I got this submission and I wanted to address a few points in it because the person was respectful and bothered to write something more than “SHUT UP U WH*RE!”, which I actually appreciate. At the same time, the message ticked me off. Not on a personal level, on a feminist-comic-artist level. So I decided to tackle it email-style - it’s the only way I could cope with it. The letter is quoted:
Hey, just wanted to say I love your blog. It’s really made me more aware as an artist.
Thanks! I’m glad I could help you out with your own work. That’s one of the best things that could happen from this blog. THE best thing is women out there feeling better about themselves and feeling that they deserve to see superheroes with actual human bodies, and demand women have room to exist as full characters in comics.
I was recently talking to to some male comic book fans about the topic, and their response could basically be summed up as:
1) Comics are mainly aimed at men, if you don’t like it, don’t read it.
2) Comic book artists should have the freedom to draw however they like without someone else imposing their standards on them.
3) Why don’t women just make their own comics?
All those points are terrible. Absolutely terrible. I’ll explain why:
1) I love hearing how comics aren’t for me. There are so many things not for me in this world. One of the few things in life to give me guilt-free, consequence-free pure joy? No, not for me. I wish someone had bothered to tell my Superman-obsessed 3-yr-old self that, it would have saved me a lot of heartache later on.
2) Yes, yes they do.
3) Women? Making their OWN comics? That’s CRAZY talk!! Why, nobody has EVER suggested that to us before! Excuse me while I use my fainting-couch!
To be honest, to an extent, I agree. If an artist wants to continue drawing a certain way, even if they’re clearly terrible artists, they should have right too.
*To. And yes, they have a right to suck. Just as we women have the right to say, “Hey, dudes? Your work really sucks.” They’re free to draw however badly they like, but they are not free from criticism. Criticism is the marmalade that tops our Freedom Toast.
Works specifically aimed at one gender tend to portray the other in an overly idealized light, in much the same way men in trashy romance novels never act or look anything like real men. Why not start comics targets aimed at women?
This is not a new concept. People have been making comics for women for years. The problem isn’t that there are no comics for women. It’s that the industry is drowning in the crappy, male-gaze fuelled art and dudes are patting each other on the back going, “DUDE. YOU’RE AWESOME! LET’S DRAW TITTIES AND ASSES TOGETHER!” While women, both artists, writers and fans, are feeling isolated, unwanted and actively dehumanised. This isn’t going to be fixed by turning that feeling on men in special cock-filled, bun-brimming comic books penned by women with one hand down their pants.
I know that seems hypocritical coming from the woman who’s currently doing a series of illustrations called “Sexy Superdudes”, but I’d like to think that my pictures are illustrating the point of what the other side of the “male gaze” looks like, and how ridiculous it can be to frame a human being like that. There’s every chance I might fail in that pursuit.
The real problem, of course, is that it’s the BAD artist who never improve that are getting work. And those artists are getting work because their stuff sells. And their stuff sells because readers are indiscriminately buying whatever comic features their favorite hero.
I’m pretty sure this problem is prevalent even in the good comic artists that are sexist (eg. Adam Hughes). But you’re right - this shit sells. These people running the comic houses are depending on the lowest common denominator. I wonder if comic bros out there LIKE being a bunch of dependable knuckle-dragging hormone-machines that publishers know they can bilk for sketched soft porn?
Call me a cynic, but I don’t think the key to change is simply showing people the error of their ways. People are probably long aware of their flaws.
I’m not here for them. I’m not here to help Marvel, Image, DC, what-the-f-ever. I’m here to say to the women out there that love comics as much as I do, “We are worthy of a fully-realised superheroine. We are worthy of telling our stories, and our stories are worthy, epic stories that CAN entertain. We deserve more.”
It’s only when those flaws hurt them where it’s most important (the wallet), that they bother to change and improve. So at the end of the day, maybe the best thing we can do is to simply not buy these comics. Ignore them. Give them the silent treatment. See how successful these comics really are when they really HAVE alienated the 50% of the population that they seem to think isn’t important to their readership.
The truly depressing thing is that bad sales don’t tend to inspire these big comic companies to change anything but the surface stuff. They reboot and “reinvent” and it’s all shit. They make tiny changes but don’t look at the roots of where they’re going wrong.
Also, do you think a comic by women for everyone (which includes women), would be successful? Or even be able to take off at all?
I don’t know. How am I supposed to know? I’m a stone-cold broke artist with a lot of big ideas. If I knew the answer to that question, I’d probably be riding a pony by now. In my own stables. Watching my other ponies get brushed by shirtless stablehands.
Oh wait - Gail Simone. One of the most popular and successful comic writers out there, a woman. People seem to like her. Maybe, just maybe, if people like the stuff she writes and does, they would like a comic someone like her would write from the female perspective, as drawn by women? I don’t know.
This response may seem snarky to you, but understand, in my long years on the internet, I have been asked these questions a million times. And off the internet? Don’t get me started. There’s always a burden of proof on women, an expectation that we must prove we’d be super successful before given a chance to express ourselves in the mainstream. And no male artist or writer ever had that burden. Chances were taken on them, it was assumed that they’d do all right.
Men’s stories are never questioned. You don’t say, “Will men’s stories, written by men, including men, even be successful?” Like it’s some weird fringe story or something? Or special interest? Women’s stories are not special interest. They are human stories - FULL STOP. And that goes for Women of Colour, queer women, disabled women, trans* women, you name it. If men don’t get asked that question before they get taken seriously as comic creators, then nobody else should be either.
I hope that answered some of your questions.