“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

Episode 35: Brandon Schatz/Comics, Introverts, and Wonder Woman

Wonder Women came out in May, and along with it came a wake of good feelings, well wishes, and empowerment among women superhero lovers. Now of course, with anything involving geeky fandoms and women, the trolls came out. First it was whining about the all female screening of Wonder Woman in Texas, and then the just souring of the movie as some sort of “propaganda tool.”

Not only that we see it not just with women characters, but also any characters that don’t fit the white male archetype. I’m thinking of Squirrel Girl, Captain Marvel, Ms Marvel, and Black Panther. Why do men, specifically white men, get so riled up with the diversity this industry needs?

Well I brought in a lived experience expert, Brandon Schatz, co-owner of Varient Edition comics here in Edmonton. He’s got expert knowledge as to why males behave this way, and it has a lot to do with the history of the matter, he’s also indirectly lived the sexism when opening his store with his wife Danica. Besides that we’re also going to talk about his own life as a business owner, his life as an introvert who helps other introverts, and why he puts his money where his mouth is.

Question of the Episode: What was the coolest, most selfless thing another man has done for you? Send me your anwsers at @modernmanpod

You can find Brandon’s store Varient Edition at 10132 – 151 Street NW, Edmonton, AB or online at varientedition.com

You can find brandon on twitter @soupytoasterson please send all geeky questions to him! He knows a lot!

You can check out more Alberta Podcast Network, powered by ATB at albertapodcastnetwork.com

Ep 34: Ashley Thomson/Studying Masculinity in Australia

When you work in any type of professional field, you usually end up meeting the same cast of characters. Working in what some people call the “men sector,” the people that are committed to issues like ending violence against women, creating healthy masculinities, and working with male victims is pretty small. Especially locally. One of the perks of doing this podcast, and living in a world where people are connected via social media, is that you get a chance to connect with people all around the world. Ashley Thomson is one of those people. Ashley started up the website Homer, dedicated to creating conversations around masculinity.

Through this interview we’re going to talk about why he started Homer, his feelings of connections with other male friends, his time though depression and what helped him get out of it, and the things two people wondering about the same thing from other parts of the world have in common.

Homer: http://homeronline.com/

Homer’s Half Hour Podcast: https://soundcloud.com/homer-half-hour

Episode 33: Nate Proctor/Radical Self-Awareness

Have you ever looked at your body, looked in the mirror, and just hated it? So much so that you would go out of your way to not do things like go swimming, take off your shirt, and maybe even have sex with the lights off always. The concept of body image which in the past was something that for the most part gets attributed to women, now we can say that it affects both men and women. The policing of bodies though does happen in a higher frequency for women than it does for males, and I believe that’s one of the many reasons why we do focus a lot in respect to body image with women. But men definitely suffer through it, I know I have. Nate Proctor also has, and he took to YouTube to do what he thought was an almost impossible task, take off his shirt for everyone to see.


Nate did this because he knows the value of self-love, self-awareness, and how we can be more vulnerable with each other. He shares this message through his very popular Instagram account, his Youtube channel, and his articles he has written for Huffington Post.  He knows this because he too has suffered through a lot, addiction, homelessness, and depression. But he uses the lessons he has learned to share with everyone, and that’s what we’re going to do here, listen about his life, his lessons, and what we as men can take out of this.

Nate talks about two books on the podcast:

  1. Cheryl Strayed: Tiny Beautiful Things
  2. Ann Patchett – What Now?

Episode 32: Elliott Tanti and Michael Vecchio Pt 2/The Effects of Multiculturalism in Males

On today’s show, we go a little more personal, and speak directly about Elliott and Michael’s background as first-generation Canadians and how their family households made them unique participants in the line for political commentators.  How their dads set them up to be more sensitive and vulnerable males, and how they enjoy each other as male friends. Not only that we speak to the masculinity and politics of Justin Trudeau, and the way some conservatives have pegged liberal masculinity. Particularly around the word “cuck”

That and a lot more in my second part of talking to Elliott Tanti and Michael Vecchio from The Highlevel Showdown


You can find Michael and Elliott on Twitter @highlevelshowdown and I will put their personal accounts in the shownotes which you can find at modernmanhood.org. Also check out the Patreon page at patreon.com/modernmanpod. You can find MMP in iTunes, Stitcher, or anywhere you find awesome podcasts. If you want to be a guest of the show, send me a line @modernmanpod on Twitter and Instagram, or find me on Facebook at Modern Manhood: The Podcast.

You can find Meredith Bratland’s Migration Patterns in iTunes as well

Episode 31: Elliott Tanti and Michael Vecchio Part 1/Men and Women in Politics

I started listening to The Highlevel Showdown, a local politics show with two guys, Elliott Tanti and Michael Vecchio, from opposite sides of the political view talk about what the heck is going on in the world of politics. Now, lucky for me they also were curious about questions of manhood, and questions in how masculinity works in politics as much as I did. Even more lucky for me, they were curious about their own masculinity, and how their lives intertwined as immigrants, first generation Canadians (like they are), and most importantly as long time friends.



Now because I had a lot to ask of them and the conversation was flowing I decided to split this into two parts. The first part you’ll hear right now is Elliott, Michael, and myself talking about what was going on with the intersection of politics and masculinity which involves, yep, Donald Trump. But we also talk local politics and specifically the struggles that women have to get into politics, be heard, and the harassment they face.

Information Session 2: Men’s Mental Health with Jessica Craig

For today’s episode, I wanted to speak directly about men’s mental health and how men have problems getting the help they need either through the system that creates barriers or the society that sees them in a different light. This ties hand in hand with Men’s mental Health Awareness Day on June 13.

So for this, I wanted to speak to a front line worker here in Edmonton that deals directly with people with mental health disorders and problems. Jessica Craig has been helping kids and adults with mental health problems for years now, and is now an intake worker for a prominent place in Alberta. Lucky for me, she’s got a keen particular interest in men’s mental health, and also is a good friend of mine. I was lucky to share a bowl of pho with her, and sat down on her couch with her dog Zoe to speak about the issues that she sees in the front line.

Some of the links I have mentioned: