The Potential Power of Comic Book Safe Spaces in the Trump Era

Comics Features Magdalene Visaggio
Share Tweet Submit Pin
The Potential Power of Comic Book Safe Spaces in the Trump Era

Ok. So. Donald Trump is the president.

I need, for my own sanity, to say that as I am writing this, he will not be president for another 36 hours, leaving me a blissful window in which I can pretend that, on Inauguration Day, Ashton Kutcher will burst from the podium to inform us that we’ve all been punk’d and that, obviously, Hillary Clinton won the election.

That’s me.

But you live in a different world where Donald Trump is president. There is quite a lot to deal with in that statement. At this point we all know the litany: we’re doomed to live under the rash, inconstant stewardship of a corrupt man who will neither respect the rule of law nor the Constitution, and will do incalculable damage to both, as well as to the underlying democratic traditions that make this government function. He’s a racist, clearly, and a xenophobe by any measure, surrounded by anti-queer advisors; a bullying, narcissistic incompetent with authoritarian tendencies, little respect for the free media and an obvious desire for the shirtless titan of manhood known as Vladimir Putin, the latest in the venerable tradition of Russian dictators ending their names with “-in.”

This raging monstrosity sitting in the Oval Office, probably doodling his own name while smugly ignoring an intelligence briefing, is determined to make life shitty for everyone except a certain kind of people. Many writers smarter, more informed and with more to say on this matter than I can explain why this is, or what we’re in for, or how this happened or what we can do about it. All of these are important questions; none of them are why I am here.

I want to talk about comic books.

The toxicity of fandom and geek culture has been repeatedlydocumented; nobody is going to be making the argument that comics (alongside games, and well, pretty much every marketable geek obsession) isn’t a breeding ground for the kind of noxious masculinity that has been the driving force of 2010’s internet antifeminism.


It is entirely unreasonable on that account to say that comics cannot—and have not—been a safe space for exactly the populations targeted most in the new Trump regime. But we’ll have to fight for it.

Yes, comics are going to be another avenue of resistance, however small, but needs must; the carving of a safe space in our media is going to be a vital part of our paths moving forward, and unlike in larger media sources, comics is one medium where we have a real fighting shot.

Because here’s the thing: comics is small. The old aphorism is that only 300 people in America make their living off comics, and while that number is disputable, it’s relatively accurate in comparison to every other medium of popular culture. That means a small number of people can exercise outsize influence, working to establish safe zones in these notional kingdoms of our creation. And that’s true in creator-owned works coming out of Image, Dark Horse, Black Mask, Oni or any other publisher, and (facing a much stiffer, but not insurmountable, upward march) at America’s traditional Big Two of Marvel and DC— both of which have made incredibly significant, if often inconsistent, efforts to improve their inclusivity in recent years. And this matters, because this is where we get our power.

I’ll be preaching to the choir here to an extent, but hear me out, because I think this is absolutely significant: our cultural touchstones inform our being. Every single one of us can point to a comic, a movie, a show that helped make us into the people we are, both on a formative level when we were young – hello—Star Trek: Deep Space Nine—and, day by day, as we grow. The explosion of intelligent, queer-friendly comics starring characters from a wide range of races and body types hasn’t only helped to open the door to a broader, larger comics audience, but, more importantly, has provided people who have historically found comics to be an endless sea of buff white dudes with something that validates their—our—experience.

That’s something which, in the coming days, weeks, months and—Rad Lesbian God protect us—years ahead of us, we will absolutely need to cultivate, providing those safe spaces, those notional empires that give people the opportunities to explore, develop and reify their identities. And, importantly, validating those identities. And it’s important to remember that validation is a political act.

The creation of safe spaces is nothing short of an act of resistance, because resistance is rooted in identity; the assertion of rights first assumes the validation of the claim to them. As media creators, as media consumers, we are participants in this process. That’s why we respond with such fervor to every inch forward; every America Chavez, every Batwoman, every Jonesy, every Sera, every Black Panther provides refuge, a space for regeneration, and the energy and momentum to burst back out into the world. That identification is going to be more and more important as we move forward, and it’s why media creators—myself included—have a responsibility to make sure we’re providing these spaces, these moments. They’re going to give people the tools, symbols and inspiration they need to mount a credible challenge to the new order, whatever that challenge might look like.

And that’s true whether they buy comics, shoplift them, download them off the internet, get them in mimeograph and samizdat; the new responsibility of the comic creator is to offer our readers what they need to do their work.

Magdalene Visaggio is a professional writer and marketer. She’s best known as the creator of the comic Kim & Kim from Black Mask Studios. She lives in Manhattan with her wife Eowyn, and can be found on Twitter @MagsVisaggs.