Last month on our sister blog Comics Should Be Good, columnist Kelly Thompson wrote a piece titled “6 Sublime Superheroine Redesigns” that profiled several recent costume makeovers she thought effective and true to the characters. In the post and the ensuing comments, talk abounded about the subject of superheroines often being saddled with revealing costumes that lean more toward fan service than suitable crime-fighting gear. Some posters argued there’s a current trend toward female characters having less-revealing costumes than in the past — Psylocke’s recent wardrobe redesign by Kris Anka was cited as an example — and that it’s an overreaction by publishers and designers that panders to feminists.
Anka took umbrage with some of the comments, and it opened the floor to an interesting debate about the look of superheroes. On the surface it questions the near-universal portrayal of female superheroes in more sexualized garb, but also attempts to draw a line between drawing a superhero as sexy without necessarily being sexist.
… I think mistaking someone’s identity usually involves surprise on the part of at least one of the parties. To the second, I’d like to put forward the perhaps radical idea that an uncharted South Pacific island full of women AWOL from WW2 is actually unusual. We’ve seen Robo immediately doubt unusual things when he first encounters them for six volumes. His reaction here is no different, and it’s not out of proportion to other unusual events he’s come across.
– Brian Clevinger, responding to accusations that Atomic Robo may be sexist in “The Flying She-Devils of the Pacific.”
I’ve read the issue and didn’t think Robo’s reaction to the all-female team of air pirates was unreasonable, but I’m hardly unbiased being a) a man and just privileged enough to not always notice that kind of thing, and b) enough a Robo fan to give him (and his creators) the benefit of the doubt. It’s worth pointing out though that Clevinger’s already gone on record as saying that he goes out of the way to make Atomic Robo as inclusive as possible, so maybe a little doubt-benefiting is in order?
If you’ve read the issue, what do you think?
“You would think at some point that people who write about entertainment would clue into the fact that girls do, in fact, enjoy genres that they seem to think are boys-only. I mean, we fangirls rant about this shit all the time. Could someone pick up a clue? Here, I’ll put it in big letters so anyone still holding onto that dumbass, outdated, sexist notion will understand it better: WOMEN LIKE ALL KINDS OF THINGS. There’s not a contract that we sign at birth stating that we can only like stuff with glitter and princesses and romance. Guess what? We DO like stuff with glitter and princesses and romance, and we also like stuff with badass superheroes, aliens, and ass-kicking. So stop writing about genre films as if women haven’t the faintest clue that superheroes exist, and they need a cutesy little nudge in the right direction so they can please their boyfriends.”
– TDF Pamela, responding to Moviefone’s cringe-inducing “Girl’s Guide to The Avengers: What You Need to Know If You Know Nothing,” which advises “dutiful girlfriend[s]” on what to say (“Joss Whedon is the man”), and not say (“Do you think Scarlett Johansson is pretty?”), while attending the Marvel blockbuster with their boyfriends
Following in the grand tradition established by Hostess Fruit Pies, the men’s cologne Axe is pushing its product with a comic. Like Twinkie the Kid, the women in the comic are personified versions of the product — in this case, “experimental fragrances,” that cause all kinds of trouble when they are both let loose at the same time. Because OMG, two women always means trouble! Or maybe a good catfight!
Someone at Axe Headquarters must have been reading about this “social media” thing in The New York Times, because that’s going to be a part of the comic, too — fans will be allowed to
make essentially meaningless choices shape the action via Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. I suppose it’s pointless to complain about sexism in a comic created by the people who make Axe cologne, but the video is a textbook case: All the women are super-sexy, with body parts sticking out all over, while the guys all look like ordinary schlubs. Maybe I’ll go on Facebook and suggest they add in some beefcake.
Another thing which is never brought up or mentioned, but it’s very intriguing, forever going back to the old days of The New Yorker and through now, as far as women and men cartoonists are concerned, there is no problem. None of this bullshit that’s been plaguing almost every other endeavor or business, this war of the sexes. Not a trace of it in cartooning. It just isn’t there. It may be because we all have a sense of humor. I don’t know what it is, but it’s very interesting and it’s nice.
— Legendary cartoonist Gahan Wilson of Playboy, National Lampoon and The New Yorker fame, explaining to CBR’s Alex Dueben that things apparently aren’t as contentious over issues of sex and gender in Francoise Mouly’s shop as they are in other parts of the industry. (Cf. recent New Yorker roster addition Kate Beaton’s ongoing victory lap …)
I really, really enjoy Grant Morrison interviews, even if they tend to arrive in bunches, with one entertaining Q&A sometimes indistinguishable from the next. He’s immensely quotable, peppering his comments with humor, observations of the holy-cow-I’ve-never-thought-of-it-that-way variety and occasionally surprising honesty.
This new interview with Rolling Stone is little different, with the writer discussing Supergods, the Action Comics relaunch, Alan Moore, Brad Meltzer’s Identity Crisis, and his strained relationship with former protege Mark Millar. While it may feel like we’ve read some of Morrison’s remarks before, others feel fresh, and even a bit brutal. Some highlights:
On his chances of encountering Millar in Glasgow: “There’s a very good chance of running into him, and I hope I’m going 100 miles an hour when it happens.”
On Meltzer’s divisive Identity Crisis: “He’s a nice guy. I have a lot of interesting conversations with him so I tried to focus on what I thought was good about it and there was actually quite a lot when I read it again. The first time I read it I was kind of outraged. I thought this was just … why? What the fuck is this, really? It wasn’t even normal. It was outrageous. It was preposterous because of the Elongated Man with his arms wrapped several times around the corpse of his wife. I thought something is broken. Something has gone so wrong in this image. [...] It’s hard for me to believe that a shy bespectacled college graduate like Brad Meltzer who’s a novelist and a father is a really setting out to be weirdly misogynistic. But unfortunately when you’re looking at this beloved character who’s obviously been ass-raped on the Justice League satellite, even saying it kind of takes you to that dot dot dot where you don’t know what else to say.”
On sexism in DC Comics: “There’s been lots of things, the sexism in DC because it’s mostly men who work in these places. Nobody should be trying to say we’re taking up a specifically anti-woman stance. I think it would be ignorance or stupidity or some God knows what. I was reading some Alan Moore Marvelman for some reason today. I found one in the back there and I couldn’t believe. I pick it up and there are fucking two rapes in it and I suddenly think how many times has somebody been raped in an Alan Moore story? And I couldn’t find a single one where someone wasn’t raped except for Tom Strong, which I believe was a pastiche. We know Alan Moore isn’t a misogynist but fuck, he’s obsessed with rape. I managed to do thirty years in comics without any rape!”
Last week Kate Beaton asked that male comics readers carefully consider their choice of words when complimenting female comics creators, so as to keep a bright dividing line between their work on the one hand and their gender and appearance on the other. The resulting discussion — or maybe the better word is backlash — made me fear for the future of the species.
Apparently I’m not alone in that. Cartoonist Gabby Schulz (aka Ken Dahl) crafted a masterfully mordant satire of the discussion, and countless others like it. Click here to read the whole thing. Then click back here to tell us why it’s ALL WRONG, god help us.
“dear internet, you are well meaning, but I’d like to make a point. when you tell a female creator you like her work so much you want to marry her and have her babies, you’re not doing anyone any favors. first of all, as cute as it sounds in your head, it’s a shitty, disrespectful ‘compliment.’ No one makes comics looking for sexual attention. secondly, by doing so you invite others to critique that person’s works based on their looks, which is uncomfortable, sexist and unfair.”
–Hark, a Vagrant! cartoonist Kate Beaton, on the obliviously sexist compliments with which women creators are bombarded every day. (And yes, she knows these people don’t literally want to marry her and have her babies.)
A useful rule of thumb when discussing the work of a woman artist, positively or negatively, is to ask yourself if what you’re about to say would apply to identical work that just so happened to have been created by a man. If the answer is “no,” then you’re not talking about the work at all.
I was bummed to see that Beaton got a lot of pushback on this topic, too. Even putting issues of sexism aside, refraining from doing something that makes someone else uncomfortable, when there’s no possible way that refraining from it negatively affects you — that’s just simple common decency.
According to blogger Erin Polgreen, the answer is yes. Making the case at (of all places) Spencer Ackerman’s national-security blog at the progressive website FireDogLake, Polgreen alleges that in books ranging from Superman: Red Son to Wanted to Kick-Ass, Millar portrays even strong female characters like Lois Lane, Wonder Woman and Hit Girl as inveterate second bananas to their books’ male protagonists. She also gets some shots in at what she sees as the dubious racial politics at play in Wanted and Kick-Ass, where the ethnicity of various non-white minor characters is played as a punchline.
It’s interesting to see an argument against Millar’s treatment of “minority” groups (women are, of course, the majority, but you wouldn’t know it from comics) hinging on something as comparatively innocuous as his female heroes not proving as heroic as his male ones, given the far more violent and ignominious fates he frequently doles out to his characters. For example, if I were in one of his comics, I’d take out a big fat life insurance policy on any gay and/or black people I knew in-universe the second he came aboard. And with regards to women specifically, you’d think the treatment of rape in books like Wanted and Ultimate Comics Avengers would have at least raised Polgreen’s eyebrows, if not her ire. But hey, we report, you decide.