women in comics
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.
Manga | Call it the Manga Paradox: Manga sales are way down, but traffic on scanlation sites is robust and attendance at anime conventions is way up. What’s the story? I crunched some numbers and talked to some publishers to get a picture of the new normal for the manga market in North America. [Publishers Weekly]
Comics | A collection of 60,000 comics sold for $200,000 at auction over the weekend in East Vancouver. It seems impressive until you do the math and realize that’s a little more than three bucks a comic. The star of the collection was a restored Hulk comic that went for $6,500. [CBC]
Legal | A federal judge on Friday denied DC Comics’ bid for sanctions against the attorney for the heirs of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, finding that Marc Toberoff made “no deliberate attempt to mislead” during the discovery process and, perhaps more importantly, did not interfere with the publisher’s rights to the Man of Steel when he allegedly inserted himself into settlement talks in 2001. [The Hollywood Reporter]
Legal | Stan Lee will be deposed this week by lawyers representing Stan Lee Media in its multi-billion-dollar lawsuit against Disney involving the rights to the characters the legendary writer co-created for Marvel. Stan Lee Media, which no longer has ties to its namesake, claims Disney as infringed on the copyrights Iron Man, the Avengers, X-Men and other heroes since 2009, when it purchased Marvel. The long, tortured dispute dates back to a sequence of events that occurred between August 1998, when Marvel used its bankruptcy proceedings to terminate Lee’s lifetime contract, and November 1998, when Lee entered into a new agreement with the House of Ideas and signed over his likeness, and any claims to the characters. Stan Lee Media has long claimed that on Oct. 15, 1998, Lee transferred to that company the rights to his creations and his likeness. SLM asserts in the latest lawsuit that neither Marvel nor Disney, which bought the comic company in 2009, has ever registered Lee’s November 1998 agreement with the U.S. Copyright Office. [The Hollywood Reporter]
“… I got back into comics because of stereotypes. I think there was some big controversy in some convention — I wasn’t in the industry because I was off doing other things — about how there were no women in comics, and then I got a call, ‘We need women in comics.’ So if I got back into the industry because I’m a token female, I say great! I’m all in! [...] They put me on Green Arrow, and I have to admit, I just didn’t get Green Arrow. I struggled with him. He was a rich playboy in an armored suit who was young. I liked the old Green Arrow, the wise guy who was stealthy and a social crusader — Denny O’Neil’s Green Arrow. This was a different Green Arrow and I didn’t connect with him. Now, doing Katana and Catwoman, I have no idea if there was a meeting where someone said, ‘Let’s give the girl writer the girl books,’ but I instantly related to those characters! It’s fun to write girls.”
– veteran writer and editor Ann Nocenti, discussing her recent return to comics in a fascinating conversation with Louise Simonson at Comic Book Resources that touches up their careers at Marvel, creations like Longshot and Power Pack, attitudes toward female creators in the ’80s, and much more
“When I wrote Typhoid Mary, there were some strong female protagonists in comics, but I didn’t like the gender garbage bins that female extras went into: wife, bimbo, good girl, slut, witch etc. But men were often disposable in the same way: lunkheads, etc. Now I see plenty of strong females in comics. But both men and women in comics still get used as ‘cannon fodder’ (I am guilty of this myself) where a one-dimensional male or female is needed to play a stereotype and disposed of. But the female leads in their own books, the ones I’ve read, like Batgirl and Wonder Woman and Batwoman are very strong characters.”
Let me start with a confession: I have never understood why comics covers are so different from the interiors. In every other part of publishing, editors try to make their covers broadcast the contents inside, but with comics it’s somehow OK to have the interior done by one artist and the cover by another, often with wildly varying styles.
Writer Jeremy Whitley and artist Emily Martin take on that issue head-on with the cover of Issue 2 of the second arc of Princeless. Written for children (but witty enough for adults), Princeless is the story of a princess who refuses to go along with the standard paradigm of being locked in a tower and waiting for a knight to come along and slay her dragon so he can marry her.
Whitley and Martin apparently aren’t going along with the standard paradigm, either. Their cover challenges a couple of comics conventions, both making the characters extra-sexy and having a cover image that has nothing to do with the story inside. In a recent post, blogger Rob McMonigal applauded them for making a statement but questioned whether a children’s comic is the appropriate place to do it. After all, the statement is really about direct market comic books, and children aren’t a big part of that audience.
The Internet hand-wringing was set to overdrive when it was announced writer Gail Simone had been summarily dismissed from Batgirl. By email, no less. Virtually every comics news site and blog chimed in, usually followed by a flurry of reader comments. However, freelance creators are let go from comics all of the time. Sure there’s usually disappointment, and it’s never good when someone loses her job. But what made this the event of the week?
There’s a history to this that adds an extra layer of emotion.
Simone is a well-liked creator with a spirited fan base, and she has described Batgirl as a dream job for her. This is the character that hooked her into comics. This is the character she’s always wanted to write. Her dream came true, and now it’s being taken away. So any human being with at least an average level of empathy is going to feel like this is an unfortunate turn of events for her. This was also largely unexpected, as the series was performing well; Batgirl #14 was No. 17 on Diamond Comic Distributors’ November sales chart with an estimated 77,468 copies, although previous issues sold in the 40,ooo to 50,000 range. That’s where some shock and indignation comes in. It seems like an unfair decision (although it is of course fully within DC Comics’ rights to hire and fire whoever it wants).
What began Saturday as an illustration swapping the poses of the two heroes on the cover of Hawkeye & Black Widow #17 turned into a challenge Sunday when Nimona creator Noelle Stevenson suggested that the way to “fix every Strong Female Character pose in superhero comics” is to “replace the character with Hawkeye doing the same thing.” Now The Hawkeye Initiative is a bona fide online movement, with a blog showcasing countless takes on the Avengers’ ever-popular archer striking the poses, and occasionally wearing the adapted costumes, of various superheroines.
The results are always fun and funny, occasionally alarming, and frequently very, very sexy …
Awards | Were women underrepresented in the first British Comic Awards? With three women and 13 men on the shortlist, some argue they were; Laura Sneddon follows the discussion, including those making that claim and those who responded. [The New Statesman]
Best of the year | Paste magazine lists its 10 best comics of the year, including Hawkeye, Saga and Building Stories. [Paste]
Best of the year | Rachel Cooke focuses on British graphic novels, although a few outsiders creep in as well, for her list of the best graphic novels of 2012. [The Guardian]
Faced with growing criticism, Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn has apologized for insulting comments he made about women, gays and lesbians in a nearly two-year-old blog post, characterizing his remarks as “poorly worded and offensive to many.”
The statement, released last night by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and re-posted on Gunn’s Facebook page, followed outreach from the organization, condemnation by the Human Rights Campaign — “James Gunn’s blog post is offensive not just to LGBT people and women but rather to anyone with even the slightest sense of decency” — and online outrage, all stemming from a deleted February 2011 post on the filmmaker’s website.
Newly unearthed via Google Cache, the results of a “Superheroes You Most Want to Have Sex With” poll include commentary in which Gunn refers to Gambit as “this Cajun fruit,” calls teenage mother Stephanie Brown “easy,” admits wanting “to anally do” Kitty Pryde, and suggests Tony Stark could “turn” the lesbian Batwoman.
Even as the casting search gears up for Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, a push has begun online to convince the studio to fire director James Gunn over objections to a nearly two-year-old blog post that many view as misogynistic and homophobic. (Note: This post contains graphic language.)
The Feb. 17, 2011 post containing the results of a “Superheroes You Most Want to Have Sex With” poll, complete with Gunn’s commentary, was deleted at some point from the filmmaker’s website but the cached version resurfaced earlier this week on Tumblr before receiving further exposure Wednesday on The Mary Sue. Why Gunn’s post was only recently unearthed is a bit of a mystery (he was confirmed to direct Guardians of the Galaxy more than two months ago).
Gunn’s superhero sex poll includes male and female characters — 50 in all — ranging from Wonder Woman and Superman to Spider-Man and Ms. Marvel. While The Mary Sue notes “there’s nothing wrong about running a poll for the most sex-able superhero on your site,” the complaints arise over some of the filmmaker’s accompanying commentary.
“Monocultures are risky business, diversification a useful hedge in times of change, and women’s dollars are as good as men’s. In particular, the traditional commodities of geekery – comic books, cult TV series and video games – are going through a complete and painful transition in business model under the pressure of digital distribution, the normalization of copyright infringement and the increasing ill-health of their direct retail channels. Meanwhile, the successes claimed by geeks over the dominant culture – such as the billion-dollar successes of this year’s Avengers and (soon) Batman films – have come by expanding audiences out of the core demographic. Geeks inherit the Earth when they learn to talk to other people on it – whether they are selling movie IP or operating systems.
In the face of this insecurity, ‘fake geek girls’ are the equivalent of Communist sleeper agents in the uncertain ’50s – the number of women who have no interest in geek culture but want geek attention at a personal level is vanishingly small, but their phantom is used to justify prejudice more generally, with the aim of keeping an unknown quantity out of the clubhouse.”
– Forbes contributor Daniel Nye Griffiths, wading into recent dust-ups in in comic book and video game circles about “fake geek girls”
“If our ‘base’ won’t reliably support female-led books (and that is a whole other conversation that I do not have time for) then we need new readers. Strictly from a sustainability standpoint, we need new readers — our readership is aging and dwindling and the goodwill we should be getting from the comic book commercials commonly called ‘tentpole movies’ we are, in large part, squandering. As an industry we put up high thresholds against new readers — whether it’s something as culturally repugnant as this whole ‘authentic fangirl’ crap or just our mind-boggling practices of shelving by publisher and numbering books into the 600s.
Think about the manga boom for a minute. The American notion had always been that women would not buy comics in significant numbers. There was even a commonly bandied about notion that ‘women are not visual.’ Who bought manga in the U.S.? Largely women and girls. At ten bucks a pop, no less. Women spent literally millions of dollars on what? On comics. Now, some people will argue that that had as much to do with the diversity of genre in manga as anything else — and that is a fair point. But I would argue that there is nothing inherently masculine about the science fiction aesthetic, nothing inherently masculine about power fantasies or aspirations to heroism.”
– Captain Marvel writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, from her much longer response on Reddit to the question, “Why do you think it’s been so difficult for Marvel to establish a female hero who isn’t 1.) based of a male counterpart, 2.) made to give gender balance to a team or 3.) made to be the love interest of a more popular male hero?”
Comics | The August direct market sales numbers are in, and things look good: Comics sales are up almost 20 percent over August 2011, and graphic novels are up 15 percent. This isn’t just a fluke, either: Year-to-date sales are up about the same in both categories. DC had a slight edge in market share, Marvel did slightly better on unit sales, and interestingly, the Big Two stole back a bit of market share from everyone else. And as with bookstore sales, Batman ruled the direct market: “The influence of The Dark Knight Rises is more obvious in the bookstore channel with its tendency to foster backlist sales (Frank Miller’s 1980’s classic, The Dark Knight Returns was tops in the bookstores), while the direct market sales are concentrated more on the most recent releases such as Johns’ Batman: Earth One, which was released in July and Snyder’s New 52 volume that was out in May.” [ICv2]
Passings | Illustrator and panel cartoonist Art Cumings has died at the age of 90. Mike Lynch describes Cumings as “an illustrator’s illustrator and a cartoonist’s cartoonist”; his work appeared everywhere from Dr. Seuss books to Penthouse magazine, and it’s worth hitting the link to see his Balloonheads cartoons from the latter. (NSFW, but in a cute, colorful way.) [Mike Lynch Cartoons]
As Kevin mentioned earlier this month, Tuesday is the third annual Read Comics in Public Day. The reason it’s worth mentioning again (besides just as a reminder) is that Sue from DC Women Kicking Ass has put a spin on it that’s important and cool. This is the second year that she’s advocated for the particular need for women to read comic in public. In addition to talking about it on her own blog, she’s started a separate Tumblr dedicated to photos of women reading their comics in public spaces.