what's extreme is people like you not realizing that sometimes diversity can go too far. When characters are made black or disabled or gay for no reason it hurts the story and it hurts the cause of the people who are supposedly being represented.
I like how you sent me an ask claiming that no one says a thing except people rhetorically making fun of the position that no one actually holds, and then you send me an ask clarifying that you hold exactly the same position.
I’m kind tempted to just not address anything else you said and just marvel in the perfection of that.
What’s the reason for making a character white? What’s the reason for making a character straight? What’s the reason for making a character abled or neurotypical or cis?
When you assume that making a character Other relative to yourself weakens the narrative, you’re revealing a terrible thing about yourself: that you can’t imagine that those people have backstories and inner lives the way that you do.
Every single person in a fictional narrative is ultimately there because a writer decided they needed to be there, but when the person looks like you and matches your expectations, you accept that this person who was made up for the plot had a life full of events that led them to the point where they’re appearing on the screen or page.
But when your expectations aren’t met, you start saying it’s forced. You can’t accept that events led them here because you don’t grant them the kind of life that you know you have. Your empathy does not extend to them.
Look at how many white people think they can relate to a little girl in an industrial orphanage who falls in with a capitalist robber baron during the Great Depression more than they can relate to a little girl in the foster system in modern New York who falls in with a career politician, all because of a difference of race. The original Annie’s situation and world were only slightly less alien to us than the Victorian period, but making her white somehow makes her relatable in a way that a little girl who clearly exists in our world isn’t.
The fact is, empathy is linked to imagination and we can (and do!) relate to people who are literally alien beings in literally alien worlds. The choice not to relate to Quvenzhané Wallis as Annie—or a Black or gay or female or trans video game character—is a choice to shut off both imagination and empathy.
The failing is not with the narrative, it’s with you.
Dark Science #30 was meant to go up today, but my weekend was dominated by rushing my dog to the animal hospital because he was somehow poisoned, then subsequently making sure he didn’t die afterward when they couldn’t sort out the cause.
"Why Batman Can’t Be Black"- a great article dismantling many of the arguments people make against increasing diversity in superhero casting. I highly recommend reading it! Here’s an excerpt.
“But why do you have to force racial diversity on readers by changing an established hero’s race? Why can’t you just create a new character, and let them be their own thing?”
I don’t think efforts to create new heroes for readers should be minimized. They absolutely should be encouraged and championed. But I also think this question is slightly disingenuous. Because most readers know new heroes usually don’t gain much traction; new minority heroes even less. For a genre of fiction so chained to the past, introducing spandexed strongmen without any real legacy is a handicap. Unless your character is part of an existing crossover event, or is sidekicking for an already established superhero, any hypothetical Black Superguy or Black Batdude probably isn’t going to stick. So the question is really just a disguised statement:
“Look, just create a completely separate black superhero, and put them in their own book, because that way I can easily ignore them. You make Bruce Wayne black, now I have to pay attention to his black ass and I really don’t like that idea.”
When I did my Zelda pitch that cast her as the hero, I got a couple of “why don’t you make your own game” arguments. While it seems reasonable on the surface, it’s actually a coded way silence the person and not have to actually deal with non-white-dude protagonists. It’s another way of saying “if you make your own thing, I never have to see it again. Go away.” We can create new things and reinvent existing things, they’re not mutually exclusive, and both are beneficial.
These are fictional characters, and in most of these cases, they’re characters and settings that have been reinvented tons of times. In all the infinite possibilities of fantasy worlds, are we really going to draw the line at black hobbits, female Dr. Strange, or a Zelda game that actually stars Zelda?
I’ve never had my geek cred questioned. No one asks me if I “actually read this stuff” as I work behind the counter of my LCS. When I say how much I enjoy a book like Ms. Marvel or Wonder Woman, people take me on my word. When I check out a store in another…
Excellent dismantling of fandom hierarchies and the inane “fake geek girl” phenomenon.
This hasn’t happened to me for a while, so I can complain about it without feeling bad about calling someone out!
If you love something online, sending the creator of that thing a nice note is an awesome way to let them know. It makes our day! But when you’re doing this, please please please don’t say “I love your comic, it’s so much better than [some other comic], I honestly can’t stand that thing!”
A lot of us are friends, so that’s a crappy thing to read! And even if we’re not, even if it’s a complete stranger, hearing “you’re better than this guy who sucks” isn’t the greatest compliment in the world. When I get messages like this I hesitate to even write back, because I feel like by even accepting the compliment I’m also endorsing the criticism of someone else!
Instead of “I love your [x], it’s better than [y that sucks now or perhaps has always sucked]”, I recommend "I love your [x], it’s had [y impact on my life, in any way great or small, and I wanted to say thanks]."
END OF SOCIAL CRITICISM, THANKS Y’ALL
Good advice from my pal Ryan North (who is obviously my inferior. Obviously).
As promised, I’ve gone and compiled a short list of common questions of what exactly this project is all about!
It’s a side project I do in my free time to create a painted illustration to accompany every chapter in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Silmarillion, as well as provide supplementary illustrations to round out the characters and world in general. My motivation is to create a Middle-Earth visually unique from the style of the Peter Jackson films. I like the movies, but I miss the days when there was more diversity and interpretation to Tolkien illustrations.
A second motivation is to provide a greater representation of women and people of color in the narratives. While Tolkien made more than a few missteps regarding race and gender, the “everyone is white” trend in adaptations is a symptom of other people ignoring what’s in the texts. Additionally, all of Tolkien’s writings are presented as if they’re written from a limited and flawed historical perspective (LoTR and The Hobbit were “written” by Hobbits, etc). The position of my adaptation is to present what “actually” happened- the events upon which the flawed or biased history is based. Just like with real historians, the presence of women and people of color, and their achievements, are frequently ignored.
I’m never going to contradict what’s written, but I’m definitely going to use all of the tools at my disposal to emphasize the importance of those who don’t always get their rightful share of historical credit.
This is completely unrelated to Dresden Codak, but regarding an ask about Tolkien to Gingerhaze you called Aragorn and the Dúnedain "Middle Eastern". Is this based on how Aragorn is described as "dark", or on something else? I've never really considered the skin colours of the people of Arda so I'm really curious.
In his letters and also in Lost Tales/Unfinished Tales/Etc., Tolkien connects the crown of Numenor historically with the crown of Egypt. This was inspired by Plato’s idea that Egypt, etc. were founded as colonies of Atlantis. (This is likely why the Numenorean language has semitic roots). Tolkien explicitly made Numenor his version of Atlantis, and it’s no coincidence that the kingdom of Gondor roughly corresponds geographically with a Mediterranean/North African colony. Given the thousands of years involved, Gondor had to have been multiracial by the time of Lord of the Rings, but Aragorn, being of a direct line of Numenoreans and all but explicitly stated to be the ancestor of Egyptian royalty, would be what we would call Middle Eastern.
What’s fun is if we go further back, even the Numenoreans are multiracial in origin, comprising at least three distinct races of human (the Edain), none of whom were intended to directly correlate with or represent Anglo-Saxons or other groups of people historically associated with Northern Europe. Their adventures took place on a continent that sank and has no geographic analogue in the real world (in fact, they all originated somewhere “far East” just a few centuries prior). And, like I said before, they are collectively meant to be the ancestors of what would become essentially Egyptians and, possibly, all Middle Easterners. It’s actually one of the very few times where we can connect an ethnic group in the real world to one of Tolkien’s fictional groups of people. In general, the different races of people are kind of random, and rarely stand-ins for or ancestors of historical groups of people. Their physical and cultural descriptions rarely correspond with any real-world geography and racial groups.
Tolkien had some racist issues to be sure (his depiction of what might be black people is, at best, dismissive), but it’s a lot more complicated that what’s often assumed. To associate him with Wagner-esque Aryan wankery is way off the mark, when he openly derided that philosophy more than once (including when he told off some Nazis). The fact of the matter is, the cultures and races in the books rarely line up with anything in the real world. And when they sort of do, it’s not what people often think. What he called “Easterlings,” for example, would have corresponded with Slavic people, if anything, not East Asian people (who would be on a different continent, if you tried to make the maps line up with the real world). In any case, it’s dangerous to make those assumptions, as we’re talking about tens of thousands of years of human migration in between “when” Tolkien’s history occurred and “when” real human history started. Also, the geography and even continents are pretty different. Looking at the maps and trying to point out what each race/culture is “supposed to be” isn’t going to bear much fruit.
Was Tolkien racist about some things? Absolutely, but he also deliberately left a LOT to the imagination, because he knew better than to spell it out. At the end of the day, it’s mythology, and that’s open to interpretation.
We DO need criticism of female characters but we also need support
And you can’t give real criticism if you’re blinded by your biases, if a character trait you’d love on a male character is a dealbreaker for a female one
If a character is never JUST a love interest or JUST there for sex appeal…
Can’t support things when there’s nothing there worth supporting. Pretending oppression doesn’t exist doesn’t make it vanish. Pretending something is “okay” or “progress” when it’s not doesn’t make it okay. That is why we are where we are today—people apologizing away the fact that women are treated as props for male characters and objects of consumption for male consumers.
Side note: I love that at this point critical evaluation, subject and referring to decades of rigorously debated theoretical construction, counts as ‘bias’. “Your ignorance is not equal to my expertise,” and all that.
You REALLY think that there’s NOTHING to support? About ANY of these characters?
What makes a character “okay” then? Do they have to be written by women (two out of three of the writers on The Hobbit are female), never fall in love with or interact with men (Mako Mori must be JUST a love interest), be always strong and empowered, have none of their body shape visible (JUST a pair of tits), be good (because clearly her character must represent all women everywhere) but not TOO good (Mary Sue!!)
We all were born into a society that hates women. It would be ridiculous to think that that doesn’t affect women and their thoughts/actions too. It’s called internalized misogyny, and that’s what I’m referring to as “bias.”
This is a good post about the biases we can still carry, even when we think we’re being objective in our criticism. There are a host of double-standards female characters are subjected to, and they won’t go away if we never allow them to break into mass media.
It helps to play the gender-swap game to test your biases. If all of the genders were reversed in the film/book/etc, would you be voicing the same complaints in the same way?
If you're still taking questions, a couple for you. Your art style and composition have changed dramatically over the years, so what I want to know is: what changes and improvements are you satisfied with/proud of, and what things are you still aiming to change and improve on? Secondly: how much research and fact-checking goes into the actual science of your stories, how much of it is artistic license, and what currently theoretical science do you think might become reality in the near future?
I’d say I’m proud of teaching myself to paint and handle lighting and color theory. My figure drawing’s also gotten a lot better. That said, I still need work when it comes to general page composition, as well as general speed and efficiency when it comes to putting out work.
As for researching, I did a lot when it came to Hob, and some of the one-shots like The Sleepwalkers required a great deal of technical research. For Dark Science, there’s not much speculative science, so most of the research has been design-driven. I have a big archive of art deco and vintage world’s fair photos, as well as a good number of propaganda posters (mostly from Britain) dating from about 1920 to 1945.
Loving the little details in the most recent comic, like Alisa still cowering behind the booth and then climbing to safety, but the expressiveness you achieved with Father Abaddon is simply incredible. I didn't really notice it the first time he appeared, but he seems strangely familiar now, like I've seen someone similar before. Is he based on someone specific?
Thanks! Father Abaddon’s appearance is loosely based on Boris Karloff
Thanks for your questions! Here are some of the ones I’m able to competently answer:
I think Brazil is leagues better than 1984 (with Orwell, I’m more of an Animal Farm guy). The “enemy” in Brazil is invincible in its facelessness. It’s much more haunting because it mirrors real life, where incompetency and complacency are far more dominant than conspiracies. The more obvious influence for Dark Science is Metropolis, but my take on the bureaucracy is much closer in tone to the infinite mess in Brazil.