Friday, 9 August 2013

Comic rage

Comics aren't for us

So I love comics. Like, freaking LOVE them. My life was changed for good when I picked up an Uncanny X-Men anthology by Chris Claremont as a teenager and I've not stopped since. I'm in my local comic shop every Wednesday for new comics day, I obsess over characters and stories, I go to conventions, and I share my obsessions with other comic geeks. My comics obsession is nothing new, I've written about women in comics regarding the fake geek girl a whole ago, and I'm also the newly appointed news contributor for comics and graphic novels for the website For Book's Sake

So to recap: I'm a girl and I love comics. 

This article makes me understand why women and girls might never ever ever pick up a comic. It makes me understand more about who is welcome in comic culture and who isn't. It makes me disappointed in comic creators that are representing comic culture as a whole. It makes me furious. 

In the article, Alyssa Rosenberg recaps the recent Television Critics Association press tour in which 4 white dudes from the comic world promoted the documentary Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle  a film about the history of superheroes in American comics. The press tour featured Michael Kantor (film maker), Todd McFarlane (a creator of Image comics, one of my favourite publishers), Len Wein (Swamp Thing, X-Men)  and Gerry Conway (The Punisher)During the press tour, these 4 white dudes respond to criticisms of diversity in comics, they dismiss female audiences, and they detatch comic characters, narratives, and images from having any real kind of impact in culture whatsover. 

First of all it's important to note that these 4 guys don't speak for comic culture as a whole. I massively disagree with them, as do many others. And it's true that there are way more prominent voices saying awesome things about comics and diversity. But unfortunately what these guys are saying matters, because it reflects on comics culture as a whole, and for comic creators to dismiss the need for diversity in comics is damaging. I mean I love their comics, I love their output, I spend money on those comics and I spent time over characters and stories created by some of these men. To be told that diversity doesn't matter and that I might not even be considered their intended audience makes me sad. So let's break it down into the 4 most ridiculous points. 

1. This is how things have always been. Plus men are just as sexualised so quit whining. 

Representation in comics is a big one and it's a conversation we will be having for years to come. The representation of all characters in comics, specifically superhero comics, is heightened and hyper real and involves a certain amount of beefcake and cheesecake. But the ways in which female superheroes are often reduced to hyper-sexualised forms differs massively to the beefcake we see in male characters. Cheesecake is fine, but accepting and discussing that there is a massive imbalance for female representation is vital. So when McFarlane says 'they are all beautiful. So we actually stereotype and do it to both sexes. We just happen to show a little more skin when we get to the ladies' is just massively missing the point and is incredibly ignorant. At least acknowledge some of the imbalance, let's at least talk about this! I mean hell, this is why the Hawkeye Initiative was set up to visually demonstrate exactly how sexualised women in comics are as opposed to male characters.

2. If you don't like it start something yourselves

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McFarlane stated that "there's nothing stopping the people that want to do those things from doing it" in response to the idea that there is a total saturation of images in comics and maybe more diversity is needed. Conway even added that 'I don't think that there's a barrier necessarily in the field". What McFarlane and Conway are saying is if you don't like it then start something yourselves. AS THOUGH THIS IS A VIABLE OPTION. The amount of women writers and artists that self publish or work independently is huge, there are female creatives out there, it's not as if they don't exist. But suggesting that it's easy as pie to set up a comics publishing house, not only that, but a publishing house capable of sharing the field with Marvel and DC is bonkers and downright impossible. Conway's comment about lack of barriers in the workforce is also incredibly offensive, suggesting that there is no sexism within the comics industry and that it's fairly easy for female comic creators to get jobs, just not necessarily at the Big Two. 

 3. Comics aren't for girls anyway and including diversity in comics creates allows for bad storytelling. Also Faith Erin Hicks is a girl.

Remember how upset comic fans were when an all-female X-team was announced? It's political corectness gone mad!

Apparently including diverse representations within a prominent cultural form would be pandering to our needs and would be bad storytelling. Len Wein thinks the best way to portray diverse characters is to ignore race, and present all characters as the same regardless of race. McFarlane insisted that any comic that does pander to requests for diversity then inherently becomes a 'minority comic book' which he thinks doesn't work. 

However, please welcome to the stage Gerry Conway for some of the most bizarre and out of touch commentary during this discussion. Conway discusses the reading habits of his daughter saying that:
"my daughter - the only actual comic books she will read is by a girl named Faith Erin Hicks, who writes stories that speak to her. So she's not interested in the guy stories."

Gerry Conway doesn't see anything wrong with the fact that his daughter does not feel comfortable reading other super hero comics, he doesn't feel frustrated that other writers and publishers don't write comics that are accessible to all. Instead he thinks it's great that his daughter will only read comics written by a female author as the other stuff isn't for her.

Faith Erin Hicks later responded on twitter:

McFarlane also said he would not encourage his two daughters to read comics as it "might not be the right platform... it wouldn't be superheroes because I know that's heavily testosterone-driven, and it's a certain kind of group of people." I really feel sorry for their kids. So many young girls love and read comics and you'd think that having comic creators as dads would mean they would be introduced to awesome comics from such an early age. But nope. Cuz comics aren't for girls.

4. The comics follow society, they don't lead society

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This is a quote from Gerry Conway, who has decided that art, words, and culture have no impact on a society. That we don't form our ideas from the culture we intake. And that if you want to blame a lack of diversity on anything, blame it on society because it's not the job of the comic world to change things. I'm not even going to comment on this, I'm just gonna leave that there and call bullshit.

It's hard not to get bogged down in this stuff. I love the world of comics and I want to encourage others to read comics and to visit local comic shops which can be intimidating (and historically gendered) spaces to be. And while there are so many people that identify as women that are indeed comic fans, I can completely understand why ladies, women, and girls would never want to set foot in a comic shop or pick up a comic for the first time after reading such crap. It was only this week that the amazing Matt Fraction (Hawkeye, Satellite Sam, FF) in his AMA on Reddit stated "I think better women characters and more female creators would lead to more female readers; and yes, comics still have a major and profound problem with the way they treat women on the page, behind the scenes and in the marketplace."  

Women and girls will continue to read comics cuz there are so many fantastic writers, artists, editors, colourists out there. I dodge the titles that offend me, I dodge the art that doesn't sit right with me, and I avoid writers who aren't diverse and inclusive and tell bad stories restricted to the same old view point. And on that note I'm off to have my weekly comics catch up.

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