Saturday, February 11, 2006

Give Him Some Rope, He'll Hang Himself

Now, I did not react that much to Joe Quesada's comments last week about Rawhide Kid being a MAX book, as it was a fairly off-the-cuff remark, and was not elaborated upon.

Likewise, I did not react that much when Rich Johnston went into further detail in his column, as, well, no offense to Rich, but his version was just that, his version of what Quesada told him, no direct quotes.

Yesterday, though, we got Quesada's own remarks on the issue, and was pretty bad.

Here is the quote, direct from this week's Joe Fridays:
Okay, let’s first discuss why we labeled it MAX three years ago because those reasons still exist today if not more so because of the furor the original series caused in the media. Let me just say that there are many factors and considerations that are taken into account when making a decision like this and it’s not a decision that is made in a vacuum or without much internal consultation and consideration. It is also a decision that is not made lightly. Because of the strength of the Marvel brand we have to be sensitive to as many of our readers as possible and those readers come in many shapes and sizes. Because of that, and because we anticipated that Rawhide would be controversial we had to look at publishing the title in a responsible manner.

Yes, controversial.

This wasn’t going to be another costumed hero who was gay, this wasn’t going to be a supporting character or a one-time walk on or a passing story line. This was taking what has been for decades a symbol of American hetero masculinity (think John Wayne, Clint Eastwood) and showing a whole different point of view on the heroic ideal and doing it with an established character from the 50s who for decades graced the pages of what is considered in the mainstream (we in comics know better) as a child’s medium.

Yes, a cowboy who became a Wild West legend because he was the best fist fighter, the best gunslinger, and the guy who always saved the day by upholding all that is good and heroic, and yes he is all that and gay. Oh yeah, and he’s also a character whose comic you most likely picked up back when you were a little tyke.

Now, sex and sexuality have always been hot-button topics here in the states. We have to take into account that many of our readers are children whose parents may object to such content, especially discussions about alternative lifestyles. Many parents today want to be the source of information regarding sex and sexuality and all the different colors that comes in and we have to respect that choice. We have to operate under a business model that takes all points under consideration and weigh what is and isn't objectionable content in some people's minds.

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 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.

In comparing Rawhide to Brokeback Mountain, I was merely saying that it dealt with a Western icon motif that was gay. I do feel that that's a perfectly accurate comparison to make. Keep in mind that Brokeback was rated R, which means no one under 18 could see it unless accompanied by an adult, which is exactly what we are saying with MAX. Now, while I know that there is nudity in Brokeback, I don’t think it would have received a lower rating even if it that aspect was to be removed.

We understood, before publishing the title, the sensibilities of taking an established kids property and retconing him, we new it would be controversial and we knew that we had to be responsible as the publisher. Sure, could we have done this with a brand new character, probably. but it wouldn’t have done and had the same effect that Rawhide had. Like or loath the series, it broke ground and it established precedent and it said that it could be done.

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!

Look, the world changes, personal tastes and beliefs change. There are words, images, and ideas that weren’t an issue as little as five years ago. Today, they are considered a big no-no or controversial. Someday the pendulum will swing back, it is the way of civilization.

That said, who knows, perhaps someday when we decided to do another Rawhide series, perhaps a movie like Brokeback Mountain will have cleared a wide enough path where people will be much less reactionary, perhaps a gay cowboy will no longer be an issue. It’s just sad to me that once again Hollywood will have trumped us at our own game and managed to break ground where we couldn’t even though we dug out the first few shovel-fuls.
Rarely will you see so much spin to achieve basically nothing.

Do these statements mitigate the initial "We made Rawhide Kid a MAX book because he was gay" comments, like, at ALL?

That is some weak stuff right there.

I think it would have been a lot better to just say, "Yeah, sorry, we were dumb three years ago. It won't happen again" (and then proceed to not do another Rawhide Kid book).

Instead, we get, like, a gazillion paragraphs that amount to "It makes sense!" Which was not, I think, the way to play this at all.

Quesada had a real chance here to make his inital comments not sound so bad, and he blew it.

Read More


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought his comments made it a whole lot worse, and really do want to know why he didn't list Rock Hudson along side Wayne and Eastwood, or would that have killed his point?
What does it matter if a character you read as a 'tyke' turns out to be gay?
Also stating that a book which was basically a gay joke helped break ground for gay people being represented in hollywood movies is offensive to anyone and everyone who reads that column - who is he trying to fool there?
I'd also like to point out that in Australia the sex/sexuality of a person doesn't affect the rating of a film - a kiss is a kiss, and a sex scene is a sex scene, and gets rated as such be it gay or straight.
Joe basically states that it's okay to rate books/movies because of their themes - and that's a scary road to go down.
(even if you don't take into account how desperate Marvel seems to be to please the current US government).
I for one have decided not to purchase any Marvel books as long as this policy stays in place.
I must admit though, this isn't too hard for me as I haven't purchased a marvel book for a long time - too much high quality stuff coming from other comapnies to even consider a marvel book these days.


2/11/2006 10:49:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Foss said...

What really doesn't make sense is that none of this explains why Marvel said that any new series featuring a gay lead would have to be MAX, especially given the gay lead characters in Runaways and Young Avengers, and the fact that Marvel's first notable gay character, Northstar, *was* a costumed hero who had been fairly well-known in the Marvel Universe and was given a non-mature readers book of his own.

Are people really more reactionary to this sort of thing than in 1994? Are more parents and children who could potentially be upset reading comics now? Why is it okay to show Hank Pym attacking the Wasp with bug spray, or Ant Man manually pleasuring whoever he was pleasuring, or any of the other sexy or overtly violent scenes that make it into normal comics, when two guys holding hands would push the book into "Mature Readers" territory?

Marvel, you've told me for years that DC was the old fogey, the backwards senile grandpa of the comics world; that you were the hip new thing with the hip new characters who were complex and interesting and human. Joe Quesada spends every interview he conducts ripping on DC and painting them with the "ten years behind" brush. How is it, then, that DC's able to be so much more socially progressive than you, Marvel? Obsidian just came out, Gotham Central starred two lesbian characters (one of whom has been out and important for twenty years!), Starman had a gay couple...could it be that the "old grandpa's" not so backwards, and the only "hip" associated with you, Marvel, is a prosthetic one?

For shame, Joey Q. For shame.

2/11/2006 11:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quesada has to be seriously misinformed or counfused if he honestly believes that a movie involving a homosexual relationship between cowboys would get an R-rating from the MPAA solely for its theme (and not nudity or language). The MPAA is pretty conservative, but they know they couldn't defend that.

Apparently Quesada thinks he can defend his position. I agree he's just making himself sound more and more silly.

2/11/2006 11:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Rose said...

I suppose in Brokeback Mountain there's "adult language" and nudity, but the MPAA certainly does grade on a curve. Gay relationships, especially if there's any sexual component, trouble them more than straight ones, although this has been improving in the last few years, and they have a history of finding female masturbation/orgasms much more "adult" ratings-wise than male ones. But then again, female nudity is okay for R-rated movies, and if it's disgused enough PG-13 ones, and yet the sight of a penis is downright unacceptable.

This comment is just about hating the MPAA, but sign me up for thinking Joe Quesada sounds like an idiot here. Of course maybe there's a parallel to be made in this situation between a ratings board made up of people whose sole requirement is that they be parents, not film experts, and someone who got into a leadership position via art rather than an MBA program (although I have my qualms about those, too).

2/12/2006 08:13:00 AM  
Blogger Iagorune said...

I haven’t read Joe’s original statement that got everybody’s knickers in a bunch, so I don’t know if he said something asinine or simply inelegant.

The statement he made yesterday does come across as being quite badly stated, but it does actually makes quite a bit of sense to me.

He wrote that it isn’t a matter of the main character being Gay that made the Rawhide Kid title a “Max” series, it was because the story itself concentrated on the characters sexuality, instead of it just being secondary part of the story.

And the reasoning is that stories that deal specifically with sex, and certainly the Rawhide Kid series, although there was nothing even remotely graphic about it, was all about sex, is not something that Marvel wants to put in their “family” oriented titles.

I read the Rawhide Kid mini when it first came out (sic.), and although it was far and away too camp for my tastes, I did love the John Sevrin art and I did find myself laughing out loud at the damm ting on several occasions.

It was just so close to one of the parody strips Sevrin used to do in Cracked that I had some real trouble taking it at all seriously.

But then again, I don’t think that the book was supposed to be taken seriously.

The whole point of the comic was to both play up and at the same time make serious fun of all sorts of stereotypes.

I admit it, I got a huge kick out of the Kid sitting around the campfire wearing a long black leather robe and telling tales of daring to a bunch of wide eyed kids. But then I also got a huge laugh out of the typically heroic, macho town sheriff who spent the entire series getting the hell beat out of him and having everyone in town from the schoolmarm to his own son, make fun of what a wimp he was.

It was good, silly fun.

It was also not appropriate for little kids.

Now I grant you, that the chances in 2003 of some small child going into a comic store and then buying a gay cowboy book are pretty slim, but I also understand why Marvel wanted to make sure that it didn’t happen.

But at the same time it is pretty clear that Marvel has been doing at least a passable job of having gay characters in their mainstream books. And it also is pretty clear that Marvel has always done their very best to be inclusive about everyone in their comics.

They don’t always do it well, they don’t always do it right, but they certainly have a long history of at least trying. I just don’t believe for a minute that Joe is going to ban gay characters from mainstream Marvel books. But at the same time, if Marvel is going to print a book that deals with specifically with sexual issues, straight, gay, whatever, then it is perfectly reasonable and perfectly justifiable to put those stories in a title aimed at older readers.

And as far as I can tell, even though he said it badly, that seems to be all that the man is saying.

- rick

2/12/2006 10:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Sharif said...

What's the big deal if a little tyke encounters a gay cowboy in a comic book? Every gay guy out there was a tyke once. I wasn't traumatized by either John Wayne or Rock Hudson. And even if I'd read the MAX Rawhide Kid as a kid, I wouldn't have had any idea what the story was "really" about.

2/12/2006 01:10:00 PM  
Blogger David Welsh said...

Well, Sharif, Stan Lee didn't seem to know what the book was really about, and he hasn't been a tyke in ages, so I think you have a point there.

No innuendo. Please.

2/12/2006 01:25:00 PM  
Blogger RAB said...

Decades ago, Marvel's very first depiction of putative gay characters in a comic book was...Bruce Banner being threatened with rape by a gang of men in a YMCA bathroom.

Of course, that was Jim Shooter's fault, and Joe Q can't be held personally responsible for something published long before his time. But it would be fair to say that a strain of bigotry and tone-deafness with regard to gays has now become deeply ingrained in the company's DNA, and this latest example of cluelessness comes as no surprise.

2/12/2006 02:11:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Foss said...

Well, the original statement went along the lines of 'if we included the gay Kid in the big upcoming western event, we'd have to label it MAX,' which suggests to me that Quesada thinks gay characters = MAX comics. It wasn't "if we did something overtly about homosexuality in the western thing" or "if we did the gay Kid, it would have to be overtly about his homosexuality," it was gay Kid=MAX comic.

Why he has done nothing to clarify the position (i.e., why it is okay to have gay characters in Runaways and Young Avengers, both of which are not only not MAX, but are marketed more toward kids than the average Marvel book) is beyond me. He's just digging himself deeper with this defense of the Rawhide Kid decision from years back, citing a reactionary, easily offended public that doesn't seem to be bothered by DC's gay heroes or Marvel's gay teens, and that is almost certainly less likely to be offended and less likely to be reading comics than the public was in '94 when they did "Northstar."

It's really like a variation on the "gay people shouldn't be gay in public because I don't want to have to explain to my kid why Gary has two dads, or why Billy and Steve hold each other's hands" B.S. argument. Guess what: parents are going to have to explain to people why Billy and Steve hold hands, whether they encounter Billy and Steve in comics, on TV, or in real life. In the meantime, they can explain what Ant Man was doing under the sheets, and why Spider-Man was eating a bad guy's head.

DC was telling me in the early '90s that we shouldn't hate or blame gays for AIDS in mainstream comic PSAs. Marvel spotlighted a gay AIDS patient in a miniseries in 1994, during the comics boom. Trying to backpedal now, and suggest that kids reading comics are more impressionable and parents are more reactionary than they were twelve years ago is a poor excuse for a justification. Marvel's willing to pretend to be the company that takes chances with stories, where dead is dead and violent is violent. Why can't love be love, too?

2/12/2006 11:56:00 PM  
Blogger Matt Brady said...

That Joe Q. editorial was embarrassing. Now, I didn't read all of the Rawhide Kid mini (I stopped after a couple issues because I didn't like it), but was it really about his sexual preferences? The only thing that indicated he was gay was how he was so FABulous. It was a blatant stereotype of gay people, straight out of Will & Grace. Did they ever explicitly have him say, "I like dudes!" or something like that later in the series? It seemed the only thing that made it MAX was a gay character, much like he is saying now. It doesn't make sense, and his argument for it is silly. So is his claim that it was groundbreaking. I've heard people refer to it as a gay minstrel show, and that is definitely what it seemed like. Was Amos & Andy groundbreaking? Ridiculous.

2/13/2006 12:53:00 PM  
Blogger Chad said...

Wait...Joey Q thinks KIDS are gonna buy Westerns?

2/13/2006 01:35:00 PM  
Blogger MarkAndrew said...


Unless Putative is an actual word with a meaning,

'Cording to Stan Lee, Marvel's first gay character was Percival Pinkerton in Sgt. Fury's Howling Commandos.

And, for Joe Quesada's comments:

Durrr! I like chocomate ice cweam!

Not that I think DC has a much better track record with gay characters in the last couple years... It's been a decade since Stuck Rubber Baby... And I sincerely doubt they'd have the balls to feature a gay male character as a lead in one of their books outside a Vertigo. But on the other hand Bob "I'minChargeOfDC" or whoever doesn't go around announcing this, which makes them look a lot better.

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