Let the Girls Take the Lead
Here’s a guest piece by longtime comic book writer Barbara Slate – BC
I have been following the widening discussion of girls and comics that began with Janelle Asselin’s critique of Teen Titans last month. We all know why women are sexualized in boys’ comics. Boys like boobs. Therefore grown men who draw the comics will continue to draw big breasts because they like to and because they know that it sells comics. We may never get them to stop drawing humongous mammaries, but the industry leading publishers can and should have a counterbalance. Instead of just trying to “educate” the boys, give the girls the lead.
In the 80s, Jenette Kahn, president of DC Comics, took a first step by publishing Angel Love.
In the 90s, Tom DeFalco, editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics, started a girls’ line. It was a courageous move because ‘girls don’t buy comics’ was the catch phrase whenever the subject was brought up. But Tom boldly went where no man had gone before and got licenses for Barbie (Mattel) and then a few years later, Belle (Disney’s Beauty and the Beast) and Ariel (Disney’s Little Mermaid).
These female leads were wonderful role models.
I wrote 65 Barbie comics. Every month Barbie would have a different profession. She was an astronaut, a teacher, and a designer, to name a few of her seemingly endless career paths.
Barbie could do anything and live anywhere. We won the Parents Choice Award two years in a row. Even Ms. Magazine loved Barbie comics! Her breasts were normal size. Why? Because under the keen eye of the marvelous Marvel editor, Hildy Mesnik, a team of women wrote, drew and adored Barbie. We were all conscious of the fact that young girls would be reading our work and we wanted them to grow up to be strong, independent and successful women.
Of course our sales couldn’t compete with Spider-Man and other male dominated superheroes. Comic book readers were, after all, 95% boys. But every month our numbers increased. To make a very sad story short, just as the girls’ line was getting traction, some a-hole who knew nothing about comics bought Marvel, looked at our monthly sales numbers, and eliminated the entire girls’ line while sending Marvel into bankruptcy. (Don’t get me started.)
So here it is, 2014, and girls do read comic books. I teach how to do graphic novels and comic books in schools, libraries, and art centers. Half the students who sign up for classes are girls. But where. oh where, is the girls’ line? A recent survey suggests that nearly half the comic fans are now female, and quotes Axel Alonso, Marvel’s editor-in-chief, as saying “They are starved for content and looking for content they can relate to.” So instead of investing in yet another super hero, invest in our girls. Bring back DeFalco’s vision of strong, independent regular anatomized girls. Rather than just educating boys, what we need are strong girls who respect their bodies.