Last week, I wrote about how I can turn brunch into me championing female comics creators to new comic readers. Ok, there was a bit more to it than that but just go ahead and read it if you really want the details. After that went out, our Ye Olde Editor Mike decided to play Devils’ Advocate and ask me why we need women creators in comics.
I admit, I was stumped about how to approach it this time. I feel like so many writers, including myself, have tackled this subject. And frankly, I don’t understand who would argue against women in comics at this point. (I doubt Bill Willingham from Fables will read this.) But then I remembered that no matter what I need to explain, I can always use Star Trek. More on that soon.
Right now, according to Pew Research Center, 56% of men think sexism doesn’t exist anymore. You might be one of them. After all, it is 2016. But where (for the most part) we’ve lost the ass grabbing and the “just keep looking pretty” side of sexism, the more subtle signs of sexism still exist. Women are still paid less than men, and are often seen as less capable or knowledgeable. Right now, we are seeing the subtle signs of sexism played out on the national stage but many people fail to see it.
When women enter the planning process, so does a completely new point of view. We are more likely to be better multi-taskers, empathetic, and respond much differently to the world’s pressures because of gender. That change in perception and reactions adds a new story element.
In entertainment, we have seen women’s stories change and develop as time has passed. In a lot of cases, entertainment has led the way for social changes. (Now is where I bring Star Trek back in). Star Trek showed Nichelle Nichols as an officer on a starship. Not a maid, not a cook but someone who can take control. Uhura inspired a generation that they too could be more than what society at the time decided was okay. Plus, without her we would have no Whoopi Goldberg, and that would be a real shame.
Now we have the current Ms. Marvel, created because Marvel editor Sana Amanat randomly was sharing childhood stories one day. Another editor thought she could use her past to create a new hero and Kamala Kahn was born. In today’s world of scary hate, Kamala shows that Muslim culture includes everyday people who deserve their voice.
Women bring new stories to comics, and with those stories, new truths and changes that will echo into society. The truth is that human crave knowledge, intrigue, entertainment, and change. As anything in our lives become stale, we look for something new. When civilizations fail to grow, change, or spark new ideas, then they collapse. New ideas can come from anywhere or anyone.
We’ve only had the voices of a select group for so long that we’ve forgotten how many other stories that are out there. Ignoring this entire gender means the stagnation of comics. Actually, scratch that. Ignoring any minority group means the stagnation of comics. Only through continuing evolution and change can the comics industry continue to thrive.
When the phone rings on a Sunday and it’s not even 9 AM, I leap up and brace for news that someone has died.
Luckily, when the phone rang this past Sunday that wasn’t the case. “Turn on the Today show right now!!” said my friend, Pennie.
Right there on a network news show (one that was on at the crack of dawn on a weekend) was a long segment about women and comics.
It was great, but I have issues.
Really, go watch the clip, and then we’ll talk.
First of all, huge props to the Marvel/Disney PR department for not only getting the story placed, but for making it all about Marvel. In my experience, many general-interest journalists conflate Marvel and all super-hero comics, and it seems that Marvel is just fine with that.
Erica Hill, the reporter, claims that one third of the Marvel editorial department is female, and that may be true but I’d like to see a breakdown. I loved seeing Sana Amanat, Katie Kubert and Emily Shaw talking about their jobs. Those are three smart women who know a lot about the business, and it was fun to see their chops and enthusiasm.
However, Sana is the only one who is an executive, and Emily is an assistant editor. How do women in Marvel editorial rank in comparison to the men, especially among staff with the same amount of tenure?
I really don’t know the answer to that. I hope it’s one I like.
The story also says that between 30-50% of the comic book market is female. How do they define this market? Does it include manga? Does it include graphic novel sales in bookstores? Do they mean Marvel sales (as they seem to conflate Marvel with all comics)? If a third of Marvel’s sales are to women, why haven’t I seen that news before? Am I just oblivious?
Please don’t misunderstand. I’m aware that a morning-news piece isn’t going to go digging too far because their audience is just getting coffee, getting over a hangover or getting ready for church. Still, I wanted to know more.
Is it too meta for a column about comics on a comic-book site to critique a television news piece about comics? Maybe. As a publicist I would have been thrilled to get the placement, but I would have buried the producers with information, not just about my company but about the entire field. I would have especially directed them to Image Comics, where women don’t just work on different titles but get to own the rights to their work. I would have urged them to interview female writers and artists and retailers, to get their perspectives on the changes in the market.
Most of all, damn it, I would have urged them to highlight Dakota North. We have to find a way to get her on Netflix.
“Two years ago writer G. Willow Wilson, artist Adrian Alphona and I created a story about a young woman with dreams of being ‘normal.’” Her name is Kamala Khan and she’s a Muslim American girl from Jersey City. We comic folks call her Ms. Marvel.” Kamala’s story shows how “being ‘normal’ isn’t one race, one gender, one point of view. Being ‘normal’ is being different. And being different is being American.”
Sana Amanat, Director of Content & Character Development, Marvel Entertainment, Co-Creator of Marvel Comics’ Ms. Marvel • From her introduction of President Obama at the White House Reception for Women’s History Month, March 16, 2016
I just finished reading Martha’s latest column – Wow, girlfriend! You knocked it out of the park! – and, pursuant to that, I clicked on the link in Martha’s column, which for some reason didn’t work for me, so I did some searching and found this.
Watching and listening to President Obama as he spoke to the women gathered at the Women’s History Month reception about women, and their daughters, and their sons, of how we have been, and always will be, part and parcel and participants in this country’s history, its future, and the world’s future, I was struck, yet again, by how absolutely everything about the current occupant of the Oval Office is so absolutely different from the Repugnantican men who want to take over the Presidency.
Just now, as I wrote “take over the Presidency,” I was also struck by what I can only call my Freudian slip; I could have used “inherit the office” or “win the election” or “succeed him as President,” but what automatically came out of me was those two words – take over. Because every time I see Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, and, yes, even the so-called “moderate” John Kasich, every time I hear or read their latest statements, that’s exactly how I interpret their words – as a take over of this country. I have more than once lately pulled out my copy of William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich to read about its financial backing by German corporations; I have pulled out my copy of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale to reread how the United States of America becomes the Republic of Gilead, a country organized into a fanatical, patriarchal, martial, and rigidly “Christian” society in women are either Madonna or whores.
Of course I am sounding extremely paranoid, but I’m not really. The Repugnantican party and its candidates are so obtuse, so parochial, so busy attacking each other about the size of their penises that they don’t realize they’re on the Titanic. Really, I’m not worried. The Repugnanticans are done as a functioning political party in this country.
On a somewhat lighter note – I haven’t seen The Caped Crusader Beats Up on the Last Son of Krypton (and Vice-Versa), and I really don’t want to; well, except for seeing Gal Godot as my favorite Amazon Princess/Warrior and Jeremy Irons as the butler. But I can wait for the movie to hit the streaming sites and cable and for a rainy day when I’m sitting at home bored out of my mind. Editor Mike Gold and I were talking the other night; he was being the “good cop,” waiting to see it before he formed an opinion, and I played “bad cop,” convicting the movie without benefit of trial.
“Having experienced other Zak Snyder films,” I said, “whatever Zak Snyder touches turns to destructive garbage that has nothing to do with storytelling or character development or emotional satisfaction.” And though I didn’t say this to Mike, I’ll tell you: I think Snyder’s fans are a different kind of audience, one with which I definitely don’t want to be identified. Maybe it’s my crazy writer’s mind making crazy connections again, but I think there’s a direct correlation between the audience that loves Snyder’s movies and video games and the rampaging thugs audience that go to Donald Trump stump speeches, i.e., Zak Snyder :: Sucker Punch as Grizzled Ignorant Cracker :: Protestor.
Now that I think of it, what I said to Mike about The Last Son of Krypton Beats The Crap Out Of The Caped Crusader (Or Vice-Versa) was: “It’s gonna suck.”
My esteemed colleague, Mindy Newell, recently noted that our current president is a big ol’ comic book nerd. We knew that. Way back when this site started up, we ran the photo of Obama in Metropolis, Illinois, striking an iconic pose next to the Superman statue.
Last week, as part of its celebration of Women’s History Month, our Geek-in-Chief invited Marvel Comics’ Sana Amanat to the White House to celebrate. Amanat presented the President with a copy of Ms. Marvel.
While this is not the first time super-heroes have had an official White House Moment (indeed, I was there for the launch of the anti-landmine comic DC created for UNICEF, and if I could find it, I’d post the picture of me with Hillary Clinton), it is perhaps the most heart-warming. To have a person who is not only female but also Muslim and Pakistani-American with the President to represent comics is an enormous change.
It helps that Sana does brilliant work on great comic books. I mean, really, look at how cool she is. Still, I think that she could have been every bit as talented twenty years ago and never received the attention she has, or been able to take advantage of the opportunities she deserves.
So, just when I was feeling like my beloved comics community was growing up, I read this announcement that the Comics and Cola blog was shutting down. I confess that I didn’t tune in there that often. The woman who ran the site, Zainab Akhtar, is an English Muslim, and her perspective (check this outfor a taste) is quite different from mine, which I love. I should have tuned in more.
Apparently, the last straw for her was best expressed in this post by Kim O’Connor. O’Connor saw her work dismissed by a white male comics critic based on nothing more than his entitled perception that her opinions didn’t matter. He’s a white man in his 20s, so obviously no one is qualified to reasonably disagree with him.
(That is much too simplistic an analysis, I know. Read the link. It’s great.)
As a straight cis white woman, I’m very much aware that I miss a lot of subtle bigotry. I can watch an entire night of television with stories about white people (who might have sassy black friends) without noticing how skewed that is. When a protagonist’s race and gender are not specified, I often assume that person is male and white.
It’s a habit from my 60+ years in the culture. It’s a bad habit, and one I struggle to change. Not only is it wrong ethically and morally but, more important, it limits my enjoyment of the world.
The President gets this, even if 20-something white boys don’t. But then, we no longer assume that the President can only be a straight cis white man.
I’ve spent the past week or so in a bubble, apparently hiding from the news of the world. Which is why I was startled by the influx of posts yesterday announcing it was International Women’s Day. A day to recognize all the inspirational women in our lives.
It seems odd that I would miss such a day but it is a funny thing to have a single day dedicated to all women from the planet Earth. Women still make up half the planet, and there are similar days on the proverbial calendar. Still, the necessity of such a day is irksome. The year is filled with days where I can laud women from all walks of life.
Being torn on how to move forward with this column, I decided to err on the side of not nitpicking yesterday’s recognition and to try to enjoy the moment.
Truth be told, women have made strides in comics, both in the industry and in the stories. A few decades ago, I doubt Kamala Khan would have made it to the page. Even if she had, I doubt that she would have the same depth that she does now. The same could be said for one of her creators, Sana Amanat, who is an editor at Marvel Comics. But now we have a character that resonates across cultural and gender lines as a role model to the young and old.
The same exact excitement could be applied to Bitch Planet. Could we have had that book years ago? Of course. Would it have received the same praise it receives now? I doubt it.
However, this is still a small percentage of the comics pie.
Female characters still lead fewer books than male characters. Female creators still make up a small portion of the industry. Now, it is a point of conversation and an area of development. Companies are looking for ways to expand as they realize that courting the opposite sex is a growing market. It will continue to be as long as we look towards the future and remind them that we women are still here and will not be ignored.
On this site, we have amazing women who broke barriers in comics for my generation. For starters, Martha Thomases and Mindy Newell both worked in the industry, creating female-driven stories as they worked in a male-dominated industry. Emily Whitten has written for multiple sites about geekdom, something that isn’t easy as a woman. All of them have been an inspiration as well as a source of encouragement.
So, on this random day, I want to thank all the women who made it possible for me to be recognized as a voice to be heard. Everything you’ve done is helping move us to an equal future.
About 20 years ago, I asked Batman editor Denny O’Neil if I could attend DC’s annual editorial retreat. I was their Publicity Manager at the time and I thought that if I could sit down and watch how the creative teams worked I could better promote the various Batman titles.
Denny was cool with it, and my boss was cool with it, so I went up to Tarrytown NY with them. It was a really interesting experience… for about a day. Then, for some reason, the big boss found out I was there and demanded I return.
His fears, as I understand them, were that, as part of the marketing department, I might interfere with the creative and editorial decisions. That was certainly not my intention. And it was also pretty insulting to Denny, to Alan Grant and Jo Duffy and Chuck Dixon and the others who were there who were more than willing to tell me to shut up if I overstepped my bounds.
Things have certainly changed since then.
Earlier this week, the New York Daily News ran a story by Ethan Sacks about the Marvel editorial summit. In attendance were Joe Quesada, Axel Alonso, James Robinson, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Brian Michael Bendis, Emily Shaw, Sana Amanat, Nick Spencer, Sam Humphries, G. Willow Wilson, Dan Slott, Tom Brevoort, Dan Buckley, and probably a whole bunch more.
This is amazing. I can’t think of any other kinds of story meetings that involve the press. Did Matthew Weiner let reporters into the Mad Men writers’ room? Did Jann Wenner send someone to sit in with Lennon and McCartney?
The article did not say if any marketing people were there while they planned the next storylines which will, apparently, involve the death of a major character. According to the piece, this is something that Marvel plans to happen every quarter. Dan Buckley is quoted as saying “The death is a marketing hook,” although he goes on to say that the story has to pay off. Still, it seems pretty damning to me, and indicative of a thought process that seeks out the lowest common denominator.
To my mind, they did this backwards. They decide that some character has to die, and then try to figure out who it should be, and from there, what the story is. I think they should first have a story, see which characters make sense to be part of that story, then see if one of them dies in the course of events. I’m on record saying that I think death is over-used as a plot device. We know the character isn’t really dead. By going to that story-well four times a year, Marvel runs the risk of cheapening the death of heroes. It’s not special. It does not inspire awe for a hero’s self-sacrifice, or tears for the tragedy.
We know the character will come back to life in a few months or years. Hell, if there must be destruction, blow up an entire planet.
A wedding would be more engaging. A birth.
It’s encouraging to see that there were more kinds of people in the room than the usual white men. Some were even women. It is my hope that this is a trend that will continue and grow. That’s how you get new perspectives on the stories, and new ideas. Perhaps if Marvel invites a reporter to the next summit, they’ll permit the women to speak to the press, just like the boys do.
The other day at a comic shop I saw a flier for the upcoming Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat! #1. It was advertised having writer Kate Leth and artist Brittney Williams attached. I think it’s great that the two of them are on this book, as I enjoy the work they’ve put out over at BOOM! Studios. However, it did start getting me thinking about the direction the comic industry is going. A direction that it may not want to go in.
We’ve seen the big two added more books with a woman lead. This has been great. A lot of them have at least one woman creator attached as well. We should absolutely be thrilled by that and support those efforts.
Just off the top of my head I can think of Amy Reeder on Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, Kelly Sue Deconnick’s recent Captain Marvel run, G. Willow Wilson and and Sana Amanat’s work on the new Ms. Marvel, Marguerite Bennett on the all woman’s Avengers team titled A-Force, and of course Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat! just at Marvel.
Over at DC we have Amanda Conner on Harley Quinn, Amy Chu on Poison Ivy, Ann Nocenti followed up by Genevieve Valentine on Catwoman, Gail Simone followed up by Babs Tarr on Batgirl, Meredith Finch on Wonder Woman, Annie Wu on Black Canary, Marguerite Bennett and Marguerite Sauvage on DC Bombshells and Emanuela Lupacchino on Starfire.
That’s a pretty hefty list for right off the top of my head, and I could have even missed one or two. We should be proud of the comic industry for having more women being involved in the creative process. However, you’ll also see the problem I was getting at before. All of the women creators are working on comics starring women… and not much else.
Just to be clear, I am not at all speaking on behalf of any of the creators listed, or making any judgments on the work they choose to do. I think they’ve been doing incredible work, and I’ve picked up most of the mentioned titles that are currently available. My concern lies with the pattern of the big two pairing up women on women lead books while not doing that with books that have a man in the lead.
It’s very possible that some of these instances they asked creators the characters they wanted to work with and these are the results we have. I highly doubt that was every single instance. We have had a long history of men, particularly straight cis white men, writing women in comics. Many of which have been great. I thoroughly enjoyed Charles Soule on She-Hulk and Brian Azzarello on Wonder Woman. However, I’m starting to get concerned that we’re moving more towards compartmentalizing creative teams, and that’s not a good thing.
How many women can you name who’ve worked on Batman? Sure, you might have thought Devin Grayson right off the bat. You’ll probably be racking your brain for a while after that though. Becky Cloonan did a fill in issue on Scott Snyder’s run a few years ago. And yes, Genevieve Valentine is currently one of the eight writers on Batman and Robin Eternal, the other seven being men. We haven’t had a woman creator have a lengthy run on either Batman or Detective Comics. Mostly fill-ins.
Okay, how about Superman? Louise Simonson had a huge impact on the character. She was integral to the Death of Superman storyline, and she created Steel. You’re gonna need to think real long and hard to come up with too many more names than that. Sure, Ramona Fradon did many of the Super Friends comics, but that’s most of it. Justice League comics are even more male dominated. As are The Flash, Green Lantern, and so forth. Ramona did work plenty on Aquaman and Plastic Man, but we did already mention her.
How about over at Marvel? Let’s start with Spider-Man. Sara Pichelli did co-create Miles Morales with Bendis, but beyond that there isn’t much else. Louise Simonson did some work on Spider-man as well, but I did already mention her with Superman. And those examples aren’t exactly examples of long runs on Amazing Spider-Man or even Spectacular Spider-man.
And the X-Men? Louise Simonson and Ann Nocenti did a lot of work in the X-Universe, but again, both of them have already been mentioned for other contributions. I can also add Majorie Liu for her work on Astonishing X-Men, but you get the idea.
Again, to clarify, I am not knocking or belittling any of the contributions these creators have made. I admire the work they have all done and continue to do. I’m highlighting all of this to make the point that this is still a very male dominated industry, that women have not had all the same opportunities over the years as men whether it was deliberate or not, and that this should change. I also understand that the comic book industry is small. Smaller than I think we realize sometimes. Even still, this situation could be better.
I’m not asking for Superman to spin the earth backwards in time and fire the DC editorial teams of yesterday and replace them all with women. I’m not asking for Kitty Pryde to project herself back in time to do the same thing at Marvel. The past is the past. It was a different time, and there is very little we can do just dwelling on that. What we do have to do is acknowledge the past and understand it as we move forward.
I think Scott Snyder is doing great things with Batman, but maybe when he’s done with the title Genevieve Valentine or Amy Chu might have some great ideas of where to take him next. After seeing the kind of work that Amy Reeder has done on her title Rocket Girl with Image, maybe she’s got a great run for someone like Iron Man that she could be working on. Maybe the next big Superman creator will be a woman none of us have heard of yet.
I believe the best stories are yet to come. Many of the popular comic characters are decades old and have mostly been handled by male creators. One way to revitalize these decades old characters would be to get creators with different perspectives.
As a queer man have enjoyed a great deal of comics that involve exclusively straight characters. People from all backgrounds enjoy all sorts of stories. Someone with a different background could help flesh out other characters in these stories as well. Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and many others have both men and women in their stories, and people from all walks of life.
It’s not only important to have representation in the main character or characters, but characters off to the sides and in the backgrounds as well. More women tackling comics like those I mentioned could be a way to help revitalize these titles, and hope it’s something that’s being considered.