could finish reading those books. Just didn't grab me.

Marc Miyake said...

Dear Jim,

Will Wonder Woman be in your upcoming post on the essential natures of classic characters? If she isn't, that's okay, because you've spent over a week on her.

I haven't commented lately because I felt completely lost in Aisle WW. An Azzupermarket isn't my kind of place to shop. Items arranged in a cryptic -- or chaotic? -- manner. Signs long on wordplay and short on help. A handful of customers in the store who sneer on simpletons like me who spend an hour looking for juice and leaving empty-handed. Yeah, I really want to go back there again.

Seriously, the last two posts lost me. I thought #1-3 would elucidate #4, but I ended up even more bewildered at Azzmart. I don't feel too bad since your non-comics friends were in the same boat. I've only read one WW comic since John Byrne's run in the 90s. And that issue didn't make much sense either.

What I don't understand is ... DC is part of a mass market entertainment company. Why can't its comics be as accessible as its movies? What if editors treated the New 52 like 52 movies on paper? Why keep producing niche products for the cognoscenti?

I keep hearing the argument that comics can't compete with movies, video games, whatever. So how was Shueisha able to sell

over 230 million volumes of One Piece manga so far [as of 2010]; volume 61 set a new record for the highest initial print run of any book in Japan in history with 3.8 million copies (the previous record belonging to volume 60 with 3.4 million copies). Volume 60 is the first book to sell over two million copies in its opening week on Japan's Oricon book rankings. One Piece is currently ranked as the best-selling series of all time in manga history.

It's not as if the Japanese are lacking in entertainment options. Millions are choosing to read black and white manga without all the full-color bells and whistles that are standard in the US. Why? What are they doing right? Or even wrong, in your opinion?

What impresses me about the Japanese is how they manage to keep on coming up with new properties in new genres that are hard to pigeonhole. Calling One Piece a pirate comic makes one think of Pirates of the Caribbean or EC's New Trend Piracy. That label doesn't do One Piece justice. It's set in its own universe.

I saw DEFIANT and Broadway as being in the Japanese genre-bending tradition. Those lines would have become even more diverse over time. If I had to pick one unreleased property to read, it'd be Spire. I'm listening to Ukrainian music at the moment. Fitting.

Why does diversity in comics work over there but not here? Yes, I know there are lots of nonsuperhero comics. I don't think comics will ever die because there will always be Alison Bechdels and the like who will express themselves through the medium. But the core of the industry remains a set of decades-old properties. Very different from the Japanese scene where series come and go and end. One Piece was planned to last five years -- it's lasted almost fifteen so far -- and "the author states, as of July 2007, that the ending will still be the one he had decided on from the beginning and he is committed to seeing it through to the end, no matter how many years it takes."

I've never read One Piece. But I respect creators who think things through. Who have structure in mind. Who know where they're going. That makes me want to invest in an epic. I don't want to deal with improv, with whatever stimuli the creators toss around to distract me while they figure out their next move.

(To be continued.)

Marc Miyake said...

Language and violence are stimuli. They really stir up some part of the audience. Anyone here remember a certain word in the Transformers movie from 1986? Shocking then, nothing now.

As we become accustomed to one level of stimuli, the creators feel they have to amp 'em up. More extreme! Push that button harder! Faster! Brute force is easy. Inspiring thoughts is hard.

But surely somebody among 300 million Americans can do that in comics.

As I read about Wonder Woman #1-4, I kept thinking, is this the best DC can do? Don't Diana and her audience deserve better?

Kid said...

As regards head-butting, I think one being delivered with super-strength is more likely to be injurious to the recipient than to the bestower.

Keep up the good work, Jim. Any chance of some of those stories about Vince Colletta you were going to tell us?

Bob said...

As far as the head-butt goes, WW has that metal head piece on. Seems like that would protect her melon and hurt her opponents.

Dave said...

I remember a lot of cussing in marvel comics of the 70's and early 80's. (your memo was dated 82, so that jibes with my memory) My mom took away a copy of Micronauts #2 or 3 that I was reading at the table because Rann referred to Marionette as a "helluva girl". I also remember from Star Wars #22, where Han Solo and Chewbacca are the last two of three gladiators in the arena on the Wheel space station (If you've never read it, you should) And Solo, reasoning that only Chewie had a chance against the other guy, urges Chewie to shoot him, finally yelling, "Dammit Chewie, shoot!" I remember the Iron Man incidents (Iron Man seemed very adult to me then) and the X-Men, as well as the splash page of Fantastic Four #175, where the High Evolutionary is shown Screaming "DAMN GALACTUS!" I made sure my mom never saw these.

Dave said...

Actually, that was ish 174 of the FF. There were a lot more, but those are the ones that stick out in my mind. Great Blog, by the way.

Anonymous said...

"Anyone here remember a certain word in the Transformers movie from 1986? Shocking then, nothing now."

[MikeAnon:] It was also stupid then, and it's just as stupid now. They put those utterly superfluous cuss words in so that the movie would get a PG rating. But kicking a rating up a notch *limits* rather than broadens a movie's potential audience.

What bothers me most is that so many comics and TV shows push the envelope of verbal/visual decency simply to see what they can get away with. The premiere episode of THE SHIELD on FX had a topless dead woman lying on the floor. Why topless? Why not? It wasn't sexy. But it wasn't necessary, either. Latest example: This week's ALCATRAZ episode featured the line, "You didn't have to be a dick about it." Okay, so "dick" is acceptable at 8PM now? Was there a reason "jerk" wouldn't have accomplished the same thing?

Today's comics writers get away with murder because of the $%$*%&*$& nonsense that was previously reserved for known foul-mouthed characters like J. Jonah Jameson but now spills out of the mouths of just about every heroic icon, never mind the villains (who have had their vulgarity ramped up to 11). The rule should be if you can't say it cleanly, it doesn't need to be said. (Wish that was the case with radio -- I think the rule there should be that if you can't write a radio edit that doesn't require bleepings or awkward silences, the song shouldn't be played.) [--MikeAnon]

jimshooter said...

Dear Stuart,

RE: "Jim: I wasn't trying to clue you in to anything; I was responding to some other comments about rules for storytelling. You have indeed always said that stories can be told different ways, though I suspect we have very different standards for flexibility in storytelling."

I suspect that we do have very different standards for flexibility in storytelling. My standards must be far more flexible than yours, because my standards are the most flexible possible. Any which way is fine by me, if it tells the story. No rules.

jimshooter said...

Dear Michael,

RE: "I recall Tony suiting up as Iron Man to avert a disaster but he's inebriated and kind of screws it up and throws something in anger while yelling "Dammit!"

Keith - you might be thinking of Michelinie/Layton's Iron Man#117 (1978), when Spymaster tricks Iron Man into chasing a remote-controlled vehicle; Tony was less than pleased to discover the deception, leading to that early use of "Dammit!" "

Some writers, especially Michelinie, would use the occasional swear word hoping the editor would miss it, or fail to take it out. It happened a few times. The writer in question would say, "Oops." Each of those occasions was probably responsible for my circulating another no-curse words memo to the editors.

Anonymous said...

MikeAnon

Agreed. It's done so poorly and so cheaply in TV and comics today. The latest example that I've seen is AMC's Hell on Wheels. The dialog smacked of "if we make him say a cuss word, it will be gritty and edgy".

It didn't work

Anonymous said...

Jim,

Love the blog; I don't read comics anymore and stopped reading just after X-Men #1 because it was obvious what was going on with the industry. As a kid, I collected baseball cards and that industry had collapsed a bit earlier from all of the "special edition"crap and over valuation of cards to try and sell more of them to kids who thought they were buying something with value.
I got out before the collapse, but I've looked at some comics since and I haven't been impressed. I definitely think one of the problems is that every issue isn't an entry point. I remember when I first discovered the X-Men in th early 80's, I loved how each character was laid out with a little description. Even though there was a rich history, and the writer loved loose ends, I had absolutely no problem jumping in and falling in love with the book. I still remember the first issue I ever read-#149. Of course, it was a long time before I read another one because I lived in the middle of nowhere, and, even if I hadn't, there was no money for comics.

After a few years of begging, my parents bought me a one year subscription (I think my first issue was the double James Proudstar issue). Anyway, I think part of the reason it was so easy for me to jump into what IO think was a pretty complicated comic at the time, with a full back story, was because of your insistence that each issue be an entry point.

I can understand why some of the folks who worked with you may have thought the "each issue is an entry point" mantra was redundant, and I actually thought that as well when I first started reading your blog. However, as I thought about it, and looked back on why I fell in love with comics, I do believe part of the reason was because it was so easy to jump in and pick up the story (Claremont and Cockrum's work didn't hurt either).

Obviously, what got me hooked was the story and the great work of Claremont, Cockrum, and whomever else was involved, but I think a quick explanation of who each character was made it very easy for me to quickly get involved with the team.

Anonymous said...

I remember reading a Green Lantern in 1984 (I was 8 at the time) and being positively shocked when GL flew up in the sky yelling, "Damn! Damn! DAMN!" Marvel never did that sort of thing... :)

t.k.

Jason said...

Just a thought, but could it be that the monthly individual comic is dying, and a different format will win out? Seems like the industry might be in the middle of that process.

First, there's distribution. Used to be, comics were everywhere, spinner racks in every neighbourhood. Today, specialty shops and, if you're damn lucky, your local bookstore. But mostly specialty shops.

Second, the awkwardness or flimsiness of the individual comic. It's an odd size, easily damaged, and so on. You spend half of what you would on a paperback, for something read in a tenth the time which is easily three or four times easier to wreck.

Third, the apparent revolt of the writers against treating each issue as a separate entity unto itself, making it hard or impossible for new readers to jump into a series in any particular issue.

Could it be that creating comics directly for the trade paperback is what will help the industry recover? (Leaving aside all the OTHER storytelling issues that Jim has documented so well.)

Or go the Japanese route and have regular (weekly?) magazines that collect chapters of various ongoing stories, and which can be bought anywhere a magazine can?

Either of those paths (or any third path that others might suggest) would entail painful change in the market. The collectors would be up in arms, for one thing. The specialty shops, too, obviously.

The thing about free markets is that change happens, generally for the better overall, no matter what the buggy whip manufacturers want.

Things are going to change. Given the state of the industry, that's unavoidable.

But to what?

(OK, done spitballing for the moment.)

peter said...

I am kind of amazed that a 17 year old art house film about incest is the go to example for film technique in this post. Though I am confused by the use of the term "in media res." As I understand the term, it refers to starting the story in the middle of the action. What is being described sounds more like a flash forward? I might just be misunderstanding because I can't really recall an example of that from Angels and Insects.

Daniel K said...

Marc Miyake's point about mega-selling Japanese manga inadvertently (but devastatingly)disproves the commonly made assertion by the defenders of today's tosh that the reason comics don't sell today is because of iPads, video games etc. Japan has just as many distractions/technological toys as the US, but comics stories & characters sell- in their millions.

Blade X said...

In the numerous discussions/arguments that I had online about the content (in regards to the inclusion and/or depiction of swearing/language,sex,and violence) of the Marvel and DC superhero comics, I always site the way Marvel handled this stuff under Jim's tenure as EIC (which was also the same standards that continued up until 2000) as the perfect middle ground on how to include adult material into the DCU and MU comics without making those same comics inappropriate for young kids.

IMO, using the content of prime time TV as a guideline for content in the MU and DCU superhero comics isn't such a good idea since many prime time TV shows these days are not (IMO) suitable for young kids or all ages. IMO, a better guideline for content should be PG rated children TV shows and movies like THE CLONE WARS,REGULAR SHOW,YOUNG JUSTICE,the STAR WARS movies,and THE INCREDIBLES.

Dan said...

Cursing is tricky with superheroes. I hold that superheroes are--as a genre--best suited for PG level or cleaner. I've got too much familiarity with the history of the genre to see it otherwise. (And I'm no prude. I cuss like a sailor.)

I was repulsed by Miller had Batman yell at Robin" I'm the GODDAM Batman." It took me out of the regular mindset for the genre. It was no longer kid-friendly. I saw Batman as much more dangerous.

And that's not a good thing.

I then turned that new lens on other events in the series. And now that I'm thinking in modern real world terms, Batman comes across as a creepy child-stalker (pedophile, morelike) who is taking advantage of a very vulnerable child--just moments after his parents were murdered--into a web of child endangerment. What freak scares a kid who just had his parents murdered?! What kind of person drags a child into a fight against deranged murderers like the Joker?! I reread Bruce saying (IIRC) "I've been watching him for some time" and it started sounding VERY inappropriate.

Point is, when you "adultify" the superhero genre you stretch it out to the point where it starts breaking down. They work best when we stick our tongue in our cheek and suspend our disbelief. And that requires writers not throwing us out of that mindset.

jimshooter said...

Dear Peter,

RE: "I am kind of amazed that a 17 year old art house film about incest is the go to example for film technique in this post. Though I am confused by the use of the term "in media res." As I understand the term, it refers to starting the story in the middle of the action. What is being described sounds more like a flash forward? I might just be misunderstanding because I can't really recall an example of that from Angels and Insects."

It was the only example that came to mind, and if I'm wrong about that particular film using the technique, then I'm sorry. As you said, it was 17 years ago. The reason that movie sticks in my mind is that some years later, coincidentally, I got to know the Exec Producer. According to Wikipedia: In medias res or medias in res (into the middle of things) is a Latin phrase denoting the literary and artistic narrative technique wherein the relation of a story begins either at the mid-point or at the conclusion, rather than at the beginning...." That is consistent with what I was taught.

Defiant1 said...

One of the movies I've seen recently started in the middle. In comics it's easy to add a caption box that says "earlier...". Movies like to start with dramatic openings and starting in the middle allows you to get someone interested then build to the drama that makes that scene a heightened moment. In the Wonder Woman comics reviewed, I don't see the a reward to the reader.

As far as comics go, I seem to recall a comic in the Nixon era that had a word baloon that said "Expletives Deleted" which was humorous because it was making a joke about the phrase which had been coined after the release of the Watergate tapes. It seems to me that this is advantage that comics have over movies. You can insert a reference to foul language without actually using it.

My question would be as to whether expletives really add to the story being prevented, or whether they knock out a whole demographic of potential consumers. I feel that they do not add to the story presented and they do knock out a whole segment of potential customers.

Curse words don't really add anything and I feel that a lot of people who curse don't even do a good job at it. Cursing is so commonplace now that you really have to make it graphic to offend anyone used to hearing them. Comics are still too timid to overstep that boundary, so it's unlikely to ever have the intended effect of adding to the plot. Why risk having parents not buy comics for their kids? It's a short sighted concept to include curse words in a downturned market.

Defiant1 said...

Meant to type "the story presented" instead of "the story prevented". That makes me chuckle. Perhaps I subconsciously expressed my opinion of new stories that do nothing but sabotage their efforts to be interesting.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised that for the term "in media res", nobody came up Star Wars. You don't wind up in the middle of things as blatantly as a huge spaceship shooting at a smaller spaceship.

Also, since somebody brought up the subject of manga, I just wanted to point out this article over on io9.com:

http://io9.com/5874951/why-manga-publishing-is-dying-and-how-it-could-get-better

It seems there's bad news all over, and the internet is both the source of, and solution to, all their problems.

Finally, the only time I can recall any profanity in a Marvel comic actually came from the Xmen graphic novel, "God Loves, Man Kills" when Wolverine says, "Let's nail the bastards." If there were other incidents, I must have blocked them out.

czeskleba said...

Anon, Star Wars is not an example of in medias res, since the film itself has a linear narrative. Beginning in the middle of an action scene is not the same as beginning in the middle of the story. In medias res requires that a substantial part of the story be told in flashback.

Edo Bosnar said...

I know this isn't the most important point being made here, but since a lot of people mentioned their first encounters with 'profanity' in comics, and Anonymous t.k. mentioned GL's "triple damn" in 1984, I'll just mention my own first encounter with such language in a super-hero comic: in the non-Marvel, non-DC Archie's (yes, Archie!) Super Hero Comics Digest magazine #2 in 1979. As I recall, in a very dark and brooding Black Hood story (drawn by Neal Adams), at one point the Black Hood mutters and then shouts "damn... damn... damn... damn!" after the bad guys shoot and kill a female hostage. That digest was a trip otherwise, also featuring a one or two EC-esque sorcery stories, but also a bunch of mainly silly Mighty comics super-hero reprints from the early 1960s (most notably a few Simmon & Kirby Shield stories) and a few of those Archie Pureheart/Evilheart features.

fanfix said...

Thanks Jim for your reference to Angels and Insects. It’s been a long time since I saw that film and recall it as the first time I’d seen the technique used in film and was reminded of the start of Homer’s Odyssey. Then there’s that wonderful line in the Divine Comedy “Midway into the journey of life”, and of course Cymbeline. But where I think it works so well is in The Gambler, because it immediately and irrevocably immerses us in the world of the protagonist. Do you remember it in Raging Bull too?

Perhaps Azarello is trying to place WW up against Homer given the source material.

Thanks for the memory:)

Anonymous said...

Jim, you yourself penned one of the best 'in media res' openings in comics, way back in the 60s!

It showed the Legion of Superheroes, scared out of their wits, hurrying into a vault, muttering about 'he's coming'...I think it was the first Mordru story.

--Alex Buchet

Paul F. P. Pogue said...

I remember the whole profanity thing getting particularly murky for me as a kid when Marvel experimented with some Epic Comics on the newsstands. I got in a certain amount of trouble as a 10-year-old who thought all the words in "Dreadstar and Company" were okay.

Anonymous said...

@Dan - you're taking the All Star Batman thing too far

Just say you don't like the series and leave it at that

jimshooter said...

Dear David,

I haven't read much of Chris Claremont's X-Men Forever and I haven't read any of Larry Hama's G.I. Joe for IDW or Simon Furman's Transformers. Too much to do, too little time. I am very happy that each of these brilliant guys got a chance to continue the series they did so much for back when. Chris's comment is great, right on. High stakes and consequences that matter -- key elements of powerful stories.

kgaard said...

czeskleba,

Star Wars is arguably a good example of in medias res in that the first movie itself is part 4, ROTJ is part 6, and the prequels are one long, terrible flashback. Of course, this requires acknowledging the existence of the prequels ...

jimshooter said...

Dear Anonymous,

I don't remember much about Void Indigo that isn't common knowledge. I believe Steve Gerber did propose something similar for Hawkman and it was rejected. I think if we'd have done a better job positioning the series and marketing it, it would have done much better. Marvel's marketing, PR and promotion (over which I had little control, BTW) sucked. DC was way better than us at those things. Our Circ VP used to say that the only way we beat DC was "between the covers." Void Indigo dumped onto the fray without shaping the battlefield -- God, I'm so military today -- was a recipe for disaster. Archie never expressed any regret to me about the series, other than disappointment with the sales results.

Anonymous said...

One flashback trick that I remember being confused but ultimately impressed by was in MOKF, somewhere around issue 45, where the story was continually flashing back and forth. I think that is the first and only time I have read a comic story constructed in that way.

One of the best film flashbacks must be in the film Swordfish.

I'm not a great DC reader, but I am sure that the 'Batman enticing Robin into a life of adventure controversy' can easily be fixed. All we need is a story showing that (appropriate character) saw into Dick Grayson's future and found that something terrible would happen to him unless Batman took him under his wing. (Appropriate character) then influences Batman to follow the plan and... bingo! Problem solved!

Other, more original options are also available. Terms and conditions apply.

On the subject of inappropriate material in comics, and in connection with Jim's blog of some time ago about American Oxfam not accepting the X-Men benefit book, I wonder whether we as comic readers and creators have a slightly skewed view of what is suitable. We are used to seeing superheroes cavorting about in all sorts of situations and modes of dress. However, Was/is a comic that portrays people in skin tight outfits within an (albeit appropriately themed) action adventure story really suitable to help stave off starvation when viewed from the non-comic oriented world?

Marc Miyake said...

Dear Keith Howell,

"When writing universal comics, books, tv or movies, dropping coarse language in a false attempt to sound 'real' is just cheap and weak writing from my pov."

And from mine. "Real" is easy. Real is all around us. I want to pay for better than real.

The first of Vonnegut's "8 Rules for Writing Fiction" on JayJay's must-read comicbookwritersguide.com site is,

"Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted."

Reading banal dialogue is not the best use of my time.

Dear MikeAnon,

Thanks for reminding me about the silly reason for the unnecessary profanity in Transformers 25 years ago.

The envelope has been pushed so far that neither example you mentioned made me blink. Or think.

Writers, make me think. You're supposed to be pros. Come on. Anybody can and does use offensive language all the time. I won't call it "adult" language because I heard it in elementary school. Maybe that's why it didn't shock me when I occasionally saw it in comics.

Dear Edo,

I read Archie's Super Hero Comics Digest Magazine #2 when I was 7. An underrated gem. I can remember the scene you describe even now, over 30 years later. That death scene in Black Hood was intense. A "darn" wouldn't have cut it. Maybe "No ... no ... no!" would have worked. Neal Adams and Gray Morrow (remember the Black Hood origin story in the front) were doing dark realism in Archie before the Punisher became big and DC's 80s Vigilante debuted.

Dear Anonymous at January 27, 2012 6:30 PM,

Whenever I hear the words "gritty and edgy," I think "poorly and cheaply."

Dear Anonymous at January 27, 2012 6:48 PM,

I too got into the X-Men the way you did. Claremont made complexity accessible. And I too got out of comics not long after X-Men #1 in 1991. It was the "death" of Superman in 1992 that was the "death" of my interest in American comics. It was Jim's "Dark Key" line that brought me back, if only for a moment.

Anonymous said...

Answer: Yes. It's comics. It's fantasy storytelling.

And, if an organization is going to object on the grounds that somewhere, in some comic, in the history of comics, something objectionable took place - then they're idiots


The men and women in tights conversation is ridiculous. The alternative is Garth Ennis' view where heroes walk around in black leather coats

Accept the colorful costumes or don't read superhero comics.

Dan said...

"@Dan - you're taking the All Star Batman thing too far

Just say you don't like the series and leave it at that"

"Liking" had nothing to do with my comment. That's why.

But I only took Miller's Batman as far as Miller presented it. It's Miller who chose to present Bruce Wayne as a guy who goes around looking for CHILDREN to manipulate for his own cause.

Miller chose to present Batman as terrorizing the emotionally distraught child.

The original origin presented Wayne/Batman as a friendly and generous benefactor. A story that worked so long as the stories were presented as a childhood fantasy.

Miller chose a different approach. Miller's story is NOT a childhood fantasy. Miller is all about fear and terror. Miller "adultified" the story. It's Miller's fault if anyone reads that story as an adult drama instead of a childhood family.

Anonymous said...

My first experience with cursing in comic books was the adaptation of the movie Alien. I was shocked how much cursing was in it. It included as much of the movie's cursing as a comic possibly could.

Interesting note, I read the paperback adaptation and it had barely a curse word in it.

Thomas Mitchell said...

Dear Jim,

I've been an avid read of your blog since it started. (Heck I've been avid reader of your comics since you started writing in the sixties, too. But that just makes us both sound old.)

I would love to see a post sometime soon regarding the New Universe books. For instance, how the line came to be, your thoughts about the various books and how well they fit the goal of the line, plus your thoughts about why it ultimately folded.

Best,
Tom

Anonymous said...

Backtracking Dan??

You used the word pedophile. Not a term to be thrown around

It's your interpretation that is perverse, not Miller's story

Are you good buddies with Tipper Gore by chance??

Anonymous said...

Dear Answer: yes,

You seem to have missed my point. It is not the baggage that the superheroes may or may not have, it is the appropriateness of the genre that may be seen as inappropriate from outside our superhero embracing family. Maybe seen as incongruous and inappropriate when we take a step back and see the wider world view? I would also add that this is not necessarily my opinion, I was just asking the question.

Anonymous said...

And if we nail down the specifics of what would make the genre inappropriate - it would boil down to ignorance, misconceptions, and people projecting their own fears and hang-ups onto the genre

We could go round and round for paragraphs - but it would boil down to those things

Dusty said...

I liked reading an occassional damn from Conan, but I didn't like seeing the superheroes cuss, and still don't. Having said that, I remember being very surprised while reading the greatest superhero story of all time, Revenge of the Living Monolith, written by the great David Michelinie (with a great logo design by JayJay!), and seeing Ahmet call a mob of people who were after him and caused a car accident, and would not help him free his wife before the car exploded and killed her, "bloody filthy bastards!" before he obliterated all of them.

This was 1985, so my question for Jim is, was there a different no cussing policy for original graphic novels than there was for the monthlies?

Blade X said...

IIRC, back in the 70's,80's,and 90's at Marvel stronger cuss words (like "basrard","bitch","ass",and the rare "goddamn") were only allowed in non Code approved graphic novels,Epic mini series,and the B&W and color Marvel Magazines. IMO, this is the standard that the Big 2 should use when it comes to the inclusion of more graphic and explicit "adult" content in comics featuring the MU and DCU superheroes. This type of content should be treated as being very special and be relegated to either stand alone or out of continuity stories told published in a special format mini series,over sized one shot/graphic novel,or as part of an anthology magazine.

Anonymous said...

It's always cute watching people trying to defend ASBAR

jimshooter said...

RE: "On the subject of inappropriate material in comics, and in connection with Jim's blog of some time ago about American Oxfam not accepting the X-Men benefit book, I wonder whether we as comic readers and creators have a slightly skewed view of what is suitable. We are used to seeing superheroes cavorting about in all sorts of situations and modes of dress. However, Was/is a comic that portrays people in skin tight outfits within an (albeit appropriately themed) action adventure story really suitable to help stave off starvation when viewed from the non-comic oriented world?"


The American Society of Friends thought so.

jimshooter said...

Dear Thomas,

RE: "I would love to see a post sometime soon regarding the New Universe books. For instance, how the line came to be, your thoughts about the various books and how well they fit the goal of the line, plus your thoughts about why it ultimately folded."

It's in the queue. Thanks.

jimshooter said...

Dear Dusty,

RE: "I liked reading an occassional damn from Conan, but I didn't like seeing the superheroes cuss, and still don't. Having said that, I remember being very surprised while reading the greatest superhero story of all time, Revenge of the Living Monolith, written by the great David Michelinie (with a great logo design by JayJay!), and seeing Ahmet call a mob of people who were after him and caused a car accident, and would not help him free his wife before the car exploded and killed her, "bloody filthy bastards!" before he obliterated all of them.

This was 1985, so my question for Jim is, was there a different no cussing policy for original graphic novels than there was for the monthlies?"

All curse words were supposed to be checked with me (except for EPIC -- I left it to Archie's judgment). Whether or not I was aware of that one, I don't remember. Michelinie was always trying to get curse words by. In his relentless quest to do so, he even started using foreign language curse words like "merde" and got away with it once or twice. He was determined that his standards, not Marvel's, should apply. That bastich! Re: ROTLM, Maybe he wore me down on that one, or his editor supported it, or it was missed. Whatever. It was in a GN, and I usually was a little less strict with those.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, in light of Jim's memo, let's go back in time a few years and see what we can find (all in good fun, of course).

From Avengers #171 p.16 pn 2:

ULTRON: Wait-- the residual imprint of the Wasp's persona-- it has infected you with her wretched human fear and hate! Fear and hate propagated by my cursed father! Damn him!
--Jim Shooter (writer/editor)

From Avengers #177 p.5 pn 3:

YELLOWJACKET: The Hell with honor! How many have to die to convince you--? SHE is Michael's weak point! I've got her! C'mon! Give me hand!
--Jim Shooter (writer/editor-in-chief)

Iron Man also has an fairly explosive "Damn!" in Avengers #175, but David Michelinie is credited as scripter over Jim's plot, so we'll blame him for that one.

In context, the fleeting (and admittedly mild expletives work, but at the age of 11, encountering the stronger of the two in my comics was a bit unusual, if not shocking, but not as titilating as the flashback to Michael and Carina's lovemaking and the close-up on her ecstatic face in Avengers #175 pg.8.

My mother was a little shocked at Janet Pym's nightgown in Marvel Team-Up #59 pg. 3 pn 3. If you have the issue, you know the panel. "What ARE you reading?" my mom asked then-ten year old me. (That comic may be responsible for my obsession with petite brunettes, but we're veering into TMI territory).

Rob Fleming said...

The first use of swearing I recall in comics was the original TMNT. Leonardo said "ass". The use of damns and hells I never once considered swear words. What always annoyed me was the use of @#$! in place of actual swear words, such as "that's #@%!ing ridiculous!" that I remember from a lot of nineties comics. It's plainly obvious they're substituting "fuck" even the use of "freaking" or "friggin" is better. If they decide to use the word just fucking use it!

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous just above

If only those comics hadn't come out in 1978, and Jim sent the memo in 1982. But you saw that - because a copy of the memo is printed just above. So certainly you figured this out for yourself right? Certainly you don't need it pointed out to you right?

buddy said...

2 of this years big arthouse films had serious media res: the Tree of Life started 3/4 of the way thru it's story, then back to the beginning, then back to THE beginning (creation of the universe sort of thing) then to the middle, then the end; Melancholia started at the end (and I mean THE end), then went back a bit to show the characters dealing with the time leading up to the end.

Anonymous said...

I know we have already covered the sex subject, but since we are talking about our "firsts" in comics; I remember the first boob I saw in comics was in the "Killraven" GN.

Neil

Anonymous said...

@ other Anonymous: That's why I said "let's go back in time", meaning a few years before Jim's 1982 memo. The takeaway is that those instances was that the guy who wrote the "damn" and "hell" in those issues back in 1978 is the same guy who four years later wrote the memo saying not to use them without clearing their use with him first.

The obvious reply is that Jim's idea of what is the appropriate use of mild expletives (and let's not be precious here: damn and hell are among the mildest of expletives)in an all-ages comic evolved and changed between 1978 and 1982.

Another possibility is that use and context in those two fleeting incidents do reflect the level that Jim thought appropriate (and would've even have been approved in light of Jim's 1982 memo).

Going through that stretch of Shooter's Avengers, I thought that I would have found more incidents of fleeting expletives, as I remember 1977-78 Marvels having a good number of "damns" and "hells" in speech.

And, yes, I know that 1978 pre-dates Jim's memo, but obviously something was in the zeitgeist about the use of mild profanity that Jim had to issue a guidance memo forbidding its use without his approval, something in the air to which Jim himself had not been completely immune a few years previously.

Also, we older fans tend to look at the comics of our childhood as being more "innocent" than the garbage published today. I'm not certain that conception of innocence bears close examination. The seventies, especially at Marvel, were a time of pushing the boundaries, of aiming for a greater sophistication in comics storytelling.

There are things in those 70's comics that I didn't blink at as a kid, but that as an adult and parent, and in light of the things other parents my age seem uptight about, I wonder how they got past the editors and the Code, if the Code were so danged restrictive.

Anonymous said...

All I know is Betty and Veronica look good in bikinis. I believed so even as a kid

Ralf Haring said...

Azzarello and Chiang's run on Wonder Woman has been a bit underwhelming. Their previous collaboration on Doctor Thirteen was superb, doubly surprising because Azzarello has generally not been a good fit on superhero series. Azzarello's collaborations with Eduardo Risso (mostly at Vertigo and especially 100 Bullets) are always well worth a look. They are one of the very few teams in comics that seem to always be completely in synch, the sum being better either part.