Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. Heard about the book? Better yet, have you read it? If so, you are aware that Men and Women come from different centers in how they approach life and how they react to incidents, which usually ends up confusing and infuriating the other. Heck, just listen to today’s quote from the http://www.marsvenus.com/ website: "A man in a relationship trades intimacy to get sex. A woman in a relationship trades sex to get intimacy. -Old Proverb".
Why am I babbling about Mars and Venus, you might ask? Men and Women in comics are divided. All weekend there has been a buzz around the internet over an article in the Times Online UK called Comic Contempt. (To read this piece of information go to: http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,14931-1636789,00.html)
As a piece that literally was created to pan Sin City the movie, the examples used in this article have angered comic book fans. The most vivid example is the quote from comic book creator Trina Robbins. The passage goes like this:
“Women just don’t go into comic-book stores,” explains Trina Robbins, the author of The Great Women Cartoonists, speaking recently to the New York City Comic Book Museum. “A woman gets as far as the door, and after the cardboard life-size cut-out of a babe with giant breasts in a little thong bikini and spike-heel boots, the next thing that hits her is the smell. It smells like unwashed teenage boys, and it has this real porn-store atmosphere.”
This and the depiction of repeated failure to bring women into comic books through the romance genre are cited as prime examples of why comic books are male dominated pieces of degradation. Author Kevin Maher is obviously not a comic book reader, and what he has seen of comics, he doesn’t like. That is his opinion, and it has male comic book creators and fans outraged.
Admirably, comic readers and creators over at Millarworld, an active comic book and community forum, were up for the challenge. (http://www.millarworld.net/index.php?showtopic=49851&st=0) Much to the dismay of the men there, the women in general, including Gail Simone and Lea Hernandez, were not too worried about Maher’s depiction, and took it in stride. This was not the reaction that the gentlemen were looking for, and at last look, it was being politely debated.
Men have been the cornerstone of the industry for a long time, in the fact that they have been the writers, artists, and business men driving the machine. The names Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Paul Levitz, Roy Thomas, and Jim Shooter are bandied around with an astounding frequency, and it is with merit.
There have been great women who have stepped in and did the job with the same skill and acumen as men, there just hasn’t been the scope of recognition. At the end of 1972, writer Linda Fife and artist Marie Severin brought The Cat to Marvel Comics. Unfortunately, her series only lasted five issues, but Greer Garson has been a recurring character, and an Avenger. Louise Simonson and Barbara Kesel also come to mind as women in the industry ahead of their time. Both are great editors and writers, and have a hand in bringing comics to a higher level of quality and maturity. Roy Thomas has long given his wife Dann credit for helping him write and brain storm with him, and she got credit along with him on several occasions.
Today there are even more women in comics. Simone, Hernandez, and Kesel are all actively involved. There are several female bloggers in the comic book community that are well respected and bring a great perspective to the industry. Heidi MacDonald’s “The Beat” comes to mind, as does Laura “Tegan” Gjovaag, at her blog (http://realtegan.blogspot.com/ . She is one of the biggest Aquaman fans around, and a longtime letter writer who has been published in several comic book letters pages.
The facts being what they are, and knowing that there are more female contributors and readers then ever, Maher has took the politically correct road and missed the boat.
So why has there been such a divided reaction between men and women? And why are we allowing an article to split the comic’s community apart? Obviously we aren’t as united as we think. From the pseudo-intellectuals who put up with the “unwashed masses” to the regular Joe who hates sharing his message board with above said intellectual, there is a huge chasm in general in readers. It can be seen every day on the general forums, as there are flames abounding. What this tells me is that comic book readers are not a group that can be pigeon holed, let alone portrayed by gender.
I have been a comic book reader since 1974 when my Uncle Jack so generously passed on his weekly stash of comics to me. I remember reading Wonder Woman, Justice League of America, Batman, Shazam Family, and Worlds Finest with a gleam in my eye. Comic books were a world I could escape to. I could put on my bracelets and deflect bullets while having a cool job as a UN Interpreter on the side. I could go help Batman foil the Joker’s latest scheme. If I was feeling particularly ambitious, I could go fly with Superman. Comic books took away the limits I felt while living on the family farm and trying to deal with feeding baby calves, going to school, and trying to fit in as a human being.
At the age of 38, I still don’t want to lose that feeling. I am a successful business woman with a happy marriage that we work hard at. I care about my appearance and health and go the gym on a regular basis. I am also a practical, logical person who can hardly wait until Wednesdays so I can get my fantasy fix.
How do I feel comics portray women? Let me qualify that I am the little girl who thought Wonder Woman was pretty in her costume, and still think so today. I love how Black Canary looks like a princess and still kicks the crap out of criminals. I also enjoy that Oracle, a handicapped woman like my grandmother, is the JLA’s secret weapon. To me these women weren’t sexual objects; they were heroines who were working towards the greater good.
I see articles where comic book creators are belittled and called on the carpet for their depiction of women, but I also know that I can vote with my dollars on how I choose to spend my money. I have read Vampirella on and off for years, without apology. When the story merits, I don’t even think about her outfit. I think about how much I just enjoyed reading about her. I also read issue one of The Ultimates even though it showed Captain America with a much bigger “package” then I was used to seeing on male super heroes.
That brings up another point in that male super heroes are wearing super tight spandex, and from time to time, it has come to my attention that some are more blessed then others. Issue six of Identity Crisis depicts Batman on the cover, and he appears to be wearing a low slung, sexy piece of Bruce’s secret underpants over his tights. I can choose to let this put me off or I can enjoy the story telling inside the covers.
Another opinion put forth in Maher’s article I must address is Robbin’s assertion that comic book stores smell like porn shops. For one, let me just say I have been in a porn shop and they smell either like naughty love juices or like “sensual” incense. Never have I smelled that at a comic book shop that I am aware of. This is where I want to spend a moment breaking down stereotypes.
I have been frequenting comic book shops for over twenty years, since I couldn’t seem to find my comics at the grocery store anymore. I have had good experiences and bad ones. It is like any other business on earth, there are good days and bad days. The one thing that is perpetually brought up is the unwashed male. Unfortunately, there is always one or two of these guys that don’t get the concept of hygiene, but I don’t find it to be an absolute. It is sad that this stereotype gets so much hype, because there are several other businesses I go into that have smelly humans, and they don’t get nearly the publicity that comic shops do.
Guys, here is what you do to start breaking up this notion. If your buddy stinks like body odor on a consistent basis, tell him. Say “Dude, you need some soap stat” or something to that effect. I promise I will work on the girls if you work on the guys. It all starts with us, and only we can police our own hygiene.
Another stereotype is that all women that read comics must be ugly and/or fat. Sorry, not true. Once again, a judgment is made on a few bad apples. I went to the Emerald City Comicon and there was a plethora of females there. Some of the ladies were quite lovely, and they weren’t even super hero models (insert sarcasm here). At the creator Q&A’s a good 1/3 of the crowd were women, and from my point of view, there was a good cross section of the female population, from the young and fresh-faced to the older, more mature types.
The movie that started the article by Maher is a mature movie, with mature themes. I had read the graphic novels well before seeing the movie, and was quite pleased with how it turned out. I knew what I was in for, and therefore not offended when I saw breasts on the screen. The way I see it, the movie is rated “R” and if I go to http://www.imbd.com/ to see why it tells me “Rated R for sustained strong stylized violence, nudity and sexual content including dialogue.” If I know that nudity offends me, I probably shouldn’t go. It is all about choices.
The bottom line is that the comic book community is a diverse one, and that because of that diversity, there is the opportunity for us to find what we desire in any of the genre’s contained herein. If manga is what you like, there is a huge selection of it. If super heroes are more your style, look no further then the latest Previews. Our colleagues in the RPG and card industries are a diverse group as well.
It is ironic to me that because what I enjoy in my spare time isn’t hip or hot that society thinks I should be ashamed. I love to look at Vogue and workout, so I am supposed to focus on that and keep comics my dirty secret? No way, Buster! I choose with my dollar how I spend my time, and if it isn’t cool to the general society, maybe they need to quit spending so much time judging me and spend more time worrying about how the next generation is going to grow up rather then be obsessed with me and my proclivity for fantasy. It’s not like I’m an alcoholic who ran over the kid next door; I am a taxpayer, an adult, and a wife and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
So Men and Women of the comic book community, it is okay that you don’t agree about Maher’s article, but I think it is fair to say that we need to understand each other’s point of view. Ladies, we know that back in the day it was a little unnerving to go into a comic shop alone, but we also know that guys are really trying to make it more inviting for us. Maybe we could give the owners our input while we are spending our money. If there are women there with ownership positions, let them know too.
Gentlemen, listen to us and take us at face value. If we feel comfortable, maybe we will come around more. Also, can we have an event where wives are welcome? I had a barbecue party one time, and got to know the wives and girlfriends of my husband’s fellow readers and we hit it off pretty well. It gave the ladies a better point of view and now I see them around the shop more often. We have comic book discussions, but we also have discussions where we talk about our men and the guys can blow off steam about us and why we had to buy the $230 dress instead of the $25 one.
Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, but as long as we know that and give a little, we can make life better for each other. Let’s make an attempt to look at each other’s point of view and be more sensitive to it. God knows it may improve our image as comic book readers, if we can stand united as a group while cherishing our differences. Are you ready to give it a try?