Saturday, March 26, 2011

Censorship is un-American but ...

I saw something at ComiCon a few weeks ago and it's been bothering me ever since. I'm THE last person on earth to advocate any sort of censorship, especially since it gets me lumped together with evangelists, Harry Potter haters and other groups I can't stand.

But I saw a graphic novel (comic book for the uninitiated) that made every single Matrix or Schwarzenegger movie positively pale in comparison. The Matrix scenes where the bullets fall like raindrops seem grade school acceptable compared to this graphic novel. Every lame (is there any other kind?) slasher flick conservatively used fake blood compared to Crossed.

Here's what happened: I walked into Comicon and over to the Avatar Press booth (no relation to the film). Glancing at the covers of all the issues of Crossed on display I immediately thought: zombies. After all, their booth wasn't too far away from Max Brook's. So I prepared for decapitations of the undead and started thumbing through a copy.

A main panel (that's comic talk for large illustration) on page three of one issue showed a male character (mostly clothed) raping a female character (totally nude) from behind. That was on page three. Then there were stabbings, decapitations, slashings, more rapes, shootings and, oh yeah, a lot of these violent acts? Were being carried out by male characters (generally clothed) against female characters (generally partially nude). Chainsaws and fire axes included! I could be wrong, but I think there was a panel depicting a male character cutting a female character's nipples off. With a pair of pruning clippers.

I put the copy back in the display rack and glanced at the booth minder. I think he was one of the main artist/creators. He was busy working on a large illustration (fortunately it was just a character's face in a rictus of rage under the banner title). He was chatting into his cell phone. A few twentysomething white guys stood in a loose line waiting for him to autograph their copies or tell him how much they loved Crossed. They all had a slightly downtrodden, whipped dog look to them, like these were young guys who had been cashiering at the local AM/PM since high school. They probably also had subscriptions to Fangora and way too many speed metal albums.

I took a couple steps back from the booth to take a picture of it. As I did, a kid wandered up to the booth. To be fair, the artist was busy talking to his fans and signing books and the boy, about 10, was on the far side of the display rack. The kid, who was wearing a Green Lantern t-shirt, picked up one of the graphic novels and started thumbing through it. He had a piece of candy in his mouth and was crunching it loudly. My skin started to crawl. Finally, I walked away and as I did, I noticed the boy was still there, crunching away and flipping the pages of a graphic novel with the kind of gratuitous violence that would give Larry Flint pause.

I really hope I'm wrong, but I didn't see any "MR" label on the front of the graphic novel. Hopefully there was one on the back near the bar code. For the non-comic fans, MR stands for Mature Reader. It's basically an NC-17 for books and looks sort of like this one for video games. Again, I'm no fan of censorship but when (pretend) violence hits that kind of nadir, maybe it's time to reconsider?

I found Crossed on Wikipedia and read the plot summary. It's an interesting though not revolutionary premise. A futuristic plague wipes out most of humanity except for a few who survive with a weird cross skin rash. They are doomed to live out their days fighting the most depraved violent and sexual impulses that come into their tiny post-apocalyptic minds. So the majority of the violence in the graphic novel occurs only in the characters minds. Spiffy.

Apparently, this comic has some serious fans. So much so Kevin Spacey's production company is negotiating a film deal. Okayyy ...

I just keep wondering: is this the sort of thing Jared Loughner would like? Or is he more of a traditionalist Spiderman fan? Maybe Eric Harris or Dylan Klebold would have favored it, seeing as they were both avid fans of The Matrix? Or maybe they both had their rooms decorated in Care Bears and I'm just jumping to conclusions.

Finally, I want to say every time you produce art you produce two things; the art itself and the implied subtext of the art. I'm sure the creators of Crossed are very nice, talented young guys and I'm glad they've found success in a creative field. But I wonder about the subtext of their art and whether they are even aware of it?


Belle said...

I do believe in some censorship. Graphic violence is what I am against. There is no need for it that I can see. Everything imanginable is on TV where children can watch it. This comic sounds horrible and will probably push someone to do the things that are depicted.

NolaB said...

I would say they're perfectly aware, but it doesn't really matter to them--they don't see it as real, so who cares?

Eric Russo said...

Well, I have lots to point out here.

Like you, I do not believe in censorship. That being said, let me take you back to my childhood for a quick example that will help me prove my point later on.

I have an older brother, we do not speak now, but back when I as 5 - 10 years old, there was no one cooler than he. Thanks to my older brother, a totally absent father and a very opened minded, liberal mother, I was able to watch just about anything I wanted to watch from a very young age..and I'm THANKFUL for it.

At 7 years of age, I watched "Halloween", which changed my life and I have no doubt if I were born of a rich family or had means of better film school education, "Halloween" could have easily put me on the road to fame and fortune but that wasn't in the cards.

By 10 years old, I had seen "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and found it boring. "The Exorcist" while disturbing did not scare me as much as "Halloween", "A Nightmare on Elm Street" while GREAT, still did not phase me.

Sex? I learned about sex when my father threw down a VERY graphic porn magazine and told me to look at it.. I was maybe 6 yrs old.

What is my point? Actually, I have a few.

First point -- The more controversial, graphic, bloody and violent something is.. the moment it becomes "Banned", the more word gets out about how 'disturbing' it is.. the more people will want to see it, read it, look at it or experienced it. I truly believe it is in human nature to do the EXACT thing we are told we can't do..

Honestly, I had never heard of "CROSSED" before I read what you wrote but now, I want to see it simply because it disturbed you enough to write a blog about it.

Second point.. CHILDREN -- I have said it before and I will say it again.. it is not the movie makers, comic book writers, porn stars, ect,ect job to watch over America's children.. it isn't the job of some holier than thou ratings board. It is the job of the PARENT(S). Parent(s) for far too long have blamed everyone but themselves for what their children see, play, read or watch.

Being in a relationship with a man who has a 12 year old son, I see this everyday. Jimmy does not want his son to see certain things. Over the top violence, graphic sex and video game carnage is a few things that get under Jimmy's skin. He watches what his son takes in and he draws the line at what he things is too graphic for his son to see.. yes, his son still wants to see / play / read what his father doesn't want him to (again, human nature) but he was raised to RESPECT his father's wishes and trust that he knows best.

Reading over your post, I can only say..where was this boy's parents? Why were they allowing him to look at this comic book? This comic book was clearly meant for adults only but if the parents either don't care or don't find an issue with what their child is reading.. why should some ratings board?

Lastly, a new (VERY GRAPHIC) Mortal Kombat game is being released in less than a month. A game where players can literally rip the other player in half, tear off their heads, arms and legs.. this could be the most violent realistic video game in gaming history. Will Jimmy's son play it? No, does he want to.. yes!! It is the job of the parent to know what is out there and what that is all about.

Also, while speaking of Mortal Kombat.. the whole country of Australia is FORBIDDEN to OWN a copy of this game and anyone caught importing the game could be fined THOUSANDS of dollars.. ADULTS can not own this game in that country.

If we allow ANY censorship, how long until we are being told ADULTS can't play a video game or watch a movie??

Think about that.

Erica said...

Censorship is a hard topic for me. I definitely don't agree in it. I think we need to decide for ourselves (or our children) what we deem appropriate. However, I can't help to think that the more violent our society is becoming, the more that line between appropriate and not is becoming blurry. This is especially true the younger people are when exposed to such violence (whether real or not).

So, while philosophically I don't agree in censorship, I do think care needs to be used when this material is put out into the public. It seems to me that it is highly inappropriate to have a comic like this out in the open at a public festival where people of all ages are allowed. I mean, the Playboy magazine can't even be displayed without a black covering. I would think that Comicon should have a mature only room, like the video store of the past used to have. This way, it's easy to control who enters the area and can view the material. Personally, I would be writing Comicon and expressing my utter disgust at their lack of control over display material. Censorship, no, common sense, yes.

Erica said...

I hate blogger! It ate my comment for like the 3rd time!

I'm not going to attempt such a long comment again, but I do want to say what the hell is wrong with Comicon. They should monitor the material they have displayed and ensure it's appropriate for all audiences. If it's not, then either put it in an adult only room, or don't allow it.

Anonymous said...
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Mz M. said...

Thanks, mucho gracias to all who commented.

I just wanna add: to the people who say it's entirely up to the parents to monitor what sort of inappropriate stuff their kids take in -- it was a COMIC BOOK CONVENTION. Not a strip club, not a midnight showing of Tarantino's most gratuitous films. People go to comicons to A) wear their Green Lantern costumes, B) hit on women dressed like Elfs and C) let their kids run around and shop for stuff too. The Avatar Press booth was less than ten paces from the main entrance. I walked in, there was Iron Man on your right and there was some of the most inappropriate stuff I've ever seen on the left.

And in case I didn't make it clear, I'm actually much more worried about the "adults" who buy and read Crossed than I am the kids. I'm saddened that human beings have reached this level of psychic numbness thanks to the corporate media.

Mz M. said...

NEW RULE: if you don't tell me who you are (at least your first name), I won't post your comment on my blog. Dear Anonymous: grow a pair.

Daniel M. said...

You're concerned about a kid reading an adult comic, but shouldn't you be more concerned that a kid is wondering around without adult supervision? Like Eric said, it's the parents' responsibility to watch and care for their child. He is not yours, so you shouldn't worry about it. His safety? Sure. A wondering kid's a good target. But what he consumes? Not at all.

The con was an all ages event that catered to everyone of all ages. Why should that prevent a publisher from selling their comic? There are people of age who want to buy it. You don't have to. What about Fantagraphics? What about Mark Kalesniko's Freeway or Gilbert Hernandez's From the Shadows? Are those adult books any worse than Crossed? I don't like Crossed because it seems rather childish, base and nihilistic for the sake of it, but then again I've heard the same thing about Beto's latest output.

You seem to be pigeonholing comic cons as a certain type of event catering to certain types of people. I'm a bit offended by that actually. I went to the con because I love the medium, not because I'm a "nerd." I bought both of those comics from Fantagraphics there, some BPRD, an Adrian Tomine thing, and a great old mini series I've been looking for ages. The con was for everybody. To scrutinize what's being sold, or to shove it away into a stuffy room, or to label them would be horrible and disrsepectful to the sellers, the creators and their customers. They're just art books. You wouldn't do that to a Greco book would you?

As for being worried that adults buy the comic because they're numb from corporate media, that's some crock. Stories and images like that have been around for centuries. Ever seen Greek vases? Or Japanese prints? Or 16th century paintings? Or read the Bible? People have been wanting that crap forever. Its not new. It never will be.

P. S. Why do you think an alcoholic who thought genocide was a good idea (i.e. Iron Man) a children's character?

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