Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Secularity of Comic Book Readers

In a thread about Virgin Comics' demise at Willow Wilson's SA board, Sridhar Reddy said,
I had my own experience with Virgin Comics, having worked with them for a year. While I had my own issues with the company and management (which led to my eventual departure) I can't fault them for their enthusiasm and willingness to add diversity to the comic book landscape.

But I found a major problem in that they weren't pushing ethnic diversity, they were pushing religious diversity, as the majority of their Indian books were rooted in Hindu mythology, which is by default Hindu religion. They never pushed Hinduism as an agenda, but whether they understood it or not, they were pushing religion. This dooms them immediately to a niche market, and they were spending big-budget money on niche material. If they wanted the mainstream to embrace Hindu religion (which Deepak Chopra was successful with), then the comic book market was an unwise place to do this, as comic book readers' perception of mythology is on a far different plane.

In my experience, comic book readers are probably the most secular readers you will find, because they embrace mythology from the standpoint of legend, character and symbolism, and not religious discovery. Neil Gaiman successfully utilizes myth, ethnicity and religion because he places them in the context of an original (and compelling) story, and doesn't use his characters to simply re-tell a myth, which I feel is what Virgin did.
I don't know if Virgin intended for any kind of Hindu conversion in the Western audience -- I suspect not -- but I think Reddy makes a good point about comic book readers being a more secular group than the norm. Perhaps that's why I chafe when specific religious dogma is thrust into superhero comics. I can appreciate it when it's used well, as in Daredevil: Born Again, but when Rocky from the Challengers of the Unknown becomes a makeshift priest, it all seems forced and absurd.

Comic book characters are mythic already, and having them practice religious rituals from our culture is as silly as expecting Ares to take the Eucharist.


Kris Krause said...

I tend to agree with you that a specific real world religious dogma should be left out of comics, which is why I commented some time ago on your entry about Satan being Morrison's Black Glove that such a move would be below Morrison. Though when I recently re-read his run, I found too many references to Satan to really rule him out.

And Virgin did have a lot of comics based on Hinduism and Buddhism that I saw on the rack, but I never picked up any Virgin Comics. I always thought that it sounded like a good idea, since most Westerners are unfamiliar with those mythologies and it would be a breath of fresh air from the familiar Judeo-Christian-Islamic, Greek, and Norse mythologies typically used, but I guess they didn't go about using the Eastern stories in the right way.

andy khouri said...

I think this only works if one stipulates that the niche comics market is composed mainly of even slightly religious people, which I don't think is true.

No, it seems to me the Hindu-based books Virgin was pushing were probably more helpful than the scammerific celebrity-licensed, movie-pitch comics that seemed to dominate the line. That niche market may or may not be resistant to Hinduism -- I don't think so, necessarily -- but that niche market definitely knows bullshit when they see it. It was those books that did the publisher in.

RAB said...

Seconding what Andy says. Quoting myself from another venue, Virgin pretty much announced to the comics world "Step aside, peasants -- with our deep pockets, Hollywood marquee names, and vertical market cross-promotional skills, we'll show you how to do comics!" But the publishing world (comics or otherwise) is littered with failed companies who thought it would be easy money. Wealthy dilettantes will fold the soonest.

Kris is also right. I looked at those India Authentic books -- what killed them wasn't religious content but the dull execution as exemplified by Deepak Chopra's crushingly earnest and condescending tone in his introductions. "Now sit here and read this because it will be morally uplifting for you." I personally find Chopra's whole approach cloying and insipid; it galls me that an inventive and far more imaginative thinker like Grant Morrison hitches his wagon to this guy for the sake of money and publicity.

marcwrz said...

Wasn't Morrison supposed to be writing a whole series of books for Virgin?

Kris Krause said...

He was supposed to write an online animated series based on The Mahābhārata, a piece of Hindu mythology.