I&I

Class and taboo

I saw these tweets by Rian Sygh and wanted to write about an inequity in indie comics, and arts in general, that rarely gets discussed: class. If talking about gender or race in comics is charged, class is basically taboo.

People tell you not to get into comics for the money and it stands to follow that those who don’t need the money are at a significant advantage. To me the issue about there being no money in comics is not livelihood, but risk. People can be very comfortable with scraping by, but the vast majority of people prefer to have a safety net when doing so. Most people would rather not be one life saving surgery, one car accident, one busted laptop away from serious financial problems.

Those born into financial privilege, whose closest social ties* are affluent or at least have the means to provide meaningful financial assistance, are in a better position to engage in pursuits that are financially risky and to absorb risk when emergencies arise. Yet this obvious observation is usually met with defensiveness – even though there is nothing in what I have written that suggests people from affluent backgrounds don’t work hard or that they don’t deserve success. That is beside the point and not my concern. It’s not a criticism of an individual artist’s work or character if they benefit from a playing field that is not close to being level in terms of class. I do however, find it more than a little irritating when an individual artist would rather pretend that this is not happening.

Every working class person I have spoken to about this has told me that they have been met with negativity or silenced for merely broaching the topic. As such, the only person I know who has spoken and written about the topic openly and extensively is Hope Nicholson who has been very frank about her financial situation and the decisions she has made to succeed as a comics publisher, including moving back in with her parents.

Personally, I hope we’ll continue to see more people in the arts who are transparent about finances. Perhaps one day, the role that socioeconomic class plays in the arts will be studied and perhaps even acknowledged like the way we recognize racial and gender-related privileges. Because I think the role of class raises a couple points I want to touch upon.

First, I do find it offputting when indie comics do not, by and large, reflect the concerns, interests and perspectives of those who are economically marginalized. While I love the indie comics I read, the truth remains that I am not seeing the people I socialize with in the stories I read.

Second, I think this is a reflection of how Canadian and American society views art and creative labour. The constant undervaluing of the arts teaches society that art and culture are frivolous or decorative, that creativity is only worthwhile when it’s entertaining the masses. Like a liberal arts education, a creative career is viewed as an impracticality – one that only rich people should indulge in. These attitudes shape creative industries as surely as sexism and racism do.

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When people say the arts is inaccessible and inexpensive, that is complete bullshit. The middle class will balk at a $40 ticket for a contemporary dance performance but are happy to pay double that to watch a hockey game. It is not a question of accessibility; it is a question of what our society values.

Anyway, I hope this post doesn’t come off as accusatory as that is not my intention. I hope however, that it does get people thinking about socioeconomic class and the arts.

* “closest social ties” defined here as people who would lend meaningful financial assistance. It’s rare in my experience to see people have close inter-class social relationships and even rarer to see such relationships involve significant and meaningful financial assistance.

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