Issue #44

So, I dunno.

It's hard to know what to say.

I swear…

No, really, I do.

I mean, sometimes, at least.

But in comics -- at least in comics approved by the Comics Code Authority -- that's not permissible.

When I worked at Marvel and DC, I understood the rules and worked within the parameters. No swearing allowed. But still, it just seems ridiculous when you really stop to think about it.

George Carlin said it best, "there are 400,000 words in the English language, and there are seven of them that you can't say on television. What a ratio that is. 399,993 to seven. They must really be bad. They'd have to be outrageous, to be separated from a group that large. All of you over here, you seven. Bad words."

And he's got a point. There are tens of thousands of words in the English language in active use -- why discriminate against seven of them? What's the point? There are words that mean the same thing and we all know it -- why is "ca-ca" fine and "shit" not okay? Why is "make love" or "intercourse" or even "hump" okay, but "fuck" makes people get all bent out of shape?

And, seriously, is the world really going to come to an end because of a couple of "bad words" in a comic book? Somehow, I don't think so.

Carlin's routine went on as he listed the seven words you couldn't say on television, "You know the seven don't you? Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, Cocksucker, Motherfucker, and Tits, huh? Those are the heavy seven. Those are the ones that will infect your soul, curve your spine and keep the country from winning the war."

Ol' George got a lot of trouble for that bit. Radical disk jockeys that dared play his routine over public airwaves got fined and it got a lot of people all worked up.

And for what?

They're words! We give them power! We do. All of us, together, collectively.

If you have an older brother (or been an older brother) you know how this played out. The older brother needled the hell out of the younger brother (or sister) until he found those magic words that caused the younger sibling to go running to mom. And then it was all over -- those words became your private nickname, often muttered beneath their breath. God help you if they rhymed.

My little sister, Britt, didn't stand a chance.

It's the reaction that gives those words power. If racial and ethnic slurs didn't get the desired effect, do you think they would have had the staying power that they've had?

But people point out that "comics are for kids" despite the relatively few kids reading comics these days. I've had people object to my use of certain words in this column (not many, mind you -- one, actually). The concerned citizen was worried that kids might very well be reading this column.

I assured said citizen that the subject matter on hand was not something that a nine-year old would be interested in. These columns aren't comic books, after all -- they're long blocks of text. I seriously doubt that the audience reading my column includes many kids. And I'm confident that those who are reading it, aren't learning any new words from me.

Okay, here's one for the kids: Lexiphanicism -- the use of pretentious words, language, or style. Using the word Lexiphanicism in conversation is an example of Lexiphanicism, actually. Try it!

In any case, the whole notion that I should be writing this column for nine-year olds because a nine year old might read it is a pretty weak argument. Kids may walk in on an R-rated movie, after all, but that doesn't mean R-rated movies shouldn't be allowed to be shown. If parents want to keep kids away from my column, I'm fine with that.

When I started up "Savage Dragon," some years back, the idea was that it would be a superhero book for older readers. The situations would be more mature in nature and the storylines would unfold over years in a way kids would have more difficulty following. There was no use of the "sinister seven" to begin with, but several years into the run I broke down when the use of a certain word became important. I used swear words sparingly for a few years thereafter and then ditched them.

Swear words are not the norm in superhero comic books, of course, they're used with great abandon in the pages of "Powers," which has superheroes in it, but it's not a superhero book per se. "Savage Dragon" isn't either, really -- the whole cops and capes combo really kicked off there -- "Savage Dragon" was a super powered police office. Fighting bad guys was his job.

And then there was "Watchmen" -- it didn't pull too many punches and one of the leads had his dong flipping about. It really was the one to break new ground in that regard, to say, "Well, if these guys were real they might look and talk something like thus…"

I think all of us are trying to write natural sounding dialogue here. And, in the real world, people swear. They may not swear as much as people swear in "Powers," but they do swear from time to time.


What to do…?

Do I dance around those "bad words?" That's not always easy. Do I write "unrealistic" or "unnatural" sounding dialogue on purpose or avoid using certain types of characters or what?

There's the "@#$% solution," but characters that say "@#$%" always sound like Dick Dastardly's muttering dog, Muttly, from the cartoon classic the "Wacky Races" to me. It's hard to take a tough guy that says "@#$%" seriously no matter how tough he looks.

It's too -- I dunno -- "comic booky."

I've been good, I've really tried.

Sure, there's a stray "Jesus" or "God" or "damn" being tossed around, but I've avoided the big three for a while now (The F, S and C-words).

And TV has relaxed somewhat. "Shit" makes the cut if it's late enough.

I dunno.

I guess I started thinking about this more, okay, a lot more, since I lined up that appearance by the "Wanted" characters in "Savage Dragon."

The characters in "Wanted" swore like sailors -- worse, really -- and having those characters not swear just seems, well, weird. It's bad enough that they don't look on model (I'm no J.G. Jones), but to not have them sound right either? What's the point if I'm not even going to make an effort to do that?

And I'm still trying to sort out the best plan of action here, and not just for that issue but all issues. There are those that miss the swearing! Those that liked the book being more "mature" (if, in fact, having a "potty mouth" could be construed as being somehow more mature.)

What to do? What to do…?

I'm still working that out. I'm sure that whatever I do it'll piss off somebody but as they say, "It's better to be pissed off than pissed on."

But that's just one fan's opinion -- I'm willing to concede that I could be wrong...

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