Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Vomiting Cat, Vomiting Cat, What Are They Feeding You?

I recently visited Newsarama and found as the lead story a picture of a cat vomiting blood. After looking at the article more carefully, I learned that this was part of a "Green Lantern" storyline, which apparently involved lots of characters vomiting blood on each other.

There's nothing really wrong about having characters, feline or otherwise, vomit blood. It doesn't really do it for me in terms of getting me excited about this Green Lantern series, but I doubt I am the target audience and so it's sort of irrelevant.

But there are several things that have come to mind as the result of stumbling upon that Newsarama article -- not as a direct result, mind you, but as a starting point:

  • I don't think the big debate in comics anymore is what Event is better, or if somebody thinks a certain character is handled in "the right way." The over-arching question that must be answered, as per any comic, is: "is this worth 3-4 dollars?" Everything else is minutia.
  • In the struggle to convince the comic book consumer to pay the 3-4 dollars, publishers may "push" more high-concepts like cats who vomit blood. There is less time to build an audience or experiment with concepts that are either subtle and/or untested.
  • If I write a column about current events in comic books, and I fail to "push" the vomiting cat, am I short-changing my reader by not being "in touch" with the times? And I ask that in all seriousness.
  • In terms of mainstream in-continuity superhero comics being content that children can read, I will have to say that this battle is largely long over and done with. Children, rather than being the core reading group for comic books, are now a "niche" market. And they probably have been for at least a good 10-15 years. We all just had to admit the battle was over (stages of mourning, and all that).
  • Regardless of the pros and cons of the blood-vomiting cat, the extremity of its nature has gotten its image replicated over and over again in a variety of contexts. Which means: it has done its job. We loop over to my first bullet-point: is it worth 3-4 dollars? And the second bullet-point: publishers push the "biggest bang" in the most extreme manner possible in order to convince the reader that this is worth their money. Not so much narrative, as outright stimulation of the senses.
  • It is not enough to say: "comics are for adults, not kids." There are gray areas in a lot of current comic book material in that the comics are for adults, but are not really at an adult level.
As an aside, my cats vomit mostly hair. Sometimes the food, if they don't cotton to it.


  1. To be completely honest, I'm kind of getting disgusted with major publishers seemingly trying to be more "extreme" in their violent depictions. Aren't the 1990s over? I mean, I was actually shocked as hell when Sobek ate Osiris in "52" a few years ago, and since then it seems there's a whole lot of this stuff going around (didn't the Wasp or someone get offed in a similar way in some Ultimate Marvel comic?).

    I guarantee you this: will never feature a man-eating anthropomorphic crocodile, blood-vomiting cat or a superhero-eating mutant. There will, however, probably be emo declarations of disillusionment. And trenchcoats.

  2. "If I write a column about current events in comic books, and I fail to "push" the vomiting cat, am I short-changing my reader by not being "in touch" with the times?"

    If you're trying to be all encompassing in your coverage, then yeah, maybe. But if you just wish to offer your take on what you see/read/experience, then no, not at all. I may be wrong, but I think most who read your blog enjoy the latter.

  3. Not arguing any of your points, but the impression I got was it was a joke character done by the artist that was inexplicably popular, just kind of a fun weird thing.

  4. Dex Starr aka Rage Cat or Ruffles as the fans have affectionately named him. We are hopeful of a battle with Streaky or Krypto in true LOLcats fashion.

  5. As far as whether or not you can remain now-tro if you fail to push vomiting cats, I think (in general) depends on you and your audience. For a writer who only writes about webcomics, this subject is moot. For a GL fan site, it very much does need to be part of the discussion in order to keep the site current. In your case, I don't know that your writing is tied THAT closely to the current happenings of DC, much less GL, so I wouldn't think anyone would bat an eye if you didn't cover vomiting cats.

  6. I think they are doing some interesting stuff with Green Lantern. My interest in many super hero comes has been diminishing over the last few months, but GL has completely held my interest.

    As far as the blood vomiting cat goes, I think that most individual aspects of super hero comics come across as trite when looked at individually. The Red Lanterns aren't the most interesting characters in the story, but they serve their purpose.

  7. I have to disagree a little. If there is/was/will be a battle to get kids to read comics I don't think it is over. I think it never started. Comics just took their collective ball and left the playing field. With the rise of the direct market the industry just collectively said we will cater to the older customer that is able to drive to the DM store, have a pull list etc. Kids did not turn their backs on comics. Comics turned it's back on the kids. Kids have an insatiable appetite for fun. We did not lose kids to video games, internet etc. Kids are able to do a lot of things. A kid that plays Nintendo DS, watches Nick and Cartoon Network, surfs the net, goes to school, plays sports, has dance classes, read's Harry Potter, plays with Barbie, plays with Star Wars etc. etc. ... a kid that does all that still has plenty of time and energy to read a comic. You have to 1) make good comics that have things happening in them and make sense and 2) put them where kids can find them. The catering to the direct market has prevented both of those things from happening for far too long. Do movies only cater to one demographic? Do video games? Does TV? Does prose? Does fashion? Does any industry that likes to make money put all it's eggs in one basket? In short... What the hell is wrong with comics?

  8. 1) Graphic novels for children are one of the fastest growing sub-categories of the popular graphic novel category in bookstores. Librarians, educators, and parents are buying and recommending titles to children.

    1.5) Comics are a medium, and can present myriad and diverse points of view. Xxxenophile, Buck Godot, and Girl Genius are all produced by the same person, but appeal to different audiences. (Of which I belong to all three.)

    2) I have not yet read this particular issue, but in a recent Green Lantern issue, Hal Jordan is burned by Red Lantern blood. Blood is central to Red Lantern power, so a feline alien Red Lantern that hurls blood? Makes sense, especially given the origin of the Red Lanterns.

    3) Prediction: Hal Jordan (and perhaps some others, like Ion) will possess the seven spectrum rings, creating a WHITE lantern which can counterbalance that of the Black Lanterns. (If you overlay the various ring icons, what do you get?)

  9. True story.

    My child loves Batman. Keep in mind several things.

    1. He has never seen a Batman movie.
    2. He has never watched a Batman TV show (animated or live action).
    3. He is 2.

    How does he know about Batman? Well, I may have mentioned how I cultivated his love of Superman...a character that's mostly wholesome in his original depiction. He saw a Justice League Unlimited coloring book and flipped. He quickly felt the need to ask about every character in the book.

    Anyway, one day he happened upon my DC Archive edition of Batman (volume 1). Immediately recognizing his beloved Batman, he wanted to hear this story.

    My wife, not knowing the contents, started to read the "story" to him. As she read more and more, she found herself not reading the story, but trying to make up an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT story to bowlderize it mercilessly.

    "Uh. Then Batman...tickled...his...
    friend. But the...other friend...
    was...uh...mean to him."

    It's an extreme case, I know. No comic book was ever really created for the discerning 2 year old, but I'm trying to make a point. The idea of comic books being written for a specific age didn't come about for a decade or so after they first hit the market.

    Batman, as has often been said, is a very dark character as originally envisioned. Of course he is. Look at the source material that went into creating him (pulps, horror stories and opera).

    He never had a cat vomiting blood, but he had plenty of acid-scarred victims, murder and violence. But, you know, Starman never did either. That book did pretty well.

  10. @Shannon Smith - I think you are 100% correct.

  11. In terms of the companies pushing the "high concept" to justify the price, it makes me think of the music industry. To get people to buy the $17-$20 discs, the major labels gave up on artist development and instead put all their emphasis on big ticket acts like Britney Spears or the Boy Bands. Meanwhile, they also kept re-issuing their back catalogs with newer "bonus" material, knowing there would always be a loyal audience ready to buy the Rolling Stones' catalog yet again. And we see how well that all worked out, once digital transferral came into its own. I think an analogy could be drawn to that situation.

  12. Anonymous5:07 AM

    For some reason, this post made me think of all of the new moms and dads who continue to keep their pull lists instead of saving that money for their new kid.

  13. Yeah i was talking about this with a friend who dosnt really read comics today while waiting in line at six flags. it was an interesting conversation and the time really flew