As part of the ongoing culture wars struggles which threaten to tear the Comics Internet apart, Frank Cho has added another cover to his ensemble of Manara-esque pictures of popular female superheroes. The covers have been the subject of criticism and outrage, which has itself been the subject of retaliatory outrage, and now I'm not even sure we know what we were originally fighting about anymore. Here's the new cover, with caption:
You know my stance by now. I don't have a problem with Frank Cho drawing whatever he wants "at his leisure," and I also don't have a problem with people criticizing Frank Cho's drawings however they want. Cho's supporters will tell you that his critics want to censor his work, but that doesn't make any sense to me because his critics have no authority to censor his work. He'll draw what he draws, and companies will hire him to draw other things or they won't, and people will buy those things, or they won't. And all along the way, other people will have opinions on it. Some of those opinions will be favorable, and some won't. Whatever the case, it will be the free market in action and not censorship unless the government gets involved or someone coerces Cho using physical force or the threat of it. This is the way capitalism has always worked. The only difference is, thanks to social media, we can watch it work in real time instead of seeing the effects after all is said and done.
None of this is infringing on free speech, and making it about free speech creates a paradox. If criticizing someone's speech (in this case Frank Cho's art) is an attempt to suppress it, then, by that very same definition, criticizing someone's speech (in this case criticism of Frank Cho's art) must also be an attempt to suppress it. Frank Cho's art isn't inherently more important than the reaction to that art, or any more deserving of protection. In fact, Frank Cho's art is itself a reaction, specifically to criticism of Milo Manara's art. In other words:
You can agree or disagree with the criticism, and you can like or dislike Frank Cho's art, and I'm willing to bet the degrees to which people do any of those things varies widely. All reactions to art are valid, and shaped by personal experience. You can respect the response of someone who criticizes art while simultaneously disagreeing with them. Comics are not a zero sum game.
As for Cho's behavior, it's either incredibly tone deaf and he doesn't understand why people are offended, or he does and it's blatant trolling, or maybe somewhere in between. Ultimately, Frank Cho is free to behave this way, whatever his motivation, and people are free to react to it as they see fit. What effect, if any, it will have on his career, remains to be seen. It's possible, maybe even probable, that the two sides will cancel each other out, and there will be no tangible effect at all.
Perhaps the bigger question is what effect this, and incidents like it, will eventually have on comic book fandom and internet culture in general. Is this seemingly never-ending battle the new status quo? Will the two sides ever be able to come to terms, or will the divide only grow wider? How much of this can we withstand as a community and still call ourselves that?
Let me know what you think by expressing your free speech below.