Girl Comics

by Sigrid

I’m not sure I use the word girl as a positive modifier.

I’m sure this says more about me than you, Dear Reader, but stick with me for a moment.

Girl-clothes — the derisive and frustrated term I have for the impractical, sexually inviting outfits on the rack at Target, marketed for seven-year olds. Girl-voice — what my fellow female coworkers call the high-pitched, questioning-lilt-at-the-end-of-the-sentence way of speaking that too many female trainees bring to their air traffic control career. Girl-books — that section of Barnes and Noble with endless series of “problem” books about relationships, eating disorders, and sex. Girl push-ups — the push-ups you do if you can’t do a push-up. During the lengthy discussions as to what we wanted to name this blog, I was initially resistant to the word “fangirl.” I ultimately chose to see our name as a reclaiming of fangirl, and girl, in a manner similar to my personal use of the word queer.

But when I read The Beat’s interview with Girl Comics editor Jeanine Schaefer, and it’s clear that Marvel doesn’t mean what I thought they meant by “girl.” Nothing dismissive or derisive.

It’s not “Girls’ Comics.” Not comics only and entirely intended for a female audience, as if half the human population has no interest in any entertainment valued by the other half. It’s not a title aimed at a female audience, attempting to answer the age-old question, “why don’t more girls read comics?” It’s Girl Comics. A three-issue anthology series of stories by women.

Comics produced by women. As Schaefer says in The Beat’s interview, “It’s actually comics BY women—and I mean, top to bottom: written, penciled, inked, colored, lettered. The logo is by a woman, all the interior design, production, proof-reading and editing is all by women.” Here is where I sat up straight. Excellent. This, this is what I want in my comics. I want the means of production to be in the hands of the people — er, I mean, I want production of the stories I love to be produced by men, women, gays, straights, all available ethnicities, and any mixing of or partial memberships in those groups. I will even buy, read, and enjoy comics written by political conservatives. That’s how open-minded and generous my comics-related goals are.

And I want those people, those comic creators, to write the stories they love. I resoundingly reject the idea that only women should write women, only gays should write gays, only black write blacks. I think this is ridiculous. What we need is diversity in both creators and in content.

I also resoundingly reject the idea that there are “women’s stories” in comics. There are different comics, and different stories, that focus on different aspects of mythopoetic archetypes. I think some stories are stories of power used wisely, others of power gone awry. Some stories are of the loss of power, others of discovering power anew. Some stories are of love rewarded and others of trust betrayed. These stories play out in fields cosmic or intimate, in bodies politic and personal. Those truths are not defined by the sex, gender, race, or orientation of the reader.

I’m more likely to pick up a comic with a female lead. I like seeing characters that I identify with as role models or cautionary tales, and for me those characters are usually-but-not-always women. But I don’t want the women in those titles to be limited in the stories they tell me. I don’t want the horizons I find in fiction to be small, discrete, segregated, or limited in emotional themes. I want to see those female leads doing a variety of things, including kicking ass, raising kids, getting drunk, having ill-advised sex, leading political revolutions, getting tortured and raped, saving lives, losing superpowers, saving the universe, finding love, converting to a religion, rejecting success — I want to see them engaged in the spectrum of human experience.

Which is what I want from male characters, too. All of it. And if I don’t get those things in my comic, I stop buying that title regardless of the gender of the characters.

Schaefer says:

“Although some creators have gravitated towards their favorite female super hero, it’s not specifically focused on our female characters, and I’m not trying to generate content that I think will appeal to more women. I don’t want to give away all the stories, but we’re really running the gamut of Marvel characters, from Punisher to the FF to Mary Jane. We’re making great comics by great women, period—when given the opportunity to create a story about whatever they wanted, the pitches I got back from everyone have been hugely diverse in tone and characters.

That said, I definitely think women and girls will pick this up but not because we’ve hit upon the combination that will make all women like comics. I’m hoping it’ll be encouraging to see so many women who are making their livings in comics, that the idea will be reinforced that comics can be (and already are) as much for them as they are for men.”

Well. Isn’t that just what I asked for?

The creator list for Girl Comics is stunning. Great talent in all the areas of comics production, working together. Working on projects they want. These female creators got to write the men, women, and assorted other lead characters in stories of power and glory, of loss and despair, of love and hate and everything in between.

Babe, Chick, Fox, Vixen, Diva — as Anika pointed out in email, these are all deliberately sexualized and simultaneously dismissive. Women’s Comics sounds like the problem I mention above — of comics that only women will be supposed to appreciate. Girl only sounds wrong to me because I have let that word become Othered — become a signifier of not-the-normal-thing. Comics as an industry are often thought of and described as a “Boys’ Club.” This is less true than it used to be, and grows less true every day. There are girls in the clubhouse.

So I’m thinking, it’s time — past time — that I should stop using “girl” as a freighted and derogatory adjective. That we all should stop presuming that things with “girl” in the title are lesser, diminutive, and second-rate. I am raising both a daughter and a son. It’ll be nice — damn nice — to show them Girl Comics and let them see the variety and scope of the stories inside.

Girl comics. By women, for everyone. Sign me right the hell up.

Email: sigrid @ fantasticfangirls.org
Twitter: sigridellis

10 Comments on Girl Comics

  1. They should have gone with “Distaff Comics” ;). Actually, I’m not sure if that term is considered offensive or not, I just noticed that Peter David used it in the intro page to the latest X-Factor.

    What stands out about this move for me is that making comics by women, comics for women, and comics about women are all slightly different things. And personally, I care more for the ‘about’ part; I don’t want the companies I buy from to actively treat me with contempt, but I don’t insist that they change their entire marketing strategy to accomodate an audience that is probably never going to care on a large scale. I think the percentage of women who buy comics from the Big Two may be more than those companies think, but I’m not going to kid myself into thinking that male readers *don’t* drive the market. So while I think it’s cool when I see them marketing comics specifically *for* women and girls, I don’t expect the product line to be designed to accomodate me. What I do think it’s reasonable to expect is for women to be portrayed as fully-rounded characters, as much as men. So, it’s the ‘about’ that matters most to me as a reader.

    And that doesn’t seem to be the purpose of ‘Girl Comics.’ I think you could easily put together a strong lineup of male writers and artists, already employed in comics, to do an excellent anthology focused on female characters. I can think of plenty of male writers and artists who do a BETTER job with female characters than female creators I can think of.

    Based on Schaefer’s statements, this anthology is specifically not about insisting that women tell certain kinds of stories or portray things certain ways. It sets out to tackle the ‘by’ problem — which, though it’s immediately of less concern to me (I’d rather read a comic by a man with interesting women than a comic by a woman with boring or stereotyped ones), these factors play into each other. If more women were calling the shots (or drawing the panels) in comics, I think a lot of the ‘for’ and ‘about’ problems would be less extreme. Like, I tend to think that if a female editor was involved in Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel would have been less likely to need the Internet to tell them that a shape shifter sleeping with Spider-Man’s love interest was creepy.

  2. (and to clarify the above comment, I agree with your post, I’m just taking the musings in my own direction)

  3. For me, personally, the significant thing about this announcement is the feeling it gives me that my dreams of someday working in the industry aren’t hopeless. Granted, my interests lie primarily in the editorial arena, the one job in superhero comics that has traditionally been held by a lot of women (at least in assistant and associate roles). But it’s still reassuring to me to see Marvel take a step to publicly appreciate its female employees and freelancers — and I’m sure that for you, Sigrid, as an aspiring creator, the reassurance is even more deeply felt.

  4. In line with Jennifer’s comment I’ll reiterate this from my email mentioned in the post: I am for it for all the reasons anyone for it is for it — the industry has been an all boys club a long time, women in the industry are *still* known more for being “a woman working in comics” than “a comic book artist/writer/editor/inker/etc.” So, just in that, in giving all those women a job, a chance to be spotlighted, it’s good.

  5. I will be buying it. In issues, even.

  6. @Anika @Jennifer Yeah, that’s my thinking. “How is this bad, again?”

    @Caroline Yes, this move does not address the “more and better female characters” issue. But, as you say, I have to feel that more diversity in the creative staff at the Big Two is going to eventually have some sort of effect. Perhaps a single female editor might not have caught the creepiness of the M.J plot you use as your example. But if half of Marvel’s staff was women? It might have made a difference.

  7. handyhunter // December 17, 2009 at 6:49 pm //

    I feel a little the same way about this title as I do the Secret Identities book: On the one hand, it’s great to spotlight these stories (for, by, about people for whom comics generally are for, by or about), but on the other hand, I sort of wish it didn’t *have* to exist.

    But if half of Marvel’s staff was women? It might have made a difference.

    And if half of Marvel’s writing staff were women, I think there’s a chance I’d have more women writers that I read regularly. I think the only women whose names I’d recognize in comics are Colleen Coover, Gail Simone and Marjorie Liu. But I read a lot more men writers, because I like their writing and because they write stories about characters I like — if women were given that chance, I might find more writers I like to read.

    I think it’s the same sort of battle any marginalized group of people fight to get recognition and representation in fiction — and it’s not just telling one type of story about them/us; it’s being able to tell (and see ourselves in) a multitude of stories, which, to me, also means supporting writers who are part of that group (even if I don’t love their work (and as long as I don’t dislike it)) because more of those stories being published means I might find another writer whose work I really enjoy, hopefully.

  8. I tried to think of other title choices that didn’t have problematic implications – the only thing I could think of was Marvel Women Comics, and let’s face it – Girl Comics is way catchier. And whatever it’s called, I’m looking forward to it. I’ve read so few comics written or drawn by women, and even fewer of those are superhero comics.

    I love Ms. Marvel’s victory arms in the promo pic as She-Hulk beats Iron Man. I love how you put it next to teenaged Carol, too. I know she’s a fictional character, but I’d like to think she’s pleased by stuff like this all the same.

  9. I like the word “girl” – unlike “woman” or “female”, it doesn’t etymologically reference men at all. In fandom, especially, it’s not “girls and men” as it can be elsewhere, but “fangirls and fanboys”, and I think that “girl” works pretty well in this context.

  10. @handyhunter I know almost all of the creative names attached to Girl Comics — but I make a point of following women who work in comics. And I completely agree with your point — more of any marginalized group creating an artistic product increases the diversity of the available product!

    @Monica You can thank Anika for the graphic!

    @lilacsigil It really is fanboys and fangirls — I think that this self-diminution says something about our collective image of the maturity and worth of our chosen hobby . . .

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