When I started Gutterball Special almost a year ago, I hoped to write a feature called Tea & Comics, which would have Dani and I discuss the new comics which came out every week. We managed to keep this going for a little while, but the posts were almost always late, as the process of transcribing our conversations was time-consuming and cumbersome. Despite this, I loved doing that column, but our respective schedules grew prohibitive, and regrettably, Tea & Comics just dwindled out entirely.
Our schedules have not grown any less prohibitive, but I am nevertheless happy to announce the return of Tea & Comics, albeit in a completely different form. Instead of being a conversation between Dani and myself, it will instead be a much more conventional blog post, written solely by me, and will focus instead on a comic or something comics-related which makes me happy that week. The purpose is twofold: it lets Gutterball Special address current comics and happenings on a weekly basis, but more importantly, it adds a little extra positivity into comics coverage. That latter point has recently started to crystallize as one of the guiding principles behind writing Gutterball Special, its raison d’être, if you will.
Comics mean a lot to me, and I would characterize their influence in my life as an unquestionably positive one. At various points in my life, I have found inspiration in comics. Comics have lifted me when I’m low. In very tangible ways, comics have changed my life. Thus, I understand completely when fans take a very serious, personal affront to things that occur within the pages of a comic book. The passion of comics fandom is incredible, but in recent weeks, across Twitter and the comments sections of just about any comics-related website, the differing passions of different comic fans and creators are mixing like fire and gasoline.
Whether regarding the apparent reveal of Captain America as a Hydra sleeper agent or Frank Cho’s disgruntled resignation from drawing variant covers for Wonder Woman, these explosive shouting matches within comics fandom usually contain genuine concerns and thoughtful points at their core but are quickly corrupted by straw-man arguments and needlessly incendiary language. As much as I might just want to read my comics quietly in my own corner and be happy about it, I would never deny that the comics industry offers a whole lot to get angry about. People aren’t wrong to get angry about the lack of visible LGBTQ+ and people of colour in the industry (and in the books themselves), or the chronic sexism apparent in the representation of women in comics, overshadowed only by the blind eye turned toward the consistent issue of harassment faced by women within the industry. Really, it would be wrong to not be angry about these and the myriad other problems within comics right now.
But, in the midst of all these righteous battles being fought, it does get easy to forget that comics aren’t just unending sources of grief. Despite the enormous value in calling out various issues, other (better) writers with more valuable and diverse perspectives than myself are doing an incredible job of doing precisely that – I have very little to add to these conversations other than to emphatically nod. Which, rather than turning this blog into a list of links to articles from The Mary Sue, Women Write About Comics, and Panels, I thought I would contribute something different to the ongoing conversation about comics, something which I find to be sorely lacking: positivity.
2016 isn’t proving to be a great year for a lot of folks – the news every day sounds pretty dire. Terrifying demagogues, at times more cartoonish than comic book super-villains, are spouting hatred on TV, racial tensions are strained, and devastating mass murders continue unabated worldwide. It’s really damn scary. But our modern understanding of comics and superheroes came out of scary times, new myths written right when people needed them. As Michael Chabon wrote in his masterpiece The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay:
“. . . the usual charge levelled against comic books, that they offered merely an easy escape from reality, seemed to Joe actually to be a powerful argument on their behalf . . . He would remember for the rest of his life a peaceful half hour spent reading a copy of Betty and Veronica that he had found in a service-station rest room: lying down with it under a fir tree, in a sun-slanting forest outside of Medford, Oregon, wholly absorbed into that primary-colored world of bad gags, heavy ink lines, Shakespearean farce, and the deep, almost Oriental mystery of the two big-toothed, wasp-waisted goddess-girls, light and dark, entangled forever in the enmity of their friendship. The pain of his loss – though he would never have spoken of it in these terms – was always with him in those days, a cold smooth ball lodged in his chest, just behind the sternum. For that half hour spent in the dappled shade of the Douglas firs, reading Betty and Veronica, the icy ball had melted away without him even noticing.”
Tea & Comics is named for a routine that Dani and I enjoyed in the early days of our relationship: On Wednesdays, we would walk from her university residence to Paradise Comics to buy the new issues of any series we were following, and maybe an issue or two of whatever Doug told us was good. Then, we would take our comics two doors down to DAVIDsTEA, where we would each order a tea and read our new comics. Outside of the perfect snapshot which that routine provides, everything else might’ve been a mess – we were near broke, and both of us at different points were buckling under an enormous amount of school work and scrambling to beat deadlines. But that isn’t what I remember when I think about that time in our lives: I think of the simple, beautiful, near-magical pleasure of enjoying one another’s company and sharing tea and comics.