The War to End All Wars (or, Tactless V. America pt. 3 of 3)

Drum roll, please! rrllrrllrrllrrllrrllrrllrrllrrll….(all the drummers out there will get that joke) Welcome, one and all, to a very special edition of the single most important source of our national pride: Tact is for the Weak, the article that will take two and call your mom in the morning!

I’ve been carefully assembling my notes, tabulating my figures, and amassing my wealth of knowledge to bring you this final chapter in the Tactless V. America war! My previous two articles are filled with a veritable case study of the U.S. government’s past dealings with the comics industry (go read them now. Then do it again). In some cases, Big Brother has been an intrusive and unwelcome sibling, picking on the comics industry for its “egregious acts leading to the decay of our moral fabric” and (more than once!) even closed down comic retailers for selling books that were found to be “obscene.” Other times, the government has been more like a lazy, in-it-for-the-pension cop that has been going through the motions for years, claiming to “look into” possible injustice (such as the Diamond monopoly), but ultimately claiming that the potential victims just aren’t important enough to watch over.

(You know, after such a healthy recap, maybe you don’t need to reread my last two article. But what the hell; do it anyway!)

As with many things in life, no matter what the government does, it accomplishes naught but to further anger people. The big question is, why? Why does this keep happening? The whole censorship craze in the 1950s-60s can be attributed- partially- to the McCarthyist Red Scare going around, when nerves were on edge and “patriotism” was fanatically guarded against all challenging ideals. Likewise, the Justice Department’s lack of action (or even further investigation) in the Diamond situation could be explained- again, partially- by the government’s notorious predilection towards the greenbacks (and away from the comic book industry’s relative lack thereof). Even still, there is a distinct pattern emerging here: when it comes down to it, to the government, the comics industry is nothing more than a hobby to mess with.

“Waaaiiit a second,” you’re probably saying, “isn’t that a little extreme? You sound like one of those conspiracy wackos I see on the subway.” Well, once again (oh, how you disappoint me!), you’re WRONG! Fetch me my switch! *ahem* Now, I’m not really that much of an anti-government, anarchy-or-bust sorta guy (hey, I like my roads paved and my water filtered!), but, similar to evaluating a convict’s mental status, one must look at the government’s actions to assess the real truth of the matter. And the truth, however unwelcome it may be, is thus (note that much of this information may be found at, the site for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund):

  • Desperate to further whip up the American public into a nationalistic frenzy, the government bigwigs of the mid-1900s focused the nation’s attentions on comics and other media as the supposed source of moral decay. Only through the pre-emptive formation of the Comics Code Authority did the industry escape with its balls still attached.
  • In 1986, an Illinois comic shop named Friendly Frank’s was slammed for selling “obscenity” (note that the charges were refuted in the subsequent Appellate Court hearings).
  • In 1992, police ransack a San Diego comic shop and seize 45 titles. No charges were filed.

However, look at the truth about how the government acts when it is confronted with a situation that isn’t as easily morally or politically defensible (and yes, that mouthful is grammatically correct!):

  • In 1997, Diamond was left as the single remaining major distributor, capitalizing on exclusive contracts with big names such as DC and ultimately Marvel.
  • In response to complaints, the Justice Department “investigates” the possibility of “anticompetitve practices” but decides to drop the investigation because the industry as a whole is simply not important or big enough to worry about (despite the clear existing monopoly defined by the letter of the law!).

So, when it comes to vote-grabbing moral issues, the government is gung-ho and shoot-’em-up about the ordeal, even overstepping its bounds in the name of the “public good.” But when the comics industry needs to be defended from a legitimate possible threat, the government can just sidestep the problem and tell the industry to wait until it’s bigger? BULLSH**! The government cannot simply pick and choose its battles based on the size of the purse strings. I understand that moral issues tend to be more dramatic and necessary than financial ones, but it’s the f***ing government we’re talking about! They don’t need to limit the number of tasks they undertake! If the government is so much more excitable about the content of comics than the administration and protection of them, then we all can see where the real priorities lie: in the hands of the morally uptight voting base out there that generally has rarely (if ever) even read a comic book.

So long as the “comics are for kids” stereotype prevails (and believe me, all the crappy movies like Catwoman and Daredevil aren’t helping!), Joe Sixpack will say, “of course the industry isn’t worth worrying about! It’s like worrying about the lollipop industry; it’s just kids’ stuff!” And his aging wife Jane Sixpack will add, “whaddya mean, there’s foul language and nudity and violence in these funny books? It’s all just Superman and Spider-man! My little boy ain’t never reading none o’ that filthy crap you’re thinking of! Those that do should be ashamed!”

Sad but true, ladies and gentlemen (or, as the government would believe, since this is a comics audience: boys and girls): this is the average voter. This is the opposing mindset and the root of all our government woes. The government is not a sentient, spiteful entity that has it in for comic books; it is made up of ignorant people that, as their job dictates, simply do to the best of their ability that which they believe their constituents want them to do. The reason the Comics Code was amended and relaxed over time was not because the government decided to stop picking on comics, but because the morals and beliefs of the public have morphed and evolved as time goes on. In order to continue to allow this evolution, we, the readers, must take it upon ourselves to educate the public about what a “comic book” really is. Loan a coworker a copy of Watchmen, bring a comic to read at work or school, or actually talk to people who may want to know what’s inside the covers (and maybe to those who don’t)!

Basically, what we need to do is stop perpetuating the notion that comics are for kids and immature adults. STOP BEING SO DAMN ASHAMED TO BE A COMICS FAN! You’d be surprised how open-minded people can be if YOU are forthcoming and honest about what you enjoy. Normally I don’t talk about my personal life, but I’ll be the first to tell you that, despite being surrounded by people who don’t read comics, I have no problem bringing an issue of Green Lantern with me to the University for some casual reading during lunch. I’m not known as “the comics guy;” it’s just accepted that, rather than ballroom dancing or binge-drinking, one of my hobbies is comic books. If you have a problem convincing people of the actual creative merit of comics, all you need to do is point to such luminaries as Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Marv Wolfman, Alex Ross, Jim Lee, Michael Turner, Stan Lee, and dozens others! In many cases, people will not only be accepting, but even interested in the hobby that you find so enjoyable! If we can communicate to others around us in a mature, thoughtful way (warning: do NOT emulate my writing voice when doing so!), perhaps the public will eventually come to accept the medium for what it is, and not assume it’s just a “kid thing.” Then, when the public understands, so too will the people it elects in the government, and we’ll have no more of this bullsh**.

…Then again, I could be dead wrong about all of this. Perhaps the government’s poor treatment of the comics industry stems from some stupid little thing. Just imagine what could happen if…

…on a breezy day in April, 2001, George W. Bush greets his chief Afghanistan CIA operative, who hands over a sealed package. Once safe in the Oval Office, the President empties the package of its contents: the latest issues of the wildly popular Al-Qaeda Man and Jihad Justice League. He sheepishly attempts to piece together the politically-charged, anti-American story based on the pictures alone, since he can’t read Farsi (see, that’s called restraint, kids! I didn’t make a single joke about his inability to comprehend English! Oh, shoot…).

…fast-forward six months. Scrambling for justification to go to war, “Dubya” remembers a particularly prophetic April issue of JJL, in which an advertisement for “adventurous young martyrs” with “flying experience” was placed.

“Had it not been for these damn funny-books, we would still have the Twin Towers! Bombs awaaaaayyyyyy!”

Face it; it could have happened (the scary part is, I’m not wrong)…

Well, this concludes the titanic struggle of Tactless V. America. Hopefully, some of you (not all; there are winners and losers here!) have come away from this ordeal with a better understanding of what you can do to stem the tide of government ambivalence towards comic books. At the very least, I hope that you can walk away with a deeper confidence in your enjoyment of comics, and perhaps even a desire to educate those around you (wow, I sound like a cult leader now, don’t I?). I realize that this has been longer than normal, so I’ll be brief (but poignant!) in my latest issuance of the Tactless Book Of the Week Award!

This week, the award goes to… DC Comics’s Teen Titans Annual #1. Naturally, BEWARE THE SPOILERS!

You know, with all the books coming out from other publishers this week, I was hoping that DC would take a break, but this title is more deserving of the award than any other so far! First off, the book was late, and resulted in some convoluted continuity questions (such as, while reading last week’s Teen Titans #33: “Wait, who had sex?!?”). Secondly, there’s the content of the book that raises some eyebrows. Sex in comics? Been there. Teen angst? Done that. Members of the Superman and Wonder Woman families mixing it up in some pre-pubescent, that’s-gotta-be-statutory shenanigans? Hoo, boy. This little tryst seemed a little hurried and random to me (“The world is ending! You lost your powers, I almost got killed! Let’s have sex!”), but at least the Kents know what’s going on up in the barn. Guess who has to clean that up?

Well, that’s all for this week, folks! I think I need a nice long bath right now… So, in the meantime, be sure to stock up on those JJL back-issues, and be sure to tune in next week for the next installment of Tact is for the Weak! I promise, no more multi-part sagas for a while! And, as always, make mine Tactless!

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