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About Us

(The story of Misfit Press is inextricably linked to the story of Misfit Incorporated, which is inextricably linked to the story of AJ and Melissa Leon. These fascinating stories have been told at length on many other occasions – in newspapers, on TEDx stages, during numerous interviews and chance meetings in wine bars. If you want to explore the weird and wonderful company that is Misfit Incorporated, peruse our site. For the full backstory, check out this video interview.)

Misfit Press itself was established in 2014, with the publication of AJ Leon’s The Life & Times of a Remarkable Misfit. The little-known backstory to The Life & Times is that it was originally slated to be published by a major American publisher, who headhunted AJ after noticing the popularity of his blog, The Pursuit of Everything. About a third of the way through the writing of the book, AJ began to get twitchy about the compromises involved in traditional publishing: uncompromising editorial pressure, a lack of say on issues such as design and artwork. Not long later, AJ bailed on the contract, and decided to publish the book himself. The Misfit team created and ran a Kickstarter, aimed at raising $15,000 to cover publishing costs. By the time the fundraising had run its course, pledges totalled more than treble that amount. With the excess funds, AJ and Misfit decided to go one better than just publishing a book, and also founded a publishing house.

Since its founding, Misfit Press has steadily flourished. In 2015, we took under our wing Wolftree, the finest arts journal in the American Midwest; we released our 2015 Anthology, featuring the finest creative work we encountered over the preceding year; and The Life & Times of a Remarkable Misfit continued to find readers across the globe. In 2016 we published Destination Shakespeare, the debut poetry collection from esteemed Shakespeare academic Paul Edmondson; and we have more Shakespeare-related publications in the works for 2017, including Shakespeare On The Road, a tale of a Shakespearian adventure across the US.

Last  year was a big growth period for the Press, and there is lots more on the way for 2017. As you’ll see from our Forthcoming Publications section, over the next twelve months we will be publishing Saya Sayama: Three Years in Myanmar by incredible photojournalist Spike Johnson, a photonarrative account documenting a unique moment in Myanmar’s history: the violent shift from General Ne Win’s fifty-year dictatorship to the country’s first steps towards democracy. Also imminent is Tangentially Reading, featuring some of the most insightful, shocking, touching, and hilarious moments from the first 200 episodes of Christopher Ryan’s much-loved podcast, Tangentially Speaking.

These are exciting times at Misfit Press. To keep up to date with everything that’s going on, follow us at our blogFacebook, Twitter and/or Instagram. Into the future, we will always continue to work in the fashion we do right now: with authors we like, on projects that matter, in a way that leaves writer, reader and everyone in-between satisfied. We will also never renege on our One-for-One pledge; for every publication we ever sell, a child in India will receive money towards prescription eyeglasses, via the Misfit Foundation.

Batman: Urban Radical, Delinquent, Resistance Fighter

Stephen Cook recently completed a four-month internship with Misfit Press. During this time, he completed his M.A. thesis, which focussed on Batman comics and the superhero movement as resisting the prescribed constructions of urban space. Here’s the short version.

The first Batman comic I ever read was a beat-up, weathered old copy of Detective Comics #608. Part one of the “Anarky in Gotham City” arc, the 1989 issue sees the Caped Crusader pitted against a new breed of vigilante. Anarky, dressed like a gilded V of V for Vendetta, believes above all in “the voice of the people,” enacting the justice demanded by the Letters to the Editor section of the fictional Gotham Gazette. In the arc’s climax, he engineers a confrontation between Batman, alongside the police, and the recently-evicted denizens of a tent-city. Although Batman is victor over Anarky, the event leaves him shaken at the close: “He only wanted to set the world straight,” he laments to Commissioner Gordon, “and I can’t find it in my heart to blame him for that.”

It’s a powerful plot – one that has stuck with me through many other Batplots and derring-do – for its thematic concern with the nature of heroics, punctuated by Anarky’s revolutionary rhetoric against an ineffective system that privileges few and ignores many. The narrative could easily be read as author Alan Grant’s meta-criticism and response to the trajectory of superhero comics of the preceding fifty years, generically plagued by inoffensiveness to the point of irresponsibility or else sporting regressive politics that support the status quo (more contemporary comics generally fare better). Tied to the urban landscape, superhero stories too often portray crime as something produced out of a thin air, the product of some inherent evil within those who commit it. Such narratives, as Uricchio and Pearson so neatly summarize in the book The Many Lives of the Batman:

deal with criminal brutality, but not the brutalizing slum landlords; they deal with the greed of petty theft but not poverty and hopelessness – in short, they deal with the transgressions of the underclasses but not the conditions that give rise to these transgressions. (206)

Although this blind banality is not a universal stigma: setting the template as the first of the superhero genre in 1938, Superman’s earliest comics portray him as a defender of the common man, not unlike Anarky, battling “against the forces of evil and oppression” (Action Comics #12). Choice adventures of this socially-conscious Man of Steel include foiling the war mongering machinations of a munitions dealer (Action Comics #2), convincing a mine owner to improve safety conditions (Action Comics #13), and even – in all its beautiful subtlety – physically destroying a slum to force the construction of “splendid housing conditions” (Action Comics #8).


(Action Comics #8. © 1939 DC Comics.)

And while this early social reforming impetus was hardly a staple of the genre, it was soon snuffed out entirely, first by the nationalistic narratives churned out by the onset of the Second World War and then, more devastatingly, by the 1954 formation of the Comics Code Authority, a regulating group that de-clawed the fledgling field and sent many of its stars into the realm of inconsequential science fiction – in Batman #113, for instance, our hero travels to the planet Zur-en-Arrh to battle giant robots (for some reason).

But it is possible to recapture some of the radical spirit present at the foundation of the superhero genre by focusing on its imagery. Up until now, I’ve described comic narratives at their most textual, readable level, but comics are much more than just script and plot. What separates superhero comics from the pulp serials that precede them is their visuality, the mix of image and text to form what is sometimes conflated into the term “imagetext.” And it is through the analysis of the visual that we can read the superhero’s movement as something radical and resistant. Superheroes don’t walk on the sidewalk or ride the subway – not unless disguised as their alter-ego, anyway – they fly, swing, climb and use any number of gadgets to surpass the limitations of the civilian. And that is a supremely delinquent act.

As a means to articulate this delinquency, I turn to the theory (bear with me) of French philosopher Michel de Certeau. In The Practice of Everyday Life, de Certeau writes of small, unconscious resistances to hegemonic control, the everyday use and reconfiguration by the consumer of the authorized constructions of the producer: tactics in the face of strategy. This idea can be stretched and fitted to a wide variety of social realms but its application in the “Spatial Practices” section of de Certeau’s book is particularly useful here. To de Certeau, the “city” is an illusory compound of various operations – abstract narratives and concrete physical manifestations – that flatten themselves to make the city’s “complexity… readable, and [immobilize] its opaque mobility in a transparent text” (92). But this officiated “Concept-city” is ultimately undermined by the spatial practice of the pedestrian, a discontinuous experience of movement that cannot be fully captured or expressed.

Superheroes take this discontinuity to the next level, ignoring the prescribed routes and perspectives of the city-grid – its streets, sidewalks, lane dividers, even signs themselves – to display incredible acrobatic acts of high leaps and cross-building bravado. This resistance to the authorized path is, in de Certeau’s thought, delinquent, as it is the “privilege of the tour over the state” (130). And it is the visual potential of the comic that is able to fully realize this reconceptualization of the cityscape. In one particularly illuminating scene from Detective Comics #29, Batman uses suction pads to climb a skyscraper to reach the penthouse of that issue’s adversary (the perfunctorily-named Doctor Death). We are treated to multiple views of this traversal, not only featuring an embodied view from the street – a tall orange building leans menacingly at a 45 degree angle – but also panels closer to the Caped Crusader himself as he scales the perfectly straight wall. The juxtaposition of these images on the same page reintroduce the plurality of perspective: from the street, the city crushes, an impenetrable maze of prescriptions, but the superhero ignores and conquers these prescriptions. The final panel of the scene has the Batman standing in victorious pose on the ledge of the penthouse, triumphant over the vertical wall.

batman2(Detective Comics #29. © 1939 DC Comics.)

And although that building does not exist and has never really been climbed by the World’s Greatest Detective – although Gotham City and Metropolis and any number of locales are fictional – the comic representation of urban space is nonetheless a reflection of the reality of the citydweller. And so when the comic offers new perspective on the fictional, it can also bleed into the real; by reading the urban images of the comic, we also learn a new way of reading – or, perhaps more accurately, un-reading – the urban images and narratives of our own experience. Great superhero narratives are able to complicate lived experience, forcing the reader to consider their own experiential relation to the city construct.

“Anarky in Gotham City” is one such complicating narrative. At the arc’s close, after Batman has given his closing thoughts, he flies off the roof but – unbeknownst to him – Anarky has left his mark: a giant red anarchy symbol painted on the Caped Crusader’s unfurled cape. It offers a ripe metaphor, a confession of the political mark of the author – in this case, Alan Grant – on the canvas of the superhero. I confess that maybe I too have left a political mark, not of the author but of the reader, in articulating a resistant core to the superhero comic: reactionary violence is, after all, the go-to for any problem the hero may encounter. But while I would never expect Bruce Wayne to hang up his cowl and put his energy (and incredible wealth) into social reform, we – as consumers of pop culture – can carefully read every narrative received, from the junkiest Batman comic to the latest Star Wars movie. And in the consumption of these items of popular culture, offer interpretations palatable to our own moral compass: tactics in the face of strategy.


(Detective Comics #609. © 1989 DC Comics.)

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Stephen CookStephen Cook is a recent M.A. English graduate and Misfit Press intern who loves ruining your favourite pop culture franchises by writing about their ideological implications. His thesis looked at Batman comics and the supehero's movement as resistant to the prescribed constructions of urban space.

4 responses

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  • June 30, 2017

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  • July 6, 2017

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