Sep 28, 2011

Just breathe.

In my weekly column on Newsarama, Hey, That's My Cape!, I talk about pretty much anything having to do with comics. This week I had to start my column with the words, "It’s a tough time to be a woman who likes superhero comics."

I'm fortunate to know a diverse group of people whose eyes are open to what's going on in the world around us. Sexism, not just in comic books, but in the media at large. Of course comics are my main focus and something that has been in the news even more as of late.

People wonder why women like myself get so angry when we see things like this happen. I have a good guy friend who listens to his geeky girl friends when they tell him all the terrible things that are spewed at them on a daily basis (usually anonymously online). I will have to remind myself to think about what he just said to me, "You can't fix stupid."

But it's difficult.

It's difficult when someone says, "Who cares?" about something you care a great deal about. If they don't care at all, why are they bothering to fruitlessly add to the discussion? They say, "Go read something else." But I *like* these characters. I want to read about *them*. "Males are demeaned just as much as females in comics." If you really thought that, you wouldn't be reading them or you'd be online complaining about it like we are. How about, "Comics will never be for women?"

Hello, my name is Jill. I like comics. I like them so much I made a career out of them. Are they perfect? No, but I can certainly do my part to help make them better or more accessible for other women to read.

I don't necessarily think people who don't see sexism in comics at all or that don't see it as a problem are stupid or neanderthals that need a few more centuries to evolve. Ok, maybe I do think that but I also like to give those people the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they just need to hear or see it in a certain way and then it will finally click? Or maybe their minds will never see it the way we do. It's a hard thing to accept when you are so strongly in the opposite corner of the ring.

But then you run into someone (of any gender) online who does get it and who is or has become enlightened and it gives you hope. Yes, we're not just spinning our wheels here, we're not making things up and we're not the only ones who want change. When the naysayers are calling you names or saying what you're doing doesn't count for anything, try and remember that.


(x-posted on TheBirdandTheBat)


23 comments:

Dave M. said...

Jill, I had heard the comics were bad, but I didn't realize how bad until I saw the Catwoman opening page. The Starfire images are horrible, but Catwoman is worse because it employs the advertising technique of body chopping and visual dismemberment that sends the subliminal message that what's going on in a woman's head does not matter.

David Medinnus said...

Two words explain the whole, sordid, sad mess:

* Lobdell

* Winnick

With all due respect to those authors - and for my opinion, not a lot is due, frankly - this is more of the same from both of them. They have not advanced in their abilities, and still write pablum for those aging fans who once found Image comics and their exaggerated anatomical depictions of women as "deep".

They are tales told by idiots, with flesh and boobies, signifying male power wank fantasies....err... I mean, signifying nothing.

Matt Kesler said...

Jill,

Thoughtful article as always.

Your comparison of comics with domestic violence was on target in another way: both are often considered one-way offenders but are in fact problems going both ways.

Domestic violence is assumed to be men hurting women, but women attack men about as often. Men are often bigger and stronger, but women are more likely to pick up an object rather than using their hands or feet, so injuries are approximately as likely both ways.

Similarly, men are objectified in comics all the time - more often than women, though in different ways - not as often depicted as weak victims.

I hoped the New 52 would focus more on story and character, and less on cheesecake and beefcake, and I was disappointed.

Thanks for all your insightful columns!

Matt

BJay said...

I agree with you on all accounts, Jill. I cannot allow my 14 year old son to read these comics right now due to the over the top "cheesecake" art. I know that sex is large in our media, but as a parent, I'm in charge of what my children see. I will not buy the comics because I have to be the example in my home which means I cannot be a hypocrite. Love your articles as always. Thanks.

Just_A_Rat said...

Jill - great post. I have no problem personally with Starfire prancing around barely clothed. It has always been one facet of a character who had many others. Is it fan service directed at straight males? Sure. But I equally have no issue with fan service directed at those who like the male form. What I find particularly despicable about the Red Hood and the Outlaws version in particular is the fact that they have divorced Starfire from being able to have connections with human beings at all.

She has gone from noble warrior who loves easily to no strings attached sex machine.

The fan service has never been why I liked the character Starfire. So to turn her into a fan servicy gun turret is a huge step backwards for the character.

And, to your point, the New 52 is supposed to attract new readers. In the age of the internet, I don't think that fan service is the way to get there.

The Thing That Should Not Be said...

When I first saw the Greg Horn Catwoman piece I nearly hurled. It really is a nasty, nasty piece of work. He's one of those 'artists' I go out of my way to avoid. Whenever he's photoshopping fake airbrush on top of softcore porn 'actresses'...whoops! I mean 'drawing' a cover, I buy the variant if at all possible.

As for the rest of it, I caught my special lady-friend - who is an artist and works in a comic book store - reading 'Voodoo' last night and was appalled. The entire first 3/4 of it appears to be set in a strip-club - apparently she's a stripper?
What a cheesy, lousy way to introduce a new character to people who had no previous clue of who she was, talk about 'lowest common denominator'!

This kind of thing seems to be highly symptomatic of a lot of the 'New 52' books - trying to draw in adolescent boys through boobs. violence and gore. It all stinks of clueless desperation. But for me, the thing that has most surprised me is that DC have done somthing that I never, EVER thought would happen in a million years....they put out a Wonder Woman book that I read and enjoyed.

Gerry said...

I have a huge amount of respect for you. Your articles are always well thought out and written. As for the issue at hand, Red Hood and Catwoman are horrible, yes. Those are books that make me upset as a father to a 2 year old girl who I hope can one day enjoy comics as much as I do. Aside from the sexism issues, I think those books were just poorly written overall. However, I think you may be overstating the problem.

"It’s a tough time to be a woman who likes superhero comics."

I don't see how you can say that. Two bad books out of fifty in DC's new line makes it a bad time? Call attention to the bad because it has to be done, but don't paint with such a wide brush. I understand why it happens. There's a history there that is undeniable and needs to be addressed. But statements like that make the valid arguments harder to make. What about the other 50 books? I've heard some talk about Voodoo, but I read it last night, and I have to say, in context, it did not come off badly at all, but that's another discussion.

If it truly were such a bad time, let's be honest, you wouldn't have the forum you have. I, a 38 year old male, would not have the respect that I have for you (and other female comic reporters and bloggers) and I know many other males have. Depictions of women and minorities are an issue in the media at large, and comics is what you write about, so continue to do so and I will continue to read and think about what you write.

Anonymous said...

Your article is based on a premise that these characters are on some level public domain and that their stories should somehow be accessible to everyone. But you want them to be written/depicted on your terms. Leaves very little wiggle room for creativity when a writer/artist must constrain themselves to the outcry of society's ever-changing moral code.

These are fictional characters -- s thief in a cat costume and an alien from another galaxy, mind you -- yet people are expecting them to reflect their idea of positive role models/images of empowered women.

lead sharp said...

My whole response to the complete debacle is here:

http://fourcolouralchemy.blogspot.com/

It's not what you may want. You bring up some great points but I don't think any of them relate to Catwoman or Red Hood and the Outlaws.

I do think it has a lot to do with how these characters, specifically Starfire WERE perceived.

gangly said...

Hi Jill! I've been reading your blog and articles for a while now, and I'm a big fan. I haven't written until now because really there's usually nothing I can add other than a big, "Yep!". But I feel the need to finally break the silence.

I've been impressed that everything you've written so far about this current wave of sexualized DCnU books has been far more productive and level headed than others. But I was quite disappointed at the images used in this post.

First you randomly tack on a shock inducing Greg Horn image that (as far as I know) has nothing at all to do with any actual published DC comics. Then you post just the top 3/4ths of the first page of Catwoman #1.

This is unfortunately exactly what Laura Hudson did in her infamous article, and what you did again in your "Sexy v. Sexual" article on Newsarama. It's blatantly clear that Selina's breast is the focus of these first three panels, but the last panel which you removed was of her grabbing a very cute and funny box full of kittens.

I think if people saw the actual bottom of the page, they'd be far less shocked by the focus on her boob, so the image must have been removed to just emphasize your point. And I truely hope that isn't the case, because functionally lying about content nullifies any of the important points that you do make.

Like I said at the top, I'm a big fan of your writing, and I hope you don't have to stoop to this kind of sensationalism again.

You're better than that!

The Nerdy Bird said...

Well it's two books right now Gerry but not the only ones out there that bring these types of issues up. Right now is an especially hard time because there is so much more visibility being given to these comics. As I said in my Newsarama piece, I'm not painting it with a wide brush, just calling attention to the things I feel need to be called attention to. So no, it's not a bad time to be me in the sense that i have a wonderful platform from which to speak but it's a bad time for me personally as a comic fan.

@Anonymous, my article is certainly not based on that premise. It's based on what I think would have been more beneficial for a company trying to get new readers.

Rey Fox said...

I'm pushing forty, but still loathe this early 90's Image style garbage. Why are they bringing it back? It's what caused so many people to jump ship.

My girlfriend, who is in her early 30's, never read superhero comics growing up (she did watch BTAS), yet she found the JL/JLU cartoon compelling, and enjoyed Teen Titans Go! and the new Young Justice, as well (she's even hooked on the recent Might Avengers toon).

JLU and the DCAU should be the model for the DC refresh; that and Wednesday Comics. I'd love to see more Wonder Woman from Ben Caldwell.

Brad S. said...

Ms. Pantozzi,

This is my first time reading your post, which I saw today on Newsarama. I very rarely comment on blogs or things like Facebook, but I was taken aback by your comments. By no means am I stating that sexism does not exist (in comics or otherwise), but I sincerely disagree with a large portion of your post. Yes, both Starfire and Catwoman are shown in a much more sexual light. Why is that so wrong? Is seeing Starfire in a bikini, or as someone that likes sex, so bad? Do we as society, like sex or dress in revealing, "sexual" attire?

You comment that such story lines and images make DC comics unsuitable for the masses. That EVERYONE is clamoring for something else. Again, I must disagree. I would get into a discussion about comics being a business, that comic book companies will produce books that sell to their audience, but I suspect that would be dismissed as catering to a larger problem. So let me make this argument instead. A) Are there people that won't like a sexually themed Catwoman? Sure. But there are people that do. Men AND women. And Catwoman and Red Hood are 2 of 52 new books DC is putting out. New books that include more African American lead characters, Western themes, Mystical themes and yes, women lead character books such as Batgirl and Birds of Prey that are much less "sexually oriented". I feel they are catering to everyone. Are the masses really THAT interested in Jason Todd and Roy Harper, or would they tend to gravitate more towards Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, etc (all new books without the "sexual" element). And B) I find your comparison to domestic violence (something horrendous) and these two comics to be way off base. Is there a sexist factor in domestic violence. Yes. Do I feel that these books provoke that? No, I do not. But more to the point, I feel you are being somewhat hypocritical in your comparison by completely forgetting another key element of domestic violence, which is "violence". You sight new DC books such as Deathstroke and Wonder Woman as books that you enjoyed, and presumably, books where you feel DC got it right. Deathstroke is a book about an assassin (i.e. someone who KILLS people for a living). Wonder Woman (which I enjoyed), had in it's 1st issue: a horse being decapitated, a centaur having its arm chopped off, another character pulling a spear (blood and all) from its gut, and a final panel showing a burning, violent death to three women. How are these books / images ok, but a shot of Catwoman's bra covered breasts the end of the world, and more likely to provoke violence? Are books with that much violence better for the masses or at attracting new, younger readers?

I greatly respect your right to your opinion, and I agree with you on many fronts. Sexism, racism and the like are all evils of our society. But I am becoming increasingly frustrated by a society that demonizes anything sexual, but cheers for violence. PG-13 movies can have death, drugs, arson, muggings, beatings, etc, but for the most part have to completely avoid nudity (male or female). How is this more acceptable?

I will agree that events and articles do get us talking, which is a good thing. Hope to read more from you in the future, even if we won't always agree.

The Nerdy Bird said...

I'm going to copy and paste my comment from my previous post:

If everyone could stop reiterating that Starfire was *always* sexy, that would be great since her being sexy is not the problem everyone is having. It’s her being devoid of emotion, personality or the ability to remember anyone she’s slept with.

Anonymous Woman said...

Why is showing Starfire in a sexual light so wrong?

http://io9.com/5844355/a-7+year+old-girl-responds-to-dc-comics-sexed+up-reboot-of-starfire

That's why. But hey, it's just male fantasy at the expensive of female self-esteem. Who cares, right?

lead sharp said...

@ Anonymous Woman

That's a pathetic argument as this comic was rated TEEN and up and the guy that showed his SEVEN year old daughter the comic is not only an irresponsible cock end but got a subjective opinion from an easily lead source that couldn't understand the context (and don't argue there was no context go read my blog for it).

And to your last statement I paraphrase:

"That's why. But hey, it's just FEmale fantasy at the expensive of male self-esteem. Who cares, right?

http://browse.deviantart.com/?qh=&section=&q=nightwing+gay#/d3h3egl ... and there's SO much more were that came from.

Your friend, Rusty said...

Interesting how many of these comments resort to the false equivalence fallacy in an attempt to refute your article.

(You can't fix stupid and you can't keep it from commenting either.)

Anonymous Woman said...

@ lead sharp:

You are venomously attempting to defend a wrong, while completely missing the point when doing so.

Taking a young character that is an inspiration for girls, and twisting it in adulthood into something that essentially does nothing more than satisfy sexuality? That's just wrong. Why rob young girls of what few fictional heroines they have and sexualize them like that?

If you bothered to pay attention to the comic within the article, it doesn't even make financial sense.

Your link leads to a picture drawn by a gay man, who is giving an example of work intended to be sexual and nothing more. It is completely and totally invalid to the point here.

But given your anger and use of words like 'cock', I'm guessing that articulating a point within the confines of a medium such as this isn't your strong suit.

lead sharp said...

@Anonymous Woman

Wow you really paid attention to the link.

this is the 'gay man' you said drew the pics...

http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=576829824

And if you think 'cock' is an angry word you have more issues than the financial times.

I personally think the creators know what they are doing. As I said somewhere else, this isn't Starfire from the cartoon. That Starfire is still there for you to enjoy but to expect to be able to sell that to the target audience of this comic is just naive. A lot like the the sixties Batman had to make way for the Neil Adams take. Neither one is actually right but they are both going to piss on half the fans.

And quite apart from the endless list of female characters in an ever growing and readily available manga market there's this lot in comics ALONE

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_superheroines

that I'm fairly confident you could find something that falls into the definition "fictional heroines".

I would also like you to EXPLAIN which point I'm missing. You don't like that they've changed Starfire. That's what it boils down to. It would have been the same if she was suddenly a power armoured space marine who chomped on a cigar but no. She has casual sex. Wow, what a shocker in this day and age. This is, for all intents and purposes a new character. And she's not being advertised as anything to do with the cartoons take, which as I have said, still exists to be enjoyed.

Frankly I think that a character who doesn't show a fear of sex that's drummed into people from every corner of society is quite refreshing.

I have said my piece and will close with this.

There's nothing you can do about it but vote with your money and if you choose to not buy Redhood and The Outlaws then you clearly aren't the target audience. There's nothing wrong with that but there's also nothing else you can do about it.

Goodnight Gracy.

dash bannon said...

DB,

I like how you bring about attention to the issue of sexism in the New 52, I've also felt that there are elements and levels of violence that are also not appropriate for kids.

If DC comics wanted to reach a wider audience and greater appeal with their books, they needed to keep that in mind.

Sex devoid of any relationship is a male fantasy and does not reflect reality.

This is fine if a writer is going for a very limited demographic, but if DC wants more female readers, fans, and even creators, creating stereotypes akin to low grade porn characters is NOT the way to do it.

I love the previous run of Catwoman books where Adam Hughes did the cover art. Catwoman was real, fleshed out, and not a nympho ready to strip the Caped Crusader down when he tells her "no." (Perhaps DC writers think that's empowered feminism.

I have young nephews and nieces and would like to introduce them to comics, but boobs and intense violence aren't going to go over well with parents of 10-15 year olds.

Even the new Wonder Woman had severed body parts, and we saw WW's side boob. (Granted, I enjoyed the comic, but is that appropriate for a wider audience?)

I wonder if DC is simply going to write stories that appeal to the writers/illustrators, or if they are going to write stories that have a wide appeal.

I've mostly been a Marvel reader, but I've loved some of the DC books in the past. They've written some great stuff for older readers. (Gotham Central, Catwoman, and Detective Comics before the reboot come to mind off the top of my head.)

Marvel at least knows its target audience; teenage males and adolescent storytelling. They haven't deviated from that course.

DC's characters needed a reboot.

What they should have done was create books for kids, men, and women.

They'll adjust as their sales wane.

worldcrafter said...

Jill,

I enjoy your posts, where I can find them, I am a new reader, and an illustrator. However I don't really read comics...

There are a few reasons, but after Spawn became wildly popular and I began to follow Image characters for a few years I quickly lost interest in most of the characters in general.

As a dude, and I am not defending anyone at DC or any other place here, I got sick of the rows upon rows of "stomach" muscles show in Male Superheroes.. and then not soon after I started to realize that some of my favorite Female characters were "growing" bustier and bustier...

I am a fan of the female form, don't get me wrong, but it gets very hard to take the "Scientist" Seriously when her cleavage is peeking through her lap-coat, because her breasts are straining to "tumble" from garment that is obviously several sizes to small.

But it is just as hard for me to take Batman seriously in his liquid latex looking costume...

All in all what I have read about the reboot leaves me with the impression that nothing has changed in the last 10-20 years in comics, and because of that I remain one of the many "driven" away former fans of Corporate Comic Books.

CSV said...

Hi, Jill -

This was the first article I read on your blog, and it's confirmed my intention to read more. I don't have the finances or time at the moment to indulge myself in all the comics I wish I could read; right now, I'm limited to a longtime addiction - G.I. Joe. Still, if this post was any indication of the quality of your work, I'm hooked.

I can't read as much as I'd like, but I do flip through issues as I can, and my local library is getting better about stocking TPB collections of the more widely-read comics; it's been an issue with me as long as I can remember that women are not portrayed in a consistently realistic or sensitive light. (My own pet peeve? Try being a plus sized lady who'd love to indulge in cosplay at a convention. Noooope, no way, it is NOT going to work if I want to dress like a favorite character.)

I have to say that the Joeverse, currently under IDW's wings, is better than many about its female cast - and with its military focus, I suppose there's a legitimate reason for nothing but hard bodies and tiny waists (though the uniforms accentuating generous busts are really irritating... as a military friend of mine who is well endowed in that area once complained, "You try running an obstacle course with these things going every which way - then tell me if you can really 'be all that you can be!'") And, given that sexual assault and abuse is rampant in today's military, many of us would love to see IDW address this issue sensitively - showing that a woman can be strong, can be professional, and can still be victimized - without becoming a "victim."

I've been having some interesting conversations with online friends about the writing - particularly the relationship between Scarlett and Snake Eyes in the Chuck Dixon-led titles. To a fan, we've been rather disgusted that in the reboot, Scarlett - a character known not only as a strong female warrior but also referred to as "the heart of the team" - has essentially been pursuing a one-sided relationship with Our Favorite Ninja, Snake Eyes. For his part, until the most recent issues, he's been distant, evasive, and emotionally unavailable; it makes a woman wonder why Scarlett bothers. Sigh.

When it comes to the issues of hypersexualization and trying to snare an audience through the lowest common denomenator (cheesecake art, excessive violence for its own sake, not to advance the story, reliance on shock and gore rather than real storytelling), it's a sad aspect to a medium that could be so very much more. Artists who indulge in cheesecake give comics their bad reputation as being accessible porn for adolescent boys - and sadly, as comics are generally known by their art, many people will stop at the first glance and not bother to see if there's genuinely valuable writing going on behind the images.

Looking forward to seeing more of your blog... wish I had more time!

Don said...

Hi Jill, I follow you on twitter and just read this article, so I know my contribution is late.

In any case, I agree that many comics are sexist. However, [you knew that was coming] comics are a creative medium and as such are forms of expressing what appeals to the authors/artists. They want to sell comics, of course, but they also want to produce works that interest them. Comics are pure fantasy. It seems natural that if a man was drawing a comic he would draw it according to his own fantasies.

Now, that doesn't mean its a good thing. So, is it ever going to change? Only if women start drawing/writing more comic books. I think that the solution to the issue isn't telling authors and artists to change their style to suit someone else's tastes, but to get more women involved in the creative process. I would rather have a wide range of choices than to try to influence someone else's art.

Rating systems for children are good too. Because adult fantasy's rarely belong on display for children.