Thursday, January 05, 2006

One of the Things About Comics

I want to follow up my previous post with a brief listing of (what I think are) facts:

1. Lea Hernandez is a strong, talented woman who speaks for herself, and defends herself quite effectively. My post wasn't intended to do these things for her, or in her name. She isn't a victim who needed me to ride up on my white horse and defend her. And though I don't think anything I wrote gave that impression, I just wanted to state this for the record.

2. Ms. Hernandez's LiveJournal entries are about the choices she has made in the industry, based upon her 20 years of experience. (This is about much more than just the Miller/Lee "ass shot.") I strongly support women making autonomous decisions.

3. Ms. Hernandez's entries crystallized something about comics that's been gnawing at my brain for some time. And as a returnee to the regular reading of comics, (after having been away for twenty years), I think that I provide a useful perspective.

4. Off the top of my head, Wonder Woman, Catwoman, Birds of Prey, and Spider-Girl are just about the only titles with strong central women that I can urge my female students to read without reservation.

What I mean is, they generally don't contain excessive numbers of panels which are blatant fan service. I don't have to say to my female students "If you can get past the way the women are sometimes drawn, the plotting is really effective," or "You can tell by how the women are written that the book isn't just a conveyance for sexist imagery." (This last, a comment I've had to make several times about my beloved Birds of Prey during Ed Benes' run as penciller.)

Following up on I what I said about cultural hegemony, and the values being conveyed by a "girl's comic" from the 60s, it's worth thinking about what messages and norms are being endorsed, reinforced, and conveyed by superhero comics in 2006. (That's a task, however, for a future post.)

Heidi Meeley has frequently posted on how "the rest of the world" views the comics-reading community. Having had fairly intensive interactions with friends and colleagues over the past year around the question of my comics-reading, I think we all need to recognize that a big reason why the outside world looks askance at adults (say, people post-25) who read superhero comics is because of the mentality to which DC, Marvel, Image and the rest pitch their product. And let's be honest, though there are exceptions, we can all pretty much name the demographic to which mainstream superhero comics are being pitched. And, (to name just one), it clearly isn't female college professors in their mid-thirties.

Update (1.5.06; 11:48PM): Item 4 of this post fueled an understandable (and self-termed) rant from Lea Hernandez, which I urge you all to read here. It would be dishonest for me to make a "silent" edit of the sentence in the light of her justifiable criticism. Instead, what follows below is how I would edit the above sentence, so that it might reflect what I actually meant to say:

4. Off the top of my head, Wonder Woman, Catwoman, Birds of Prey, and Spider-Girl are just about the only titles with strong central women that I can justify reading regularly when asked about my comics reading habits by my feminist students.

The rest of the post can stand as it is.

Comments:
Melchior:

First, I wanted to stop by and personally thank you for commenting at my blog. I really appreciated your thoughts.

Second, i wanted to let you know I've done a follow-up to my "Miller-gate" post on sexism. I think you'll find it interesting.

Thrid, I'd like to reccomend Witchblade to you for your class to use as a comic with a powerful and intelligently handled female lead. I know in the past artists have focused on the T & A factor in it, but under writer Ron Marz, the book has been given direction, purpose and a good dose of plot delveopment for the lead character, which doesn't involve her clothes getting shreded in every issue. Start with Witchblade #80 and go on until the recent issue (#93 just came out today). This run in one you can suggest to your students without reservation.
 
Melchior: solicit suggestions of comics for your female students from women, and see what you get. Guys generally recommend not what they KNOW women/girls like, but what they THINK they will like, based on the fact that there are female characters in it.

Here's some from me, all easily findable via Amazon:

My own books, of course. Cathedral Child, Clockwork Angels, Rumble Girls.
Finder: Talisman, Carla Speed McNeil.
Vogelein, Jane Irwin.
Dignifying Science, Jim Otavianni and a cast of many women cartoonists.
Elfquest, Wendi and Richard Pini. (This was a formative title for me.)
Xxxholic, by CLAMP.
 
Your thoughts here are so well put and on the dime that I am in awe.

Your comment hits it well: "Having had fairly intensive interactions with friends and colleagues over the past year around the question of my comics-reading, I think we all need to recognize that a big reason why the outside world looks askance at adults (say, people post-25) who read superhero comics is because of the mentality to which DC, Marvel, Image and the rest pitch their product."

Too true. That is what we all have to battle and until the industry recognizes and tries to change it, it seems futile.

What is so funny to me is that I never thought about the fact that Wonder Woman was in a sexy outfit when I was 10 years old. I just knew that she saved the day and I loved her for that.
 
James, Lea, and Heidi: Thanks for the thoughtful (and useful) comments.

James and Lea, I guess my post was rushed and sloppily worded, because in reality I never have had occasion to recommend comics to my students (male or female). Though I have, on several occasions, gotten interesting recommendations from them.

What I meant to say was that there are very few superhero comics that I can defend (or commend) to a student. I've had several conversations with feminist students who have seen issues of DC or Marvel superhero comics on my desk or strewn about my office, and have asked me what I value in them, given the way they tend to depict women. So item 4 of the post, interestingly enough, gave the absolute opposite meaning than that which I intended. Rather than a conversation in which I make recommendations to them, it's more them wanting to get information out of me.

Lea: I always look forward to broadening my reading. Thanks for the listing of interesting work.

James: Based on things you, Heidi, and other comics bloggers have written, I've been picking up Witchblade from issue 89 or so.

Heidi: Thanks. I very much look foward to reading future installments of your excellent "Object Of..." series of posts.
 
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