Slap and tickle

In the wake of last week’s glib handling of the subject of gay lead characters in Marvel comics, Newsarama gives Joe Quesada the chance to say essentially the same thing all over again, but with a more conciliatory tone. He explains the rationale behind Slap Leather’s MAX designation:

Rawhide was labeled MAX because the major hook and focus of the project was the sexuality of the main character, a 50-plus year old established character. The reason the books featuring the characters you named in your question [Northstar, Hulkling, Asguardian] don’t carry a MAX label is because that’s not the focus of their books. The sexuality aspect of their lives is just one part of the whole that makes up their books, as opposed to Rawhide, where the fact that he was gay and his history was the major point of the book.”

I should probably confess at this point that I kind of liked Slap Leather. It required a conscious decision on my part that the book’s single joke wasn’t sniggering at Rawhide Kid but at the characters around him, and I completely understand why everyone wouldn’t come to that conclusion. It took a fair amount of squinting for me to reach it, to be honest. That said, I never thought the title was in any way progressive, just mildly amusing in a faintly subversive way. (If you want a real laugh, take a look at this old Crossfire transcript where Stan Lee maintains that there’s no innuendo in Slap Leather. Stan, there’s nothing but innuendo in it.)

So Quesada complaining that Brokeback Mountain will get the credit for humanizing the gay cowboy while Slap Leather goes unrecognized is kind of like an adult video producer claiming that, hey, they’ve had gay cowboys in their films for years, and nobody ever gave them an Oscar.

And maybe Quesada’s approach isn’t all that conciliatory after all:

“So, while some may want to get up in arms three years later that it was labeled MAX, I don’t understand why we aren’t at least celebrating the fact that it happened, that it was published and we took on the naysayers and the hardcore fanmen and the letter writers and the bloodthirsty media. That was the true triumph of Rawhide. The book and the character now exist!”

I know, I know… comic publisher attempts to reframe the argument to serve his own ends, alert the media. Still, dusting off a mothballed property and gaying it up for laughs isn’t exactly a milestone of creative daring or social progress.

It’s not entirely clear, but it does seem like the Kid could get another stab at the spotlight without the MAX stamp:

“NRAMA: That all said, would you consider publishing a new Rawhide Kid story where his sexual identity wasn’t an issue/referred to…

“JQ: Yes.”

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Also at Newsarama, a review of a Be Beautiful title in the latest Your Manga Minute introduces me to an unfamiliar bit of fan-speak, “non-con.” That’s about the cutest euphemism for “rape” that I’ve ever seen, and I really could have gone the rest of my life without learning of it.

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And finally at Newsarama, there’s Brian Hibbs’s eagerly awaited look at 2005 BookScan figures in the latest installment of Tilting at Windmills. This gives me the perfect opportunity to point you to the back-in-action David Taylor, who discusses the column at Love Manga. Chris Butcher takes a thorough look at comics.212.net, too. I particularly like one of the points from Chris’s summary:

“I find it vaguely exciting as a comics retailer though, knowing that there’s still an obvious (and massive) gap to fill, where breadth of selection and product knowledge is more important than not.”

3 Responses to Slap and tickle

  1. Phil says:

    Hi David.

    Just to say that the “non-con” thing is less disturbing than you think, if it’s being used in the way I think. In my experience, in the manga/media-fandom world, “non-con” tends to be used to refer to non-realistic “rape fantasy” type material, to distinguish it from stories about realistic sexual violence and recovery from it. The use doesn’t, to me, imply that the users are minimising real sexual violence – if anything they’re showing that they know that realistic sexual violence is a whole different thing to “bodice-ripper” type stuff.

  2. David Welsh says:

    Hi, Phil,

    I think you’re right about the application of the term. I just don’t know that I’ll ever be comfortable with the notion that some kind of “non-con” is a reasonable starting point for a fictional romantic relationship. I know there’s a perceived distinction, but it still makes me somewhat uncomfortable.

  3. Megan says:

    Speaking as an avid BL manga reader, I do think that there is unfortunately a lot of non-con in this genre. It’s rather interesting that non-con seems to show up much more frequently in BL stories than in mature heterosexual romance manga that are also written for females. Perhaps the popular belief in Japan is that females find it “less offensive” to read about a man being raped than a woman (whom the female reader would presumably identify with more). Of course, I’m just guessing about this.

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