Given that Broken Frontier is a site with a self-proclaimed mission to promote the positive aspects of the UK comics world and its supportive indie community, what follows may seem a significant change in tone from the content our established audience regularly visits us to read. But sometimes silence effectively equals complicity and, given a growing number of toxic reactions from a certain demographic in UK comics fandom over the last couple of years to laudable attempts to broaden readership and move loved properties away from the problematic norms of yesteryear, it seems long overdue that we tackled this subject at BF. The last thing we need in the UK is an increasing adoption of the values of the US Comicsgate hate movement after all.
Before I lose you immediately I am aware, of course, that there is a tiny, self-styled “Comicsgate UK” faction already but, thankfully, their influence is comparatively negligible. However, the wider Comicsgate philosophy of objecting to diversity in comics, targeting progressive initiatives, and criticising what is perceived as “politically correct” agendas has become noticeably more prevalent on UK-oriented social media of late. You’ve probably all seen examples in focussed Facebook groups. They’re the product of almost exclusively white, middle-aged, cis men who use “woke” as a pejorative and constantly complain that their childhoods have been ruined because a minor change has been made to a character in a comic they haven’t read for 40 years.
Freddy of the Bash Street Kids
They came crawling out of the woodwork when venerable British children’s weekly comic The Beano celebrated Pride Month last year, with furious homophobic rants about how kids were being indoctrinated into LGBTQ lifestyles. Then when the same comic’s The Bash Street Kids characters Fatty and Spotty were renamed Freddy and Scotty (because in the 2020s maybe we don’t want to be encouraging playground bullying based on physical appearance), the outrage from these individuals was palpable. One Facebook commentator even going into hyperbolic overdrive to cite it as an example of “ruining what once made Britain great.”
Even right-wing British politician Jacob Rees-Mogg got in on the action calling Freddy’s name-change “comically woke”, though anyone on the other end of the argument to Rees-Mogg will be well aware already that they are most assuredly on the right side of history. And as if to underline the ludicrousness of the whole situation a truly painfully unfunny comic strip attempting to satirise The Bash Street Kids as The Woke Street Kids (below) was published in the pages of The Daily Mail. I’ve linked to it as reference to make that point but maybe just take my word for it and don’t give it a click. It doesn’t deserve one.
‘The Woke Street KIds’ by Roland White and Phil Argent
It’s not simply what they see as “woke” though that pushes this demographic into uncontrolled fury. Changes in art styles to take account of modern sensibilities are constantly bemoaned, perhaps most notoriously some years back when Jamie Smart’s post-millennium take on Desperate Dan capturing Dan’s childlike innocence with a more kinetic energy, provoked ire from those who couldn’t seem to understand that what worked from Dan creator Dudley D. Watkins in 1937 probably wasn’t going to translate so well to a similarly aged readership in the 2000s. I’ve seen many similar takes, including those from forty/fiftysomethings recently on Rebellion’s excellent re-imagining of Roy of the Rovers who want their 1980s conception of the character to be the one spotlighted, mullet and all.
Keep the politics out of 2000 AD say a small number of long-term readers who may just have entirely missed the point of Judge Dredd for four and a half decades (art by John Higgins)
And this, of course, is the core of the issue. A belief that a prior investment in a property, however distant, gives a degree of ownership over it. This isn’t to deny commenters legitimate critical argument if articulated with eloquence, consideration and restraint, by the law of averages not every revamp will be successful after all. But if you’re 47 and appalled that a character from your childhood has had a change of name to reflect that what was socially tolerated in 1954 isn’t acceptable in 2022 then perhaps you need to take a step back and re-evaluate your life. That sense of ownership is one I have encountered a number of times through BF pieces whether it be the frequent pushback I get from middle-aged men on my reviews of classic reprints from the Treasury of British Comics or the bizarre reactions I got to breaking the news from British comics legend Pat Mills some years ago that Misty reprints were imminent. That latter was proved entirely accurate but my DMs/inbox were plagued for days after with irate accusations of fabricating an announcement from men who were adamant I was lying because they “would know if that was happening”.
Most recently the Facebook reactions to the guest list for this weekend’s ‘The Galaxy’s Greatest: 2000 AD at 45’ were shocking in their entitlement. It prompted me to tweet the above, as Rebellion’s attempts to mix creators and public figures as panellists to give the event some fresh perspectives and talking points was condemned by a vocal minority who appeared to see this as some kind of intrusion on their turf. Even to the point of complaining that politics had no place in 2000 AD, arguably the most political comic in the history of the UK industry.
Much of our focus at Broken Frontier is on comics as a medium/art form rather than comics as an industry. But for the latter to continue to develop and grow and reach the expanding potential audiences it needs to survive then it cannot be shackled by the preferences of middle-aged white men trapped in childhoods that ended 30-40 years ago. We all feel deep nostalgic connections to the genre comics that play a large part in defining our memories of our formative years, and that’s something to treasure and celebrate. But that affection can easily become tainted. There’s a point where that degree of imagined ownership becomes so extreme that it’s not just gatekeeping. It’s hoarding. Your favourite comics characters are not your exclusive property. That’s Comicsgate thinking and that’s, quite simply, unacceptable.
Article by Andy Oliver