The impact of inclusive webcomics and safe spaces

Webcomics like “The Disabled Life” and “Oh Hey, it’s Alyssa” that highlight marginalized communities such as the disabled community and lgbtq community are extremely important for the communities that they create and foster. These comics that are on a smaller scale are able to gain attention from people all over the world who are looking for these kinds comics that may be difficult to find hard copies of. I think the online aspect of them is unique due to its universal accessibility and the communication that can take place between both readers and the creators and the readers with other readers. As Nami Kitsune Hatfield said in “TRANSforming Spaces: Transgender Webcomics as a Model for Transgender Empowerment and Representation within Library and Archive Spaces, webcomics are able to take away the barrier and distinction between mediators and users and the audiences input can even shape the direction of the comics, it’s a two-way street. This online space is also a place where marginalized people can feel welcome and safe, which as Hatfield makes clear, is not the case for many public spaces. It’s a place where they needn’t feel as isolated and can identity and support one another. While reading the “Oh Hey, it’s Alyssa” comic titled “Venn Diagram” I noticed both the important subject matter of the comic and the positive response to it. The comic (which is attached to this post) deals with Alyssa being a “disgaybled” person, someone who is both gay and disabled. She talks about the difficulties she has experienced growing up with this identity. It’s brutally honest and was extremely eye opening for me to read. Because of the community importance we’ve talked about regarding webcomics, I decided to read the comments and was overwhelmed with the amount of “thank you’s” directed to Alyssa. Here is one that stood out:

“I am disabled and bisexual, and I can’t honestly thank you enough for this. I’m going through a bit of tough time and you comics are helping me immensely.”

This quote highlights how much comics that represent these groups of people can mean. They are a method of support and inspiration. While reading Hatfield’s piece I was interested in the idea that webcomics, while incredibly helpful and progressive, are not enough. It’s great that marginalized groups have online resources where they can feel safe, but that doesn’t mean that we should stop trying to make public institutions safe places as well. People need to feel welcomed and safe when they’re out of their house, and to do so these public institutions need to progress. Like Hatfield said, these institutions can’t remain apolitical when there are so many existing prejudices in the world, they have to take action and modeling their actions after the webcomics communities is a great way to start.

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“TRANSforming” a Good Model and a Good Pun

The first thing that came to mind when reading this article was my experience with queer representation and inclusion in library spaces. I’m a big user of public libraries, in middle school and high school I spent most afternoons at branches of the Seattle Public Library. Walking up to the teen section and seeing a display of LGBTQ+ books had a big impact on me. Being able to checkout and read books about queer people helped me realize my queer identity and eventually come out. The majority of the books available were about gay men which is a bit disappointing, looking back, but at least there was some representation. Libraries including queer material can make users feel actively included. This summer when I was working in Juneau, AK, I went to the public library there, and much to my surprise there was a display of LGBTQ+ books out for Pride month. Not only did I get to read a really good anthology of queer short stories by Alaskan authors, but I also felt included in the library space. While these are just a few examples of libraries promoting queer books, there is still a long way to go for libraries acquiring and promoting queer content, and trans content in particular.

In “TRANSforming Spaces” Hatfield argues that trans webcomics and the online communities that surround them can be used as a model for trans involvement and representation in libraries. Using Rain and Mahou Shonen FIGHT! as examples Hatfield explains how complex trans identities can be represented in comics. The article also focuses of the fandom communities that surround these comics and how people are able to comment and even participate in the comics by deciding how the plot will progress. This brings together trans readers and allies to form supportive communities based on common interests. Hatfield emphasizes participation as a great strength of webcomics that should transfer to archive spaces.

I agree with Hatfield’s conclusions about the power expanding the model of these trans webcomics to other spaces, but I think that it could go a step further. The elements that Hatfield emphasizes are not just good values and behaviors for library spaces – but are actually just things that make positive and trans-inclusive community spaces and institutions in general. Hatfield mentions the importance of emotional investment, which, I would argue, it’s a goal we should work for across different spaces. Similarly, convergent culture, where content flows across a variety of media is an important tool in community building. Whether it is a Facebook group or a Snapchat filter, or an entire website, these other forms of media can serve to enhance and support existing communities. Being able to participate and have a voice is essential to forming a community. We need to think about how we can actively include trans voices in all spaces, from queer organizations, to businesses, to academic institution. I realize that this is calling for larger change than what the article is referring to, but I think that we need larger change, even if it just starts in smaller places like library and archive collections.

Yet again my reader response is a kinda all over the place and not focused on relating this text to our webcomics in particular, sorry!

Here‘s a “Oh Hey, It’s Alyssa” comic I particularly enjoyed. Though, let’s be real, I freaking loved all of them …I may or may not have procrastinated from doing other work by reading them all.

Impact of Webcomics

Throughout this past unit on graphic medicine, I cannot help but to think about the powerful role that the medium of webcomics plays within this fascinating genre. We have read three outstanding webcomics this week, including “The Disabled Life,” “I Do Not Have An Eating Disorder,” and “Oh Hey! It’s Alyssa”.  All three of these webcomics deal with a variety of mental and physical illnesses through the same medium.  The fact that these authors chose webcomics is no coincidence and actually helps them to make a statement.

According to MK Czerweic in the “Graphic Medicine Manifesto,” the genre of graphic medicine incorporates three key things: a resistance of the idea of a ‘universal patient’, multiple subjects, and conflicting beliefs, values, and experiences.  Through the genre of graphic medicine, people who suffer from illnesses, whether mental or physical, can empower themselves by speaking about their experiences through their own voices.  They can creatively portray their disabilities in an empathetic and humanizing light.  They have the power to share their story and touch individuals who may be going through similar experiences or even educate those who don’t know anything about what it’s like to live with a particular condition.

The best way to put these stories out there and directly connect with others is through the medium of webcomics.  With no formal publishing or printing process necessary, authors and artists can simply release their works to the public for a worldwide audience.  Individuals from all around can find these comics for free, meaning these stories are accessible to anyone who can get their hands on an electronic device with internet.  Suddenly an author or artist can be connected with a global audience in a shockingly intimate way.  The readers can like and comment on the comics, offering opinions, anecdotes, or even ideas for future comics.

This global audience was a focal point in Nami Kitsune Hatfield’s work, “TRANSforming Spaces”.  In this piece, she argues that webcomics offer a participatory discourse that allows the author to directly converse with readers.  Hatfield believes that this exchange is incredibly valuable for both parties.  Authors can receive insight into potential ideas or changes that should be made to the comic, while readers feel empowered to provide their own voices and experiences to further broaden whatever the focus of the comic is.

What I gleaned from Hatfield and Czerweic is that this participatory culture that is so unique to webcomics can be impactful for marginalized communities across the board, especially for the trans community and those with mental or physical disabilities.  Webcomics allow individuals in these communities to feel that they’re not alone, participate in an online community of like-minded individuals, and even share their personal experiences. To offer a better idea of webcomics, I pulled this image from a comic in “Oh Hey! It’s Alyssa.”

It would seem to me that any of her readers could relate to this kind of content, whether they had gone through similar experiences as this author or not.  Of course, if a reader had gone through a similar life path, they may find content like this to be particularly relatable and touching. Powerful content like this can be found in the other two webcomics we read as well.  Each comic can find a nuanced way to impact its audience, touching people across the globe.

It would seem that the accessibility and participatory nature of webcomics allows them a special ability to touch individuals around the world.  The impact of webcomics must not be undervalued, particularly when considering the intersection of this medium with impactful, rare, and representative genres like graphic medicine or trans narratives.

super duper late… my comic in response to One! Hundred! Demons!

Making the demons piece was a mental and creative break that I desperately needed. I just went in with my own ink, my brush, and my paper. I didn’t want to put pressure on myself about any linework or tracing before so I just went through the many things that I had running through my brain and put them into a paper format. Firstly, making this piece gave me a lot of art confidence that I needed. I worked from the objects around me as well as images from my brain to create my figures that keep me up at night. I play with the physical space of the bed and the space of my brain and how often at night the two become indistinguishable.

Although I paint a few different faces as demons, the only object that I give a real “face” to was the cup of paint brushes. I didn’t feel like just the cup of brushes could convey the truly bad feeling that looking at my dusty art supplies gives me. It is a creature, a demon.

It’s also been one year since I made a verbal commitment to myself to make more art. I made this commitment last year when I treated myself to some new art supplies and ventured into the world of Inktober, a daily drawing challenge throughout the month of October. As Inktober this year started to roll around, I was reminded of my (failed) commitment last year… But then I stopped.

I looked at the incredible growth I have made in the past year, experimenting with new mediums and processes as well as making the full commitment to an Art Major. This year I made hella money off of my art…. Like a lot. I sold many of my prints last month. My comic is about the process of acceptance with my art that I am still actively working towards. Many days I beat myself up about my lack of making, due to my overcommitment to social justice and other extracurriculars at this school. Every day, I scribble in the margins of my papers, on top of old readings, on the inside of planner pages, in hopes of these small bursts of non-commital making help me advance my craft and skill. I often take the time of pen to paper for granted, but I am beginning to find beauty and solace in these tiny escapes.

Making this comic made me step back and congratulate myself for this growth I have made in the past year, something I don’t do hardly enough. I am working on a larger path to self-love and acceptance, of all my demons. My demons make me who I am. I am hoping to working alongside them rather than against them. I hope to turn that dusty cup of brushes into a happy, overused glass full of tools.

However, the dust that collects reminds me of the other important work that I am doing, to make a future where making art is easier and more accessible to folks like me. I know that all of my work is important and it was so beneficial to turn that feeling into a comic.

owned by @megwaldz

owned by @megwaldz

owned by @megwaldz

 

The Erotic in Prison

The scene in Bitch Planet which stood out to me in terms of Lorde’s “erotic” was one of the moments in the showers. Right before Kogo Kamau drags the spying guard out of the wall, we see Penny and Meiko in the background, naked (or nude?), celebrating their victory in the in-world sports game. This stands out to me in relation to our discussions of nudity and the male vs female gaze, but it also seems striking in terms of the sheer joy and humor of the scene. Penny lifts Meiko up from around her waist—the motion is celebratory and excessive, and both women are shouting and praising themselves/each other for their teamwork in the game. I don’t usually see or expect naked women to touch each other in such an unrestrained yet platonic way; even though the women are in prison, and being watched by other women and guards, they seem completely free from external expectations and self-conciousness or shame. I think maybe this is a facet of what Audre Lorde defines as the “erotic”—deep emotions, voice, and physical movement which defies oppressive limitations and the white patriarchal gaze.

The combination of this scene and Lorde’s theory brings me back to movements and concepts that I’ve heard in social justice circles before—specifically the idea of the “carefree black girl.” There are black women and nonblack women of color who say that to exist as a woman of color is radical in itself, since the great powers of the world work constantly towards their oppression and death. Both Audre Lorde and Bitch Planet put forward this idea; that to survive emotionally as a woman of color, to live joyfully, is radical in itself. Within the material confines of the prison, I think the questions of how to express free emotion, and how to decolonize the mind, are key to resisting both mental and emotional oppressive limitations.

Embracing Eroticism

Audre Lorde explains and explores the idea of embracing erotism for mankind, but more specifically for women. She immediately breaks down the public perception of what the term “erotic” means. For example, she speaks to the fact that we mainly access eroticism as limited to the bedroom and to sex as one way in which the hierarchy of power within our culture is supported and enforced. Thus, eroticism as a possession belonging to the bedroom extremely limits the way in which an individual woman is able to feel about, control, and explore her own body. Lorde emphasizes the constant denial of the erotic as a source of power; “We have been taught to suspect this resource, vilified, abused, and devalued within Western society” (88). The most immediate and relevant example of this devaluing is in the roots of the teaching of many religions, mainly those pertaining to Christianity. The fact that a lot of “American culture” has adopted aspects from religion further allows this view of eroticism to become a wide-spread cultural norm. And this negative connotation for the idea of eroticism can still be viewed in various ways such as the continuation of the word “slut” used in a demeaning manner or the fact that female masturbation is still viewed as a somewhat taboo topic, or the idea of sex for women can be compared to the “way ants maintain colonies of aphids to provide a life-giving substance for their masters” (88). Lorde also understands religion to be a motivating factor of this oppression in stating; “such satisfaction is possible, and does not have to be called marriage, nor god, nor an afterlife” (89).

However, Lorde want women to understand that the term “erotic” needs to be reclaimed. It is not eroticism that is demeaning, but rather pornography because it ignores feeling. This emphasis on feeling is how Lorde re-examines eroticism. It is not limited to sexuality, but as a word of empowerment in a more holistic sense. For example, Lorde explains, “The erotic functions for me in several ways, and the first is in providing the power which comes from sharing deeply any pursuit with another person. The sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic, or intellectual, forms a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their difference” (89). Thus she illustrates the erotic in a whole new light, than what we have been taught to interpret idea as. She demonstrates that it is a power that allows one to understand satisfaction and the true meaning of feeling. Further this empowerment can be found with the help of another or by oneself; “That self-connection shared is a measure of the joy which I know myself to be capable of feeling, a reminder of my capacity for feeling” (89). Thus we must allow ourselves to live fully and utilize the feeling that accompanies eroticism. We must embrace this new definition of erotism and find the power that it provides for the individual. Lorde fully delineates how, “As women, we need to examine the ways in which our world can be truly different” (89). By reclaiming, embracing, and understanding eroticism through a new lens, we can start to do so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

color vs culture

With the seemingly overwhelming focus on diversity in terms of visibility, I appreciated Lamb’s pushing back on the idea that simply seeing brown and black bodies in media is in itself meaningful. The idea that simply casting a person of color or using a darker pen to draw a character creates change is not only wrong, it’s saying that the experiences, the culture, the history, the communities of people of color do not matter. If a racebent superhero, one that operates in a white paradigm, who fits in quietly with mainstream white American social morés, is enough, then clearly what matters is catering to simple stats and shallow standards rather than using a media platform to include and normalize and celebrate lives and viewpoints that do not conform to Great American Values. This kind of representation is not really representation– it’s more the kind of diversity that white people who proclaim themselves to be colorblind would understand, because a person of color is not actually defined just by their skin tone but also by their experiences and their culture and their choices (and also a million other things–identity is complicated!). The kind of representation that promotes physical diversity, but desires ideological and cultural conformity, is not only tokenizing, it is a form of cultural erasure. It is the same as the mentality in homogenous countries that people are okay with migrants–so long as they assimilate. Requiring people of color to lose their cultures and identities in order to be present defeats the ideals of diversity and inclusion–while people may choose to assimilate and choose to change their identities, only representing shallow versions of all of that complexity is useless.

Considering all that, I think the reason I appreciate Ms. Marvel is that it’s not tokenizing. Rather than just cast a character as a brown replacement for a white lady, or even create a brown character in order to help white people understand brown people, Ms. Marvel is representation of culture, of non-mainstream ideas and ways of living. Rather than just show a brown character, Ms. Marvel shows a brown character as human. The book challenges and complicates white male cultural hegemony through unapologetic and joyous representation of a Pakistani family, through showing both the struggles of the immigrant experience and the sheer normality of it.

I think Ms. Marvel also challenges another of Lamb’s assertions, that the superhero is a white imperialistic construct that validates the use of violence over others. While I agree that Superman likely supported the narrative of ‘might is right’ and of American ideological supremacy, I see Kamala’s struggle to find her purpose, and the use of the morals her family and religion taught her, not to mention the letter to Kamala Khan, as the addition of another meaning to the superhero- hopefully a more optimistic one.

Lorde Response

When I first started reading this, I was a little worried that it would attempt to posit women’s liberation and progress as dependent upon their embrace of their sexuality in a way that focused almost exclusively on the body and seemingly heteronormative relationships. I was pleased that it did not. While there are some things the chapter said that I would say don’t necessarily need to be grouped in the ‘erotic,’ I liked how Lorde defined erotic and how she focused on the idea that women need to find intrinsic fulfillment in their work and life. One quote I found particularly interesting was “for once we begin to feel deeply all the aspects of our lives, we begin to demand from ourselves and from our life-pursuits that they feel in accordance with that joy which we know ourselves to be capable of” and how once this happens, women become “less willing to accept powerlessness.” I thought that this was interesting in terms of contemporary politics. I sort of saw the ideas playing themselves out via how a realization of external enforcements and standards would force the subjugated to look internally for senses of worth and value, that, to a certain degree, if your state, society, the people around you aren’t going to support or protect you, to do so for yourself or to demand that it be done is a revolutionary act. While this idea doesn’t relate directly to Lorde’s ‘erotic,’ this is sort of how I see it presenting itself or realizing itself, perhaps. 

In terms of defining the erotic, I thought that is was really important that Lorde made the distinction between the pornographic and the erotic. In doing this, I thought that she was trying to say that pornographic is more in line with the external, or societal expectations enforced on women, whereas the erotic is originating from within. This was a large part in getting rid of my initial apprehension to this text. 

Overall, however, while I did enjoy this reading, I found it to be more of an abstraction than anything else. I realize it was only one chapter, and perhaps there are other instances where this idea gets greater elaboration, but I would like to see more instances of application to progress and how this idea cold potentially situate itself within different demographics, etc.

The Uses of the Erotic and Bitch Planet

This article resonated with me an incredible amount. While I felt and understood much of it on a personal level, I also found myself making many connections to Bitch Planet and other texts from this course. The thought occurred to me, are all the reasons that women were sent to Bitch Planet based in the erotic? I see the erotic, as I think Lorde also does, as being in tune with one’s sense of self and being able to express it fully and authentically. This is how I see many if not all of the women who were sent to Bitch Planet. They were themselves and acted not within the cultural norms that were supposed to govern them.

Lorde notes “But this erotic charge is not easily shared by women who continue to operate under an exclusively European-American male tradition. I know it was not available to me when I was trying to adapt my consciousness to this mode of living and sensation.” This I think describes many of the women who were not sent to bitch planet and were compliant. I think non-compliance is when you are able to move outside of this system. This can be violence, sexual promiscuity, and subverting standards about motherhood, among other things.

I also have been thinking about non-compliance in my own life and at Whitman after reading Bitch Planet. I think it’s complicated because certain types of non-compliance are praised at Whitman while others are shamed like they are in most parts of society. I think a good deal of this comes from uses of the erotic. I dealt with a lot of issues in high school of slut-shaming and when I came to Whitman I was very excited by the possibility that this would be a thing of the past. It was definitely less pronounced but just manifested itself in different and insidious ways. This is one very literal example of the erotic, but I think it can also be expanded to being an outspoken woman. This is occasionally praised on campus as going against a societal norm and seen as taking control. In many cases it ends up being critiqued though as being “bitchy” or “bossy” or whatever. This seems to be the criticism most commonly of women of color, who do the most emotional labor and are simultaneously the most critiqued on this campus.

Reading this right before election day also got me fired up about civil disobedience and social change as modes of non-compliance. I hope we see some of this tonight in the election results. The record numbers of women and people of color who are running for office show the erotic and non-compliance. It’s moving outside of our old systems and try to move towards the building up of new, which is incredibly exciting.

“Only now, I find more and more women identified women brave enough to risk sharing the erotic’s electrical charge without having to look away, and without distorting the enormously powerful and creative nature of that exchange. Recognizing the power of the erotic within our lives can give us the energy to pursue genuine change within our world, rather than merely settling for a shift of characters in the same weary drama.”

The Erotic and the Pornographic

I’m gonna say that this is NSFW (Not Safe For Work [AKA Explicit]), as I don’t want to censor myself when talking about porn, so be warned.

So I’ve always been someone who has high hopes for pornography, not in terms of just getting off and having different ways of doing so, but instead as ways for change. Pornography can tell a lot, both about people, their likes, their dislikes, what society thinks, etc. But, it can also be really empowering to different people.

In its current form, pornography is not empowering to women, at least most of the time. There is a lot of porn that’s made by women, for women, and I think this is a step towards making pornography something that could actually mean something, rather than just a way to get off. And when I’m saying get off, I mean pleasure yourself, whatever that may be.

When most, if not all, men make porn, they make it usually in very specific ways. The story line is usually non-existent or completely crazy (i.e. How to Fuck Your Dragon). The way that they frame different shots is very specific (not many faces, mostly just penises and vaginas). And the way that the actors have sex is also very similar to each other (vigorously, not very passionate with very few kisses).

All of these things are not really erotic, at least in the way that I think about it. I think that Lorde differentiates pornography and eroticism well when she says “…pornography is a direct denial of the power of the erotic, for it represents the suppression of true feeling. Pornography emphasizes sensation without feeling.”

I do want to argue that pornography does have the capacity to be erotic. I do not think that it has to be a “direct denial” of the erotic. Currently, I would accept that it is in its current form, as it does not focus on anything erotic most of the time. Instead, it focuses on the flesh, rather than the individual.

Either way, I think pornography as a medium has a lot of room to grow. But, we have to focus on making it better rather than continuing to let men run the industry and continue making it primarily for men and an extremely toxic environment for women.