MARTHA THOMASES: Penis People
According to stories like this, there was quite the kerfuffle at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con about the decline in the number of female artists and writers on the new DC reboot.
Raising questions about this is guaranteed to get one labeled a bitch (or worse). Kudos to Batgirl for being the bitch. It’s a thankless job, but somebody has to do it. However, I’m disturbed by DC’s response. They claim they were looking for the “best available” talent. Apparently, the best indicator of talent is a penis.
Look, I understand that DC (and Marvel, and Dark Horse, and IDW and so on and so on) want to hire writers and artists with built-in fan followings. It’s a competitive market, and anything that helps to sell the product is desirable. I also understand that these publishers want to hire people who have demonstrated an ability to meet deadlines reliably, and the easiest way to do that is to employ people you’ve already employed.
The entertainment media require a steady influx of new talent. Some, like music and movies, demand youth, and too much experience can be considered a drawback. Other branches of publishing, such as books and magazines, all have systems in place to not only keep successful writers, artists and photographers, but also to develop new ones.
Mainstream comics, not so much.
I got my break at Marvel because I hung out at the office a lot. This was back in the mid-1980s, before heinous security measures engulfed New York office buildings. I had interviewed Denny O’Neil for High Times magazine, and exploited our acquaintance (and subsequent friendship) so that I could hang out, use the photocopiers, and make free long-distance calls. Because of this, I was a familiar face, and when Larry Hama wanted to expand the kind of comics he was publishing, he took a chance on me, and we developed Dakota North with Tony Salmons.
No one has since taken a chance on me. Dwayne McDuffie once told me this was all the evidence he needed that comics is a sexist business. As things stand now, most people who enter the field of mainstream comics are former fans. The business won’t attract more women until it creates more comics that girls like. And it probably won’t create more comics that girls like until there are more people who used to be girls making comics. It’s a vicious circle.
The easiest way to break this chain is to make it less profitable. The first step in that direction, at least at DC, seems to be the failure of the Green Lantern movie to make a boatload of money. Geoff Johns, fanboy in chief, seems to be getting the blame. I admit that I kind of liked it, but that’s because I’ve been reading the comics for 50 years … and, also, Ryan Reynolds in a skintight suit. Most people who buy movie tickets don’t have my knowledge of the backstory, and so didn’t have the patience to sit through it.
Bringing in new perspectives isn’t easy. The old ways are easy. Unfortunately, the old ways inevitably produce the old results. Since this is comics, it doesn’t have the same impact as, say, firefighting, but the results of this laziness are the same – ostracizing newcomers and alienating the general public.
Comic book editors, look beyond your slush piles! Seek out new talent at places other than portfolio reviews at comic conventions! There’s a whole world of talent out there.
SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman
- DC Responds to Concerns over Lack of Female Comic Creators (comicvine.com)
Let’s get specific. What female comic book writers and artists (besides Martha Thomases) are being underutilized by DC?
A few years ago, DC got Jodi Picoult to write Wonder Woman. This was an A-List author, and her run on Wonder Woman was HIGHLY touted, highly promoted and got the A-List treatment. Was that a success? I picked up Graphic Novel collection of the Wonder Woman story arc she wrote. It was hardcover. It was OK, but awkward in spots. It didn’t really capture my imagination. Do I blame Picoult? No. But, if that experiment had been an unqualified success, you would have seen more “mainstream female writers” being lured into comics. But if Picoult had wanted to continue in Comics, if it had really grabbed her fancy, I think DC would have continued with her. But she didn’t.
I think Felicia Day and MoTancharoen have good writing skills, a fan following in the Comic Book/Genre Fiction/”Geek Crowd.” Somebody ought to give one of them the go ahead to do something big, create characters or play with some mainstream ones.
As far as female artists go, I have to admit, I’m woefully ignorant. Off the top of my head, I think of Joanna Estep, and that’s because she worked with Martha Thomases on a clever, funny Munden’s Bar story (sort of on this subject) for ComicMix. But Estep’s solid. Her work is exciting and well worth some mainstream publisher giving her a shot.
Becky Cloonan is an awesome artist and writer who has worked several years for DC/Vertigo and self-published a number of things. She even won an Eisner, though I can’t recall for what.
This is a recent development, yes? At least in the 80s and 90s I recall lots of women in comics – Colleen Doran, Kim Yale, Mindy Newell, Ann Nocenti, Jill Thompson, Louise Simonson, and Wendy Pini just off the top of my head.
I think ComicMix’s own “Written By…” section on the right there is illustrative – I see maybe a dozen women, with maybe two or three more I can’t derive gender from the name. Out of 65-70 names total? That seems awfully unbalanced from the bleachers here.
Sadly, that list doesn\’t include number of posts, or you\’d see a lot of single posters over the 8000+ posts we\’ve had. Believe me, we\’re working on trying to expand our own rosters as well, we want a mix of points of view here.
As it is, Martha is one of the few shape-shifting columnists. Why she would adopt the shape of Glenn Hauman remains a mystery. Makes editors nervous. I know it makes me nervous.
Shh! I\’m acting as a front so she can get work.
Personally, I don’t think anyone should be hired because of their genitalia, their skin color, or anything else other than their abilities and skills. If that means the industry skews towards peeps… I’d WISH it was for the right reasons. But I don’t work for their HR dept. so it’s hard to spot if they are doing it because of talent, or sales, or because they’re bastards.
My personals standards of comics art are based in the Silver and Bronze Ages, so it’s hard for me to say if today’s female artists (or “vagina people”) are offering the kind of art the readers want. If the majority of mainstream comics I see on store shelves are any indication, the readers want a cross between anime, Bruce Timm, Rob Liefeld, and webcomic art. That could be very well be exactly what female artists are producing, in which case the business is keeping them out because it’s sexist.
If I could Quantum Leap back in time to the era I’m more familiar with and into the body of an editor with the power to hire new artists, I’d hire female artists who could draw in the square-jawed, heroic style that was the standard. I’d try to bring in more Marie Severins and Ramona Fradons. That might not do much to increase the diversity of stories being told, but it would increase the diversity of artists being hired. That’s what DC should be doing today for its superhero titles, which I assume are what is being rebooted.
Dakota North was a good comic.