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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

16 Comments

  1. Jeff Heikkinen
    August 21, 2015 @ 9:10 pm

    This is easily the worst installment of The Last War In Albion in months, if not ever.

    I have an idea: How about evaluating the book for what is actually IN it, rather than what isn't? Heaven knows you've been demonstrating for years that you have the intellectual jam to do this, but this entry feels phoned-in and prey to the worst, or at least laziest, instincts of what might be called "tumblr feminism".

    Your criticisms seem to boil down to this: (1) Cooke didn't twist the plot into a pretzel to include minority characters. (2) Cooke included a depiction of a lesbian character that… well, was actually pretty good, as you yourself admit in the same breath. (3) Something about Hooded Justice's death that honestly didn't even make sense to me, but seems to hinge on the idea that any reference whatsoever to hanging must always and everywhere be a reference to race relations in the country you happen to be from, a country that didn't even exist for most of the long history of said method of execution. Which is kind of awkward, being an excellent example of the kind of cultural myopia that you seem to take yourself to be taking a stand against. (I'd remind you in this context that neither Moore nor Cooke is American. Throughout this series you've been very good about understanding the implications of this, then here you suddenly seem to forget everything you know about the subject.)

    Inclusiveness is good, but it is not the only thing that is good. And the occasional entries where you just go out of your way to find/invent racial politics at the expense of all other critical tools (as here and in your Celestial Toymaker entry, which the comments clearly showed warrants a retraction) is lazy and hurts your credibility.

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  2. Elizabeth Sandifer
    August 21, 2015 @ 9:31 pm

    You know, I really wish people who hate the Celestial Toymaker entry would just fuck off, stop reading my work, and leave me alone, because as far as I can tell every single one of you are rude little shits.

    I would suggest, first and foremost, that the idea that racial and sexual politics can ever be invented in a situation is inherently racist and sexist. Race and sex are fundamental parts of how contemporary anglophone society is structured. There is never a moment where they are not relevant and present.

    I would also point out that with Watchmen, more than with Book One of Last War in Albion, there are some games being played with the order in which information is presented and concepts are introduced.

    Not to cross into the artist explaining his work too far, but this sidestep into Before Watchmen is paralleling the Under the Hood extracts at the ends of Watchmen #1-3. Extracts that I note in this entry are a subjective perspective undermined elsewhere in the work.

    That is not to say that I don't stand by what I say here. But it's a selected perspective. I think the critique of race and gender within Watchmen is a real and relevant one. Especially gender. And it is an aspect of the first issue that I allude to; note that there are six characters. The Comedian is introduced as negative space. Laurie, on the other hand, is a tiny figure in the background of Dr. Manhattan's intro panel. Laurie has an odd and slightly excluded relationship with the story that's problematic, and that's going to be a major theme eventually. I wanted to set up that theme, so I used it for a swipe at Minutemen.

    Why not read Minutemen according to any of the axes in which it's pretty good? I mean, I did, and it is. But there's nothing extraordinary in it, though. Its alchemy never sparks to greatness; it's a boring mediocrity, interesting only because of its incidental connection to an infinitely superior work.

    More to the point, though, Last War in Albion has to be hostile to Before Watchmen. I have five characters: Moore, Morrison, Gaiman, Ellis, and Gillen. Ultimately, the project only ever tries to understand the world through their eyes. And four of them wouldn't give a shit about Before Watchmen, while the fifth would conclude that it doesn't do anything interesting with his ideas and push them into new directions. So that's the angle I had to take.

    Past that, it was a matter of figuring out what the most useful line of attack in terms of setting up my themes was, with a bit of imagining what Moore would have done if he had written a Minutemen series, and judging Cooke's take against that. Because I do think Moore would have unpicked race and gender in the 1940 and 50s, simply because those are parts of what the seedy and corrupt underbelly of America included at that time As, notably, Cooke demonstrates deftly in New Frontier.

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  3. Jeff Heikkinen
    August 22, 2015 @ 3:06 pm

    I'm mildly tempted to feign offense at the hypocrisy of your first paragraph (who's calling who a rude little shit, etc), but it wouldn't be honest. All I can really summon up over that is mild amusement.

    Even if, strictly for the sake of argument, I accept your premise that "[t]here is never a moment when [race and gender] are not relevant and present", it doesn't follow that every possible way of reading them into a situation is above reproach. I still think what you say on the subject in this entry, insofar as I follow it (which as I've admitted, is probably imperfectly), is a tremendous stretch. I've already given reasons for this, and I don't see anything you've said that is directly responsive to those reasons. Certainly nothing that justifies what could be easily interpreted as an accusation of racism, something I really, really don't think should ever be just casually tossed out in a public blog post – but that's a whole other topic.

    I find your reasons for saying LWiA has to be hostile to Before Watchmen unpersuasive. (Not that I'm opposed to the idea of being hostile. Indeed, part of me was hoping this entry would be EVEN MORE of a hatchet job, if one less focused on percieved social justice issues. I just think the "five and a bit sets of eyes" bit, at least with the information available to me at this early stage of LWiA, seems silly. [For one thing we've seen plenty of at least one other perspective – yours!] "Because the very idea was ill-concieved and disrespectful" seems like a much better reason to be hostile, and better supported by what you've said so far in the main text.) Even if this really was the only way to follow through on an artistic decision you made about how to structure the piece, who MADE that decision in the first place, and retains the power even now to revise it as needed? At any rate, even granting the artistic necessity of finding a way to be hostile, I can't seriously believe this was the best way to do it.

    (I also think Moore would – and indeed, does – dismiss BW out of hand, rather than getting anywhere where he'd have an opinion on its artistic merits. But I don't think that's a particularly important point.)

    The Toymaker entry is, in any case, far worse. In that entry, you go beyond dubiously interpreting the (admittedly very bad) story at hand into making objectively false claims about the intent and thought process of members of the production team – real, flesh-and-blood people many of whom are still alive. I'm sure that at the time you wrote the entry, you believed in good faith that was the best interpretation of the then-available evidence. But there is now other evidence, and this been brought to your attention, and when that happens, responsible academics change their minds. Or at the very least, give a better reason for not doing so than an irrelevant and arguably hypocritical jab at the social graces of the person who raised the issue.

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  4. Elizabeth Sandifer
    August 22, 2015 @ 3:19 pm

    I really have no problem being rude to someone who comes to my house to pee on the carpet.

    To be clear, I am completely indifferent to the question of how my work is received by people for whom the statement "there exist moments when race and gender are not relevant and present," or "an accusation racism should never be just casually tossed out in a public blog post" is persuasive. These are both essentially axiomatic premises of my approach. If you reject them, I am unsurprised that you don't like my work, but I'm also uninterested in why; the answer seems obvious.

    I will say, however, that it is worth considering what tipping my hand on the question of Before Watchmen's ethical validity in Chapter One would mean for the rest of the book. The critique of Before Watchmen you're suggesting depends too heavily on what is, ultimately, the resolution of the plot here.

    Also, The Celestial Toymaker is disgustingly racist and everyone involved in it should be ashamed of themselves for their work on it.

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  5. Jeff Heikkinen
    August 22, 2015 @ 3:53 pm

    You are aggressively misreading me in much the same way you're aggressively misreading Cooke. For one thing, if I didn't (generally) like your work, I wouldn't care enough about it to call out instances where I don't think it's up to snuff.

    It may, at the end of the day, be true that there are racial problems with TCT (I'm not too fond of the yellowface aspect myself), but much of your particular case for that conclusion is built on clear-cut factual errors. You may have been ignorant at the time of writing the entry, but you're no longer ignorant of it. I don't understand the purpose of doubling down on this. It's possible to retract the claim, for example, that they consciously chose the term "celestial" for racial reasons, and still be as offended as they day is long at the yellowface.

    I'm a pretty firm believer that reality has a fairly strong left-wing bias as it is, and therefore, that a progressive political agenda can be perfectly well-served in an entirely honest and above-board manner. If you don't have a problem with pursuing those ends dishonestly, then you're quite right that there's a large and perhaps insurmountable gap between our worldviews, though you've seriously misunderstood why.

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  6. Jeff Heikkinen
    August 22, 2015 @ 4:09 pm

    Bleh, the middle sentence of the middle paragraph came out wrong. "You may have been ignorant OF THOSE PARTICULAR FACTS at the time…"

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  7. Daru
    August 25, 2015 @ 12:10 am

    I thought that this was a great entry of The War. Last episode the start of The Minutemen was set up and from the first few panels I actually loved the look of it and felt drawn into possibly reading a comic I had vowed never to read. I now feel like I don't have any interest in reading it.

    "As with race, the real problem here is a lack within the book; it is, in the end, pretty much only interested in white men. And, of course, this is a complaint that can readily be leveled at Watchmen as well"

    Great petrol bomb thrown into the audience, and looking at the responses above, it certainly seems to have worked.

    I have read none of the above except Watchmen and I cannot do anything but agree that Phil is right with the idea that Watchmen is dominated by white males. And the treatment of gay and black characters, and gender on Minutemen sounds awful.

    I won't be reading it. And look forwards to where you are going with Watchmen, for myself I love the structure of having topics are nested within others.

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  8. Daru
    August 25, 2015 @ 12:26 am

    This essay was a great taking apart of a comic that not only does not work, but really should not have happened. I don't think Phil is assessing the book based on what is not in it, but his thoughts are based on problems with it.

    "The entire story is based around having a Fu Manchu style villain who is evil precisely because he's Chinese. To an audience watching and even remotely aware of these stereotypes, the fact that he is Chinese is how we know the moment we see him that he's evil."

    The Celestial Toymaker is racist. That was the essay entry that nailed my commitment to this blog and to Phil's work. What happened? My mind was opened, that's what.

    AS Phil's statement above says, the racism was based not only on yellowface or use of the word "celestial", but basically the presentation of an evil character who was known to evil simply by the fact that they were seen to be Chinese. It's racist.

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  9. Daru
    August 25, 2015 @ 12:29 am

    Meant to say that Phil's comment is from the original Toymaker post.

    http://www.philipsandifer.com/2011/04/most-totally-closed-mind-celestial.html

    Reply

  10. arcbeatle
    August 25, 2015 @ 8:42 am

    Strangely, this article has made me more interested in reading Before Watchmen than any thing ever has before. Even while its flaws are obvious, and at times damnable, at least Minutemen seems to have an understanding of what made Watchmen interesting that was utterly absent from, well, most of Before Watchmen that I'd taken a glimpse at. The previews of Nite Owl, Ozymandias, Rorschach, and the Comedian I saw all looked awful, and the only one I remember looking interesting was Silk Spectre. The art of Minutemen also looks pretty nice here.

    With how utterly, utterly, totally I had no interest in reading Before Watchmen in any way shape or form, I suppose finding out any part of it was interesting is enough to make me curious. It looks like the local Library has a copy of the trade paperback, that also has Silk Spectre. Might be worth an afternoon pass.

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  11. arcbeatle
    August 25, 2015 @ 8:59 am

    The structure of this Watchmen chunk of "Last War" is fantastic. I love the nesting as well.

    It sounds like every complaint Phil is leveling here is totally justified, but as you can see below this actually did push me over the edge into the "reading it" category, despite the massive flaws and failures.

    At this point in life I expect someone to explode anytime someone points out a flaw in a work anytime there is any problem with diversity or representation, sadly. No surprises here it seems. Its really too bad though– with all the other interesting things with the comic, if it had only been better in those areas… But I digress.

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  12. Jeff Heikkinen
    August 25, 2015 @ 7:19 pm

    Again, I feel I'm being pretty egregiously misread. It's not so much "I disagree with Phil's conclusions" as "I think these specific arguments are very bad (even though ultimately I agree, or at least am not prepared to actively disagree, with the conclusions they're meant to support support)".

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  13. Jeff Heikkinen
    August 25, 2015 @ 7:19 pm

    Or just support, for that matter.

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  14. Daru
    August 25, 2015 @ 8:18 pm

    "Again, I feel I'm being pretty egregiously misread."

    I don't believe I have been derogatory towards you at all. I all my comments so far I have posted my feelings towards the article and none about you personally.

    I'm happy with Phil's arguments.

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  15. Daru
    August 25, 2015 @ 8:19 pm

    I mean to say "in all my".

    Reply

  16. Josh04
    September 3, 2015 @ 10:52 am

    the idea that there are times when you 'shouldn't' consider something from an angle of race, gender, class or any other actually existing social perspective is anti-intellectual drivel

    Reply

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