Profanity in Comics, or “Ah, Grow Up, Will Ya?”

by Jeff
SUSPEND Profanity in Comics, or "Ah, Grow Up, Will Ya?"

Suspended Animation Review

Allow me pose a pointed question: Have you ever refused to buy a comic book because it lacked the proper amount of profanity? I didn’t think so. I’ve never heard that complaint, in over 30 years of reading comics, and 16 years patronizing the same comics shop in Tulsa.

You’ve probably guessed already that I’m one of those “comics purists,” as I call us. We are those ridiculously puerile fans who simply refuse to “grow up” and realize that using profanity is simply the way of the world, nowadays. “Just shut the *&%! up and accept it” some may say. Well, I can’t. There are too many examples of well-done, best-selling comics stories out there that don’t employ such language.

exmachina_tpb_1 Profanity in Comics, or "Ah, Grow Up, Will Ya?"Perhaps you’ve sensed my frustration, and wonder what the catalyst was for this little tirade. (Then again, maybe you haven’t, and don’t care. Feel free to keep surfing.) It happened when I read Ex Machina: The First Hundred Days, a graphic novel from Wildstorm. It’s one of those rare works in comics that is intelligent enough to be compared with anything currently seen in fiction. However, it also has what I consider a huge flaw; language for which many-a-child has tasted a bar of soap. The f-word is a particular favorite.

I’ll be honest. I don’t understand the need for comics to mirror society in this way. I mean, we’re talking about fiction, here. Superhero fiction, at that, in the case of Ex Machina. Regardless of the political intrigue, main character Mitchell Hundred still controls all types of machinery with his mind, and has a past that includes strapping a jet-pack onto his back and playing hero. Would readers really have to suspend disbelief any more if there was no “potty language”? Additionally, here we are smack dab in the middle of a medium of which it can still be said has a desperate need for more new readers, despite the presence of graphic novels and comics digests in bookstores, and it almost seems an attempt is being made to alienate those who are uncomfortable with such language and don’t use it on a daily basis…or even at all.

An Associated Press – Ipsos poll conducted in March of 2006 found that “62 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds acknowledged swearing in conversation at least a few times a week, compared to 39 percent of those 35 and older.” My question is whether or not that means 38 percent of younger comics fans, and 61 percent of those 35 and older are actually offended enough to avoid buying comic books with frequent profanity. And, before you say “No way!” through your hat, find a poll conducted within the comics community to support your view. I don’t know of one. Or by all means, conduct one. (Just make sure it’s scientific.) It might be worth it to some of the publishers in order to find out if they are shooting themselves in the foot where sales are concerned, especially considering that two thirds of those polled said that it bothered them when people used profanity.

So, ultimately, what’s my point? Just this: There is little to no chance anyone is going to be offended by a great story lacking profanity – they’ll simply buy it. It is much more likely that some people WILL be offended by the same story peppered with it. They probably WON’T buy it. Is it really worth it to a publisher to sacrifice sales for their books to contain “adult” language?

And, for those who would argue creative license, I would simply ask “What’s creative about profanity?” It’s simply copied. It takes no creative energy and adds no depth to a character. And as far as it being adult, it can probably be heard on every elementary playground in the country.

Seems to me, if comics really want to grow up, they’ll clean up.

Mark Allen

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