Thursday, January 24, 2013

E.C.? P.C.! -- PART 1

So what could possibly be "politically correct" about the "E.C." Comics of the above title? 

Taking the second item first, Wikipedia provides an exhaustive definition of "politically correctness," claiming that it "is a term which denotes language, ideas, policies, and behavior seen as seeking to minimize social and institutional offense in occupational, gender, racial, cultural, sexual orientation, certain other religions, beliefs or ideologies, disability, and age-related contexts, and, as purported by the term, doing so to an excessive extent."

This would not seem particularly applicable to EC Comics itself, given that the company was known for championing social issues in an uncompromising manner. 

However, I'll argue here that the term does apply, not to the original comic books, but to their forthcoming republication by the company Fantagraphics, which is also known for (generally) championing their own set of issues.  The full announcement can be read here, as well as Gary Groth's remarks on the project.  It is these remarks by Groth that I find to be "politically correct." In the following paragraph, Groth minimizes any potential "offense" in his reading of William Gaines in order to distance him from the common ruck of other "mainstream publishers."


The more I think of Gaines, the greater a publishing figure he becomes," Groth continued. "EC couldn't have existed without Gaines, specific books couldn't have happened without Gaines. He nurtured a lot of books, and had a sense of quality that virtually no publisher could match with the possible exception of St. John. Although he was somewhat paternalistic, you can see that from today's point of view, Gaines was incredibly generous to the artists by the standards of back then. He's a remarkable figure in comics publishing. I think among mainstream publishers he still might stand alone.


The "politically correct" keyword of this paragraph is the word "generous."  In what way was Gaines "generous" to his artists?  Did he give them the right to own their stories?  Did he return their art?  Did he occasionally fete them with expensive dinners and similar largesse?


Of the three rhetorical examples I posed above, I have only heard an affirmative with regard to the last one: Gaines did apparently dole out largesse to *some* of his contributors.

However, I don't get the sense that mere largesse has ever been the standard by which either Groth or most of his Comics Journal contributors have judged publishers.  The common position voiced at the Journal is that any publisher who does not fully endorse creator ownership is the lowest barnacle on the ship.  A quick example of this disdain for such publishers appears in this Journal essay by Groth, in the context of a historical argument about Marvel's return of art to its artists:

By 1976, because of a confluence of historical circumstances, which mostly amounted to raised commercial and creative consciousness among artists, both Marvel and DC were returning original art drawn for their current comics. DC also dug through their archives at that time and returned to the artists all the old art in its possession. Marvel did not until 1984, when, under pressure from artists, they too began to return older original art. But there was a catch. The artist had to sign a one-page “release form” that was a retroactive work-for-hire contract, cementing Marvel’s ownership of the reproduction rights of the art and any concepts or ideas within it. Most artists didn’t have any objections to signing this, or at least not sufficient objections to prevent them from signing it in order to get their original art back (which they could, for example, sell on the then-growing original art market — which was an important economic consideration, insofar as working for Marvel over their lifetimes had impoverished many of them).
I'm fairly sure that with some digging I could find passages that excoriated, in much harsher terms, any publishers who purchased work under the "work-for-hire" stipulations, but this one will do for now.  Marvel is bad because it exploited its artists and continued that exploitation by enforcing these retroactive "work for hire" contracts in order to protect Marvel from legal complications.

Why then is Gaines immune from this lofty scorn?  In what way did he take care of his artists, and how if at all was it different from the standard practices of Gaines' contemporaries, including the company that would later be known as Marvel?

Or is Groth's praise of Gaines influenced by a "political" need to distance Gaines from those practices?

More in Part 2.






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