GLAAD nags

GLAAD has announced its nominations for “fair, accurate and inclusive representations of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community” in comics. I saw them first at The Beat, and Dorian and Johanna have commented on the list. (GLAAD has since posted the full list of nominees, so you can skip the Variety site, if you’d rather.)

I have such a mixed reaction to this whole enterprise. While I can kind of understand the rationale for concentrating on mainstream comics for the nominees (i.e. comics by Marvel and DC), the “beggars at the feast” quality of it all unnerves me. It’s depressing to feel like the organization is purposely lowering its standards to raise its profile. (I’m glad that Young Avengers got a nomination, though.)

There have been really good comics published in the last year that have rich, varied portrayals of LGBT characters. There’s Capote in Kansas from Oni, Off*Beat from Tokyopop, Only the Ring Finger Knows and Antique Bakery from Digital Manga, and Rica ‘tte Kanji!? from ALC. And if all it takes is a gay or lesbian supporting character to make a book eligible, I’d much rather see nominations go to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Oni) or even Tricked (Top Shelf), though the latter wasn’t one of my favorite books of the year. It certainly meets the “fair, accurate, and inclusive” standard, though.

Seriously, can any genre of comic books really be considered all that mainstream? With Marvel and DC seeming to become more and more focused on an insular, Direct Market audience, “mainstream” seems like a painfully relative term. I can find Off*Beat and the DMP books in more places than I can Strangers in Paradise or Gotham Central. Same with Tricked and Scott Pilgrim.

Has anyone ever walked into a comic shop because GLAAD recognized a title? And if someone is going to walk into a comic shop for the first time because of GLAAD’s nominations, is that really the list of comics you’d recommend? Why not promote lesser-known titles with superior portrayals rather than try and ride on some shaky definition of what “mainstream” is?

8 Responses to GLAAD nags

  1. Lyle says:

    It’s depressing to feel like the organization is purposely lowering its standards to raise its profile.

    Actually, what’s going on is that one of GLAAD’s criteria is a delicate balancing act called “Impact” which is a mix of judging a title’s commercial salability and the power of the story.

    I guess one short way to put it is to say “If 100,000 readers see a minor gay character every month, who’s an interesting part of the title is that more effective than the nuanced same-sex relationship in a title that sells 5,000 copies?” That one criteria is a really difficult consideration in my mind.

    This gets more challenging because comic sales aren’t discussed so much, so getting an idea of what’s read the most is tricky, especially now that bookstores are a part of the equasion, so in many cases the question of “how many eyes does this reach” is a matter of perception.

    Bookstores further complicate things because of the whole “shelf life” issue which I mentioned in Chris Temari’s analysis of the Comics Bloggers’ Awards. Unfortunately, some good titles (and Only The Ring Finger Knows is one of those titles for me) don’t get read until they’re no longer eligible (which is why I felt a little frustration over DMP releasing a bunch of titles in mid-december, considering how long it takes for their output to reach the bookstores I frequent — I wouldn’t be likely to find them until after their eligiblity had passed).

  2. David Welsh says:

    “Actually, what’s going on is that one of GLAAD’s criteria is a delicate balancing act called “Impact” which is a mix of judging a title’s commercial salability and the power of the story.”

    I can’t say that I find that a particularly comforting distinction. I can kind of see the logic behind it, but it seems weird to try and develop a formula for these kinds of things. I guess it all comes down to what I think GLAAD should be doing with its clout, though.

  3. Lyle says:

    The biggest problem with judging “Impact” is that it’s so subjective. Overall, it can be summarized as “How much potential does this title have for changing minds?” but that question is so very complicated, especially since we’re now comparing two very different markets (the bookstore vs. the comic shop).

  4. David Welsh says:

    I think that’s very true. And with manga appealing to larger audiences of younger readers, it will be interesting to see when a title from that sector makes the list. I do think Off*Beat would have been a good start.

  5. markus says:

    I don’t know, you seem to be asking the GLAAD people doing the nominating actually get comics. Which strikes me as unlikely.
    Much more plausible IMHO that one or two people on the committee were recognised as comic experts by the rest and everyone went along.

    Also, under effect of the nomination, your focusing too much on the consumer IMO. I think the GLAAD awards is also very much about influencing creators and executives, hammering home the point that there are ancillary benefits to doing good in that respect. From that perspective, it does indeed make sense to focus on Marvel and DC as you can hope to change corporate culture there, whereas honoring a single creator has no further ripple effect.

  6. David Welsh says:

    From that perspective, it does indeed make sense to focus on Marvel and DC as you can hope to change corporate culture there, whereas honoring a single creator has no further ripple effect.

    That’s an interesting point, but it seems like they’re rewarding a corporate culture before it’s done anything substantial to merit it. It seems more like a “Nice try!” than a “Well done.”

    And while they’re different kinds of corporate animals, Oni, DMP, and Tokyopop are all corporations as well. Even if a book like Off*Beat only has one creator credited, the reinforcement still goes to the publisher as well. And genuinely worthy work gets recognized in the process.

  7. Lyle says:

    Markus the comittee that looks at comics is an independant comittee and, from what I’ve seen, is made up of people who are fairly knowledgable about comics. A good number of titles are on the comittee’s “radar”.

    The last time I knew the committee’s make-up, there was a variety of tastes so the stuff that can appeal widely (like Top Ten or Gotham Central), that can satisfy the superhero, indie and new mainstream reader has an advantage. I think we saw something similar in the results of the Comics Bloggers’ Survey.

    Manga titles are definitely on the comittee’s radar. While I advocated for Fake last year, nothing grabbed me quite as much this year. (And Ring Finger was one of those problematic titles that came out in 2004 but I didn’t realize it’s greatness until 2005.) I’m still excited about Antique Bakery and Steady Beat for 2006, but this year I didn’t feel excited enough about either title to give them the hard push necessary (I was more excited about Capote, myself, but I’m just one voice.)

    For some insight into the comittee, you might want to check out Denise Sudell’s article on Sequential Tart. This debate has gone on for a while and it’s a good problem to have (too much good representation… remember the days when a minor charaacter got Books of Magic a nom?).

    BTW, another thought about “Impact”… another, less quantitative factor in judging impact comes in the shopping experience. If a comic turns out to be hard to find (and I’m thinking more Manhunter hard-to-find than Infinity Crisis hard-to-find, something indicating that stores aren’t stocking it) then the potential impact seems fairly limited. This often is the problem with work from publishers like Oni or Top Shelf, I suspect. Comittee members can’t find it in stores and that lowers the impact score (I mean, it’s probably not reaching a lot of eyes if I have to special order it, which was my only problem with Maria’s Wedding a couple years back.)

    So between the tribalism of comics fandom and the desire that the nominees have reached a large number of eyes, that does tend to “Emmy” the results.

    I have to say, however, that I’m generally satisfied with the nominations. I really like the character of Dr Mann in Y. I’m thrilled that Marvel has a same-sex couple amongst the leads of a major franchise spin-off (as wary as I am with the Skrull development) and, while there are plenty of problems with SiP it is still the most ubiquitous (based on the bookstores and comic shops I frequent) comic that’s all about cheering for a same-sex couple to get together.

  8. markus says:

    Thanks, glad to know I was wrong on that count. Thanks for the link, very informative.

    @David Welsh
    Point taken, however on the nice try front I think there’s something to be said for recognising the efforts of a publisher in a genre that is traditionally not too minority friendly.
    On the corporate front I disagree somewhat. With Marvel and DC the corporation controls the content, whereas elsewhere the creator does (in many cases). And as worthy as the GAAD awards and goals may be, I hope Oni et al. chose what they publish on quality first and foremost. So with Marvel/DC LGBT characters reflect genuine publisher agenda, whereas with Tokyopop et al. it may heavily depend on the quality of stuff pitched to them in any given year.
    It is of course not that clear cut, but I think there’s enough of a difference to justify a slight bias which is minor in the overall evaluation scheme. (i.e. evidently a very minor LGBT character in a Marvel book should not and does not outweigh a major character with a third publisher.)

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