Comics’ll break your heart, kid. Part I

Posted: 23rd April 2014 by Christian in Blog
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Bad-temper incoming.

Seeing a lot of stuff about women and comics again in the last two weeks. More fake geek bullshit. More ‘ew girls’ fear. Careful criticism met with abuse.

Here’s the thing. The community is taking its cues from the companies. The responsibility starts there.

Part of the corporate agenda is to erase anything but ‘hot’ women, demean them with bullshit -bad- covers, hire human moral grotesques and do not punish absurd behavior, dress their characters in horrendous outfits, and only those outfits, you get mouthbreathing fucks buying the books and thinking ‘comics is the place for me!’

The feedback loop between marketing and audience is pretty well-established. And comics market. They do. They locate what they think will sell and to who. These are conscious decisions they’re making.

Now I don’t really read superhero comics. I have loved them like I’ve loved many kinds of comics. But they’re not written for people like me anymore. They’re micromanaged pieces of IP, not grounds for mental, head-the-ball, cosmic adventures where a robot goes back in time to fight Wasp Stalin in Atlantis.

But I did for thirty years. I felt slowly forced out by the sketchy ethical practices of comics on many levels. One of which is the endless, boring images of women. I’m not standing here ranting heedlessly about kyriarchal structures. I just didn’t want to spend money on it.

I got marketed out. It was made very clear to me that if I wanted good stories, stories which include ace chick characters, I had to go elsewhere. Cape comics were making me dig like a pig in mud for those pearls and that’s no way to enjoy a genre or medium. I know good capes comics exist but that digging got too much. Orders cancelled.

I am a gender-champion. Ladies…

I’m a straight dude. I’m always surprised how that shit can be invisible to me. I’ll never forget walking with a woman past an ad in which a woman’s open mouth was slowly filled with a burrito thing. She just sighed. Pointed it out. ‘Just walking down the street, they’ll use a blowjob to sell food.’ This isn’t me piously being shocked, dropping my monocle and clutching my purse. I’m just not into having public spaces turn into platforms to undermine our bodies, our senses of self-worth, so they can make some sheckels. But it’s still a thing I have to watch out for, pay attention to.

So you can figure out how constantly vulgar and boring comic images can be to burn me out.

It’s not just girls in sexy outfits. Comics are a fantasy of power, violence, sex and conflict. It’s not the Power-Girl shows her cleavage into battle. Or that Wonder Woman wears skimpies to punch out Ares or Doctor Psycho. Looking at, enjoying, drawings of girls in tight clothing isn’t some sort of hateful act of sexual aggression. Some women want to empathise with sexy, mesmeric, dangerous seductresses. But there’s a difference between Tarot Witch of the Black Rose fighting supernatural evil in outrageous pentagram knickers and Tarot Witch of the Black Rose shown bending over with her bum out. One’s a fantasy image of power and confidence and the other is for the mouthbreathers.

Well-designed superheroes are essentially nudes and nude almost always presents sexually. They’re supposed to be strong and lithe and healthy. Which is short hand for ‘sexy’ after all.

The problem is in how their bodies are posed, how their stories and battles and relationships are eroticised in gross, immature ways by writers and artists who should know better. And editors who let that stuff through. It’s about having virtually no other women but those sexy sexy pots. And go look over a shelf at a comic shop today. Go look at what’s on the shelves. Don’t point out one or two books when 48 others are dodge.

Understand that many women and a lot of men just do not want to buy into those images. It’s not about getting a PhD in Women’s Studies. It’s about having an ounce of empathy and not being a dickhead. That shit fucks people up.

And of course, those images are approved and sold. By the comic companies. By people in positions of authority who are thinking they’ll make a few clams out of a rabble of mouthbreathers.

They’re apparently right.

Am I a mouthbreather?

I meet a lot of comics readers in my professional life. And a lot of em really are leering over Elektra showing side boob and Catwoman depicted on her hands and knees, licking up milk that’s splashed her face. Is that you? That’s your mouthbreather warning sign.

If you’re so addicted to junky porno images of women that they have to exist in cape books, that the only context you want to see women in is junky porno, you’re deep in the danger zone.

But its when you create environments, communities, that are hostile to women that you become a problem. When your discussions about women are limited to sex and the sexy sex you’d like to sex into them, you’re in trouble. When you’re angered by the  simple, repeated requests of women readers to have more than sexy sex women in comics and maybe have them depicted with a base level of psychological realism, you’re in that danger zone. When you just wish women would shut up about it, I’d say you’re breathing through the jaw.

You can stop reading now, mouthbreather. We’re going to talk about you going away.

What’s to be done?

You can’t, you shouldn’t, demand people lose jobs over these things. When you organise boycotts and that, CEOs and Bosses don’t get fired, working men and women do. I have mates who work these jobs and I’d rather not see them poor.  They’re either trapped in webs of awful corporate policy or just doing what they reckon will sell. This isn’t about policing their private sexual imagination or censoring art. Just influence what companies market and feel is appropriate. Ah, capitalism. We have your number.

So, if your comics are just tits and mutilation, stop reading them. Don’t get on tumblr and be a fury. They do not listen to that. Shocked outrage still shows up as a metric for a P.R company to report on.  Tweet the companies why you’re not reading them.  Stop reading them. Let them know that you demand change from the top down and will use the one tool you effectively have to talk to them: cash.

Then buy comics you think are good, that want to be read by more than just neckbreathers. Sometimes, this is going to be hard. If you love Green Arrow and Green Arrow is being written and drawn by jerks, you’ll probably have to miss out on Green Arrow. Sorry. Hope they’ll put better teams on it or that they’ll just cut the shit. Yeah, you might lose Green Arrow but maybe demonstrating robust ideology and ethics is important to you.

Encourage creative teams to go indie by buying their indie work. This is a golden age for great works produced outside the system.

Write reviews of them. Tell your friends. Mouthbreathers aren’t going to change and they aren’t going to follow you to book where sex is healthy and women are people.

The culture won’t change while the message from the top remains the same. Change the message. Use the enemy. Vote with a dollar.