I’ve only once ever followed a print comic during its actual run (The Maxx, back in the day) until sometime last year my friend Oliver put me on to the Avatar: The Last Airbender comics. They’re… super-great. Gene Luen Yang is an amazingly talented writer (and artist; his American Born Chinese and Boxers & Saints are both awesome). So when I saw that Dark Horse was releasing an Avatar short for Free Comic Book Day I figured I’d check it out and have my first ever Free Comic Book Day experience.
Well… my experience was that Free Comic Book Day involves a lot of waiting on lines for free comic books. I kind of knew that going in, though. Even so, it was fun. I saw some cute kids in costumes, and I picked up the free Avatar short, and some stuff I paid for.
Anyways, as I said, I really like Gene Yang’s writing, so I figured I’d enjoy the short—when I learned about the release, I looked up last year’s free Avatar comic by him and it was great. This year’s was, as well, but man… it was also an awesome call-out of some biz that’s been going on in geek/comics culture for way too long.
From the tiresome handwringing within the nerdosphere over the perceived threat of Fake Geek Girls, to the much darker, recent othering-plus-horrifying-rape-threats debacle surrounding Janelle Asselin’s reasonable remarks about Wonder Girl’s representation on the cover of the Teen Titans #1, fandom—be it comics, literature, cartoons/anime, films, shows, whatever—is a often a troubling and difficult space to negotiate if you’re a woman. Which is why it’s so awesome that this was Gene Yang’s chosen subject of the Avatar short for Free Comic Book Day:
So yeah, the whole thing is fairly transparently about the bogusness of snooty exclusivity in fan culture, done Avatar-style, and the solution is… okay, spoiler alert…
It’s solidarity. And sisterhood. And allies being fine with taking a back seat while those with the actual experience drive, so to speak.
Also kung fu. Shockingly enough, I really liked it!
The original Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of my favorite shows because it is sweet and thoughtful and very, very sincere. It also improved via adaptation in response to critique—after the first season where Katara was more or less The Girl Main Character, they introduced a bunch of super-interesting main female characters. I’m all about content creators hearing “you did an awesome job—now do better!” and instead of doubling down and saying “eh, whatever,” striving to improve… by listening. The Avatar creators could easily have become part of the “eh, whatever” culture that makes comic/geek culture so frustrating. But they didn’t.
It’s awesome that Gene Yang is continuing that tradition not only by writing engrossing, fun scripts for the Avatar comics, but actively making the point that comics, and fandom in general, is for everyone. While I don’t need my artistic heroes to also be nice people, it’s pretty wonderful when that actually happens.