Friday, August 15, 2014

Comics and The Value of Language (Part 1)

At the heart of storytelling for comics lies the relationship between language and image. A comic is defined by that particular mix of the two that makes it a comic. But when you try to pin that relationship down, it gets slippery! Comics can morph from Posy Simmonds' prose-hybrid Gemma Bovery to "silent" stories like Jiro Taniguchi's The Walking Man without anyone batting an eyelid.

These two examples lie on opposite ends of a huge storytelling spectrum that sometimes feels too broad for one medium to contain comfortably. When we say “comics”, it really encompasses a lot! Despite this amazing diversity of expression, the idea that comics lack cultural or literary merit is still common, and the lack of public understanding about comics is still startling.

In this article, I want to explore the idea that comics are, and always have been, held back by a very pervasive cultural condition. This condition is responsible for the lack of merit that our culture assigns to comics, and at its heart lies the same relationship between language and image that defines comics themselves!

As with all cultural states, it’s not something that we think about consciously unless we study it carefully. It’s a shared experience that we're immersed in from the moment we start learning about the world, and it’s so ingrained that I’ve been constantly flustered by the limitations of the English language in my efforts to describe it. To begin to get an insight into it, consider these words as they apply to comics:

Artist. Writer. Reader.

The word artist doesn’t imply “storyteller”, yet there are comic artists that write their own stories without using a single word. The word writer doesn’t suggest drawing, but comic writers often describe drawings using text. Then there’s the word reader, which we use for “comics readers”, but so heavily implies the reading of text.

We quite literally don’t have the vocabulary to frame a proper discussion about creating comics, let alone dig into our own cultural assumptions about art and writing! So, in order to continue, I want to spend a little time dealing with exactly how words and images both excel at telling stories.

When it comes to images, a massive amount of information can be compressed into one frame without using a single word: atmosphere, weather, time of day, the attitudes of characters towards each other and their environment, personality and costume to name a few! Images can be symbolic, metaphorical, or generally representative in a number of ways.

Understanding Comics - Scott McCloud,
Blow Up - Shintaro Kago,
Nijigahara Holograph - Inio Asano

If used in sequence, images create the illusion of passing time, but a sequence of images is a pretty unwieldy thing. The smaller they are, the less information they can clearly contain, and even though you can superimpose images or use panels-within-panels, you can’t just put them on top of one another indefinitely! Text on the other hand is much more efficient at dealing with this kind of thing:

"She was on her regular morning walk, when the bank that she'd passed every day for ten years suddenly blew up! Instinctually using powers she'd possessed all her life, she leapt clear of the blast, but she knew that it was her nemesis behind the attack, and it was only a matter of time before he finally took her life…"

Not the most elegantly written passage perhaps, but these 60 words give you a range of information about passing time in a very small space. I could communicate the same things using a sequence of images, but it would be a long one! However, if I did use images to “say” the same thing, I’d be able to include many other details which images are much better at conveying quickly. What did she look like, how big was the bank, how did it explode, does her appearance change when she uses her powers, what does her nemesis look like…? And so on.

I’d sum it up like this: roughly speaking, images and text compress differently. Images compress spatial information well, and words compress temporal information well. Both are capable of telling a story, and neither is more of less effective at it, they're just better suited to different storytelling tasks.

There's also a subtler issue with words and images... one that I'm battling with whilst writing this. Words create visual expectations. I used the word “she” in the passage above, and with that word comes a host of associations. If I want to avoid those, it takes a lot of effort to untangle them using language alone, but a drawing could remain ambiguous with no effort at all. The same goes for many other words… like, oooh, writer or artist!

So, why does our culture frown upon comics in the way it does? Surely such a potent mixture of text and image, each with perfectly complimentary advantages, should be the most versatile and well respected storytelling medium there is?

If I was to say that the thing I've been working up to, the reason for the English disdain of comics, and the gap in our language’s ability to talk about comic storytelling is that we’re a nation of visual illiterates, I’m sure most people would disagree... in fact, I say it a lot and most people do disagree!

These obvious objections stem from the clumsy nature of the co-opted phrase. Literacy is a word that applies to language, and so all the expectations and associations that surround it undermine its application to images. I’ll approach it from another direction… by the time we get out of education, most people can write proficiently, and although they may not know how to string a plot together, most of them could attempt a blog entry or a short essay. On the flip-side, most people leaving education still can’t draw any better than the average 10 year old!

Examples of adults drawing themselves from
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain - Betty Edwards

Let’s add to this the fact that people who do know how to draw are often self-taught, or have received an education that amounts to 90% mysticism, 10% instruction. Anyone who has been through UK education for a vocational art and come out the other side as a practicing professional will know what I mean!

I’ll use the “visual illiteracy” analogy again in lieu of a better one that doesn't exist yet, and point out that it works in a general sense if you consider the following:

Illiterate people can understand language and speak it, but they can’t write or read it. Visually illiterate people can understand drawings, but they can’t draw them. The analogy compares understanding a drawing you see to understanding a language you hear (both instinctual skills if you do them from birth). It compares drawing a drawing to writing a language (both skills that have to be taught).

With this in mind, we can write out a few conclusions quite plainly:

  • Most of us are taught to write.
  • Only a few of us are taught to draw.
  • Being able to draw is not an indicator of being able to draw stories.
  • Being able to write is not an indicator of being able to write stories.
  • Both drawing stories and writing stories require a particular set of skills that can be taught.
  • These two skill-sets overlap, but only partially.
  • Skills unique to writing stories can be practised by anyone who can write (meaning most people).
  • Skills unique to drawing stories can be practised by anyone who can draw (meaning barely anyone).

If you think about the comics industry from the perspective that these conclusions provide, the way we do things suddenly makes sense. Writers don't draw (most of them can't) and artists don't write (I suppose they could, but they tend not to).

We've turned the
limitations of our language
into a actual state of being.

And because writing skills are more easily accessible, there are lots of people who aspire to be writers, but as a result writing comics is over-saturated and hard to break into. These writers mostly require artists to draw for them, so there’s a demand for skilled artists who can draw stories. There aren't many people who are proficient at that task, so those that are will easily be able to find a writer who needs them (although a writer who is able to pay them is another matter). This chain of supply and demand quite literally makes up the economic structure of our industry, and ultimately it’s created by the lack of instruction we receive in drawing as a culture, which in turn is because of our lack of visual literacy, which in turn is so deep that it's embedded in our language. Quite the vicious cycle.

How can we fully understand the potential within comics when creating them requires a skill most of us can only appreciate as an obscure talent we wish we had?

This is a powerful cultural imbalance, but in comics it would be easy to see ourselves as outside its reach. After all, we all read and write pictures in a way that the rest of our culture doesn't... aren't we visually literate? I’d argue that the answer is actually no. We’re all shaped by the cultural condition, and we rarely consider its full implications, or the way that it shapes our own attitudes.

In a following article I want to use this concept to take a closer look at exactly how visual literacy affects comics creators and readers, and the kinds of comics we create and value. That's a much thornier subject though...

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Future of an Industry

Recently, UK comics seem to be changing – there's a fresh breeze in the air, a shift in perceptions, an expanding market, regular comics reviews in the broadsheets and a growing and more diverse stable of creators. Perhaps most significantly, Jonathan Cape and SelfMadeHero, along with other companies, have developed a great catalogue of original works by British creators. This growing range of original comics is mostly aimed at thoughtful adults, and is a massive triumph.

These successes are both backed up and boosted by a growing number of UK conventions, and just one trip to Thought Bubble shows a vibrant indie scene full of creators just waiting to be discovered. Almost every table boasts comics of excellent quality, and it's nigh on impossible to pick up every book that deserves attention.

I think everyone in UK comics can feel this happening, and it's exciting - there's a real sense of growing opportunity about the industry. But the reason I'm writing this article in the new year is not to self-congratulate, but to bring up a very sober question...
...what is our potential for growth?

It's easy to look back at the history of comics in the UK and see a pattern. The steady decline of sales in children's comics, the closure of comic shops, the sudden boom and bust of manga. Comics seem unable to put down strong roots here, and looking at that fact causes me great worry.
Seen from the interior of the industry, our collection of original comics are fresh shoots in a warm greenhouse. Seen from the greater context of publishing in Britain, fragile saplings in winter might be a more appropriate image.

The thing that worries me is that underneath this new growth, British comics still seems to rely on a specialist audience – one that is familiar with geek culture in general, and comfortable with comics because of long familiarity or even fandom. Chat to someone else who reads comics, and the chances are you'll find yourself with at least one fandom in common. To put it bluntly, we are a mostly-male sub-culture of adult fans, augmented only slightly by the growing mainstream relevance of geek culture, and a budding acceptance that comics are an art-form.

Look outside the warmth of the convention hall, and you still find an apathetic general public with a deep lack of understanding about comics. I'm regularly brought up short by the phrase “oh, they still make those?” when I talk with anyone but industry friends, and I frequently have to explain what my job is due to the lack of understanding that greets “comic book artist”. The reason for this is where we get the the heart of the matter.

The audience that our industry needs in order to expand has not grown up reading comics.

Despite this, it seems that almost every UK publisher is producing the same sort of content. Mature, arty comics for discerning adult readers. Whilst I'm personally very happy about this, I feel that as an industry, we're supplying our own demand, making the comics we want to read. In the larger sense of a new business trying to take root in a hostile market, this is tantamount to planting seeds on barren land.

If we, as an industry, can't maintain growth, the swelling ranks of indie creators will have nowhere to go, and everything we've gained over the last decade could be lost. What we need, more than anything else, is fertile soil to plant in.

If an entire generation of children were to grow up reading a diverse range of comics, from every genre and for every gender, before too long there'd be literally millions of young adults, demanding the most challenging original content they can find. They'd understand, produce and consume comics in ways we can't yet imagine, and their concept of mainstream would be utterly different from ours. They wouldn't even have to profess comic fandom. It would be a given.

All it would take is a children's comic with that diversity of content reaching massive levels of popularity. You can see where I'm going I hope…

The Phoenix is trying to do exactly that.

At the risk of sounding like an advert, it's stuffed full of well made comics that represent a massive range of genres and styles. It doesn't discriminate, it promotes textual and visual literacy, it pays well, credits its authors, and lets them keep their rights. It's EXACTLY WHAT WE ALL NEED TO BUILD A LASTING AND SUSTAINABLE MARKET FOR UK COMICS.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have worked there 3 days a week as an in-house designer and illustrator for the last year, but this isn't me toeing the company line, it's the reason I wanted to work for them in the first place.

I put a higher priority on my job at The Phoenix than I do on my own original comic, because I know that my work is going to have an uncertain future unless The Phoenix, or something very much like it, reaches huge levels of popularity first. My desire to start working at The Phoenix was driven by my desire to see UK comics grow and evolve.

I've been planning to write this blog entry ever since The Phoenix’s predecessor, The DFC, launched. Now, at the beginning of 2014, it seems like the right time. It's the start of a new year, there's a feeling of big things happening in the industry, publishers are supporting original content like never before, and The Phoenix is just starting to build up the momentum it needs to create a supply of comics readers the likes of which the UK has never seen.

I'm going to be doing my level best to make sure that momentum continues, so that in 2030, we can enjoy a UK comics industry larger and more diverse than any other.

But I'm only one voice, and it can feel very lonely supporting children's comics. We're an industry of adults, so it doesn't come naturally. If you normally feel like children's comics aren't relevant to you, just remember... these aren't the comics we deserve, they're the comics we need.

If you support children’s comics, by making them, by talking about them, by writing about them and promoting them, you’ll be supporting the future of the UK comics industry!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

List of Children's Comics

The Hilda series by Luke Pearson
DFC Library Books
Teenytinysaurs by Gary Northfield
Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi
Cucumber Quest by Gigi Digi
Cardboard Life by Philippa Rice
The Complete Rainbow Orchid by Garen Ewing
Glister Series by Andi Watson
Gum Girl Series by Andi Watson
Knight and Dragon by Matt Gibbs and Bevis Musson
Adventure Time Graphic Novels
Dinopopolous by Nick Edwards
Laika by Nick Abadzis
The Bone Series by Jeff Smith
Playing Out by Jim Medway
The Sleepwalkers by Vivian Schwarz
Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
Copper by Kazu Kibuishi
Binky the Space Cat by Ashley Spires
Polly and the Pirates by Ted Naifeh
Courtney Crumrin by Ted Naifeh
The Secret Science Alliance by Eleanor Davis
Rapunzels Revenge by Dean Hale
Giants Beware by Rafael Rosado and Jorge Aguirre
The Explorer series, edited by Kazu Kibuishi
Freddy Stories by Melissa Mendes
Anna and Froga by Anouck Ricard
The Unsinkable Walker Bean by Aaron Renier
Guinea PI series by Colleen AF Venables and Stepahnie Yue
The Adventures of Tooki by Jamie Courtier and Vicky Kimm

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Best Present Ever!

Some readers might have noticed that I've been doing quite a bit for the new weekly story comic, The Phoenix! Well, here's a chance to see what it's all about - The Phoenix have made a lovely gift box that contains a mini-comic, goodies, and a 5 issues subscription all in one, and you can order it straight from the website. For people living outside the UK, don't worry, The Phoenix will be going digital some time soon too ^_^ (stay tuned for more on that later).

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Investigating Gender Bias in the BCAs

Back in march 2012, I posted an article about Sexism in Comics, in which I polled my local bookshops. What I discovered was that even if you focus exclusively on “indie” publishers, the industry is still heavily dominated by male creators. The indie collection in Blackwells Oxford consisted of 16% female creators, and the collection in Waterstones Oxford just 9%. Similar results came in from other people who polled their local shops. Interestingly though, when I dragged out my pile of self-published comics from conventions over the last few years, I found that it consisted of 49% female creators!

This seemed to suggest something sober, but still hopeful. Only 20 or so years ago, a woman working in the comics industry was a genuine rarity, but since then a small but significant percentage of female creators has appeared on our bookshelves, meaning that it’s now easily possible to list a more than a few well-known female creators. This is a great achievement, but unfortunately it can create the illusion that indie comics have reached a greater state of gender parity than they really have.

Moving on to the topic at hand, my only experience with comic awards in the UK in the past has been the Eagle Awards, and despite Freakangels winning twice, I found it to be an alienating experience. The awards for the most part went out to a stream of US creators, franchise titles, and larger US publishers. In 2012, out of a massive total of 145 nominations across 29 categories, I counted only 7 female creators, and the only woman who won an award was up for best editor. Not one female artist or writer awarded, and 29 awards handed out.

A few weeks ago I attended the new British Comic Awards as Kate Brown’s +1 (she’d been nominated for Best Children’s Book), and in the interest of full disclosure, I'll document how I felt whilst watching them here:

Initially, my reaction was something along the lines of "finally, a PROPER award!". There were only a few categories, and all the nominations were for British books and creators. They were all from a range of genres and publishers and not one of them came from a franchise - it was all original or adapted material. The committee choosing the nominees consisted of 2 women and 5 men, already above the bookshop averages I noted earlier, and the judges were 1/3rd women, even higher still.

The best book went to Nelson, an anthology that I looked at closely whilst doing my earlier article. It contains 53 creators, 14 of whom are women, which is a better male/female ratio than either bookshop shelf I polled! It’s an extremely deserving book, and I felt like the whole industry was getting a prize.

Most significantly, of 5 nominees for Emerging Talent, two were women, and Joceline Fenton, someone whose self-published work I’ve long admired, took the prize. She did so by merit, but I also felt that the 40% female make-up of a category all about the future was representative of the change in comics that I, amongst many other creators, have been waiting for.

After the initial buzz there was time to discuss and reflect. I realised that there were a few potential flaws in the setup, including some repeat nominations and a panel that included creators nominating other creators. But I (and others I talked to) felt that those were ultimately minor niggles in what was one of the most positive moments for UK comics in many, many years.

However, since the award, by far the biggest press that the BCAs have received has been for not having decent female representation.

I know that there are many ways in which gender discrimination can occur, and it’s often hard to spot when they’re at work unless you’re on the lookout. So I decided to put aside my initial feelings, and do a proper investigation of the awards.

Gender representation in the BCAs was brought into focus by the Forbidden Planet article, Thoughts from Thought Bubble, featuring an interview with Philippa Rice, and became most visible when Laura Sneddon posted the article “Where were all the women at theBritish Comic Awards?”  on New Statesman. Laura’s article sums the story up nicely and is worth a read. It contains a lot of commentary from the people involved, along with official statements from some of the organisers, and links to parts of a key discussion that occurred on twitter between Philippa and a few of the committee members.

Looking at gender balance and feminist issues in comics is extremely important, and by carrying out this investigation I hope to continue the conversation and add a new voice. After making myself familiar with the background material, the central discussion issues seem to be the following:

  1. Out of 17 nominees, only 3 were women.
  2.  This ratio doesn’t represent the levels of diversity in the comic industry at large, or the Thought Bubble show floor.
  3. Karrie Fransman, Mary Talbot and Simone Lia and many other deserving women were not nominated.
  4. The committee and the judges were in the majority, male/white/English/straight/non-disabled.
  5. The committee that chose the nominees contained creators who worked in Nelson, which won an award.
  6. Philippa’s criticisms of the awards were silenced by male members of the committee. 

I went about investigating these criticisms one by one and here’s what I found:

1 - Out of 17 nominees, only 3 were women.

On first glance, this seems like a poor ratio of male to female creators, and looking at it outside the context of the award ceremony, I can understand why it intuitively made some commentators annoyed. However, the investigation I did in my Sexism in Comics article puts this in a different light.

3 female creators may not seem like much, but with only 14 other nominees, that’s still 18% female representation, which is actually higher than the Indie sections of the bookshop shelves that I polled.
Looking at the nominees further, I realised that WoodrowPhoenix was included on the list because he is one of the editors of Nelson (Rob Davis, the other editor, was also nominated for Don Quixote), which as an anthology features 26% female creators. Given this, Woodrow should really be treated as one “hybrid-nominee” who is proportionally gendered, and when you run the maths with that in mind, the female percentage goes up to 19%. Furthermore, when you poll the winners, you get even better numbers: 25% female (with Nelson represented by our “hybrid-nominee”).

So far the awards seem not only representative when it comes to gender, but actually a little progressive. They’re a huge step forward from the Eagles, and at least a small step forward from Indie comics in general.

2 - This ratio doesn’t represent the diversity visible on the Thought Bubble show floor. 

A count of the Thought Bubble guest-list shows that 17% of the guest-list is female, meaning that the percentage of female nominees in the BCAs was actually higher than the percentage of female guests at Thought Bubble.

However, when I used the exhibitor list instead of the guest list, I counted 28% female exhibitors (please note this was a very difficult quantity to measure given the number of pseudonyms and collectives involved, as with any other statistic in this article, I'd welcome outside corroboration). This is an interesting result, because I observed a similar thing when compared my own collection of published and self-published material, and when I looked into the distribution of female nominees in the BCAs I found the same thing again.

In the Emerging Talent category, 40% (2 out of 5) of nominees were women, and the winner was a woman. This means that the awards not only have a representative ratio overall, but they also celebrate a rising female percentage when considering talent of the future.

3 - Karrie Fransman, Mary Talbot and Simone Lia were not nominated

Now here’s where it gets tricky, because it gets personal. So far, statistics have been enough, but this criticism is based on the individual merits of these particular creators.

Personally, I think these creators are deserving of awards, and I could also extend this with more qualifying female creators that weren’t nominated. Sarah Burgess and Sally Jane Thompson were two that I thought of whilst watching the awards themselves.

However, an award can, in the end, only pay homage to a limited number of creators. This means there will ALWAYS be unrepresented creators, both male and female. There’s a lot of talent in the UK industry, despite how small it is, which means that there are bound to be disenfranchised people who believe that good material has been passed over (for example, I read an article on CBR that was annoyed at how the deserving material in 2000AD and The Beano was passed over).

The best that any award committee can do is offer an informed opinion, tempered by consensus and discussion. This means that no matter the award, no matter the industry, there will always be people who disagree with that opinion. The important question when it comes to gender representation should be not who but how many. So far, examining the BCAs has shown that they have a male/female ratio that is both realistic and forward looking.

4 - The committee and the judges were in the majority, white/male/English/straight/non-disabled.

The committee consisted of 29% women, and the judging panel was 1/3rd women. This is not just representative of the industry as it stands, but significantly better.

Regarding the other elements of this criticism, the organiser Adam Cadwell had the following comment to give:
“we had one Scottish person on the Committee, Vicky Stonebridge, and one gay man amongst the Judges, Stephen L Holland”.
EDIT: And Dan Berry points out on twitter that he's Welsh.

I’d also like to point out that it’s perfectly possible for someone to be disabled without that fact being physically obvious, or subject to public knowledge.

I want to be clear about this: diversity, minority representation and gender representation are massively important factors and should never be swept under the carpet or left un-discussed. However, given the limited number of judges and committee members, the elements of diversity that they already display, along with the male/white/straight/non-disabled majority in the industry itself, it seems not only unfair, but inaccurate to accuse the awards of prejudice in these respects.

5 - The committee that chose the nominees contained creators who worked in Nelson.

This is a tricky one! As a creator I know that it’s nearly impossible to completely untangle the work I create from the work I like and the people I want to promote and work alongside. Dan Berry seems to share this feeling, because he states that it’s one of the reasons he stepped down. However, this would only be a gender issue if it had turned out that the BCAs really did under-represent the proportion of female creators in the industry, which, given what I’ve discovered so far, I don’t believe they have.

In order to make one last effort to confirm the lack of gender bias in the awards, I contacted Adam Cadwell, the founder and organiser of the awards, and he agreed to send me the “long list” from which they chose the nominees. Knowing how sensitive something like this list is, I offered not to publish individual names from the list, only statistics, but I can confirm that it was EXHAUSTIVE!

 A quick poll of names in the list revealed 24% female creators.  That’s 5% higher than the list of nominees, and higher in general than I’ve come to expect from lists of comic creators. Before coming to any conclusions, I gave a lot of consideration to that 5% drop, and there are two reasons that I haven’t been able to rule it as evidence of gender bias.

The first is statistical and a bit technical. In a pool of 17 people, changing the gender of just one nominee changes the percentages by 5.88%. In any selection process that involves one primary criteria (in this case merit) that governs the outcome of a secondary criteria (in this case gender), there’s a random element to the distribution of the secondary criteria. To use an analogy, if you roll 60 dice, 30 of which are black and 30 of which are red, and then pick only the dice showing a 6, you’ll find that with repeated rolls, on average half of the dice showing sixes will be black and half of them will be red. However, in each individual result, there’ll be variations. You wouldn’t be surprised to roll 11 sixes, of which 5 were black and 6 were red. But then, 6 red and 5 black would be equally unsurprising. The same thing is happening with the award with equally limited numbers. Whilst 4 female nominees would have put the female percentage at 24% (exactly the same as the long-list), it’s not surprising or suspicious to see 3, nor would it have been surprising or suspicious to see 5. However, had there been 0-1 or 7-17, there might have been more reason to suspect bias, either positive or negative.
Secondly, a lot of the female names I counted were obviously listed for Emerging Talent, meaning that the long-list also exhibited the same bias towards a larger female percentage amongst younger creators and self-publishers.

In all, I can’t find any compelling evidence for gender bias here, so the issue seems to be about filling the committee with creators rather than the gender or sexism of those creators.

This now becomes a problem I can’t really tackle with statistics. Having a panel that includes creators nominating other creators may be easy to criticise as a system, but it has its merits as well as its weaknesses. The Eagles have shown us what can happen when it’s the consumers who choose, and there’s no-one better qualified to judge a good comic than an experienced creator. Even a critic may overlook elements of storytelling and qualities in construction that a switched-on creator would identify.

Sure, creators have biases, but so do journalists, editors, curators and publishers, and I can’t imagine who to turn to for an informed critical opinion outside of those specialisms. The UK industry is small enough that there will always be personal tensions in place, no matter who is on the committee and who is nominated.

There is also a major flaw to the arguments that call for changes to the rules governing the makeup of the committee: there already are anti-bias rules in place. You can read the details in this official blog entry published prior to the awards going public.

Adam Cadwell also has the following to say regarding the exception that allowed Nelson to be nominated:
"Regarding Nelson, it was a tricky one to choose. Both myself and fellow committee member Dan Berry both had chapters in the book. None of our own work was eligible for nomination of course but we all agreed that because we each only contributed 1/54th of the book, it was unfair to the other 52 artists and the impressive work they did on it to disallow the whole book. There has been some finger pointing about this which we perhaps should have expected but I believe it would have won regardless of our involvement because it's such a unique project and an engrossing story."

6 - Philippa’s objections were silenced by male members of the committee.

So far, the criticisms levelled at the awards haven’t held up well to close scrutiny, which means that all the furore boils down to this final issue: a debate that occurred on twitter. Here’s a transcript of the debate.

The way the conversation was characterised by Laura Sneddon in her article was: 
“The whole discussion ended in Rice apologising profusely for offering her opinion when asked in an interview, with many onlookers absolutely livid at how she had been effectively silenced.”
Philippa's apology reads:
“Yeah I'm sorry if you feel I've accused you of stuff, there's no need to get defensive”.
After which she didn’t engage in the conversation any further. Adam’s contribution to the conversation can be summed up with this tweet:
"I'd much rather people raise questions than assume or accuse. Please ask away, there's an email, twitter and an open blog.” 
Given that Adam’s tweets are neither silencing nor aggressive, the only part of the conversation I can find that might be considered as such is Matt Sheret’s (a member of the BCAs committee) response to Philippa’s apology:
“That's a very manipulative way of phrasing that. Adam's pored a year of his life into this, and was around all weekend for you to take this to in person. So was I. So was Dan.”
I can see how this might read as a man telling a woman she shouldn’t have spoken in public. It’s important to note though that this comment came after Philippa’s apology, which reads to me as an “I’m sorry you feel that way” rather than an “I’m sorry for saying what I did”.

However, I've broken this all down into parts, and named each person involved not to offer my own interpretation (no-one but the involved parties know what they really meant to do and say), but to demonstrate that nothing is straight forward when you’re dealing with the nuances of two human beings interacting – regardless of gender. This wasn’t just a woman and a man talking, it was Philippa Rice and Matt Sherett, two complex people, and crucially, friends.

And that’s what this whole gender issue seems to boil down to. An unfortunate public exchange between friends with different opinions who are extremely invested in their work and care very deeply about what it is that they do. Both Philippa and Matt have since stepped away from the debate and Philippa’s original interview is still publicly accessible.

Far from being silenced, the issue Philippa raised has not only been discussed, it has become the most visible coverage the BCAs have received.

And discussion is all for the good - if I didn’t think it was, I wouldn’t have written this! But I’m alarmed at how personal it has become. Opinions have become entrenched, facts are being lost in the face of personal accusations, and there have even been suggestions about threatening or aggressive messages exchanged in private, which are impossible to investigate or comment on

What makes this hardest is that I admire and respect everyone involved. Laura, Adam, Philippa and Matt are all real assets to British comics, which in general has been one of the most freindly and welcoming communities I've ever entered into. It upsets me to see them and the industry set at odds. I think it’s time to give all the individuals involved a break, focus on the facts and figures, and reach our own conclusions. Please take mine with a pinch of salt, question and cross-analyse my statistics, and debate my conclusions.

For what it’s worth though, I feel that the BCAs are one of the great recent achievements of British Comics, and I hope they continue and maintain a reputation as not only the premier award in the UK, but an award that any reader around the world can come to for quality and inspiration. I feel that it’s good that gender representation is being discussed, but unfortunate that the opening exchanges weren’t more carefully investigated and considered.

I hope that issues of gender continue to be discussed level-headedly, and that everyone involved can find it within themselves to keep an open mind.

Here’s to British comic creators of all genders. You rock! Please be kind to each other, and give each other the benefit of the doubt. We're all in this together.