“Deconstructing the Clubhouse” by Brandon Schatz and Danica LeBlanc

**In the last episode of Modern Manhood, we talked to Brandon about why there is a gate keeping attitude within the comic industry. Little did I know that Brandon has talked about this before and at length, and because I think a lot of people might want to hear the full story, I asked if we could reproduce this piece here on the webiste. So this is Reproduced with permission from Danica and Brandon*

When we decided to start Variant Edition, we were very mindful about how owners of small businesses often curate the experience of being in the store – especially in a store’s infancy. When it comes to places that cater to perceived niche markets, that curation can often become intentionally (or unintentionally) exclusionary, with the culture edging towards the strict confines of audiences such as they’ve existed for years. This quickly becomes problematic when you’re attempting to work within an industry that was formed with a largely white male audience in mind.

When dealing with entertainment media in general, the content has always skewed heavily male – and lately, there’s (finally) been some pushback against this culture. People are starting to question why there’s a need to quantify the difference between the concepts of “comics” and “comics for women” – and they’re following that line of questioning to a natural conclusion: why that qualification effectively “others” an entire gender.

This isn’t anything that’s limited to gender either. The late, great Dwayne McDuffie famously spoke of a “Rule of Three” – which plied to comic industry’s quickness to label a comic as “black” if there were more than three black characters on a team, or in the story. McDuffie noted that this wasn’t always a malicious label, but one that people ascribed to books without much thought. The majority of the book’s cast could still be white, but for the larger public, it would be something different, something other. The same occurs with books or movies with largely female casts, or forms of media that feature anyone other than a white male as the lead. Suddenly, it’s not a comic, it’s something outside of an actively accepted norm.

This “othering” can get a lot harsher within the comic book industry because of the way it has evolved. When the medium first formed, it was found everywhere – the funny pages in newspapers, on newsstands, easily accessible for the masses. For a time, this public accessibility made for an environment where there were comics for absolutely everyone – although given the prejudices of the time, comics for women were largely about teen feelings, romance, or domestic life – and comics for non-white people were fairly ghettoized altogether. As the industry evolved over the years, various content restrictions and societal pressures whittled the core audience into a niche. When fears that adult comics would make their way into the hands of children caused a crackdown on content, the entire medium took on the roll of a childish sibling to that of television, books and movies. It’s a connotation that remains today, and has often been applied to those who would read comics – a childish medium for childish people.

Much of this started to change with the emergence of specialty comic shops and the direct market in the 70s and 80s. Despite the childish connotations, groups of people (rightfully) found entertainment within the pages of comics that bloomed far into adulthood. With disposable income in hand, many sought to collect comics, and the industry adapted to this audience, first building spaces for them to find products, and then building products to suit this more adult audience. For the comic industry, this was both a boon, and a curse. While it did offer the medium a lucrative stream of money in the face of the rising costs of production, it was also the moment that literal walls were put in place. A core audience entrenched themselves inside the walls of comic stores. Outside, they were ridiculed for enjoying a childish medium. Inside, they were accepted.

The danger in this should be very clear – when society attempts to other a specific group, the reaction is often (and rightfully) fierce. If you read comics past a certain age, or spent a second too long indulging in the medium, you weren’t perceived as normal. When this happens, supports are formed as coping mechanisms. In this case, comic shops started to take the form of clubhouses, and those within started to become the arbiters. This naturally collided with the patriarchal structure of the medium. The overwhelmingly white male lead series begot an overwhelmingly white male audience who identified with the characters. Attempts to push out of this realm were either largely tone-deaf, or designed to also appeal to the already existing base. This would lead to product that didn’t seem to connect with the audience, the core rejecting something they didn’t connect with, and anyone outside the core lacking the content or the means to connect. This would in turn lead comic publishers to focus on the existing audience with their product line, which would lead to the further entrenching of this specific audience.

Of course, since the formation of the direct market, things changed again. The digital age once again brought about wider access to the medium through web comics and digital copies. With the structure in place to work around walled off comic shops, you now find an increased focus on reaching the audiences who were excluded from the old clubhouse structure. With the means to reach a wider audience in place, projects that appeal to the audience outside of the old structure have started to get traction, and the medium has been reacting to that – though not without severe growing pains.

Having spent years talking about how the medium needs more respect, the existing clubhouse structure is bristling at the ways in which that respect is being earned. As more diverse characters are introduced to the fictional landscape, the core is clawing at what was once only theirs. Some of the uglier bits of this community have gone so far to ply the terms “feminizing” and “blackwashing”, illustrating clearly how out of depth they are in dealing with othering. While women and people of different races or sexual orientations have been treated as others in ways that more often than not affect their basic human rights, white males have had very little experience with not always having what they have been basically given – and the reaction can often be childish.

That’s not to say that the entire core audience is like this – for the most part, most individuals are open to listen and grow and change, while a select few bristle and dig in their heels while making a lot of noise. It’s not so much about the individual, but the built structure as a whole. While open to change, many people are afraid of it, and when dealing with a structure that’s supporting an entire medium, change can be slow moving or stagnant. It’s easy to see where we need to be, but there will always be those who stop and wonder if everything might fall apart trying to get there. Fear takes over, and the gears gum up. People start yelling their opinions about what direction to go, or whether things need to be going in any direction at all. That’s always going to be the case – but as always, there’s things that can be done by individuals that can help.

Almost everyone wants people to like the things that they do. It’s part of the human condition. We like comics. When we find other people who enjoy comics, that makes us happy. We can talk with them and connect. When othering occurs during this process of connection – when it becomes an “us vs. them” thing – that’s when everything breaks down. Pointing fingers and digging trenches does nothing to further a cause. Nobody has been swayed to the other side of an argument when their opinions or feelings aren’t at least treated with a modicum of respect.

Working on the business has provided us with a deeper understanding of this point. While we always believed that comics can and should be for everyone, it became swiftly apparent that action was needed, in addition to words. With the structure still taking baby steps outwards to accommodate a larger audience, it doesn’t serve to be complacent. Ordering can’t occur without thought. When we go through the order book, and when we put together events, we try to do so mindful of what those orders and events say. For example, if there’s a company that produces books that almost exclusively feature women contorted into nightmarish “sexy” poses, there’s a high chance we will not be hand selling those comics. We will order them for anyone who wishes to read them, because we respect everyone’s right to their own opinion and taste, but actively stocking those books on the shelf or talking customers into buying those books enforces old, outdated structures.

In being mindful of the product that we offer, and the way in which we offer it, we’re hoping to do our part in getting this medium into the hands of as many people as possible. It can be done without shaming, and should be done without shaming. Your taste is as valid as someone else’s, and that simple statement of fact and purpose allows for mediums and stories you love and enjoy to be experienced by more and more people without unconsciously building walls and limitations – and while there will always be those who will kick and fight and froth for their right to keep their precious things to themselves, they will inevitably be left behind, stuck to the ground while the structure, slow moving as it can be, leaves them behind.

by Brandon Schatz and Danica LeBlanc

The Amateaur Podcast Championships

I have been fortunate enough to enter The Monkeys Fighting Robots’ Amateur Podcast Championships. Monkeys Fighting Robots is a pop culture and all things nerdy media page which holds a global Podcast Championship every year for underrated, self-produced, under appreciated podcasts. And hope to get them a little more exposure. The winner gets a 250 dollar gift card, but more importantly exposure on MFR’s page as the winner.

Hopefully, this will allow more men from all places to check out MMP and maybe be guests of the show, who knows? Want to help me out? Click on this LINK and vote for The Modern Manhood Podcast

 

Good news day! Northern Content Network and Night Vision

Lately, we have gotten a little bit of fortune here at MMP that I wanted to share with you.

First thing, I really wanted to have awesome music for the podcast, but because of rights agreements with artists or whatever, I could only pick from songs that had were free under Creative Commons. Not only that, they were not really connected to anything, they were just cool tunes. But because one of the themes of MMP is connection and community, I reached out to the awesome folks over at Night Vision Music Academy here in Edmonton to see if they would allow me to use their tunes for the show. They loved the show and graciously agreed, so I’m proud to say that all the music is by Night Vision. The cool things is that they provide training for aspiring producers and DJ’s so you can also make awesome tunes like they do. Check out their classes and connect with really awesome dudes.

Secondly, one of the better Canadian podcast networks has added me to their lineup. The Northern Content Network is home to great award winning podcasts like 30Minuteweek, The 4Th Line, What It Is (Taylor Chadwick‘s pod), The Movie Jerks, Cups n Cakes, etc etc etc. These are all great, great, great news in regards to visibility and most importantly CONNECTION.

We can all use a little more connections these days, right?

#MenLetsTalk

Tomorrow there will be a new episode of MMP, with none other than slam poet turned City Counselor, Jeremy Loveday. We’re going to talk all things masculinity, but it starts with this powerful emotional and important piece of art. I hope you enjoy, and I hope you pay attention tomorrow when I will drop the new episode.

How do I create a brotherhood?

**This article is also posted on The Good Men Project. You can find it here**

Late in my twenties, I had a crisis of identity. One that revolved less around who I was, and more around who I was hanging out with. More specifically, it revolved around the question, “If I were to get married today, who would be my groomsmen?” Even though I have seen other wedding parties that threw gender narratives out the window, there was a strong inclination in my head that these people needed to be male. I started thinking about the criteria these men would have: intelligent, mature, loyal, funny, relaxed, and what I came later to understand as vulnerable (at that time, I just called it “chill”).

I looked at the males around me, and none of them fit the bill.

The funny thing was that these ideas of a male group dynamic came before I started any research or any work in the human services. This was an innate feeling, one that came naturally and strongly. Now, please don’t mistake this as a form of hegemonic masculinity, claiming that all men need this or want this. Masculinity is fluid, intersectional, and different for all males. I can’t also be certain that these intense feelings I had were a result of watching movies like Fight Club or The Sandlot. But the feeling was there, that there was something I missed and something I craved. This want of a brotherhood.

I believe if you talk to a lot of men, they will identify a theme revolving around true, real, male friendships. In fact, it’s one of the most common themes in the males I have spoken to in the podcast. Many of them have talked about their own personal relationships with friends they have gone into business with (Mike Payne), friends that were their best men (Spencer Clarke), or finding a lack of friendship when they became a dad (Chris Corley). Not only that, it is a researched fact that an abundance of male friendships has been shown to increase our mental health, and a lack decreases it. Not with friends that were just hang out friends. The friends had to be people you could open up to. This want of brotherhood seems to be internal and almost necessary to achieve your full potential as a man.

The males that I identified who had a strong male cohort had the advantage that they either grew up with these guys or found them by other means (eg. Boy Scouts, band camp, sports, etc.). In other words, forms of intention create brotherhoods, specifically in groups we engage with as young boys. These brotherhoods have similar features:

  • Males engaged in shared, goal orientated activities
  • Presence of a mentor or mentors (regardless of gender)
  • Initiation, or point of entry
  • Codes of conduct/honor

Now, keep in mind that the same features found in healthy brotherhoods can be found in things like drug gangs or other unhealthy gatherings (the Klu Klux Klan, for instance). Not only that, if you miss out on these forms of brotherhood when you are younger (either from lack of access, finances, or even want), it is much harder to engage in them when you’re an adult. More barriers appear when you step out of organized social places, like school or college, places where connection is made easier and like minded groups appear without much trying.

As for me, when I was in college or university I didn’t try hard to be a part of a like-minded group. I had my friends, I had my girlfriend, and I thought I was set. However, my social situation changed when my girlfriend and I broke up. I felt like I had lost important friends, and my only avenue for connection was the people at my work – the aforementioned males that didn’t fit the bill.

Brotherhood can come in a lot of shapes and sizes, but the way you come upon that brotherhood is the most important.

Brotherhood can come in a lot of shapes and sizes, but the way you come upon that brotherhood is the most important. The first step is to find out more about yourself:

  • What are your interests? Are they flexible? Are you learning them, or are you an expert?
  • What are your points of entry for friendship? Is going for a coffee or a beer something that you like? Or do you want your friendships to be active?
  • What are your non-negotiables, the ideas, the values that you have that will not be bent or broken? Basically, what are your boundaries?

The next step is the hardest: get yourself out there. Look at websites or places where people hang out and see what’s happening in your area. Is there a Meet Up for something you’re loving? Is there a book club? Is there a sports league? Video game tournament?

If there isn’t one in your area or town, why not start one yourself? Invite five of the males you want to commit more time to and ask them all to do something unique, active and engaging. For example, ask them to go for a hike. Ask them to go camping or on a canoe trip. Ask them to play in a mini soccer tournament, or go for a bike ride. Start a book club, or a movie club. Commit to it, and ask others to commit as well. One person can decide the activity and everyone else can be on board, then the next month another person can decide. Be committed and be intentional, with the goal to have fun and connect.

The goal here is entry into friendship, because brotherhood doesn’t just come from shared interests. It comes from a state of comfort and a feeling of being valued by a person or people. Real connections are made when we shed the identity that people say we have, and embrace the identity that we have within ourselves. Not only that, but also by embracing the identities that other males share with you, however flawed they may be. Real connections are made in the moments between what you’re supposed to be doing, not in the activity itself.

Seen and Heard Edmonton Interview

I was super proud and happy to be interviewed by Karen Unland of Seen and Heard Edmonton. She’s a wonderful promoter of all media types in Edmonton, and a lover of all local things. Promoting this passion project of mine was super encouraging and I’m happy to do it for you.

Take a listen to the interview below:

Episode 47: German Villegas

Also check out the recommendations of the podcasts and blogs that I mentioned on the episode:

If you want to donate or help out The Modern Manhood Podcast, please check out my go fund me page at http://www.gofundme.com/modernmanpod

The Barrier of Men as Allies

**This article also ran in The Good Men Project, which you can find here**

“Paradoxically, those most likely to be shamed by this kind of Feminism were not the boorish, violent and openly prejudiced members of society; but rather many more mild-tempered characters who were very keen not to offend, and yet could see that some of their impulses might, if admitted to freely, cause sudden unwitting offense to the people whose friendships and respect they sought.”

On my last post I promised that I would talk about concepts and strategy instead of rhetoric and sensationalism. This is my attempt to fulfill that promise, because what the quote above me explains is the trap that most men fall into.

I found the clearest explanation through the Book of Life’s article  Beyond Feminism (where all the quotes come from). A lot of men, as allies, as friends, and as lovers of women want to embrace the call of Feminism and empower the females in our lives. Yet when we do, the many theories, and think pieces lay the blame squarely at our feet.

The first time this blame shift happens, as an allied male it can feel a bit annoying and a little patronizing. Maybe you think about it for a bit in a little bubble of grief, or you want to speak out with sentences that begin with “But…” or “What if…” The rationale being that  you want to help, you’re not the one oppressing women. Not only that, you want to empathize with women’s struggles with our pain, forgetting that we have never really felt a women’s true pain. So women tell you this when you bring up male related issues, and in many cases you feel silenced. This can feel infuriating.  Now if you don’t follow the next few steps, this might get a lot harder for you, and maybe you’ll fall into the clutches of Men Rights Activist groups which in my eyes fall in the same spectrum as the All Lives Matter people. The me-first ideals that is reactionary to social movement.

(Remember, no one started All Lives Matter before Black Lives Matter. No one started MRA groups before modern feminism came along. This is all reactionary and amoral).

The barrier becomes, how do we separate our feelings of guilt, blame, and selfishness to help the women that are around us? How do we remove that part inside of you taking it personal, and be an energy of positivity? How do we stop this anger brewing at the people that are blaming you? You, of all people who want to help.

The first step is to be thankful.

The work that wonderful women and the people who support them have done since the 60’s and even before that has given males a sliver of release of the masculine strangle hold that has be prevalent for a long, long time. Because of feminism, we’re now allowed to think about our masculinity, and question it. The concept that men have to be providers-the bacon bringers, muscular, confident, silent, stiff upper lip person lest someone thinks you’re a woman or a homosexual (That masculinity also taught us to think that women and homosexuals were something less that males). The man who only cries when his father dies, or because his favorite sports team lost. The man who teaches his son to be dominant in the playground, lest he be mistaken for a weakling. The man who was told that sex and relationships are two different things, and something not be talked about in a meaningful way. Those concepts of manliness are all being taken to task.

Even though, a lot of people want some so called manly values back, in half-hearted ways to reach back to our primitive selves.

(I believe it’s to mainly want their beards and their leather, and their outdoors back. Listen, I like all those things too. Raw denim jeans, plaid, outdoorsy hiking, with the whiskey, and the craft beer. Getting dirty, and building something with your bare hands. All those things appeal to me. But are they purely manly things?)

It is a good time to say “That’s not me, and I’m fine with that.” Feminism allowed that. Be thankful.

I understand the part of taking offense, I was there too. I had conversations with many people complaining that I don’t feel included in the conversation. Even though I want to be. My advice is don’t take it personal and don’t interject. Women don’t need to hear your thoughts, yet. Not yet. Wait til they ask for it. The reason why this is a tough pill to swallow is because as men we’re not used to this. Masculinity has told us to be confident men with all the answers. Answers that should be given without hesitation, lest other men think you don’t know anything. Men though, should be able to talk about what they know, the problem is that we don’t know about our concept of manhood, so this is a good time to reflect and think about your own concept of what being a man is like, for you.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Why do you do certain ‘manly’ things? (eg. sports, drink, fight etc.)
  • Who told you to do that?
  • Who allowed you to be a ‘man’?
  • Who in your life was allowed to be angry?
  • What do other males do that make you upset? And why?

One of the main concepts of Feminism is that it’s not JUST about the advancement of women in modern society. It’s about everyone being KIND to each other. Kindness is the key.

“Though it may seem as if its concerns have been the rights and the position of women, Feminism has in its very essence arguably always been focused on a prior and much grander goal: Kindness.”

How does Feminism accomplish this? Understand and recognize that we haven’t been so kind to women in a long, long, time. Therefore we haven’t been kind to each other, including other males. Women are the teachers of feminism and the men are the ones been given the lesson and to spread it to other males. A flip of what is the traditional norm, which makes a lot of males uncomfortable, hence why you see the backlash. But know that it’s not the most important facet of feminism. Kindness is, and in all forms. That is the goal.

Trust me, it takes time and meditation, and self-care. I know I have work to do myself on this, but maybe we can chat about it. I’m all ears.