January 18, 2006

commenting on the Captain Confederacy controversy

When I read Family finds comic book gift offensive, I was appalled, but a little flattered. Mark Twain’s often called a racist for dealing with racial issues; it’s great company to join.

To be fair to Ms. Boswell, who bought the comic, and Ms. Assemi, who wrote the article, Captain Confederacy uses images and language with strong connotations in a science fiction comic book. Both science fiction and comics can be hard to understand if you’re not familiar with the conventions. They’re like kabuki or rap music; if you come to them as an outsider, your first reaction will be bafflement.

Ms. Boswell probably assumed comic books hadn’t changed since the 1960s. She wanted to do something nice for a kid. She discovered she had bought something that she didn’t understand, but she thought she understood the symbols. So she took her story to the local newspaper.

Ms. Assemi probably was working under a very tight deadline. That’s the nature of commercial news. The price is that our news is filled with errors; I’ve never read an article about something I knew intimately without finding at least one mistake. Ms. Assemi said she didn’t notice my email link on my web page, and while it’s not hidden, it’s not prominent. She said she tried to find my phone number and failed. Even if she had found the number, I often let the machine answer, so I probably wouldn’t have been able to call her back before her deadline.

The paper didn’t run my short letter of correction. But they did run a better letter from a local comics seller; if they only had room for one, they made the right call.

I appreciate the sympathy and indignation that people have been expressing here and elsewhere, like in the comments to CAPTAIN CONFEDERACY MOVES TO THE WEB. If you love freedom of expression, the US’s First Amendment, or the possibilities of comics as an art form, it’s infuriating to have someone say they think something shouldn’t be published. But freedom of expression includes the right to say you don’t believe in freedom of expression for others, so I can’t fault Ms. Boswell for saying what she believed. She was wrong, and as someone who manages to be wrong a little more often than I’d like, I can’t blame her for that, either.

And so far, the consequences for me have only been good. I never made much of an effort to reprint Captain Confederacy because I wanted to revise it someday. My original dialogue needed tightening, and the pacing of the story was too slow. As for the Epic series, Captain Confederacy was one of the first comics to be colored and lettered on a computer, and since I was the letterer and colorist, I can say bluntly that the colors were too bright and the lettering was too faint. I’m much happier with the version that I’m posting here. I hope you will be, too.
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