Social Issues in Comics

edited March 2014 in The Toolbox
Today I start an online class about Social Issues in Comics. It is a six month long class with modules that include topics such as addiction, environment, social inequality, immigration, and government. The reading list include such titles as: Batman Venom, Swamp Thing Rot world, The Massive, Nightly News, Transmetropolitan and much more. Also there are many articles, videos, and interviews included in this class. You can read more about the class on this website:
The teacher Christina Blanch last year taught a class on gender through comics which i found to be very educational and fun. It was well put together and this one seem even more promising with even more content then the last one.
I was wondering what are your opinions regarding social issues in comics? What are some your favorite series or story arches that involve social issues? Also do you thing that some comics can get too preachy or over exaggerate on certain subjects? How the other way around with not enough representation or misunderstanding of a certain subject?   


  • I think a big social issue being addressed in comics right now is diversity. With Marvel changing the race of certain characters in the movies (causing the fan boys to freak out), or DC changing certain established character's sexual orientation, there seems to be this rush to branch out beyond the middle class white character that makes up the bulk of superhero comics. 

    Some of the notable diversity changes I've read lately include: 
    • Ms Marvel is now Indian
    • Spider-Man in the Ultimates Universe is now Hispanic / Black
    • Human Torch is black in the new FF movie
    • Nick Fury is played by Samuel L Jackson in the Avengers flicks (because of the likeness use in the Ultimates comics), and it's been so popular they have introduced a character like him in the regular Marvel U (but he's like Nick Fury's god son or something?)
    • Green Lantern is now gay
    • DC wouldn't let Batwoman (an openly gay character) get married

  • I'm all for comics addressing social issues, so long as that doesn't become too much of a burden on the story. Denny O'Neill and Neal Adams famously tackled the social issues of the day in Green Lantern/Green Arrow, but that aspect of the books quickly overwhelmed the rest of the narrative. As a result, those books didn't age well, and now seem kind of heavy-handed in their execution (although they sure are pretty to look at). 

    Some of my favorites: DMZ, Transmetropolitan, Enigma, We3, Animal Man (Morrison's run, in particular).
  • Of course there's the Australian government's controversial recent comic, which was created to discourage asylum seekers from coming here.

    All the money those arseholes spent on this and they couldn't even hire a decent colourist...

  • Graphic novels and autobio would seem to be where social issues can be found, and often not in a preachy way. But Persepolis, Fun Home, Blue is the Warmest Color just of the top of my head deal with social issues simply by virtue of not being genre comics as such. Maus.
  • While in grade school I remember being given a Spider-man comic during drug awareness month in which he fought a cigarette inspired villain called Smoke Screen. Also I've read the cringe worthy Captain America: War on Drugs. In both cases I feel they attempt to dumb down the issue of drug addiction to be better understood by children, but I feel that it was unnecessary. When it comes to conveying the seriousness of a certain social issue if you dumb it down you're not taking it seriously and come off as a joke. One the other hand if the writer is too heavy handed with their message they can come off as lecturing the reader and cause the read to lose interest.

    Personally I find Alan Moore's comics to be preachy, but I like V for Vendetta. Some of my favorites to read are Black Hole, Transmetropolitan, Lazarus, and Ex Machina. For the class I looking forward to reading March, Nightly News, and The Movement.
  • Interesting that you find "Moore" to be preachy -- I'd never say that, myself.

    To me, 'preachy' isn't about having an agenda. As a writer, you're always going to have an agenda. It's about not sacrificing the integrity of the story, and the characters, in the name of that agenda.

    Characters believe things, fiercely. Conflict exists often because of differing ideology or belief. That's the nature of drama. These things are going to come up.

    But making them natural, making them important parts of the character and the plot, I think that's the way you make it palatable. I also believe that Moore (and Morrison, and Gaiman) generally writes his work with enough layers that it can be enjoyed without plugging into - or even understanding - the subtext. I don't think I understood "Watchmen" when I read it, age 8. Certainly not all of it, not the intense critique of US policy and the superhero genre and the hundred other 'messages' embedded in the text. It worked.

    Meanwhile, when Judd Winick dedicated a story arc of Green Lantern to gay bashing -- maybe it was important, but it was also awkward, an ill fit. It failed, from a storytelling perspective, even if the message was a good one.

    Do things well, make sure your craft is rock solid, and I think you can get away with almost anything.
  • heh, well Green Lantern does have a history of awkward preaching, however well intended, going back to the GL Green Arrow team up in the early 70s. They don't age well, but they get remembered. Having Neal Adams on the art didn't hurt.
  • Indeed, those were heavy handed in the extreme.
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