Committed: Women in Comics
Apparently there are journalists who are so naive as to think that the reason more women comic book creators aren’t successful is because they don’t feel comfortable with the aggressive subject matter of superhero comic books. It has been suggested lately by a number of people (who should know better) that the main reason women aren’t well known, mainstream comic book artists, writers and creators is because women prefer stories about their feelings with more dialogue and less action.
It is offensive to be told that the reason we aren’t successful in any work environment is basically because we want to talk about feelings more. Ridiculous. For many years this cliched excuse has been used for why women shouldn’t work in all sorts of environments, including upper-management and politics. I once went to a talk about comic books where a well-known comic book store owner explained at length that women want “comics about feelings and love stories.” There is a hell of a difference between demanding an emotionally complex story and wanting to read a comic book about people talking about their bloody feelings (shoot me now.)
Yes, I agree that I would like to meet more female creators at Comic-Con International next week, but then again it would be nice to meet more female graphic designers, female tv writers, female comedians, or female upper-management. Comic books aren’t the only area in which women aren’t as successful as men.
No, the reason women creators are under-represented in comic books is the same reason they’re under-represented in many more work areas; There aren’t a lot of powerful females in a whole slew of industries. But no one in banking or television or comedy is saying that it is because women really want to have more emotional, talking content. That would be outrageously sexist. It is simply that women weren’t always equal in the work place and it is taking a long time for them to become equally represented in all areas. (Dan Harmon says it better than I can when he said “we have to stop thinking of it as a quota thing and think of it as a common-sense thing.”) We still live in a sexist environment, this is surprise to no one except the people who have been pretending that we don’t.
My personal feelings about “what women want in comic books” is probably pretty close to what all sorts of comic book readers want; interesting, well-crafted stories. Sometimes we want violent superhero battles and sometimes we don’t, different moods elicit different comic books. A healthy comfort level with some fantasy aggression is a prerequisite to any woman hoping to grow into a functioning adult in our current society. We need to feel safe and comfortable in any work environment, and in order to do this we need to stop being expected to wear proverbial pink petticoats, while metaphorically fanning ourselves in horror when hearing swear words.
Personally I’ve never understood the things that I am supposed to be interested in just because I’m female. For example, I find most women’s magazines kind of depressing. Why would women want to read fashion magazines instead of comic books? Maybe it is just me and the kind of body I have, but growing up, it was always a lot easier for me to identify physically with the women in comic books than the women I saw in fashion shoots. In women’s fashion magazines you get fashionable young giants, starved to the point of illness, wearing clothes that cost an arm and a leg. In comic books you get voluptuous, muscular women wearing weird, unique costumes they made themselves. I love making things and my weight is average, of course I prefer superheroes to supermodels.
There are underwear models with bodies like superheroes, just as there are superheroes with bodies like underwear models (both male and female.) But the pertinent fact is not how they look, as much as what they do, (or are depicted doing…) A few years ago, some supermodel was involved in some kind of drug scandal and my dad blew up. I couldn’t see why he cared, but he pointed out that young women aspire to be like models, and what they do for a living is look good. When the only the only action they are publicly seen to take is unhealthy and self-destructive, this doesn’t exactly set a very good example. It was an idea I had never considered, that young women would be influenced by models. Growing up I took my cues from superheroes and I’m glad that I did. Helping the weak, protecting the vulnerable, fighting evil… these are all admirable actions taken by strong male and female superheroes.
Years ago I published article which highlighted my ten favorite moments of incredibly strong women depicted in comic books. Treat this as a recommended reading list for anyone wondering if women can be powerful in comics.
Top Ten Biggest Bad-Ass Women in Comics
1. Elektra in Elektra: Assassin
You know I love this book, so I’ll try not to go on. There is a tangible wrench as she breaks though the drug haze to escape from the mental institution. This is the first clue that Elektra is more powerful than anyone anticipated, particularly her enemies. By the second chapter, she’s killing SHIELD agents, deflecting bullets, slicing and dicing and throwing opponents back with her silent shout (which hits like a mack truck). Ultimately she saves the world, maneuvering her man into the presidency and beating back the forces of the Beast.
2. Phoenix in the Dark Phoenix Saga
The journey from insipid and unsure Marvel Girl to Phoenix levels of raw power is a marvelous thing to behold. Watching Jean Grey gradually discover (and finally embrace) the various aspects of her limitless power is intensely satisfying. While her character has gone through many changes over the years, in this book at least, her power is her own.
3. Dara in The Sword
For their part in shaping my life, the top two positions have to go to Elektra and Phoenix, but in The Sword, Dara really blew my mind. All of the Luna Brothers comics have impressed me with their depiction of women and examination of the gender experiences. Now in The Sword, they’ve created a woman who overcomes the limitations of a crippling accident, then in undertaking a mission to avenge the murder of her family, she becomes a true warrior. I
4. Wonder Woman in Kingdom Come
Until Kingdom Come, I thought that Wonder Woman was a somewhat out-dated concept. Although I always loved her back story as an Amazon princess warrior, I rarely felt it in her stories. But in Kingdom Come she really stepped up, telling a placatory Superman “If they want to act like warriors… I’ll show them war.” Superman might be the central hero in this book, but it’s Wonder Woman who brings the battle to the story. She is fearsome and decisive, every bit Amazon warrior royalty.
5. Robin in The Dark Knight Returns
This little girl’s got balls. Carrie Kelley jumps right in and becomes Robin all on her own, with not a single bit of encouragement from anyone. She sees the need, and decides to do something about it. Basically, she saves the big guy’s life and does it without help or encouragement from anyone. Carrie is The Dark Knight’s polar opposite in every way, and she fills in the gaps for him, with her youth, energy and enthusiasm.
6. Jakita Wagner in Planetary
In the first issue of Planetary, Jakita jumped out of a helicopter, landed with an earth shattering bang, and her role as the mover and shaker on the team was firmly established. This is truly a superwoman, she’s tough, brave and incredibly strong. Wrestling beasts down and punching them through buildings is her idea of a good time and she relishes the experience.
7. Tulip in Preacher
Throughout the series, Tulip is always Jessie’s equal partner, fighting against his need to shelter her from danger. She is strong, skilled, and smart, saving his life again and again. Pitting herself against the most horrible enemies, she isn’t fearless, but her fury carries her pretty far.
8. Promethea in Promethea
Promethea is beautiful and powerful in many incarnations and it is this versatility that makes the character such a powerful role model. Each one has strengths which make her battle style different, but my favorite moment is when the Stacia/Grace incarnation battles a swarm of demons (the Goetia.) By devouring them, making them her own, a part of her she is willingly accepting her own demonic tendencies and embracing them.
9. Tara Chace in Queen & Country
Tara’s a tough, gritty government agent, so her being a bad-ass is a given. Her intense commitment to this job is almost a prerequisite to her success and survival, so it’s not surprising to see her deal with any given situation. The shock is always in her joy, her love of what could almost seem like an untenable career. Clearly she gains tremendous satisfaction from her ability to deal with the untenable, and it’s when she is fighting for her life that she seems most present in her life.
10. Kitty Pryde in Astonishing X-Men
I never really liked Kitty much. From the minute she appeared, she seemed ineffectual and gimmicky. I wanted her to step up in a way that never seemed to happen. When Astonishing X-Men started, I was following the artist and writer, not the characters. But Whedon did something incredible. He made Pryde an adult, but still herself. She had massive resources, depths of strength and that could carry her team. In the final story, it’s Pryde that saves the earth and her determination and sacrifice was fantastic.