Saturday, August 6, 2011

Speak For Yourself: My Thoughts on the New DC 52 and Women in Comics, Fans and Creators.

In the days following the 2011 edition of San Diego Comic Con International, various panel reports continued to mention one of the major hot-button issues currently in the comic industry. Following the full announcement of DC’s 52 re-launch extravaganza it was found that the number of women working at DC Comics in a creative capacity would go from an already low sixteen women to a staggering two in total by this September. This is by no means an acceptable figure, and it’s giving the new 52 more bad press than it ever wanted by proving how ultimately damaging the re-launch experiment could wind up being for the brand’s image as a whole.

This decrease has lead to a rightful outrage throughout the comic community—many sites covering the situation in addition to the reaction of the out-spoken fans at places such as SDCC and on the web itself. A petition was formed with intent of convincing the creative people in charge over at DC to bridge the gap by hiring more women artists, writers, letterers etc. There’s a list that can be added to via comment at the petition site itself, it has quite the impressive list of female talent on it. However, it’s the language of the petition’s overview itself that I find personally to be not only misguided but damaging to the image of the female comic fan.

First of all I have no doubt that the overview’s mentioning of women having bad experiences at comic book stores has been a recurring issue.  There have been times that I’ve gone to my local shop and caught the eye of a cynical fellow reader here or there, and they weren’t only the male customers either. I’ve been stared at while perusing the new releases and the graphic novel shelves but that unfortunately comes with the territory of getting into this entertainment format. It has been a boy’s club for a very long time and that takes initiative to expand people’s minds about. You can’t just go a few times and be dissuaded from the experience by a few scoffs or dismissive attitudes. Because that’s going to keep even being a fan of comics in the first place as something that’s just for the boys. Like what you like and never give a damn what other people think about it—wasn’t that what being a ‘geek’ is supposed to be all about in the first place?

But the petition overview goes on to suggest that their idea to fix this fear of women getting into comics would be to replace the missing women at DC as well as implant more in creative positions.  The exact language of which is, ‘When women see other women creating comics, they feel empowered. It encourages women to read, to buy, and to maybe one day contribute to the comic book industry. ‘ Listen, if you never gave comics a chance before but then you found out about one being done by a female writer you were intrigued by, and that got you to read a comic for the first time, then more power to you. I think that any reason to get more people, not just women, supporting the comic book industry is a good thing and the reasons why they’re dipping a toe in for the first time can and should be varied from person to person.

However, I feel that making an implication that all women are made most comfortable by others of their own gender creating something in their art form of interest is a damaging claim. Again, it can be a great entry point, but it shouldn’t be the staying point. Talent shouldn’t have gender attached to it—a good writer or artist should be considered as such no matter whether they happen to be male or female. Personally I can only be inspired by writers since I can’t draw anything to save my life. The writers I look to as inspiration cover the gender spectrum—I am not only inspired by women because I happen to be a woman. Because women aren’t the only people capable of writing strong interesting female characters, and yet somehow it’s been decided that men are the only ones who can fuck them up.  Joss Whedon is a huge idol to many women, and he worked in tandem with talented writers of both sexes to create a series of iconic female characters. Maybe DC should hire him on for a film adaption after he’s finished with The Avengers and he could teach them a thing or two.

Or, if you’re still up in arms about this and want to make a real difference then hurt them where they live—their profit margins. Look at the massive list on the petition page, a great lot of these women have works you can purchase from other companies. In fact, while DC is struggling to become enticing  to new comic buyers by quite literally stripping the pants off of Wonder Woman and Harley Quinn to name two egregious cases of over-sexualized reboot character images, there are some great female characters created by both men and women starring in books from the other comic companies. Most of my buying habits have found their ways to books by IDW, Image, Archaia, Dark Horse, and other comic publishers outside of ‘the big two’ of Marvel and DC.

Time will tell if all this outside pressure results in the drafting of female talent for future DC comic projects. I’m probably going to check out a few of the new 52 books myself just to see if what’s inside is better than what’s on the covers of a few. For the most part I’m sure most of my hard-earned cash is going to go toward the more forward-thinking companies mentioned above that exist outside of the stigma of giving men the first chance to tell a story--this seems to be a problem with DC and Marvel so much because they have hired-gun mentality. Drafting people on to tell stories with established characters and canon for the most part and to me the future is in creator-owned properties where new ground can be broken. Perhaps the next great superhero is out there in a woman’s mind waiting to hit the page, so what if it may not be under the DC banner? I hope the women they lost move on to much more fulfilling creative environments where they have their own say in what they make.

Today I even visited my local shop, and yeah I got some stares. I also had a really great conversation with one of the shop’s employees about the books I’d picked out. He was friendly and excited just like I was--there was the shared geek out moment. And I’m going to keep going back, hopefully one day to pick up some future book created by a woman that DC let go of. I sort of have a feeling that for the most part, they’re going to regret the 52 relaunch project in the first place when the real results come in the form of loss instead of gain on the yearly balance sheets. That’s how you show them your voice. And trust me, you wouldn’t know it from what’s showing up on the new DC covers, but other female comic book characters are known to wear something other than corsets all the time.

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