Well, that was certainly a word balloon to blow up and display on my site.

§ January 27th, 2023 § Filed under publishing § 10 Comments

Last time, Daniel T said

“Not familiar with the Preacher example. More on it?”

And I didn’t think I was going to be able to track it down easily, as I couldn’t remember where in the run it appeared, but find it I did! I was talking about obvious lettering alterations/fixes in comics, usually replacing something else (like in Wednesday‘s example of “ass” being replaced with “butt” in Animal Man #1. So here is this splash page, as originally printed in Preacher #61, May 2000:

And here is the same splash as it appeared in trades and digitally:

A closer look at the word balloons in question, original first:

Then fixed (slightly pixelated as I had to resize it from a screenshot):

Now I don’t know for certain that this was adjusted dialogue, replacing something that, knowing Garth Ennis, was probably much worse. But when I see lettering like that which clearly does not match the lettering in the rest of the book, there’s some sort of thing going on. (And I know I didn’t provide examples of other lettering in the original issue #61 here, but I assure you it’s a lot neater than what’s in that word balloon.)

Also, it sort of looks like “arse” was a replacement in that first word balloon, but the whole thing looking as it does makes it appear as if the balloon’s entire contents were replaced.

And the fact that it was relettered again for later editions says to me that it was some kind of fix that needed refixing.

Anyway, just thought that was interesting, a production thing that stuck in my head for the, what, 22 years since this was published.

Elsewhere in the Preacher run, there’s a sequence where Starr (that’s the bald-headed fellow on the page shown here) is making comments at some gathering that I think were also relettered after the fact, so I’ll see if I can’t find those, too.

On a slightly related, and marginally less sweary, note, Chris V noted that Animal Man wasn’t technically a “mature readers” book, the likely reason why “ass” was verboten in the dialogue. And he’s right, of course, that we didn’t start going whole hog with George Carlin’s Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television ’til the Vertigo label was applied.

My counter was that he was correct, but it seemed as if DC was a tad bit…edgier in their more upscale direct-sales-only monthlies than in the regular newsstand books. Not necessarily in language (hence the editing in Animal Man, but certainly in other ways, such as the complained-about-at-the-time violence in Omega Men, the moral ambiguity of Vigilante, and something a little more contemporary to Animal Man, the nekkid ghost-sex scene in Spectre (which as I said to Chris, was meant to be a little more “obscured” than it was except for a production error, but even still, more than you’d get in a newsstand comic).

Basically, the books, being sold only through comic shops, weren’t Comics Code-approved, and boundaries were certainly tested. I also noted Vigilante may have had slightly harsher language early on, but taking a quick pass through the first three issues I know I read at the time, I didn’t spot anything particularly egregious, but maybe I’m conflating those with the later two-parter by Alan Moore. I’ll have to do a little more research here.

Interestingly, just a few months after that Animal Man #1 was released, DC’s newsstand-available and Comics Code-approved Justice League International #23 came out with this panel:

…so who knows what was even going on at DC at the time. And don’t get me started on the Comics Code approving use of the word “shit.”

10 Responses to “Well, that was certainly a word balloon to blow up and display on my site.”

  • Thom H. says:

    “And don’t get me started on the Comics Code approving use of the word “shit.””

    I always liked when Cliff would yell “Shit!” in Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol. That’s how you knew things were really getting crazy.

  • Dave says:

    One of my current bugaboos is the use of Wingdings to replace profanities in DC’s “mature” books. (Tom King is particularly guilty of this, but it’s also indicative of his generally-crappy writing.)

    It’s all smirky and “aren’t we daring?” If you want a character to say “fuck” or “shit,” have them say it. The pussyfooting is more precious that it is protective.

  • Matthew says:

    Realized last year that some of the DC YA graphic novels have full on swearing in them. Want to see teenage Catwoman say “fucking” in a comic book? Check out Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale.
    It’s weird to then read a Suicide Squad comic in which all the swearing is censored.

  • William Gatevackes says:

    It was quite a shock when 15-year-old me got that copy of Spectre #9 in his pulls back in 1987. Nothing in the first 8 issues, to my memory, was all that offensive. Then, bam, naked, writhing Madame Xanadu. Then, issue 10 was a Millennium crossover, like nothing ever happened.

    I wasn’t all that corrupted by that. I just happen to remember it came during a time that comic stores were being raided for selling obscene comics. All I could imagine was some thing on the evening news “Porn? In a Superman comic?” coming down the line and me having to explain that to my patents. (Yes. it was a Spectre, but if the news covered it, they’d stretch and call it a Superman comic to get watchers.)

  • Snark Shark says:

    Guy Gardener: the biggest dickhead in comics!

  • Andrew Davison says:

    When I read the first caption, I thought the bold text was to emphasize the “R”. Was Starr British, I can’t remember? British people (e.g. me) would tend to say “arse” rather than “ass”.

  • Eric L says:

    I remember Guy also said “God damn” in that same JLI run which was edgier language than you’d see in your average DC comic (though you were always more likely to see a “Hell” or “damn” in a DC book than a Marvel) so maybe Guy was somehow exempt from the comics code. Like “Oh, it’s just Guy. Let him be.”

  • MisterJayEm says:

    In issue #13’s letter column, Spectre Editor, Robert Greenberger wrote: “No other issue of SPECTRE has received as much mail as #9… most everyone said something about the nudity. Doug, Gray and I felt it was necessary for the story but a variety of factors led to Madame Xanadu being a lot more unclothed than anticipated. For those we offended, we apologize. Stricter procedures have been instituted to make sure something like this will not happen again.”

    (“A lot more unclothed than anticipated” is a wonderful turn of phrase.)

    — MrJM

  • Snark Shark says:

    “Was Starr British”


    ““A lot more unclothed than anticipated” is a wonderful turn of phrase.”

    Sounds like part of a police report. “The suspect was more unclothed than we anticipated”.

  • Mike Loughlin says:

    Super-hero comics have such a weird relationship with swearing. It’s still censored in most Big 2 books, but:

    1) you can see any character that’s on kids’ clothes, made into toys, and in cartoons and video games saying various four-letter words in dozens of popular movies.

    2) there’s plenty of explicit violence and (mostly, but not always, implied) sex in super-hero comics, but swearing is a bridge too far.

    3) the big 2 pitch their comics toward teenage and adult readers. The best selling comics are kids/all ages paperbacks. I doubt there’s a legion of 9 year-olds clamoring for Tom King’ and Mitch Gerards’s story about why the Riddler’s not very nice.

    4) It’s usually obvious what swear the grawlix (symbols representing swears, like #%@!) represents, defeating the purpose. Sometimes it isn’t, interfering with storytelling.

    If the “no hard swearing” rule must remain in place, I’d tell writers they have no more than two grawlix captions per story.