The Joy of Dicks

December 2nd, 2015

A WEE TREAT FOR YOU HERE TODAY, AS MAID OF NAILS/KELLY KANAYAMA WRESTLES WITH… WELL, WE’LL LET HER TELL YOU!

A confession: I am a Strong Female Reader, and I can’t get enough Dicks.

To clarify, I adore Garth Ennis’ and John McCrea’s (if he’s reading this: hi, John!) two-volume series Dicks beyond all reason. It’s obsessed with the combination of male genitalia and violence, and isn’t ashamed of that obsession. It’s ostensibly puerile to the point of featuring an alien antagonist called Lord Bluevein, leader of the Dong. One of its main goals seems to be answering the question: how many cartoonish dicks can we cram into each page?

That’s why I love it so much.

I mean, there’s a building on my university campus called Bonar Hall, and every single time I walk past it I do a mental snicker. The day I learned that All-Star Superman was referred to as ASSMAN in official DC correspondence is a day I will treasure forever. When I picked up a black-and-white print collection of Vol. 1 of Dicks at London Super Comic Con and got McCrea and Ennis to sign it, I made a point of telling them that since it was in a bag, I had an actual bag of Dicks in my hand.

It’s not exactly the most feminine behaviour. But why isn’t it?

I think it comes down to the concept of women’s unrewarded emotional labour, as set out by Jess Zimmerman at The Toast. Our lot in life is to be the grown-up, work-ready foils to our male counterparts. Ha ha, boys and men are immature, the dictum goes if you’ve ever watched a TV show or a film or read a novel or… (ad infinitum), but girls and women are responsible caretakers, always there to clean up their messes. The underlying message, of course, is that boys and men are allowed to be immature sometimes, whereas girls and women are denied that chance. So once we’re old enough to read Dicks/Ennis-McCrea joints/Avatar Comics/edgy comics with swears and boobs in, we don’t get spaces in which to be puerile.

Ennis’ work goes some way towards subverting this from the other side, using fistfights and guns and pledges of bro-hood to portray adherence to such a breakdown of gender roles as harmful for women and crippling for men. While his comics are by no means unproblematic, I can’t forget Butcher’s realization of “Men are only so much use, Hughie. Men are boys” as he bleeds to death in The Boys, or Jesse’s rejection of “macho bullshit” and newfound willingness to show his emotions in the final issue of Preacher. Then there’s his Punisher MAX and Fury MAX, which use the battles of manly manly men’s men to argue that the organised imposition of these codes of masculinity destroys women and eats men from the inside out until nothing is left of their souls.

In all honesty, though, I’m not just in it for the harrowing critiques of masculinity and prescriptive gender roles. I like comics where stuff blows up and bad guys get punched to the ground by good guys, and it’s not because I’m not like those other girls or one of the boys; that way lies madness. It’s that I don’t see my love of sparkly dresses, getting my hair done, dissecting relationships over cocktails, etc as incompatible with my love of boner crimes, ASSMAN and visual media with sweet martial arts fight scenes and explosions.

I need a space to indulge that latter side of myself. We all need that space. But those spaces are so often closed to me and other women in daily life.

Hence Dicks. Although it may be aimed at a primarily male audience, there’s no “Dudes Only” lock on the comic, nothing to stop a non-male reader such as myself from diving in.

I won’t even go into the ramifications of the double meaning of “Dicks” as a term for phalluses and as a pejorative for men and boys who engage in undesirable behaviour, except to say that it makes the literally dick-swingingest comic I’ve ever read into one hell of a critique of codified masculinity, wherein the phallus as symbol of power is played for laughs and constantly undermined.

I do, however, very very much want to talk about the double-page spread of hot IRA-on-UVF-on-British Army-on-Sinn-Fein-on-Ulster-Unionist-featuring-knockoff-King Kong-and-Godzilla action.

(Picture is NSFW, obvs. Not safe for work, probably not safe for home — you know what? Just don’t let anyone else see you looking at this unless they’re extremely understanding. Here’s a hint of what you’re in for if you click that link: knockoff Godzilla, wearing an Orangeman sash, is doing knockoff King Kong in the butt with a reacharound, and there is jizz everywhere.)

This thing of beauty and joy forever reduces these male-dominated institutions, which in real life have propagated decades of violence that destroys lives and communities, to comedy dicks; and depicts the (again, male-dominated) ideologies that drive these institutions as unlicensed versions of movie monsters: patently unreal mimicries forced to fight on no other basis besides the strictures of the narratives imposed upon them. Like the rest of Dicks, it invites us not to nod solemnly with the Rorschachy “Hurm” noise people make to suggest that a) they’re having deep thoughts and b) they’re up their own buttholes, but to do something much more liberating, which is to laugh like absolute juvenile fools.

The comic doesn’t care that I’m reading it through female eyes. It simply wants me to join in its laughter, and I laugh like I’m eleven again. Every time I open Dicks, I’m returned to those joyful moments when anything could be hilarious to anyone, before the restrictions of emotional labour came down.

3 Responses to “The Joy of Dicks”

  1. Thrills Says:

    There was a man at my old work who had the surname of ‘Bonar’ and he was a dick, but no-one found any of this amusing in the same way I did.

    Pfffft.

    I draw lots of phalluses. Because why wouldn’t you? More comics should include them, especially superhero ones. I imagine Batman in constant pain due to the long hours of having the really good drag queen tuck that his flat crotch suggests, but that this pain spurs him on, reminds him of his grim duty, in a similar way to Penance and the spikes inside his armour.

    It’s not healthy, Batman. He should let his bat-dick snake down the side of his tights, or at least pack a fake decoy one to provide a target for his enemies, in a similar ‘vein’ to his armoured chest symbol.

    (sorry)

    This post raises that interesting point about pop culture always banging on about men naturally being the lairy funsters and women being the serious ones that fold their arms and roll their eyes in response. It’s such a messed-up, joyless trope, and it should fuck off.

    Totally agree about Ennis comics and how they “use the battles of manly manly men’s men to argue that the organised imposition of these codes of masculinity destroys women and eats men from the inside out until nothing is left of their souls.”

    He’s good at that sort of critique of traditional masculinity, but I feel he sometimes he walks a fine line between that and a celebration of manly manliness, writing off any kind of masculinity that isn’t traditional as deviant or something to be laughed at. Which is a shame, as Ennis comics often have a genuine humanity to them that is quite touching.

    I dunno.

    Ace post, but! Mindless Ones is doing real good the noo, and no mistake.

  2. Illogical Volume Says:

    Thanks to the man Thrills, BATMAN: LONGCOCK and BATMAN: WRONGCOCK are the prestige format stories I most want to read in 2016.

    In BATMAN: LONGCOCK villains, party-goers and concerned citizens alike find themselves fascinated by Batman’s mighty member. It’s A Hard Day’s Night for Batman, with the caped crusader chased through silent panel after silent panel by lust-addled punters, thwarted in his every attempt to FIGHT CRIME by people trying to touch or take a picture of his trouser snake.

    The book ends with him stripping down, untucking the real member, storing the fake in a glorious glass cabinet, and winking at the audience. Art by Neal Adams, obviously.

    BATMAN: WRONGCOCK meanwhile is drawn by Geoff Darrow and it’s one extended fight sequence where a deranged Azrael tries to castrate Batman in battle. It ends when he succeeds, only for Batman to speak the first lines of dialogue in the book while Az stares triumphantly at his severed prize:

    “Hnh. Fake cock.

    BAM!

    “Real one’s fully retracted anyway.”

    CRUNCH!

    Then, standing over the unconscious body of the man who wanted to wear his cock as a strange totem:

    “Crime. It gives me the shriv.”

  3. Illogical Volume Says:

    Anyway, this is a great post Kelly, thanks for writing it and feel free to stop by any time!

    Like Thrills I find myself hitting the occasional speedbump with Ennis’ work, to the extent that I sometimes pick his books up anticipating what The Beast Must Die recently identified as “another rant about men with piercings” (paraphrasing crudely here, forgive me) so it’s good to be reminded that he’s willing and able to get his hands into some of the real muck that lies beneath.

    As someone who tries to be sensitive and understanding but who also really loves the taste of cock jokes, I can understand where you’re coming from with this piece if not how hard it is for you to get where you want to go – I’m encouraged to go on the occasional rampage with Anders Klimaxx and the rest of the lads, and I know that the opposite forces are in place for the mighty Maid of Nails.

    All of which is to say, BOO THE PATRIARCHY! UP THE COCK!

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