Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Q&A with Nevs Coleman about Graphic Novels for Banned Books Week

So this week is Banned Books Week. This year the theme is Graphic Novels and Comics. I wanted to write an article but instead I decided to bring you someone with far more experience who could be more entertaining than one of my ranty-rants. 

We wanted to bring you a video with all this awesome information but sadly my computer decided to be a complete asshole and I couldn't get the recording to cooperate. Will work on that in the future. So I bring you my friend all the way from London, UK, Nevs Coleman text style.

Q: Nevs, can you start by giving us a little background about you and your experience in the comic book industry?

Nevs: Hello. I started out in comics by annoying the boys at the lovely 30th Century Comics in South London, England for a fair whack of my teenage years by hanging about for days at a time, they recommended me as a steward for the late, lamented UKCAC (A British comic convention that ran from the 80's to the 80's). Not long after that I started work at the...infamous Comic Showcase and I've been around the London Comics Scene in various roles ever since, whether behind the till at Gosh!, Orbital, and most recently 30th Century Comics or writing for Fantasy Advertiser, Comics Forum or Tripwire. 
Also, I have a fine collection of T-Shirts.
Q: Can you give us a little insight into the history of banned graphic novels and comics? Tell us a little about the Comics Code Authority?

Nevs: This is a subject that needs far more expansion than a short interview will allow, but in brief: the first thought of a need for some kind of governing body in comics to look at the material been sold on the racks came after Frederic Wertham's 1948 book 'Seduction Of The Innocent', which was written after Wertham interviewed a number of juvenile delinquents who suggested to him that they'd been led astray to a life of crime by 'Headlight Comics, violent gangster stories and such. After some study, Wertham came to some, er, odd conclusions about the subtext of a number of American comics. Not least of which was his assertion that Batman and Robin were indulging in a gay relationship. He did correctly work out, long before the general public cottoned on to the fact that Wonder Woman was essentially a Vanilla Bondage comic, though. It's fair to say at this point, that a lot of the portrayal of comics Wertham suggested was at the very least misleading and designed to heighten fear in a populace looking for any scapegoat. Nothing changes, does it Amy?
As reasonably as American crowds usually are when reacting to scaremongering, the book and subsequent campaign lead to scenes of book burning across the States until the whole thing was brought to Congress, where a number of comics professionals testified as to whether they thought their publications were harmful to children. Despite a nervous testimony from legendary E.C. Comics publisher Bill Gaines...and this is key here....Congress rejected the notion that Comics were a harmful influence on children. 
I think this is worth repeating, because the comics community has a tendency to shout 'Waahh! It's Wertham all over again! Waaah! whenever the notion of content control comes up and use him as a shorthand for a Boogeyman who wants to take away everyone's comics. 
So, again, Wertham wasn't behind the creation of the Comics Code Authority. The Senate suggested that in order to appease the public's desire for something to be done, some form of governing body be formed to control the content of comics sold on the newsstands. What has to be borne in mind is that Bill Gaines's EC books were outperforming everything else on the stands by a wide margin, and when the 1st draft containing the parameters of the Comics Code was drawn up, that document was essential a hit list to stop Bill being able to publish the books that'd kept him on the top of the pile for years. By demanding that words like 'Crime' and 'Horror' couldn't be used in titles of comics, that was two of his biggest sellers gone in the stroke of a pen. , Comics that didn't conform to the strict guidelines of the CCA weren't sold on the newsstands, which in the 1950's were the only option. This is at least twenty years before the first specialized comic shop, I think.
In case you're wondering, the bodies who made up The Comic Code Authority? Other publishers, including Archie Comics. If you want to suggest that these publishers conspired to use the CCA's power to defang Gaines's ability to sell comics for their own selfish gains, you're clearly some kind of conspiracy nut who believes in Area 51, Black Helicopters and wears tinfoil around his forehead to block the transmissions from The C.I.A. Clearly.
The long and the short of the rest of the story is as the audience for comics grew older and desire for more adult material than The Code would allow came about, it became increasingly irrelevant (especially in light of The Direct Market supplying straight to comic shops, which wasn't regulated by CCA rulings.) and of all people, Stan Lee wrote the 1st non Code issue of Amazing Spider-Man (96, dealing with Harry Osborn's LSD usage. .) After that, it was a matter of time. Frank Miller's Keynote speech at the Diamond Comic Retailers meeting in 1994 is the best summation of the whole torrid business I've seen and in 2011, DC and Archie, the last companies bothering to submit their output for CCA approval stopped caring, rendering it defunct.
Q: What is your favorite banned comic/graphic novel? How did you feel when it was banned?

Nevs: It's a toss up between either:

Brendan McCarthy & Peter Milligan's 'Skin', which is both a calamity and fuck up of such hilarious proportions (At least in terns of how I managed to finally get a copy of the Tundra printing, and I still think Kevin Eastman owes me a fiver considering how bad the binding was on that book.) that I can't go into it here. Apparently Robert Maxwell didn't see the heroic potential in a Thalidomide Skinhead the same way we did  I honestly don't know if it's legally okay to go into the details of why it was censored by The Mirror Group today, so I;ll skip that. It was reprinted in last year's 'The Best Of Milligan & McCarthy from Dark Horse, for those curious.


Alan Moore and Bill Sienkiewicz 's Brought to Light: Thirty Years of Drug Smuggling, Arms Deals, and Covert Action. It's a comic by Alan Moore about the C.I.A's involvement in The Vietnam War, the Iran-Contra affair and it's dealings with Pinochet. It's going to be a bit of a shock to those who aren't very historically minded where America is concerned.  It was printed once by Eclipse Comics. I have wondered if Todd McFarlane owns the rights to it as he bought Eclipse a few years back. Could be wrong. 
Q: Does the fact that a comic book or graphic novel is banned increase its value among collectors? Does it increase it's weight and notoriety in the literary world?

Nevs: Er, Yes, but not really. It isn't so much that the work is desirable in the same way everyone wanted to read 'Howl' or see Lenny Bruce but that a comic being unavailable due to the print run being pulped makes it incredibly scarce. The best example of this being the infamous 'Elseworlds 80 Page Giant' affair from a few years back. I'd like to think everyone going after that book just really wanted to read Kyle Baker's 'SuperBaby in a microwave' story, but sadly, I don't think that was the case. You can get a few quid for the issue of Infinite Crisis where Connor Kent nearly calls SuperBoy-Prime a motherfucker, though.

(Elseworlds 80 PG Giant was reprinted in the Bizarro Comics anthology and then as part of the DC 100 Page Spectacular series, if anyone's interested.) 
Q: How do you feel about censorship in general?

Nevs: Well Amy, you're asking me this on the day Milo Manara's variant covers for Axis have been cancelled. So I might be a bit more venomous than usual on the subject but still, I think it's a terrible, entitled notion that literally makes no sense to me. This is no such thing as an inherently offensive concept. None. It doesn't exist. There is only the perception that an idea is offensive. We aren't Alex in A Clockwork Orange, strapped down, eyes pulled open and forced to take in any number of obscene and disturbing images and sounds constantly. We don't have to take in any of it. We are always free to change the channel, to put down the book, to close the website. Anything beyond that is when we start saying 'I know better than you what you ought to be consuming.' and I reject that notion entirely. There's never been a time when history had been proven to be on the side of the censors, and 9 times out of 10, it's usually a work that says the Disney Lifestyle Status Quo is utter bullshit and that he prefab behavior patterns are nothing to do with reality.

Be it Ice-T's 'Cop Killer', Allen Ginsberg's 'Howl', The Sex Pistols's 'Never Mind The Bollocks' Grant Morrison's De Sade story in The Invisibles or such, all of these things are generally borne out to be right and accurate portrayals of the world. Every time, the would be saviors of our fragile little minds are proven to be wrong and acting in an interest less to do with morality and more inclined by money. What scares me today is that we're seeing a generation that seems incapable of understanding that not everything has to be approved by them. I'm still not sure why Ian Gibson was in the wrong for producing a topless print of Halo Jones, since it's more his character than anyone else's at this point or why Milo Manara needs to resubmit his work to a committee that seems far more vicious and censorious than anything Mary Whitehouse or Tipper Gore could have come up with on their best day.

More worryingly, they seem to be winning. The decision of Marvel to not employ Manara for these covers can probably be down to this constant thought process of 'But I don't approve of this. How dare you publish it?' I'm wondering how Johnny Cash or Nick Cave would have fared if they were new artists producing their same songs today. 

In short, no, I don't like censorship in any of it's forms. People can make decisions about what media gets consumed in their own homes all they like. I don't want them to make those decisions for me. I don't have the sheer....audacity to say to the rest of the world 'No, you cannot watch this thing. It fails my standards.', which is what I think Censorship is, in the end.

Q: Just for fun: Is there ANY graphic novel you think should be banned,for your own selfish reasons or otherwise?

Nevs: Scott Pilgrim. Fuck that cocksucker..

You can hear more from Nevs on his blog:

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