I Hate You All by Dalton Wemble
Naked Field Parties and You
When I was a chipper young lad of 12 or 13, there was (as there was every year) an election for Student Council at my beloved Poughkeepsie High. One wag, running for some minor position like Sock Hop Coordinator or Master of the Punchbowl or something, applied all the intellect and graphic design skills that one could expect a 15-year-old who spent most of his time blasted at "field parties" to muster.
His posters were 8½ x 11" sheets of paper, white, with the word SEX emblazoned across the top half; on the bottom it said, "Now that I've gotten your attention, vote for me, JERRY, for Master of the Punchbowl!"
I'm sure there are a lot of lessons to be learned from this, including a PhD thesis on the value of bulk photocopying and the recurrent use of repetitive minimalism in contemporary secondary seniority position promotional applications towards the ends of refreshment coordination. But what I took away was this:
Not exactly a groundbreaker, but I was a late bloomer and never got invited to field parties, dammit. Still, it's eerie how well it held, and even today, if you pick a random media and take a gander at it, you'll note that any alcohol-damaged pubescent knuckle-dragger can shout "SEX" and immediately get a hell of a lot more attention than if he shouted, say, "QUALITY" or "INTELLIGENCE". Whether or not the person is in question is really an alcohol-damaged pubescent knuckle-dragger or not.
Let's take such a random media. Oh, I don't know. Hmm. What could we possibly... say, how about webcomics?
For a medium that hems and haws and sprains its arm back-patting about being a risky cutting-edge alternative to the stolid and stoic print medium (see last month's Comixpedia, lather rinse repeat), most of what makes webcomics risky and cutting edge is sub-par crap with dirty words and boobies tacked on to draw an audience. It panders for an audience six times as hard and eight times as fast than media with some sort of quality control in the production chain, and the lowest common denominator continues to drop following some sort of black hole algorhythm that would give Steven Hawking an aneurysm.
I stopped reading PvP the day Kurtz put up some sort of blather about how ... if memory serve, Frank Cho was going to ... gasp... draw Jade ... golly ... NAKED! ... in just a few short days! Yow! And I didn't drop because of some sort of prude anti-nudity stance. I knew full well it was a gag and anybody with an ounce of intelligence would know that there would be no full-frontal showin'-it-all pictures of Jade at any point in PvP, ever.
In fact, I'm not 100% sure that it was Frank Cho that was supposed to draw the thing, but it was around the time that Kurtz and Cho were palling around a lot online. And I'm sure as hell not going to waste my time bashing around the archives checking.
I stopped reading PvP that day, quietly but with great determination, because an artist that I thought was at least competent and pretty clever had squeezed out the Big Turd of online marketing. Whether it was meant to be a satire of other media pandering that way or not, it was the trotting-out of a character that purportedly represented everything good about female gamers and dangling the nude carrot on a stick for every goggle-eyed fanboy that was ... uh ... well, messed up enough to actually make some extra effort to see a sparsely-rendered cartoon character naked, that turned me off.
I'll bet dollars to donuts that the whole thing resolved with nary a nipple being flashed, and Jade probably wound up "naked except for her immense self-worth!" or some blather. I don't care. Never went back. Never gonna. I have immense respect for the talent and the wit, but it's just not something I'm going to bother with any more.
I say all this to make a point, not to spark one of the Dump On Kurtz memes that seem to cycle through the Internet on cycles like the Chinook or some horrible tropical disease. The point is that even one of the best, most popular, least exploitative and most gifted cartoonists on the Web felt he had to go there, and I felt like I couldn't go there any more.
Now, if that's how I feel about PvP, you're maybe extrapolating how I feel about NC-17 strips. There was a huge kerfuffle about a year ago when an artist calling himself 'hard' apparently didn't get accepted to Keenspot allegedly because some KS creators objected to his comic's consistently pornographic output. In retrospect, he came off as pretty classy about the whole thing, but attracted a few advocates that made him look pretty bad regardless.
Just to see how offensive the thing was, I decided to give 'er a gander. And my overall impression after browsing a ton of archives was not one of being offended, or aroused, but profoundly disinterested. Disinterested on an epic scale. How epic? My disinterest was ready to take off to northern Europe and slay Grendel, that's how epic. Saga-class.
So I spent some time trundling around other similar sites, checking out the NC-17 comixxx scene, and I had more or less the same recurring reaction: boredom. I was game for some ribald humour, stuff that really pushed the buttons and the boundaries by using sex as an element for a great gag, an intrinsic bit of funny that just wouldn't work without teh n4k3dzorz.
What I got was tedium punctuated by boobs, penises and on occasion farm animals. Maybe hoping for a Gahan Wilson was too damn much, but it was basically the same joke over and over and over, with naked people. And I realized that no matter how pretty the drawings are, most of what's out there comes back down to that 15-year-old shoving posters that had SEX in big letters all over the hall.
The issue isn't as much that sex sells. It's a beautiful thing, sex. Regardless of how you swing or what partners you choose, as long as nobody's gettin' hurt and everyone's havin' a good time, sex pretty much rocks and is one of the better things to do with your leisure time. And societally, it's dang well time we got over some of our more prurient hang-ups and relaxed a bit about the whole thing.
But this is the thing, and the thing is this: sex sells stupid crap. And BECAUSE sex sells stupid crap, it propagates more stupid crap with sex in it. You know why pornography is so ludicrously bad? Because it can be. Because badly programmed losers who need to join the AV club to get it up will accept badly done sex rather than hold out for something decent. Because – and I'm pretty sure there's a case to be made that this is a result of our converse sex-scared culture – sex is a commodity to be produced cheaply and purchased like a can of Spaghetti-O's at Wal-Mart, when it should be a celebration that should be treated with cleverness and skill and revered like a well-executed oil painting, or at least a pretty good TV show.
We're at the advent of a bold new medium that should, according to hype, blow all of our socks off. So why are we settling for cheap porn when we could be pushing for something that really redefines good NC-17 material, unfettered by the budgets of printing or celluloid? Vote with your feet and your clickin' fingers, folks. Find some good adult stuff and stick to it and champion it, but in the name of Sacred Ron, it's time to let those photocopied SEX posters yellow and droop on the walls, their tape sagging from deserved neglect and enlightened ignorance.
And if you're having a field party, hey, let me know.
Dalton Wemble is a contributing columnist for Comixpedia.