Michael McDonald: Are Comic Books Just For Kids?

”…this is going to hurt you a lot more than it does me…”

Then the Clown Prince of Crime with a sinister smile on his face beats 15-year-old Jason Todd (Robin) to death with a crowbar as his mother watches on, with no hero to save him. In the decades that have followed this atrocity, Batman has suffered from what we know to be post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Only now after 30 years has he eventually salvaged his sanity, despite still being haunted by the sight of his arch nemesis standing over Jason’s limp and mutilated body. This is just one of the many horrifying moments that have occurred in the so-called ‘child’s entertainment’ industry that is comic books. Now, as a young child you may have read a comic such as The Beano or The Broons. However, now you’re all grown up and are ‘wiser’ in the ways of the world, you probably have this perception that comics are simply for kids, when in actual fact very few are.

I’m guessing you’ve heard of Tony Stark? Iron Man? Most likely you have but what you probably don’t know is that he was an alcoholic in the late 70s. How about Roy Harper? Ever heard of him? He’s Green Arrow’s sidekick and, like the singer-songwriter of the same name, he was suffering from a heroin addiction in 1971. A bit different from CBBC or Disney Channel, wouldn’t you say? I don’t know about you but personally, I wouldn’t exactly regard drug and alcohol abuse as ‘children’s entertainment’; however they do say each to their own. These events are actually what make the characters you know and love, but very few of you will have heard of these darker gritty sides of them as these aspect are only hinted at through their cinematic counterparts to make them more ‘family friendly’ or ‘PG’. Now don’t get me wrong: there are some comics that are aimed at younger readers, but to say that the whole medium is for kids is outrageous. For example, in an article in The Telegraph written by the journalist Rhymer Rigby, simply the headline alone, “No self-respecting adult should buy comics or watch superhero movies”, is preposterous. Take The Walking Dead; that show is well known for being one of the grittiest and most gruesome programmes on television but trust me when I say that it’s mild compared to the horrors printed on the pages of the comic book. In addition to this, you have masterpieces such as Saga, one of the most critically-acclaimed storylines in comic-book history, that is still evolving every month when the next issue appears on shelves. But this comic is far from the world of superheroes. It’s more like our version of Game of Thrones. Violence, sex, racism… it has it all, but not only does it portray these mature subjects, it deals with them in a serious manner by showing the reality of every aspect within these delicate matters. I don’t know any child that would fully understand these subjects, never mind take benefit from the way in which they are explored within the pages of this comic and in fact many other comics like it. 

Everyone assumes that comic books are simply about some witty superhero saving a cat from a tree or a man in spandex foiling a villain’s ‘foolproof’ evil plan to destroy humanity but they’re simply not. Like any other form of entertainment, there are hundreds of different genres and themes: ‘Alex + Ada’, a romantic sci-fi that explores how an artificially intelligent robot could possess emotions; ‘East Of West’, a sci-fi western that depicts a hostile America in the aftermath of the civil war that is segregated into numerous factions; ‘Postal’, a crime thriller that shows a young postman living in a town full of ex-convicts while also having to deal with the effects of Asperger’s disease; ‘Y The Last Man’, a post-outbreak drama where every man on the planet is dead except for one and we see the numerous challenges he faces. Honestly, the list is endless, but people are so naïve that they just stereotype them as being about superheroes. For any comic enthusiast like myself, this is infuriating, as comics contain breathtaking or horrifying tales combined with stunning and jaw-dropping artwork, yet they are still perceived to be on the same level as the Teletubbies or Thomas the Tank Engine. It blows my mind!

From the $2 billion made by Avengers: Infinity War in 2018 to the $380 million made by Batman Begins back in 2005, the comic genre has ruled the cinematic box office for over a decade. Despite this, the stories that made these films a reality are still considered to be for children. If you looked at the revenue these films produce would you think their origins were just for kids? No, of course, you wouldn’t, because how on earth could a multi-billion dollar industry originate from some stories simply for children? The reality is it couldn’t have. These films are so popular because they appeal to people of all ages, whether it’s for the out of this world storylines, the extraordinary characters or even the ground-breaking and innovative CGI (Computer Generated Images) that has changed the world of cinematography forever. These films are being produced year after year in Hollywood due to the fan base continually growing and expanding. This can not only be seen through the money they make but through events such as the San Diego Comic Con where hundreds of thousands of adoring fans dress up as their favourite characters each year and descend on the city’s exhibition centre for all things comics. Nevertheless, our society still maintains the stereotype that comics are just for kids. Why? To be honest, I don’t know. The only difference between the comics and the films (other than the way they are created) is that in actual fact the comics are more complicated to understand and comprehend. Yet our society still believes that they are simply small magazines with a few cartoon pictures and some big speech bubbles with onomatopoeic words emblazoned within them.

Much like with any argument there are always counters and mine is without exception. Many people would say that if you’re an adult or even a teenager why buy what is essentially a magazine when you can buy a fully-fledged book? Well for a start it is not simply a magazine. It is a comic book and it deserves the same respect that is shown to the works of Dickens or Dumas. It contains the same amount of action, excitement, drama, comedy and twists as any other literacy masterpiece. However, as it contains pictures and speech bubbles rather than bland boring pages of text it is believed to be for children. It is honestly astonishing that this is the case, as these pictures and speech bubbles are actually created by award-winning artists and writers such as Frank Miller and Alan Moore, who have both proved themselves in the worlds of art and literature respectively. However, the world sees that as it is not page upon page of endless sentences and paragraphs it must simply be for younger readers. If people were to actually flick through a few pages of a comic they would immediately be drawn into an imaginary world of the author’s choosing, where any number of events could unfold. No different from any other King or Christie creation.

The reality is comics are just the artistic reincarnation of books. They are written by authors but adapted with stunning and scintillating drawings to help enhance the reading experience. Just because they contain pictures doesn’t mean they are just for children: they are for all people, no matter what their age who enjoy both art and storytelling. They are not simply about superheroes: they tackle a wide range of issues across different genres, such as discrimination in space within Saga or the horrors that plague an apocalyptic world within the Walking Dead. There is no limit to what they can express so they simply cannot be limited to children. They are for everyone.

Bibliography

  1. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_highest-grossing_films
  2. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demon_in_a_Bottle
  3. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snowbirds_Don%27t_Fly
  4. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/no-self-respecting-adult-should-buy-comics-or-watch-superhero-mo/
  5. http://comicbasics.com/a-death-in-the-family/
  6. Quote from Batman: A Death In The Family by Jim Starlin and Jim Aparo

Land of Hope and Glory? – Nina Snedden

Trauma. Torture. Torment. All of which should be synonymous with the turmoil imposed upon millions by the British Empire. Yet, on the horizon of a post-Brexit Britain, a sickening sense of national superiority seems to have emerged from the dewy shades of the British empire, once extolled by many as the ‘empire on which the sun never sets.’

An underlying nostalgia for the imperial dominance that the British empire once brought, and a sense of chauvinistic pride surrounding it, and the supposed stability that it secured- despite its harrowing treatment of countries such as India, Yemen and South Africa- is detectable within Britain today. A large section of the British public seems trapped in a web of blind glorification through denial or blatant ignorance. Despite the shocking accounts of imperialist atrocities now widely available for the British public, many Brits seem, even with the knowledge of these events, to be party to a once dormant sense of pride due to the empire’s past assertion of power and dominance over other countries. In recent years, this mentality seems to have erupted once again; fuelled by the jingoistic sentiments of xenophobic politicians and recent events in Britain. A YouGov survey shows that 59% of the British public are proud of the Empire, only 19% are ashamed, whilst 23% don’t know. These results imply a sense of amnesia throughout a large section of Britain regarding British imperialist abominations. During the Boer Wars, Britain was responsible for the death of 10% of the entire Boer population in one year alone, including 22,000 children- yet a large percentage of the British population remains deluded by the miasma that obscures our nation’s understanding of our own history. How can this be?

Many empire fetishists argue colonies profited and prospered under the red white and blue of the gaudily coloured union-jack parasol. Niall Ferguson, author of Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World, falls under this category, writing,”… no organisation in history has done more to promote the free movement of goods, capital and labour than the British Empire in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. And no organisation has done more to impose Western norms of law, order and governance around the world”. Yet, Britain, in fact kept its colonies and subjects in the shade, confining them to the dark shadows of exploitation. The empire’s indisputable intention was to plunder countries of their natural resources and labourers, with an utter disregard for the suffering of those living under their rule. Ashley Jackson, Professor of Imperial and Military History at King’s College London, comments, “The basis of empire is that you rule other people, you deny them independence, you exploit their labour and resources, and a lot of the ‘good things’ were often incidental and secondary.”

During recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, when counter protestors met white nationalists at the ‘Unite the Right’ Rally, a 32 year old woman and two Virginia state patrol troops were killed and 19 people were injured. This ostensibly indicates a rise in white supremacist activity and a reluctance to condemn America’s history of slavery. Britain has heavily criticised the US and Trump- with Theresa May commenting that there was “no equivalence between those who propound fascist views and those who oppose them”, and stating that “It is important for all those in positions of responsibility to condemn far-right views wherever we hear them.” Yet bizarrely, Britain itself still seems to glorify its imperial past, shrouded as it is in impropriety, immorality and iniquity. The discussion of it is often carefully orchestrated so as to imply that colonies largely prospered under British rule. Statues erected in areas of Britain dedicated to such tyrants as Cecil Rhodes and Edward Colston go some way to prove that the fetishisation of British imperialism is still rife within a large division of British society today. Having made his fortune in the mining industry, Cecil Rhodes became focused upon the annexation of present-day Zimbabwe. Rhodes succeeded in creating the eponymously named ‘Rhodesia’ in an attempt to assert the British as ‘the first race in the world.’ Rhodes can be held accountable for essentially engineering the system of ‘apartheid’ in South Africa, by separating the Africans working in his mines from the rest of civilisation, as well as stealing millions of miles of indigenous lands and prompting the outbreak of the second Boer War, which resulted in the death of 25,000 Afrikaners. In the context of Britain today, Rhodes would be widely regarded as a white supremacist, a racist and a criminal. Why is it that his statue adorns Oriel College, Oxford?

The Brexit vote in June 2016 further points to an underlying nostalgia for British imperial dominance and a hope to reassert Britain as a ‘world power’. Historian, Margaret MacMillan said ‘They’re talking about the glorious Elizabethan Age; they’re talking about that time that Britain ruled the world. It’s a fake sort of nostalgia because of course it doesn’t take into account the complexities [of the situation].’ This desire to return to an age of power and influence requires the renewal of trading relationships with past British colonies. In a speech in July 2017 Theresa May referred to ‘building new relationships’ and reaching ‘trade agreements’ with ‘old friends’. May’s reference to past British colonies as ‘old friends’ goes far to prove the extent of Britain’s delusion surrounding its nefarious imperial past. During the Bengal famine of 1943, many Indians perished under the hand of ‘the war hero’ Churchill, regarded by history as an honourable British leader. Yet it is unlikely that the 3 million Indians who died during this period would view Britain with the same bizarrely fond affection. Nor the 3 million victims torn from their homes in colonies and enslaved between 1562 and 1807. And certainly not the Adenese, who were stripped of their clothing, sexually exploited, and forced into refrigerated cells, in the torture camps opened during the Aden emergency of the 1960s. Foreign secretary, Boris Johnson commented “We used to run the biggest empire the world has ever seen, with a much smaller domestic population and a relatively tiny civil service… Are we really unable to do trade deals?” However, British colonies including India, having suffered under the violent rule of the British empire for decades, have now economically, democratically and morally surpassed Britain. The rotting corpse of the empire cannot and should not be resuscitated.

Entrenched supremacy, racism and discrimination remains palpable within the British mindset today. The undeniably jingoistic Last Night of the Proms is another clear example of the underlying nostalgia for imperial dominance that still exists in a large faction of British society. Songs such as ‘Rule Britannia’ and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ extoll the “virtues” of British imperialism. John Drummond, who ran the Proms during the 1980s and 1990s for the BBC referred to being ‘moved from tolerant enjoyment to almost physical revulsion’ in response to the BBC’s glaring dismissal for those who suffered under the tyranny of the empire. Many argue that tradition calls for these songs to be played. However, it was not until 1905 that ‘Rule Britannia’ became a fixed song in the event, and not until as late as 1953 that ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ became a permanent source of particular frustration for anti-imperialists. Lyrics such as ‘Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves!’, as well as, ‘Britons never, never, never shall be slaves’ imply a specific disregard for the millions of civilians enslaved and murdered under the British rule. The undulating union jack flags hark back to a false memory of when Britons appeared to ‘Rule the waves.’

Unless we collectively address and condemn our imperialist past as a nation, statues will continue to be erected condoning slavery and torture, songs will continue to be sung glorifying an empire responsible for the death of millions, and Britain, although it will likely not return to the world-wide stature and superiority it once supposedly possessed, may continue to allow racism, violence and pain to be the basis upon which power is placed. We cannot allow Britain to regress in such a way.

Planned Obsolescence: Weapon of Mass Discarding or Catalyst for Progress? – Hannah Berry

Emitting a dim yellow glow in a fire station in Livermore, California, the Centennial Light has burned for a record-breaking 115 years since it was first turned on in 1901. Fast forward an entire century, and light bulbs are burning out and being replaced within months. If a light bulb designed in the 19th century can last for over one hundred years, why, in the late 20th and early 21st century, have light bulbs tended to last no more than a few months? The answer is planned obsolescence, a by-product of modern capitalism.

Frequent changes in design; society’s views on fashion and trends; the focus on ‘replace over repair’ of goods and an astronomical use of non-durable material, are the largest contributors to planned obsolescence; a policy of producing consumer goods that rapidly become obsolete and so require replacing. Although believed by economists to be a social necessity for driving technological advancement and innovation, planned obsolescence is unsustainable for the future. Such a policy fuels the society’s damaging consumerist culture and wasteful attitudes, leading to high manufacturing demands, production of waste, natural resource depletion and damaging repercussions on consumers.

One of the most obvious injustices of planned obsolescence is the heavy burden it places on consumers. With the assistance of media, advertising and design changes, manufacturers are frequently introducing new changes in fashion and influencing consumers’ decisions and perceptions of styles which are deemed fashionable or trendy and forces them to believe they must have these products. Fashion of any sort is a classic example of ‘perceived’ obsolescence: consumers are manipulated to believe that a seasonal fashion or certain clothing is no longer in style, so they must be replaced by new garments. This results in the large waste of an increasing amount of items at a high financial cost to the consumer.

This lifestyle has tremendous financial costs for consumers. Often equipment that needs repaired will become obsolete as the price for repair is higher or comparable to the price of replacing the item altogether, or the service or parts are no longer available, resulting in the consumer having no choice but to replace the item, rendering it dysfunctional. For example, major corporations such as Apple and Samsung are now designing their smartphones so there is no access to the battery inside the phone so it is difficult to replace the battery, making the item functionally obsolete. Other examples include the updating of software or designs which make the older versions incompatible with the new advancement, forcing the previous version to become functionally obsolete and forcing the consumer to invest in the new updates.

Over the past few decades, the expected lifespan of products has drastically diminished, so that most consumers today purchase products with the expectation that they will need to be replaced within a couple of years. In an attempt to boost the economy after the World Wars, retailing analyst Victor Lebow articulated the solution that has become the norm for the whole system, he said: “Our enormously productive economy… demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption… we need things consumed, burned up, replaced, discarded at an ever-accelerating pace.” (Lebow, 1955)

Since its first documented case in the 1920s during the Great Depression, to its adaptation, popularisation and acceptance over the decades, consumers have become acclimated to the practices of planned obsolescence. Planned obsolescence should not be normalised by society; this results in turning a blind eye on the ethically questionable practices and the destruction of the environment.

An even more serious concern, due to consumerist attitudes and our acceptance of the practice of planned obsolescence throughout society, is that the overall demand for the manufacturing of these products is rapidly increasing, thus the overall demand for the Earth’s finite resources is subsequently rising. Studies from the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) found that global extraction of materials has tripled since 1970, and not once in the last 40 years has materials extraction declined, even during times of recession and economic crisis. In the past three decades alone, one third of the planet’s natural resources have been consumed. We are cutting, mining, hauling and trashing the place so fast that we are undermining the planet’s very capacity to support human life adequately. By continuing to intentionally limit the useful lifespan of a product by making it unfashionable or no longer functional, manufacturers are creating a significant driving factor to unsustainable attitudes and practices, depleting the planet of its precious, finite resources.

Consumers often view planned obsolescence as a cynical plot by manufacturers and corporations to boost sales and profits while the consumer and the environment pays the price. Arguably, those in support of the planned obsolescence strategy believe it to be the catalyst and driving force for progress and technological advancement. When a new technology is developed, many previous inventions become obsolete. This could bring about truly innovative products, like the advancement of horse and carriage transportation to automobiles, or the typewriter to the computer. However, far too often, planned obsolescence is too easily justified by a slightly sharper camera phone, or slightly more memory, or a new operating system that confuses as much as it simplifies. Do we ‘really’ need these things?

Plastic water bottles, cutlery, plates, cups, razors and bags, seen in the countryside or on the streets or dumped in the landfill: today, we live in a ‘throw-away society’; a culture of over consumption and excessive production of short-lived or disposable products. Planned obsolescence is the leading cause of our wasteful consumer habits and the constant manufacturing of these unnecessary products contributes greatly to pollution, which affects the water we drink and the air we breathe. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) found that only 1% of the products we buy are still in use as little as six months after their date of sale. In other words, 99% of our consumption is trashed within six months. The products themselves end up in landfills, taking up precious space that is often at a premium. According to the UNEP, E-waste, or discarded electronic appliances such as smart phones, computers, and televisions, is one of the fasted growing sources of waste. On average a person keeps a smartphone for 18 months, whether the battery fails, screens or buttons break or the operating systems can no longer be upgraded, the immediate solution owners turn to is not the repair of the current system, but the purchase of a brand-new device that is advertised to be ‘better than ever before’.

The disposal of waste releases harmful toxins into the air, the surrounding soil and ground water. A large majority of this waste is disposed of in landfills full of hazardous materials, often in the world’s poorer countries including Bolivia, Ghana and South Sudan. Jim Puckett, co-founder of BAN; an organisation for environmental health and Justice visited Ghana and saw teenagers and young adults working in the landfills, exposed to hazardous substances, burning discarded electronics, and releasing toxic fumes into the air. The accelerating production of so much waste due to planned obsolescence, impacts greatly on the environment, contributing to waste pollution and endangering human life, not only in the countries that produce this waste but also the developing nations.

If environmental and climate challenges are to be tackled, then the wasteful production and consumption patterns driven by planned obsolescence is not the way forward as a sustainable strategy to stave off an economic crisis. The investment in more durable items and taking steps to minimise your participation in a consumer-focused society is the way forward from a disposable and wasteful culture. Only the truly innovative products which provide significant positive advances in society, should light the path to a sustainable future.

The unsustainable practice of planned obsolescence, through the continual replacement, rather than repair, and the manufacturing of non-durable products, results in: masses of waste generation; pollution; loss of biodiversity; the rapid depletion of Earth’s precious resources; and high financial costs for consumers. These challenges must be tackled to move forward towards a sustainable future and can only be achieved by rendering planned obsolescence obsolete.

 

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