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.
“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