My Thoughts On James Sturm’s New Sexist and Racist Comicon December 5, 2014 at 1:19 pm
I know this is old news already but I thought I’d weigh in James Strum’s newest comic that everyone’s been talking about.
To give a little back story, James Sturm posted this comic about an old mentor advising a younger cartoonist on how to deal with jealousy. Who is this person he’s jealous of? A young woman cartoonist who’s fucking killing it. She’s got a D+Q publishing deal, a profile in the Times, book signings with lines out the door. At the end, we find out she’s also successfully launched a $350,000 kickstarter campaign at which point the mentor cuts the meeting short and ends up calling his own mentor. Pretty funny stuff, right?
Colleen Frakes didn’t think so. She tweeted “…I have a lot of respect for James, but all I see here are two white dudes complaining about a woman in comics.” (there was actually a lot of talk amongst cartoonists about this comic but this tweet was the one that summed up the controversy most succinctly and launched the most discussion).
I’m not sure I follow her complaint about the guys being white. As an Asian guy and speaking for all Asian guys in the world, who freakin’ cares if there’s no minorities in this comic? It’s a thinly veiled parody about a CCS teacher talking with a student. Of course there aren’t any Asian people in it because they’ve got the good sense to go to Cal Arts. Also the joke isn’t dependent upon the races of the characters. I don’t even think it’s about gender specifically.
I don’t have a lot of direct experience with sexism in the industry but of course you see little things here and there. I remember buying a comic from a woman a APE and some loudmouth at the table next to her started grumbling, “Man, if I were a girl, I’d be selling hella comics.” The dude had not been doing well at the convention and when I looked at his table it was easy to see why. Let’s just say it probably had less to do with being an oppressed white dude and more to do with his comics being crappy. I walked away feeling sorry for this woman who had to sit next to him for 2 more days.
Another time, when I was just getting my start in minicomics, I met this guy who was convinced that the reason Gabrielle Bell was successful and he wasn’t was because he was male. He told me he was going to do a little experiment. His would release his next minicomic under a girl’s name and then sit back and watch the sales roll in. A few months later, I saw him and he reported his results back to me. His new minicomic was indeed published under a woman’s name. It was an “autobio” comic about some woman who loved masturbating, taking her shirt off and giving detailed accounts of her various lesbian threesomes. “I was right all along!” he said ” The industry is unfairly biased against men. I usually only sell 11 or 12 minicomics but under a woman’s name I sold 17!!!”
Anyway, I don’t have any personal experience with sexism, but as an Asian guy I can tell you it’s not one individual thing but the persistent, continuous nature of racial crap that can wear you down. If I saw Jeremy Lin flavored ice cream by itself, who the hell cares. But after a lifetime of wondering things like why did that publisher jokingly call me inscrutable? Why did that guy on Greyhound ask me what country I’m from? Why are those 5 dudes on the bus bench yelling “ching chong!!” Please don’t kill me. Why did that homeless guy call me a cheap Chinese bastard. Why did that Asian girl I was interested in tell me she prefers white dudes? That’s jacked up. My Dad got T-boned by some guy in Alameda and everyone thinks he’s the one at fault. And oooh, how come there’s no Asian people on HBO except that one Asian character on Girls who’s stealing Leena Dunham’s job? What, Ben and Jerry’s made a Jeremy Lin flavored ice cream with fortune cookies sprinkled in it!? Fuck them!!!!
The idea that every successful woman cartoonist unfairly traded on their sex appeal is really widespread and pernicious. So who knows what sort of shit Colleen Frakes had to put up with in life to bring her to the point where her first thought after reading that comic is “ugh, guys complaining about the success of women cartoonists.” I’m guessing she hasn’t found the comics community to be very supportive of women, which is a real bummer. And even though I disagree, I’m not going to say Colleen Frakes’ interpretation of the strip is wrong. As far as I’m concerned, she’s the world’s leading authority on how that comic made her feel.
All that being said, let me offer my own, more correct, interpretation of the comic. Which is that I don’t see sexism really being the point of it or the young woman being the target of the satire. And maybe this is an even more controversial thing to say, but man in my mind if something’s funny and it makes you laugh, ALL is forgiven. Laughter I feel is the body’s uncontrollable response to hearing a not commonly acknowledged truth. James Sturm has created a dark and brutally honest satire, the target of which was pretty clearly the older veteran in the strip. Here’s a professor who’s devoted his life to pep talks and hand holding insecure little weenies, suddenly realizing that he’s wasted his life and wondering what the hell he was thinking when he founded CCS.
That fictional girl’s kickstarter probably earned more than that older veteran did in 10 years of teaching or whatever he does. And in the last panel we’re left with the image of this sad sack who’s world has come crashing down, looking at the ruins of his life, a wasteland of shattered dreams, disappointment and bitterness. Or as I like to call it, hilarity. It’s funny because I think we can all relate. This field is freakin’ brutal. I’ve lost count the number of times I’m the sad sack who’d realized that my work is irrelevant, no one cares, and I look in the mirror and all I see is F Murray Abraham’s face from Amadeus. James Sturm’s comic is funny because it’s true. And the recasting of the Mozart character as a woman makes it funnier and truer.