Sunday Roundtable: Is there a place for politics in comics?
Sunday’s are known for talking heads on television discussing and pontificating about the latest hot topics around a table. We’re bringing that tradition to our site with the Graphic Policy team debating tough topics in our own Sunday Roundtable.
This Sunday’s topic? With lots of discussion about the political themes of Captain America: Sam Wilson #1, is there a place for politics in comics?
Troy: I think most of the Big name Comic Publishers owe their block buster events to politics. i.e Secret Wars, or Civil War in Marvel. I think the stories that leave the most impact and spur the most discussion are the most memorable and enjoyed. It’s hard for me to read or enjoy any story involving the Shi’ar without considering the long-term legacy of colonialism and cultural syncretism. If a comic can help us orient our own political world, that speaks to its strength as a form of media in my opinion. How best to consider the limits of justice and the ethics of vigilantism, when we have years of rich Batman lore?
Brett: Yeah, it’s interesting that Marvel has almost embraced politics in their recent events. Even Dark Reign had a tinge of politics. For me some of the best entertainment, especially sci-fi, is commentary about the world we live in, in a fantasy setting. Not much of a shocker, but I enjoy when my entertainment has something to say.
Daphne: If we want comics to be considered a respectable and legitimate art form, I think comics have to take politics into account. Writers and artists have to be able to use their storytelling mediums as a lens for viewpoints and discussion. I don’t think EVERY comic has to do that – I wouldn’t expect to see a discussion about the .com bubble bursting in My Little Pony – but I think that if the comic is age-appropriate and it doesn’t detract from or ignore world building and come off as forced and heavy handed, adding a political slant can be very effective.
And it helps readers know which creators they want to support or not support, if they have those concerns.
Brett: MLP is the perfect place to have a discussion about trickle down capitalism! Just kidding.
Elana: But I’m pretty sure it does have gender politics
Brett: Very good point. It does.
I also think comics really had their roots in politics to start. Some of the earliest were political cartoons, which then turned into strips which commented on society at the time. They were a discussion of the haves/have nots and class. There’s a long tradition.
Troy: Now that I think about it you’re right Brett, I’d say a good 90% of the Golden Age (I think it’s golden age) comics were war or post-war stories. It makes sense for publishers to flow within that tradition. That said, I am of the opinion that there can drawbacks to this, specifically when a given political narrative begin to eclipse a given character’s voice. I think most of us remember Havok‘s infamous “M-word” speech from Uncanny Avengers Vol.1 issue #5. As well as Wanda’s sentiments on minorities soon after. For me those initially felt somewhat shoehorned and not consistent with character…..but then I had to remember Havok is a Caucasian blonde haired blue eyed mutant. And perhaps sentiments on mutant identity aren’t so uniform. Still this dilemma of political narrative and voice stands on a very thin line.
Do you see any other drawbacks to how or perhaps when politics are deployed in comic narratives Brett?
Brett: Really good question. To me the drawback is if it takes you out of the narrative. But, that’s a sign of bad writing to me. Some of the best is when you don’t even realize there’s politics in it. Thinking out of comics, Star Trek was amazing at that. Then when, I don’t think there’s ever an issue. If it works, and fits, then go with it.
Joe: I absolutely think there is a place for politics in comics. Comics are no longer pure entertainment or relegated to the “funny pages”. They have graduated to modern literary art. I think no topic should be off limits in a comic book. I enjoy when they make social commentary, whether I agree with the view or not. That is how you keep new ideas in constant flux. I don’t agree with the new storyline for Captain America personally, but I can appreciate it’s value for readers and fans.
Brett: But weren’t even the “funny pages” political? Blondie and Dagwood was as much about marriage dynamic as it was the laughs.
Joe: Guess I never thought of that. Great point sir.
Brett: Family Circus is very conservative in its values. I will say, I might have trouble arguing Garfield is political, so there are some that are straight entertainment, as there should be.
Daphne: And not every comic has to be! Some comics would absolutely not work with a political slant. Mutts having comics about adopting shelter animals and getting pets neutered makes sense because it’s focused so heavily on the lives of house pets. But taking a detour in the middle of Guardians of the Galaxy so Thanos can remind us to conserve water by turning off the faucet when we brush our teeth would be awful.
Alex: The idea of Thanos giving a conservation speech made me choke.
Elana: Isn’t that the point of our site? And even the absence of politics is political.
Alex: For me, whether I think about it or not – and I didn’t until recently, comics and politics go together like peanut butter and jam (yes I said jam, not jelly, I’m English!).
Just take a look at the newspapers the day after the Canadian federal election where Justin Trudeau won a Liberal majority – there were some fantastic single panel comics that said more with a handful of words and an image than a full essay could have hoped too (I’m thinking specifically of the “just imagine if he was ready” comic).
Brett: Very good points everyone. Now, you the readers, what do you think? Sound off in the comments below!
All I’ll say is in the season six opener of My Little Pony, they come across a village where everyone’s the same. It takes on Communism using real world examples of what China does to their populace i.e. brainwashing with radios you can’t turn off.