Oh, before I begin. Comments & feedback are of course encouraged…
We’re occasionally asked if there’s anything we won’t print. It’s a very tricky question to answer; we’re not editors, we’re not critics, and we’re not your mum, so the temptation is to say that we’ll print anything you like. The problem with giving in to that temptation is that someone eventually comes along and tests the theory beyond breaking point…
This isn’t going to be any fun at all to write… As the bossman, it’s my call what we do and do not print. As a result, this is going to be a very personal kind of post – a bit unusual for a company blog, but there you go…
A couple of weeks ago I had to reject a job. I won’t go into the details, because they’re horrible, but suffice to say that the creator didn’t need a printer so much as they needed an intervention (in my humble opinion, of course). That was the first time that I’d ever rejected a comic job, and it got me thinking about what sort of guidelines, if any, we ought to have. The person who submitted it had seemed perfectly above board – I’m sure that they’re very good to their mother & take care to always recycle in real life – so it was a bit of a shock to get the files sent through and step into the maw of gibbering nastiness within. Hence: a few thoughts on what we will and won’t print so that nobody’s wasting their time.
Let’s start positive. Here are some things we literally do not care about at all:
Things we will happily print.
Apparently there are some comic printers who don’t want to print stuff with sex in it. Which is weird. We’re not one of them. You have a comic full of sex and kinks and stuff? Or, like, some erotic art? Fine. It’s just people with smooshy bits for goodness’ sake.
We should probably add to the list of things we are not (see above) “Victorian-era dowagers” – if it’s legal, we’ll print it.
Punching happens in comic books. It happens quite a lot. So does shoving, name-calling, and the obliteration of armies of faceless zombie hordes. In real life I’d encourage you all to settle your differences with rational, respectful debate. In comics, I am literally begging you to hit that shambling revenant with a flaming chainsaw while riding a velociraptor. Please. Someone please draw this for me. Preferably draw me doing this.
Update: Rob at Orful Comics is amazing.
As may be abundantly clear, there is a bit of a left-wing ethos kicking around here… But we don’t bring political positioning into this (unless you’re an extremist). If you have a comic that celebrates the life and times of Mrs. T we’ll print it for you. We won’t enjoy it, but we’ll do it as well as we’d do anything else.
- “Difficult” stuff.
Comics, like any other form of art & literature, are a brilliant way of processing the world around us. As you may have noticed, the world around us ain’t always bright, breezy and fun. It follows, then, that sometimes your comics are going to not be bright, breezy and fun. Sometimes they will deal with what we in the trade call “hella nasty sh*t” – fictionalised or otherwise. Other times they’ll deal with what we in the trade call “cats”. We welcome both ends of the spectrum and all points between – it’s the best part of the job.
Things we are absolutely not going to print.
If you think that your comic might contain one of the things on the list below please do flag this when you get in touch for a quote (well, “if”). I’m not puritanical, I like to think I’ve got a fairly broad mind [insert your own joke here], it will probably be fine. Fundamentally I think the vast majority of comic creators are decent people who are brilliant at dealing with difficult material rather than lazily trotting out a taboo just to drive the plot on.
- Gratuitous Gendered Violence
Note the key word here: gratuitous. I’m not saying that you can’t have one of your female characters take a punch if it’s a part of the story. For goodness’ sake, that’s absurd. What I am saying is that there is an endemic problem with violence against women in our society and that if your comic is glorifying it we won’t print it for you. If any part of that paragraph made your blood boil we’re probably not the printing company for you.
- Racism/Incitements to racial hatred
Yes, I’m afraid there’s no room here for Frank Miller to print his Holy Terror book. Again, we’re not going to object to a character who is racist. Racists exist in real life – it’s perfectly possible that you have one in your book because their presence is integral to the story. That is fine by us. What we’re not fine with is printing a comic that advances a racist agenda.
Funny story: the BNP asked me to print something for them once. Track me down at a con & I’ll tell you all about it…
- Homophobia/Transphobia/Really any type of -phobia*
This one should be fairly obvious from what’s gone before. If you’re demonising a specific group of people, particularly a group that is traditionally marginalised, you’ll need to find another printer. I’ll caveat it again – a phobic character or scene isn’t going to make us walk away – I do get the need for dramatic tension! It’s only if you end up glorifying a hateful point of view that we’re going to have to step off.
*except spiders. I also hate spiders.
- Stuff that’s illegal
Yes, I am sort of running out of things to put on the list… Still, it has come up from time to time. Parody & Satire: hell, I love a good parody, and I’ve got a subscription to Private Eye – we should be friends. Fanart: that’s fine – go for it! Libel! That’s gre… wait. No. No libel, please.
Things we’re probably not going to print except in very particular circumstances.
- Rape/Sexual Assault
How in the name of all that’s holy did this one not make the “Hell no” list? Good question. There was a lot of agonising about it before I bumped it down here. Bear with me.
It is conceivable that a rape survivor may wish to deal with their ordeal by processing it in a comic book. This is a deeply personal issue, and one which I’ve not (thankfully) ever had to deal with up close. We’ve printed comics for people dealing with coming out as gay, people dealing with their experience of being trans*, people dealing with racism, people dealing with domestic violence, and any number of other sensitive subjects; I’m not sure that there’s a way to quantify any of those experiences, and if there is I know for damned sure that I’m not the person to do so. I am a white, middle-class cis-male – and I therefore have absolutely no business in deciding whether this is appropriate or not. If someone who has the experience does think it’s appropriate then I’m not going to tell them to go away. There is one important caveat here – if anyone who has to be involved with the production here objects or is disturbed, then I’m afraid it’s not going to be something we can do. I have a responsibility to safeguard the headspace of the people I work with.
Equally, it’s possible that you’re one of the greatest writers in a generation, and that you have a story that depends on a rape scene to hang together. It’s possible that this story is so important that it simply must be printed, despite the subject matter being deeply problematic. In that case, we’ll print it. A word of warning, though, there are probably fewer than a dozen writers in recorded history that make that grade, so you’ll need to be very persuasive…
- “Difficult” stuff you have no clue about
OK, so this is where it all gets a bit subjective and, some might argue, unfair -sorry. If you’re writing about, for example, anorexia, and you have no experience of it, then you might well find that I politely decline your job. This is not to say that you must have been anorexic yourself, just that if you haven’t done your research – speaking to sufferers etc etc, then you’re probably going to do it wrong. And we’re probably not going to want to be part of disseminating that.
This was all a bit social justice warrior. It was too long, and I did not read it.
OK, fine. That doesn’t surprise me, to be honest. The executive summary is as follows:
- Get dirty. Get nitty, get gritty. Deal with horrible things, beautiful things, sexy things, difficult things. Deal with difficult horrible sexy beautiful things! Use this wonderful artform to tackle the big issues.
- Or don’t! Write a comic about horses. Or the robot uprising. Or vampires and their puppies. Or what happened to you at work this week. Or, like, scones, I guess. It’s your artform. We’re just here to put it onto paper for you.
- Do your research! If you’re covering a difficult topic and you’ve never had any first hand experience of it then the likelihood is that you don’t get it. Please don’t use awful situations that happen to real people as a simple plot device: be a great creator – get to know what you’re dealing with.
This probably all seems a bit heavy handed. Maybe it is. But hopefully you have an insight into the company ethos now. If you like what you see, please do get in touch.
Hi there, I am one of the founders of Ungendered.com. I’m working on my own comic and found your site, so obviously I’m looking through your pages to absorb as much information as I can about printing. I am pleasantly surprised to see that you, despite it not being a requirement of a printing company, are incredibly sensitive. I appreciate that you have made these guidelines about what you will and will not print. They are highly respectful, mature and loving. I will not hesitate to support you and send work your way in future. Keep being awesome and I wish you all the best.
Thanks for your kind words! This post was written in response to a discussion that was going around twitter at the time about printer prudishness. I’m glad that it’s held up ok…
I also have an email from you that’s in my “to reply to” pile. Hopefully I should be able to get to that today for you – sorry for the delay!