O Say Can You See: The Greatest Patriotic Super Heroes of All-Time
And thus begins what I can guess without even googling are a thousand racy fanfics. But it’s also the premise, more or less, of cartoonist Dave Kiersh’s thoughtful, funny minicomic Amazons, which he’s now posted online in its entirety on his new site Teenage Archive. The strip imagines what life would be like if these pulchritudinous paragons of fierce femininity were to attend high school, navigating the uncharted waters of jocks, nerds, preps, angry teachers, uncaring administrators, and unyielding dress codes.
Kiersh’s About Me blurb on Teenage Archive reads “Afterschool specials and the American dream,” and that pretty much nails what his comics are like: Whimsical yet melancholy explorations of teenage lust, boredom, romance, and desire to escape — and adult desire to return. Amazons is more of a goof than his usual stuff, but underneath the silliness is something true about the way dudes idealize beautiful women and the sense of unattainable freedom and fulfillment these fantasy figures represent. Read it in tandem with Kate Beaton, Carly Monardo, and Meredith Gran’s “Strong Female Characters” for a very different but I think complementary take on the power such images have.
The latest round of conversation about women in comics was sparked by Adam P. Knave’s piece bemoaning the lack of women creators in the comics field (which he defines as monthly comics, obviously dominated by superheroes). Adam believes the root cause is that superhero comics have made themselves unattractive to women by portraying women solely as sex objects or targets of abuse. This led Heidi MacDonald to point out that there are plenty of women in the rest of comics, just not at DC and Marvel. And they are doing quite well, too.
Danielle Corsetto, for example. The Girls with Slingshots creator was interviewed by Carl Watkins of Guerilla Geek, and he asked her if she thought it was easier for women to break into webcomics than “traditional” comics. Her answer is revealing:
Yes, although I think it has more to do with the genre than the medium. Most comic books are aimed at boys, are serious, and have a focus on superpowers. Most popular webcomics are character-driven and have to do with the characters’ lifestyles, or observations about science or philosophy, and almost all of them could be clumped into the broad category of “humor.” While I know plenty of women who genuinely love to read about superheroes, I think that, generally, most women prefer to read (and write) about how characters interact with one another, and not how they’re gonna pulverize each other.
So perhaps it’s not just the terrible portrayals of women but also the type of story that’s being told? Saying “women like this, men like that” is a sure way to get yourself called an idiot on the Internet, and certainly there are plenty of women superhero fans, but I can see her point. There’s a coldness to superhero comics that I find off-putting, and they often bore me in the same way battle-action manga do. That sounds like a value judgment, but it isn’t: The people who read Twilight and Vampire Knight are mostly female, so it cuts both ways.
On the other hand, perhaps if more women were writing superhero comics, there would be more superhero comics that women would want to read.