Remember that time Erik Larsen made those dumb and, at best, very poorly worded tweets, caused a giant Twitter backlash, and then quit the social media service after claiming everyone misinterpretted him? Oh yeah, it was just last week. Well, Larsen is back, and he's given an interview to Reaxxion.com about his experience. He complained that people were misinterpreting his tweets, which, to refresh your memory, were:
So here's his explanation of what he meant:
First, by “vocal minority” I don’t mean any group other than the collective group of all people talking. Anybody with a voice who talks online or sends emails, anybody who gives feedback of any kind, and that includes me.
The largest segment of our audience is silent. They say nothing at all. They likely talk amongst friends and family like anybody else, but they’re not inclined to go online and share their opinions with the masses.
There’s a tendency to treat any feedback as though it represents a measurable portion of the audience. If a book gets one letter for every thousand readers, editorial sometimes assumes that each letter talks for the other 999 people, but that’s nonsense. If one guy says he’d totally buy a signed and numbered hardcover 3-D Man collection, it may very well be that just that one reader is interested in such a book. There’s no reason to think the other 999 unspoken readers would fall in line and purchase such an unlikely collection. It’s no way to run a company. That single voice really doesn’t speak for the others. That one reader speaks for that one reader. Others may agree. Others may not but they aren’t making their opinions known.
Mr. Larsen might consider whether, if his words are so widely misinterpreted, it might be a problem with the communicator. In any case, he wasn't talking about a signed and numbered hardcover 3-D Man collection. He was talking about all or at least most recent superhero costume designs, and he was referring to a specific opinion that superhero costumes could stand to be less about titillating men. Fans online don't all agree. In fact, they are frequently at each other's throats arguing over exactly these sorts of things. So when Larsen names a specific opinion and attributes to a "vocal minority," he could not have been referring to all fans online, because a good portion of them don't hold that opinion. How are costume redesigns "placating" all people online if half of them compare it to fascist book burning and censorship? This seems like a lot of backtracking to me. But I would backtrack too if I put my foot so firmly in my mouth.
Larsen goes on to give a far more reasonable opinion on costumes:
CB: Why do you think Marvel and DC have been moving in that direction?
EL: Partly to emulate the movies and partly to placate vocal fans. Readers have often been prickly when it comes to bodies, especially those of women. What doesn’t seem to be understood is that there’s a big difference between costume design and character design. Wonder Woman’s costume is perfectly fine. It’s strong, it’s iconic, it harkens back to ancient Greece with athletes in appropriate sporting attire. It’s a costume that functions.
But it’s also one which can be abused. Women characters can be drawn sexy or strong, girlish or mature, thin or voluptuous and everything in between. If DC doesn’t want Wonder Woman to pose seductively and prance around like a sex object, they should make that point clear. Frank Miller drew Elektra as a powerful, taut ball of muscle. Wonder Woman can be that: she doesn’t need to be a tart. But that’s the way she’s drawn, not costume design.
I’ve attached two images that I’ve joined together showing Wonder Woman drawn by artists Mark Beachum and Bruce Timm. Both draw the same Wonder Woman costume, but one looks weak, vulnerable and slutty as all hell and one looks proud, confident and powerful.
I don't really take any issue with what he's saying about costumes. But then, no one in Larsen's "vocal minority" is clamoring for women to be covered up head to toe, nor are they asking that costumes all consist of tactical body armor (which Larsen argues is impractical for super heroics). Rather, readers are asking that the costumes on female superheroes perhaps reflect what that particular female superhero might actually wear, which would differ according to the character, just as the clothes people wear differ vastly amongst people. Batgirl, in her current run, wears a costume that fits the tone of how she's written. Ms Marvel, as well, matches costume to tone and character. Wonder Woman's redesign... well, it's Finch we're talking about there. When Larsen claims that the "vocal minority" wants to cover up all female superheroes, he's using a straw man argument. A lot of fans are just tired of nearly EVERY female superhero costume being seemingly designed to titillate male readers. There's room for some of everything, just as in life.
Larsen goes on:
So is it the costume to blame or the approach to drawing the character? I say the problem is the approach. DC and Marvel seem to act as though the problem is the costume design.
CB: And what do you—as both a creator and a fan—want to see?
EL: Ultimately, both fans and the companies would benefit from stronger design over weaker design.
There's nothing wrong with that statement. But that's not what Erik Larsen said or implied in his tweets (even if, taking him at his word, he meant to). That his argument here is reasonable doesn't make his previous twitter argument reasonable. His words would carry a lot more weight here if he said, "I sounded like an idiot on Twitter, so here's what I really meant to say..." instead of blaming everyone else for not reading his mind. But again:
CB: What was the reaction you received for these comments?
EL: Largely idiotic. Almost entirely misunderstood. You might have thought I’d called for implants for all female characters. It was a parade of stupidity and inane assumptions. Welcome to the Internet. And you wonder why I don’t think these voices should be listened to.
CB: Did the reaction surprise you?
EL: The level of stupidity? Yes. This is the kind of thing usually reserved for comments on YouTube. Just inane. And some comments came from fellow creators who felt as though I had called them out merely by mentioning characters whose costumes I thought had suffered from redesign.
So Erik Larsen is the victim here. Except, I guess, from those members of the "vocal minority" that agreed with him. They represent the majority of comics fans, while the other part of the "vocal minority" represents an actual vocal minority, according to Larsen. My head is starting to hurt just trying to figure it out.
Again, Larsen is capable of saying reasonable things and explaining them in a clear way:
CB: Recently, DC pulled a Batgirl variant cover at the request of the artist due to complaints of sexism. What’s your take on that as a fellow artist?
EL: This story is widely misreported. It’s my understanding that DC commissioned the cover and that once it was in and the creative team saw it that they raised an objection to it. They didn’t want it on their book because they thought it was inappropriate given the tone of the title. The artist heard what they had to say and came to agree with their point and had it pulled. It was not the case of an online backlash causing it to be withdrawn. So, it wasn’t censorship per se.
So why not just admit he had a bad day on Twitter? He seems to be unable to turn that critical gaze on himself.
Larsen talks about how he would have handled it, since he's a veritable King Solomon when it comes to dealing with online conflict:
CB: How should they have handled it?
EL: Ideally, we would never have known the cover existed. Ideally, editorial would have shown the cover to the creative team and they would have made their feelings known and it would have vanished before it ever appeared. We’d have never known about it. Given that DC shared the image immediately, they did the best they could with it. Frankly, I think it was in questionable taste given the nature of the book. I support the artist and the decision.
The danger is, of course, that the online community feels that they are empowered. We already saw a Milo Manara Spider-Woman cover censored due (I would think) to online pressure and since that time Spider-Woman’s costume was altered as well. Where will this lead? Well, if history is any indication it can lead to something like the Comics Code Authority in the ’50s where a group of outraged individuals policed everything we read. I’m not convinced that’s such a great idea.
Well, it's good that no one but the straw men in Erik Larsen's mind are clamoring for a return to the Comics Code Authority. We're all good then. No problems.
Go and read the full interview here. I don't think as many people would have really taken issue with any of Larsen's statements if he had just given this interview in the first place. There are points where I disagree with him, and quite a few places where I feel he's clearly using straw man arguments - making up indefensible positions somewhat similar to but not the same as the ones actually being made and then attributing them to his opponents so he can easily dismantle them - but on the whole that's because he's trying to retroactively justify the ill-thought out stuff he spewed on Twitter earlier in the week. His thoughts on design as an artist are otherwise welcome. I think he should look inward as to why he was so misunderstood if that's truly the way he feels and this isn't a purposeful attempt at damage control.
In any case, Larsen is back on Twitter, which means:
In case you're wondering, we ran all of Erik Larsen's initial tweets, not a cherry picked selection, in our first article. Then we ran all of his exchange with Batgirl writer and costume co-designed Cameron Stewart. Cherry picked, in Larsen's mind, means "tweets that made him look bad." Which were a large portion of his tweets in those few days.
Larsen also tweeted:
Oh yeah? Well let's do it then, Larsen. Where do we sign up?
Or is it only the sites that disagree with you? Well, let's find out. Come and do an interview at The Outhouse, Erik Larsen.
"How an interview with us?" Well, we're not going to impress him with our grammar. Oops.
Well, we'll see if he accepts anyway.