Ethics in Comics

"Ethics in Comics" was the fairly generic name we came up with when we sat down and first talked about doing a panel at Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle.  We wanted something punchy and memorable and simple enough that it required virtually no explanation, and yet... we've spent the last couple years discussing and unpackaging the ethical implications in comics with countless artists, fans, cosplayers, and concerned parents.  LOTS of concerned parents.  Here's the thing...

Art is the expression of experience and people are constantly creating art within their own lifestyles.  Sometimes this art is intended to be shared, even sold, and this art is just as filled with experience, interpretation, values, and judgements as the average person's own expressions.  Sometimes this art complements our own take on life with all its complexities, and sometimes it challenges it.  This communication of virtue, value, and priority is sometimes very deliberate - like a manifesto or proclamation - and parents, teachers, and other guardians are worried about what those messages might do to their young charges.  They SHOULD be concerned.  Not because those messages are necessarily so bad, but because messages do influence our thinking and only a fool ignores what is pouring into their own unfiltered mind (let alone the minds of those we love and care about).  Each generation must learn how to think about what's flowing into them - people simply do not engage the hard work of critical thinking unless we are taught how.

This is what we are about - helping people turn their brains on so that they can recognize what art messages are in front of them and engage those messages through comparison to their own values, virtues, and priorities.  Of course, this requires an awareness of one's own positions, and so we have created a grid of ethical opinion (12 key issues that cover the over-arching themes of our existence) that people can chart their own thoughts on and consciously identify where they stand on the spectrum of response to these issues.  Simply put - where you stand on these 12 issues is your ethical matrix, and with an ethical matrix you can now put your finger on what you liked or disliked about a comic book or movie.  Something really appealed to you or disturbed you about it, and now you've got a pretty good idea why.  You can affirm or challenge the art and you can do it articulately and respectfully (which is vital in any society that values freedom of speech).  

Soooo... here are the 12 issues that we've identified (cleverly presented in bookmark format also available under FREE RESOURCES):

And here... is some terminology to help you make your way around this exciting discussion:

Art is the expression of experience. We all have experiences, but some of those are more significant than others (tweeting about the sandwich you ate at lunch is not necessarily worth sharing... but that depends on just how much that chicken salad filling is changing your life). We put these experiences out there for others to absorb, consider, and possibly relate to through many different artistic means or expressions- the more excellent your skill level, the most enticing and clear the experience transfer is.  Merchandise is art created for the express purpose of selling or promoting and greatly emphasizes expression over experience (in fact, a person can create merchandise with little or no experience connection to the art at all). 

A transfer is the act of communicating your experiences to the reader/watcher/listener.  There can be a positive transfer if they are engaging your art through a lens of critical thinking and self-awareness, or a negative transfer if they have turned off their brains in order to escape from their life into art.  The artists can make efforts to encourage that the transfer is positive, but the final decision will always lie with the audience - thus the effects of transfer are not ultimately the responsibility of the artist.  While escapism is a powerful force in modern culture and one of the easiest ways to let someone else alter our perceptions without informed consent, we are and always will be the gatekeepers of our own minds.

This is why we came up with questions to ask ourselves - we need to evaluate the art we digest. 

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