Friday, 18 January 2013

Women in comics

 So much has been written about the Fake Geek Girl phenomenon recently. Remember how Tony Harris called us all ‘damned liars’ who ‘don’t know shit about comics’ and Dirk Manning called us “whores”. And how DC repeatedly published The Imposter ad on the back of comics I was happily reading, a weekly reminder that comics are probably not for me. And then Anita Sarkeesian was the subject of mass online bullying due to her kickstarter to research tropes vs women in videogames, and it seems that not only are girl geeks, comic fans, and gamers not welcome, but we shouldn't ever dare draw attention to the fact that things might not be equal. 

The comic industry, like any industry is sexist. Geek subcultures, like all subcultures are sexist. Fact. Total fucking fact. 

Taken from Women Read Comics in Public tumblr

I first started reading comics when I was 15 and I found it a tough world to break into. I didn't know anyone else who read comics, I didn't have a cooler older brother I could borrow comics from, I had absolutely no knowledge about anything. I lived in the back end of nowhere and the nearest comic shop to me was an hour away so I relied heavily on my local public library for their small supply of comics and graphic novels and my decision of what to read and what not to read was purely trial and error. I felt alienated from the world of comics a little bit, I found comic shops to be an intimidating space at first due to my own insecurities and also cuz I had no knowledge whatsoever. Comic shops are intimidating spaces, it feels like at any second you might be quizzed on your DC history or be asked for a secret password. And while I appreciate this is intimidating for anyone, this can be an additional barrier for newbie girl comic readers who maybe tell themselves 'this isn't for me, I don't belong here.' I thought comics were for boys and so I left them well alone for the longest time. 

But women and girls do read comics. All kinds of people do. I get frustrated that so much of geek comics culture is trying to convince us otherwise. I feel shitty that this fake geek girl advert was printed on nearly every DC comic I read, a weekly reminder that comics aren’t for me and that I'm the imposter that the ad is referring to.

 I love this quote from Gail Simone...

…being at a convention, a busy convention, and having dozens, sometimes hundreds of women in my signing line, not there because they are being dragged there but because they love comics—taking pictures with them, admiring their amazing cosplay, listening to their ideas and hopes and favorite stories, listening to their passion about the characters and the medium in general, talking with endless female aspiring writers and so many ridiculously talented female colleagues…
…and then having to go to an interview or a panel and being asked why don’t women read comics.

We read comics. You can see us in comic shops,you can see us at conventions, and you can see us on the internet being passionate about the things that we love. Not only do we read comics, but us women make comics too. Women are writers, artists, colourists, inkers, letterists, editors etc. You might be fooled into thinking otherwise though. Go to a comic convention and you will see largely all male line ups and all male panels, perhaps with a token female writer dotted here and there. Ok so not all conventions, some conventions are pretty clued up and are pretty great at showcasing women working in comics. But there are still so many conventions that have little or no women present as guests as well as hardly any people of colour. It’s not representative of the proportion of women working in comics. And visibility matters. If those female creators aren't visible at comic conventions you might carry on assuming that women don’t make comics, and perhaps fewer women will think about working in that industry, perhaps fewer women and girls will read comics. It’s a controversial topic. 

A lot of people in the industry don’t like us talking about it cuz we’re all just people and sexism doesn’t exist right? Richard Clemonts thought that the women in comics panel at Thought Bubble comics festival in Leeds last year was unnecessary and that women should just be included in every panel for fair representation. And while Richard totally has a point - of course women creators should be included in all panels, they still aren't included for the most part, and so ‘women in comics’ panels still need to exist at some conventions, to have informed discussions and to provide a spotlight to the hardworking female creatives in the industry. Personally I like all-women panels, I like focusing on those artists and writers and I think it shows a real strength and focus. All-male panels are commonplace and are never ever questioned and until ALL panels at conventions feature a more even split, I will continue to support and want all-women panels at conventions in addition to women appearing alongside their male colleagues in other panels.

Last year I went to the best comic convention of my life – Morrisoncon, a three day event in Las Vegas celebrating the work of Grant Morrison and his peers and was easily the best convention I’ve ever attended. But while the attendees at the convention were pretty diverse in terms of gender and sexualities, there were still no female creators included in the line up of guests. During one of the breaks me and my friends Seleena and Anita snuck onto the stage while nobody was looking and quickly took a picture of a fake all-female panel of the three of us as a joke that we would be the only women panel on stage that day. (Also we just wanted a pic of us on stage for fun, have I mentioned how much fun Morrisoncon was?)
I don’t mean to sound negative, I can’t put into words just how amazing Morrisoncon was, it was definitely life changing (yes, a comic convention CAN be life changing) Just imagine how perfect it could have been with the addition of Jill Thompson or maybe Becky Cloonan on that lineup.

Comics can be an intimidating world to break into and I would love some of my non-comic friends to climb aboard without these barriers in place. There are so many great women working in comics right now and so many exciting things coming out in 2013.But even male creators writing all female comics books are being attacked. I still can't believe the amount of crap that Brian Wood is receiving for writing an X-Men book with an all female line-up (not only that but half of this team are also women of colour). He's been accused of reverse sexism and a lot of male comic fans are displaying their stupidity for all to see by attempting to correct Brian Wood. "Um, it's X-Men not X-Women." Which means that throughout the entire  history of the X-Men they have simply viewed the vital female members of the X-Men as supporting characters and not real X-Men at all. I love the reply from acclaimed feminist comics writer, Gail Simone, in response to Brian Wood, author of the new all-female X-Men book:

The wonderful Jill Pantozzi wrote a great piece for IGN today reminding me that there is so much to get excited for in terms of women in comics this year. The first thing I do when I open a comic is to check the credits. I look at the writer, artist, inker, colourist, letterist, editor etc and see if there were any women involved in the production of the book I'm reading. There are some brilliantly talented women working in mainstream comics right now (and a billion other women working for independent publishers or who are self publishing) and here's just a few people who you should be excited about in 2013...

Gail Simone (Batgirl)

You know sometimes when you have a hero and then you have that slight moment of panic as you google their personal politics and cross your fingers, toes, and eyes that they are a feminist and not a homophobe or a racist or a transphobe or anything awful like that? We’ve all done that right? RIGHT? Anyway, I don’t have to google anything about Gail Simone’s politics because her politics are blatant. She talks about them, she's an activist, and she's awesome.  She’s a feminist, she’s not transphobic (a novelty these days), she actively discusses race and disabilities and stuff that I care about. And that shows. Her personal website ‘Women in Refrigerators’ was a way to document and ridicule the ways in which female characters in comics were tortured, assaulted, raped, and murdered as lazy plot devices to fuel the (more important) stories of male characters. Gail Simone writes amazing female characters and my favourite series she has ever written for is Birds of Prey. Gail Simone can do an ensemble cast like no other, she makes each character’s voice individual rather than just a mass continuation of her own voice. You can tell that she loves her characters, especially Barbara Gordon. Babs as Oracle was one of my all time favourite characters. Like most people I was annoyed and frustrated at the new 52 reboot by DC as I loved having a central kickass smart and awesome character with a disability and felt that the move to bring Barbara out of her wheelchair and effectively ‘curing’ her was offensive and wrong for that character. Knowing that Gail had now been placed in charge of this reboot (a smart move by DC) reassured me and I kept reading and I was genuinely moved at how good the writing was and how Simone managed to show the trauma, survivor’s guilt and all the other complexities surrounding Batgirl’s rehabilitation. The latest arc surrounding The Joker is chilling and terrifying and the book just keeps getting better. I’m so glad Gail is continuing with Batgirl, I can’t imagine anyone else writing for her right now, and to be honest I will continue to read anything with Gail Simone’s name attached.

Kelly  Sue DeConnick (Captain Marvel, Ghost, Avengers Assemble)

DeConnick is on fire right now and so many of her books are on my pull list. She was the subject of some bad convention press last year as the Dublin International Comics Expo had her listed as ‘the wife of Matt Fraction’ (her husband, who is also a comics writer) despite the fact that DeConnick has also been writing comics for over a decade, she was simply identified as a wife. Currently she is working on the revamped Captain Marvel series with a new Captain Marvel - former Ms Marvel, Carol Danvers. Deconnick is also writing Avengers Assembled, and the wonderful revamped series for Dark Horse Ghost. Her writing is funny, smart, and again, is especially positive surrounding female characters. Avengers Assembled features not just Captain Marvel, but also Spider-Woman and presents a great balance in the team, avoiding the standard device of sidelining female characters within an ensemble team book, they are actually present and DOING THINGS!

Fiona Staples (Saga)

Fiona Staples creates the most beautiful and mindblowing art for Saga, a story of love and war in a surreal sci-fi setting. Staples manages to create believable worlds and alien races that inhabit the world of Saga. Despite it’s sci-fi setting the story is grounded very much in the real with love/hate romantic relationship, issues of meeting the in-laws, and oh yeah a series of alien bounty hunters on their tale. These stories have to feel very real and normal despite it’s not so normal setting and Fiona’s ilustrations and colours bring it all home as well as illustrating the weirder and more surreal characters of these worlds.

Karen Berger/Shelly Bond (Vertigo and DC)

It was pretty big news last year when Karen Berger stepped down as Executive Editor after 20 years at Vertigo, and nearly 30 at DC comics. Karen Berger saw Vertigo’s inception as an offshoot from DC for mature readers. Under Karen Berger, Vertigo nurtured and developed a whole heap of incredible titles such as Hellblazer, Fables, 100 Bullets, Sandman, V For Vendetta, Doom Patrol mixing creator owned series as well as new versions of previous DC titles. Vertigo now exists as a purely creator owned publishing house and Karen Berger has handed over to Shelly Bond. I’m including Karen Berger in this list of important women in comics because Vertigo was probably what got me into comics. When I started reading comics I was slightly dubious and ever-so-snobby about superhero comics, I wanted to read grown up comics and these all seemed to be published by Vertigo, my gateway drug into the larger world of comics. And yes eventually I got past my whole snobbery and became addicted to superhero stories too. Basically Karen Berger got me into comics and I owe her a lot and Shelly Bond is continuing the good work as Vertigo publish more great titles this year.

Ann Nocenti (Catwoman, Katana)

The most exciting thing ever is happening this year, Katana is leaving Birds of Prey and getting her own solo comic book! Why is this so exciting? Well first of all because I love Katana as a character (as I love every single character in Birds of Prey) but there is so much we don’t know about her yet and I’m looking forward to seeing her outside of an ensemble cast, also the soul of her dead husband lives in her sword and sometimes she talks to it and stuff. She’s pretty ace. But also a solo book featuring a woman of colour from DC? This is big stuff. Ann Noncenti is the perfect person to write Katana which comes out February this year. I already love her work on Catwoman, which is a character I love but I’ve seen her poorly handled by bad writers (and bad artists) before.

Ming Doyle (Mara)

Only one issue in and I’m already hooked on Brian Wood’s Mara, partly due to Ming Doyle's awesome and beautiful artwork. The story is set in a future land where money and politics revolve around sport as a franchised form of entertainment. Ming Doyle's art is stunning. I really love the way that she draws the eponymous character Mara. No cheesecake tits and ass here, Mara is athletic, that's the point, her build is strong but not titillating. Her strength is apparent in Doyle's art and I can't wait to read the rest of the series this year.

Becky Cloonan (The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys)

I don’t know much about how Brian Wood chooses to work with other artists but I do really appreciate the fact that he often works with female artists for his books, and he has got me into a lot of women artists through his various comics. I first saw Becky Cloonan’s art in the amazing Channel Zero book published by Dark Horse and I have remained a fan ever since. I loved her self published book The Mire last year and I am SUPER PSYCHED for The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys which launches in June this year with a preview on Free Comic Book Day. If anyone can make California 2019 come to life it’s Cloonan and the early previews for Killjoys look exactly how I pictured them in my head. 

Jordie Bellaire (colourist) 

People always forget about the colourists! Jordie has coloured Nowhere Men, Captain Marvel, Mara, and Manahattan Projects, some of my absolute favourite books right now. Her work on these books really does stand out (seriously, these titles are amazing, read them!)and she does that great thing of making her work fit specific titles exactly, and it really shows. I'm looking forward to seeing more awesome work from her this year and her name seems to be cropping on so many of the books I read.

Marjorie Liu (Astonishing X-Men)

Last year Marjorie Liu officiated the most talked about gay wedding in comics land (other than the wedding of Kevin Keller)as Northstar married boyfriend Kyle in Astonishing X-Men. Whether Marvel really wanted to confront issues of diversity in comics by exploring an interracial gay relationship in a meaningful way or if Marvel just wanted to tick a box, we'll never know. But what is important is how the story continues after such a headline issue. Liu's writing for the X-Men is so good and she also wrote one of my favourite X series X-23 and throughout all the Marvel events, Astonishing X-Men is one of the few constant X titles on my pull list.

I love that my pull list for 2013 is full of women writers, artists, and colourists. And this is just the most mainstream comics I'm talking about. There are SO MANY women comic creators and artists and editors and publishers working outside of the big name comics publishers and making amazing work right now. And there are so many women and girls reading comics too, I won't let anyone tell me otherwise. 

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