After the break, check out the new episode of Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.
After the San Diego portion of this episode, we talk about Crossed. On that subject, Joe McCulloch has some additional thoughts. Joe?
Initially, it should be noted that no woman has ever drawn Crossed.
As a result, the series’ myriad depictions of sexual catastrophe are nonetheless limited in scope to expressions of male terror, and -- I don’t think it too much to say -- male desire. In a world such as our own, where the vast majority of instances of sexual violence are directed toward woman, this is an inhibiting circumstance for a work otherwise marketed as excess. A banal inhibition, yes, shared by many, yet Crossed always retained a sorry hint of potential from its characterization of sexuality as zombified consumption akin to eating.
Frequently, I wonder about the mechanics of desire in the world of the series. Arousal, it is often said, is linked to the notion of social transgression; it is difficult, however, to separate a biological disinclination (i.e. “I am not sexually attracted to men”) from a learned instance of repression (“I can’t be sexually attracted to men, because it would eliminate who I am”). In the Crossed scenario, then, where all repressions are erased, is it more logical to assume that notionally heterosexual men would gravitate toward exclusively male consumption -- as a cataclysmic trumping of personal decorum, and perhaps the idea of ‘biology’ itself -- or that the obliteration of repression’s very concept would reduce the appetite to the most immediate and unconsidered hunger signals? “I have always felt desirous of women, and so I will pursue that, in the face of any psychological apparatus I have constructed to assure myself of that.”
The series’ writers rarely explore such themes. As it happens, though, I cannot believe they would all have time to detail the many background atrocities cluttering every third panel anyway, and I so I look to the artists for answers.
I prefer pornographers in these situations, as they will inevitably carry some special insight about desire.
Raulo Caceres is one example, though he is generally disappointing in this regard. Everything about his images of sexual violence are overwhelmingly heteronormative, right down to his predictable avoidance of depicting the male genitals; it is possible, of course, that he has been instructed to avoid such things by a publisher mindful of majority sexual mores, but the glaring lack of cock in these pages nevertheless resonates with their emphasis on male-to-female rape as the conclusion of the Crossed idea. Moreover, images of women assaulting women inevitably become corollary to male titillation in such demonstrations, as if the minds of men had merely expanded, like an invisible magic bubble, to recolor the state of desire itself.
This is understandable, though, as Caceres’ fannish comic book pornography -- his Morbid Tales and Elizabeth Bathory -- is quite typical in its juxtaposition of horror and monster imagery with traditional heterosexual devices.
In contrast, Christian Zanier has specialized for many years in transsexual porn. This is not necessarily a signal of resistance to heteronormativity -- truthfully, some men prefer chicks with dicks because it eliminates the notionally ‘male’ signal from sex entirely while nonetheless retaining precisely the necessary ingredient for visceral identification -- but it is undeniable that Zanier’s pages are far more egalitarian in their depiction of consumption. In his images of prolix mayhem, the reader can better imagine the riotous conflicts between nature and nurture otherwise merely implied by comic’s scenario; if not more acceptable, it at least seems logical.
But still, because my charity is slight, I have to consider the idea of offense.
Crossed, one might easily say, is eager to offend. Yet when you see a really detailed and gross but basically unchallenging Raulo Caceres image, you sense a basic terror at the possibility of offending the expectant reader: probably a man, probably heterosexual, probably liable to embarrassment at wires getting crossed inside the machine of gross-out titillation.
On the other hand, the resolutely cynical reader might sense an even deeper calculation to Zanier’s pages, a veritable alchemy of rape concocted to reduce the potential for wider, economically disastrously offense. More and more, otherwise blithe readers are becoming laudably sensitive to the social inequities reflected in their entertainments. This sensitivity is potentially valuable to the provocateur -- the committed, meaningful provocateur, cognizant of the public situation -- but it is also perilous, insofar as disposable shocks can, in the end, find themselves more easily disposed. Better to counterbalance the rape of a woman with the rape of a man then, like call and response, to afford one’s self plausible deniability against accusations of misogyny, of masking plain, tired, age-old abuses under a domino slit of not giving a damn what people think.
Of course you fucking care about what people think, you’re an artist.
And these are the trials you face, in a world divorced from inhibition.