Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
So an odd confluence of events lead to me drunk tweeting while watching 1995’s classically terrible Mortal Kombat at about four in the morning this weekend (don’t ask). It was mostly uneventful, a few good jokes, mostly banal observations, as those things tend to be. However, it operated as a particularly potent time travel device to the kind of media that a teenaged Kelly Thompson was absorbing (enthusiastically and of her own free will) in 1995.
You see, in 1995 I went to see Mortal Kombat IN. THE. MOVIE. THEATER.
AND I WAS REALLY EXCITED ABOUT IT.
While even 1995 Kelly knew it wasn’t a good film, I was excited for the simple fact that it was an action film that was going to have at least one female “lead” that got to kick ass (or should have). And that was in precious little supply in 1995. Sure there were some great exceptions (Strange Days was the best of them- Angela Bassett, forever!; Hackers was the one that couldn’t stand up on viewing even a year after release, but damn was Angelina Jolie sexy and cool; and Tank Girl was the one that should have been a great but didn’t work for me then and doesn’t now). Anyway, so Mortal Kombat got me thinking about all these other 1995 films, but COMICS were MY WORLD in 1995. So what were teenaged Kelly’s 1995 options if she wanted to read a comic book starring a lady – and more to the point, a lady that was the titular character?
Honestly, looking back at this selection, it’s kinda amazing I made it out of the 1990’s. Check it out:
While there were a good number of female title leads (I got to this list using the top 300 books for sale in 1995 – I make no argument it is 100% accurate, but it should be a reasonable estimate) they came almost universally in the exact same flavor. Which was bad girl, barely clothed, and drawn in a way that made them all potential poster women for my “No, It’s Not Equal” post from 2012.
Edited to add: For clarity, because a lot of people are misunderstanding why the covers above have been picked. I am not making a judgment for or against the above 1995 covers (or for that matter the below 2013 covers). I simply grabbed EVERY SINGLE FEMALE LED TITLE THAT WAS NAMED AFTER THE FEMALE HEROINE/HEROINES FOR THAT YEAR THAT FELL IN THE TOP 300 COMICS.
Again, I am not saying that the above Rogue cover is cheesecake OR that the Wonder Woman cover is bad, or that all of these were shitty books (or even shitty covers). I do not think they are ALL bad covers, or that they were all bad books (I read a few of them, but not many). The sole reason they are here are so we can see THE COVERS THAT TEENAGED KELLY HAD TO CHOOSE FROM ON THE SHELF IN 1995. Are we clear, now? Also? OY.
Looking at these 1995 covers it got me thinking how lucky I am nearly 20 years later in my options. Using the same general guideline (top 300 titles monthly in 2013 with titular female leads) I ended up with the following list, which has not only grown by almost 10 titles, but has a whole hell of a lot more variety.
It’s straight awesome.
And that doesn’t even include the books starring and co-starring women (from my pull list only – I can’t speak to the cast/diversity/representation of stuff I’m not or haven’t been reading, obviously) that have books that aren’t named after them:
AND that doesn’t include all these incredible up and coming books already announced for 2014 – both books named for their heroines and those that aren’t. Sure, some of them aren’t going to last, and some of them will even be terrible, but it feels very encouraging on the whole, doesn’t it?
Interestingly, while I’d say we’ve made some strides in film and television – with awesome highlights – everything from Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1997 – 2003) to Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013), there’s honestly a very one step forward one step back feeling when you look at the balance of film and television. I mean where is the equivalent of Angela Bassett in Strange Days? I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone get close to that ever since? And though we’ve got some great ladies on television shows, I’m not seeing anything that’s as feminist and groundbreaking for female characters as Buffy on network television (though admittedly it’s tougher to break new ground as you go along). And it IS depressing to realize that we had one of the best female characters and action stars – Alien’s Ripley – all the way back in 1979. Seems like it should just be standard operating procedure by now.
That said, in comparison when I look at the comics available to me — and that’s just the week to week monthly books — I am super encouraged at the idea that maybe we are finally actually taking two steps forward and only one back. I mean, I’m not ready to call it a day or anything, but we are seriously making strides even in just the last year. My reading list is filled near to bursting with interesting female characters starring or co-starring in books.
I’ve obviously spent a lot of time writing about these issues over the last few years and especially how much I want to see a solo female superhero film. And I do think we are well past time for that to happen. At the same time I often think back on Sue’s and my 3 Chicks interview with Geoff Boucher (then at Entertainment Weekly) and his excellent point that 15 years ago all he wanted was a great superhero film, and now we’ve come so far that we are demanding a great superHEROINE film.
It’s not a terrible position to be in if you’re feeling a bit optimistic. And today, for reasons unknown (still drunk?) I am!
All that to say, I guess, that though we’re a very long way from done fighting these battles and terrible things happen pretty much every month that bum me out on this front, it’s hard not to be kind of optimistic, excited, and generally encouraged by what creators seem to want to write and what publishers are actually willing to publish. It kind of feels like we’re pushing on that brave new world a little bit, no?
Speaking of brave new worlds, don’t forget to check out the crowdfunding campaign for my new novel – STORYKILLER. We hit our initial funding goal in under 72 hours, and now we’re steadily climbing toward stretch goals and such. To those of you that have already come on out and pledged – thank you!
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