It's a classic ethical dilemma: Is it better to boycott a state — in this case, North Carolina — for a discriminatory law or support those who are fighting it? Matthew Rosenberg and Tyler Boss, creators of the new series 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank, decided to take the second route.
They'll attend HeroesCon this weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina, where they'll sell a limited edition of 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank #1, featuring a cover by Josh Hixson, with proceeds going to benefit Equality NC.
The controversy in North Carolina stems from the recent enactment of HB2, which struck down anti-discrimination statutes, banned local minimum-wage and other workplace protections, and required that, in government buildings, everyone must use the restroom that corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate — a direct shot at transgender and nonbinary people. As a result, a number of entertainers and corporations are boycotting the state.
However, HeroesCon is held in Charlotte, a progressive city that in February enacted an ordinance banning discrimination against gay and transgender people. The convention is also inclusive: Organizer Shelton Drum wrote an introduction to this year's program emphasizing that all are welcome, and encouraging attendees to buy T-shirts to benefit Equality NC.
We talked with Rosenberg about his decision to create the variant — and about how his convictions influence his work.
ROBOT 6: Tell us about the special variant you are doing for Heroes Con.
Matthew Rosenberg: I try to do benefits at comic cons when I can for a few reasons. I have been tremendously lucky to have a small group of people who are very supportive of my work and some who collect various covers and editions and whatnot. I figured that's a pretty rare thing and probably not something I will have for my whole career so I should try and put it to good use. And I like being able to include the readers and fans in a way, let them know they are contributing too. Also, I feel pretty self conscious about just sitting at a table and talking about myself and my work for weekends at a time, so it's a nice way to sort of focus on something else. I love meeting people and all that, I just am not big on being the focus of all the interactions. Nothing against those that love the con thing, it's just something I am not 100% comfortable with yet.
So Tyler Boss (the artist on the book) and I made a special "Fuck HB2" edition of 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank #1. They are limited to 50 numbered copies and have brand-new cover art by the great Josh Hixson, who will also be at the HeroesCon this weekend. We also put a couple pages of bonus art stuff in the back, because we had the room.
I wanted to try and generate as much money as we could, without asking folks to pay an arm and a leg for books. So what we are doing is holding a raffle every day for that day's copies. The raffle tickets are $1 so if you have a buck you have a shot at getting the book. And we are donating 100 percent of the profits to Equality NC who do great work fighting for civil rights in North Carolina.
Some people are choosing not to go to HeroesCon in light of HB2 and the calls for boycotts that followed. Others advocate going to support people who are allies of the LGBTQ community. What was your thought process, and why did you conclude it would be better to go?
I very heavily weighed not going this year. The idea of putting money into that state's economy in light of HB2 is not something I look forward to. But after the great people of HeroesCon released a statement reconfirming that they are working hard to make the show a safe and inclusive space for all fans, I began to waver. After talking to a bunch of really kind local people I decided to come. But I knew if I went I would need to to do some small part for the fight for civil rights in that state. So, that's where this variant came from.
But I completely understand people not wanting to go. I am a straight cis male, so it is much easier for me to shrug it off. That's shitty of me to say, but I have to acknowledge the privilege in my decision.
I will add that a couple other books from Black Mask, Jade Street Protection Services and Kim & Kim, have their creative teams coming to the show as well, and they just announced that they are also doing benefit variants of their respective books. These will be the official debuts of both series and they are raising money for Transcend Charlotte and Wrenn House & Safe Place, which are both awesome organizations. I hope people check them out.
Mixing comics and politics can be a tricky business. Why have you chosen to advocate for causes you believe in within the comics community?
First of all, I don't think mixing politics and comics needs to be tricky business. I try and be tolerant of other people's beliefs and ideals and I think comics and all art are a good way to usher in civilized discussions. Just because a lot of people have forgotten how to have civil discourse doesn't mean we should shy away from having beliefs. I feel pretty confident in the things I believe in so I don't have a problem reading opposing views. I think that's healthy, but if people don't want to support my work because I believe in gay rights, or gun reform, or prison reform, or whatever, that's fine too. I understand not wanting to support people you disagree with. But that shouldn't really be a risky career choice.
As for why it's important? I don't really know what the point of the medium is if it's not constantly trying to say things. I don't know what the point is of putting work out that is just about conflicts and resolutions. The comics I care about the most, that speak to me the most, have things to say. I think that's true for most people. It doesn't have to be in your face or aggressive about it, but good and important work is personal to the creators and has something to say. It just is. It doesn't matter if it's V For Vendetta and Maus, American Splendor and Fun Home, or X-Men and Batman, the iconic books matter because they have something to say.
You have done several fund-raisers, but how do your convictions influence your writing? Or do they?
I try and make my work personal, and my politics leak into that. We Can Never Go Home is about a lot of things — growing up, self-reliance, violence and life choices, among others. I think a lot of the things I have to say about that stuff is in the text, but I also wrote a short essay in the back of the trade titled "Thoughts on selling violence as entertainment" explaining some of my views and how they relate to the work. It is definitely something I will be doing with 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank when it finishes. A lot of my other upcoming stuff is a little more overtly political and I probably won't do that level of hand-holding. But again, I think a lot of the best work has a more than a little of the creator on the page. I am just trying to be honest with my stuff.
Do you have any similar projects planned for the future?
Doing fundraisers and charity is something I hope I can do for the rest of my career in comics. I don't have anything immediate planned because I tend not to plan that far out, but I'm sure I will be doing more stuff later this year.