Cockeyed optimism

John Jakala takes the recent instances of charwomen and tentacles to list his favorite comics created by women. I can’t resist a list, so I’ll throw in a few of my own (while noting that there’s a lot of crossover between John’s list and mine):

  • Amy Unbounded by Rachel Hartman
  • Antique Bakery by Fumi Yoshinaga
  • Aya, written by Marguerite Abouet (illustrated by Clément Oubrerie)
  • Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya
  • Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
  • Imadoki! by Yuu Watase
  • Kinderbook by Kan Takahama
  • Me and Edith Head, written by Sara Ryan (illustrated by Steve Lieber)
  • Off*Beat by Jen Lee Quick
  • Paradise Kiss by Ai Yazawa
  • Rica ‘tte Kanji by Rica Takashima
  • Rumic Theatre by Rumiko Takahashi
  • Raina Telgemeier’s mini-comics
  • 12 Days by June Kim
  • When I’m Old and Other Stories by Gabrielle Bell
  • John offers some advice for readers who are increasingly frustrated by the shortcomings of the one, true category:

    “While I understand that many female readers wish to continue reading superhero stories, only without the offensive depictions of women, perhaps it’s time to look at the overwhelming evidence on record and cut one’s losses. Why support publishers who seem to go out of their way to aggravate and alienate female readers? What incentive do those publishers have to change if you’re still buying their books?”

    “Just dump(ing) the superhero comics already” paid off rather handsomely for me. After roughly a lifetime of following them, I finally gave up after the one-two punch of Marvel’s Avengers: Disassembled and DC’s Identity Crisis. The portrayal of long-running female characters in those stories certainly didn’t help, what with the Scarlet Witch suffering the most ridiculous case of post-partum depression in human history and Sue Dibny gruesomely repurposed for a big, theme-y murder mystery that fell apart before it even started. The underlying notion that watching these icons pay for their failures was more entertaining (or mature) than watching them achieve their benevolent aims didn’t help either. Between the two, it was as simple as following the emergency lights to the fire exit.

    Would I recommend the strategy for everyone? Probably not. For readers whose interest in comics begins and ends with the Marvel and DC universes (and that’s not intended as any kind of criticism, because I was exactly that reader for ages, and I had a lot of fun), I don’t know if Ichigo or Naruto would actually present a satisfying alternative to Peter Parker. There’s a difference between wanting satisfying heroic adventure stories generally and wanting to see them built around a specific group of iconic characters.

    And the cyclicality of super-hero comics suggests that change is inevitable and perhaps the pendulum will swing back in a direction that doesn’t make certain readers grind their teeth in frustration. (Heroes Reborn became Heroes Return, after all.) I think that possibility is kind of a tease, to be honest, but anything’s possible. I can understand the optimism, though, even in the face of a mounting pile of damning evidence that the optimism is misplaced.

    I also think the concept of “It’s not for you” isn’t universally true. Though not created with me in mind, I’ve found plenty of shônen-ai and yaoi that fits right in with my sensibilities and genuinely delights me as a reader. I’m not a teen-aged girl, but it should be glaringly obvious that shôjo is my crack. People are distinct (and perverse) enough that they’ll like what they like irrespective of creator or publisher intent, and stubborn enough that diminishing returns can’t overcome the belief that things can get better, that there are diamonds among the coal.

    Still, if your only emotional response to the spandex hobby is frustration, there’s no down side to trying something different. You might not intuitively consider Ichigo or Naruto or Canon or Aria or the Elric brothers or whoever else to be an adequate replacement for Batman or Spider-Man or Ms. Marvel or Wonder Woman, and it might end up being a failed experiment, but you never know. And it’s not that much of an investment to find out, especially if your local library has jumped on the graphic novel bandwagon.

    22 Responses to Cockeyed optimism

    1. Robin B says:

      Excellent points, all. And I whole-heartedly agree with your list of favorites by female creators.

      I’ve found that what I’ve done is stop reading the sueprhero books that annoy me as a reader — and sadly, that does indeed mean that I’ve given up on a lot of series that either had potential or have gone off in offensive and/or ridiculous directions. I gave up on Birds of Prey because I couldn’t take the pin-up art and sexual threat laden storylines, especially as it went against the characters I’d so admired.

      I still read Runaways, and I generally love it, but there are moments when I get irked, which is getting worrisome. For example, while Gert in Runaways is supposed to be, well, not a twig, and have some weight on her, on all of the covers she looks like a typical teenage girl in line with the rest of the Runaways girls — she’s thin and curvy. In the actual books, she’s more ordinary looking, even overweight, and since they make such a big deal about her getting the cute guy and all, it rubs me the wrong way to misrepresent her on the covers. And…I’ve been less than thrilled with how he’s dealing with Karolina’s romance, but that’s another issue…

      I do find it sad that I’ve left behind a lot of superhero stories — I do like them, and despite Minx’s apparent sentiment that girls want “real life” stories (which is proven entirely wrong by the scores of manga fantasy fans who want adventure in costumes, not unlike superhero stories and traditional epic fantasy), as a girl growing up I always preferred speculative stories. I didn’t want realism. I wanted magic, and I wanted to be the knight. Which is why I still do try to bring up with the DC and Marvel folks — why not make superhero stories that appeal to girls? If you do it so well (debatable, I know), and you want to get a new audience and a new market, it would seem to be a logical choice. Combine the awareness of the “new” audience and their interests with the kind of story that always worked for you. Do they listen? Not as of yet.

    2. TonPo says:

      Excellent post. I’ve sort of been going through this transition period in the fall-out of the highly disappointing Infinite Crisis. I haven’t completely given up on DC/Marvel at this point, since there are a handful of their books that I still enjoy reading, but I have drastically cut down on the amount of pap that I am willing to put up with anymore.

      It never hurts to explore what else is out there, and liking manga or indie comix or whatever doesn’t mean that you can’t still read your Spiderman books. It just means, assuming your operating on a limited budget, that you have to be a bit more discerning in what books your willing to pay for. The others? Get a friend to lend them to you, or something to that effect.

      I don’t think there’s any stopping Marvel/DC from putting out books that depict the degradation & dehumanizing of their beloved characters for the sake of money-making scandal. They are in the business of selling comics, and they will go where the money is. But if the general comic reading public (across genres & formats) all of a sudden just became a lot more discerning or conscientious in how they spend their money, it could only mean better things for what kind of material the biggest publishers are willing to put out there.

    3. gynocrat says:

      perhaps it’s time to look at the overwhelming evidence on record and cut one’s losses. Why support publishers who seem to go out of their way to aggravate and alienate female readers? Wow, giving up is easy. Nothing ever changed for those in any minority, by simply walking away from what is…the galvanized status-quo.

    4. John Jakala says:

      Yay, more quality books to add to my library request list! And I picked up Aya last weekend for a steal, so I’m looking forward to that. (The art reminded me of Sfar’s wonderful cartooning, so I know I’ll at least enjoy looking at it.)

      And I agree that going cold turkey won’t work for many (most?) fans used to (and continuing to crave) a steady diet of superhero comics. I also agree that there’s no real reason to give up superhero comics if you’re actually enjoying them. What baffles me is when people who seem to be so unhappy (for whatever reason — blatant misogyny, inconsistent characterization, contradictory continuity) about all the superhero comics they’re reading continue to buy the exact same ones every single month. (Granted, I don’t know if I really realized just how unhappy I was with superhero comics until I gave them up and had some distance from them, so maybe the habitual nature of going to the comic shop every week serves to desensitize readers to their own underlying disappointment.)

      For me, quitting superhero comics completely (god, I sound like such a recovering addict) made me realize I didn’t really miss them. Every now and then there are some superhero comics that sound appealing (Agents of Atlas, that recent Dr. Strange mini, Jeff Smith’s Shazam, Jeff Parker’s Spider-Man/FF mini), but when it comes time to place an order online or request some new graphic novels from the library, it always turns out that there are other comics I’m more interested in.

      I think it’d be an interesting experiment if more people tried to break the superhero comic habit. Once they’d overcome the withdrawal symptoms, would they find any reason to come back?

    5. davidpwelsh says:

      “(god, I sound like such a recovering addict)”

      Heh. I thought about that. Was manga just the coffee and cigarettes that I consumed at the spandex anonymous meetings? I don’t think so, though. (And I do dabble in the odd spandex comic if I hear unfailingly good things about it from people with tastes similar to mine. Which reminds me that I need to browse a copy of that Dr. Strange mini.)

      “Nothing ever changed for those in any minority, by simply walking away from what is…the galvanized status-quo.”

      That’s true, but I think voting with one’s dollars is a legitimate response, especially if one really isn’t deriving any pleasure out of the hobby in its current state. It’s probably more effective when combined with a direct communication with the publisher on why one isn’t buying their product any more (and possibly how much they used to spend on it).

    6. John Jakala says:

      Tina, I don’t think giving up (reading and buying) superhero comics means that one has to give up pushing for change in superhero comics. I haven’t read any new superhero comics for almost a year but I still stay abreast of “news” about superhero comics and even mock them from time-to-time on my blog. Wouldn’t this be a preferred strategy for someone hoping to bring about positive change in the industry? Don’t support the offensive material financially but continue to put pressure on the companies to rectify their systemic shortcomings? (There’s still the potential problem of giving the companies free publicity by talking about them, however indirectly, but I can’t really think of a way around that.)

      David, your point about contacting the publishers directly to let them know why they lost a customer and how it impacts them financially is a good one, because otherwise one’s complaints would likely be dismissed with the old refrain of “But you don’t even purchase our products, so why should we care what you think?”

    7. Huff says:

      I usually find myself in the odd position of defending superhero comics despite the fact that I really didn’t grow up reading them, not to mention I don’t follow them religiously now. I mean I guess you could consider Moore’s run on Swamp Thing a superhero book (was I a weird-ass kid or what?), but other than Spider-man for a while I didn’t really go past stuff like DH’s Predator or Aliens growing up. It wasn’t until I really started getting into the medium that I sought out the classics (Dark Knight, Watchmen, Elektra) and started appreciating what the genre can do when it’s done right. Then again, the vast majority of stuff I browse through from time to time ends up being crap (I can only imagine what the comics I steer clear from are like); recently Civil War was particularly bad. But without the limitations caused by the status-quo at the Big Two and the fact that most fanboys seem to be perfectly happy reading continuity-porn I think the genre can still manage invoke genuine wonder. Just look at The New Frontier, The Forty-Niners or All-Star Superman to see what the old capes-and-cowls and do. Stuff like Daredevil, Promethia, Fantastic Four: Big in Japan, Runaways and Seven Soldiers are fine reads as well. I guess it would be like me swearing off all shonen manga because I don’t like Bleach or Naruto; sometimes you’ve got to dig below the surface to find the really good stuff.

    8. [...] David Welsh says yes, but: “Just dump(ing) the superhero comics already” paid off rather handsomely for me. … [...]

    9. Estara says:

      I’m missing Svetlana’s Dramacon on both lists ;.;

      Regarding Superheroes: I have found there’s an easy way to check when you have had enough. When your regular subscription stacks grow higher and higher and you’re two or three months behind with your reading, because you’re just not interested any more, go and cancel them.

      *addicted 1983 – DC&Marvel free since 1997*

    10. [...] “Still, if your only emotional response to the spandex hobby is frustration, there’s no down side to trying something different. You might not intuitively consider Ichigo or Naruto or Canon or Aria or the Elric brothers or whoever else to be an adequate replacement for Batman or Spider-Man or Ms. Marvel or Wonder Woman, and it might end up being a failed experiment, but you never know. And it’s not that much of an investment to find out, especially if your local library has jumped on the graphic novel bandwagon.” – David Welsh [...]

    11. JennyN says:

      And yet once even DC could produce superhero (well, superhero-type) comics aimed at teenage girls AND hit the niche target dead-on. When are the suits going to realise they’re sitting on a small goldmine and release a collected edition of AMETHYST, PRINCESS OF GEMWORLD? (The original 12-issue series from the 1980s, not the mess it became later).

      As for your list, yes to every title on it – but sad that Rumiko Takahashi’s RUMIC THEATRE isn’t as well-known as it deserves to be. And why have Viz never published her later collection of short stories for adults, MY BOSS’ DOG?

    12. [...] Welsh responds to John Jakala’s post on comics by women creators by making a list of his own favorites, and [...]

    13. Chloe says:

      I’m actually sort of inclined to disagree with idea that either DC or Marvel could print up a few girl oriented titles then wham, be in the green. It would take a serious push from either of them to even issue a challenge to the behemoth that is shoujo manga publishing. Realistically, the chances of that happening are…less than stellar.

    14. Davey says:

      I gave up on superhero comics almost 10 years ago, and I haven’t regretted it for a moment. I read more comics today than ever before – manga, European and indie comics. For anyone frustrated by superhero comics, I highly recommend trying something new. The volume of comics that are being published today in a wide variety of genres is incredible. It would be a shame to miss out.

    15. gynocrat says:

      Sorry John, busy with my own pitch to MINX at the moment and didn’t catch this right away–wasn’t ignoring you. ^_-

      First thing I want to say is, female fans who are complaining, are in fact, fans of ACTION COMICS. Please…do not direct Action comics fen, to Japanese action comics featuring women and girls! Japanese action comics have some of the worst representations of women, ever. ^__^” For that matter, stop suggesting Shoujo [not you personally]. We’re action fans – not fans of comics about “girls and womens love lives”.

      Don’t support the offensive material financially but continue to put pressure on the companies to rectify their systemic shortcomings?

      I can speak for myself only, and so I won’t speak for anyone at WFA, or anywhere else–I don’t know them. I’m a fan of my gender first. Being a fan of being female, I go to great lengths to bring awareness to just how awesome my gender is. Feminism, to me, is about celebrating my place in this world; it’s not about demeaning a man’s place in it, or even trying to be better than a man…it’s just about being as cool a person as I can possibly be, while celebrating my gender and all the wonderful things it represents. Now because of the way ‘social evolution’ has gone, I have to remind others occasionally, that there’s nothing wrong with being female. –I’m not saying give me a drink or throw me a party, by celebrating I mean: just acknowledging me as an equal, your human peer, not your social enemy or responsibility. I shouldn’t have to blog, or fight, or complain, in order to get that acknowledgment. Should I?

      Since I established that I do indeed love my gender, then naturally, this will affect how I like to see my gender portrayed; in the things I love the most. I love Japanese comics, I love erotic Japanese comics, but I don’t like the way women are presented in most Japanese erotic comics–so I turned to BL. I like BL, it makes me feel good. Problem solved. Now, I do not read many novels or watch much TV, so I look for my drama and action fix in Western comics, namely, superhero comics. Am I wrong to expect that superhero comics please exercise a little acknowledgment of my gender, in an equal and positive light? I don’t think so. As a matter of fact, as a productive member of society and the comic buying market, I think I’m plenty entitled, just as are many of the women who are suddenly being told to stop complaining, and try something new, are just as entitled. What you call complaining, I call, making people talk. And talking people, always bring about change.

    16. davidpwelsh says:

      I honestly don’t think John was telling anyone to stop complaining, Tina. I think he was speaking specifically to the people of whatever gender who, for whatever reason, don’t derive the pleasure they used to from super-hero comics and suggesting that continuing to spend money on products they don’t enjoy — maybe especially if those products don’t provide the acknowledgement or equality or positivity that everyone deserves — might be something they’d want to reconsider. And you’re right — if no one complains, the publishers won’t have any reason to change the status quo. If the complaints are coupled with a hit to those publishers’ bottom lines, the complaining might carry even more weight.

    17. Leigh Walton says:

      I will never tire of sharing Savant’s collection of STOP BUYING COMICS YOU HATE essays. Something like five years old and still needed, now more than ever. It’s always new to somebody.

    18. gynocrat says:

      I honestly don’t think John was telling anyone to stop complaining, Tina. I know he wasn’t, but it’s that particular sentiment that has indeed sparked many a blog post, even the sensible ones, like yours and Mr. Jakula’s. The problem is, Super-hero comics vary from story to story and cover to cover, so what draws many of us in, has been known to suddenly shift, and do a complete 180 in the ‘sexist and stupid’ department.

      Case in point: Look at this particular arc of Wonder Woman – look at these covers and tell me which one looks out of place

      http://www.inter-comics.com/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=2_67

      If you guessed #222, then your objectification senses are tingling. Now mind you, this cover itself is not as bad as it could’ve been, in the hands of an artist known for ‘more fanservice’ style art–#222 in itself is not that bad in the grand scheme of things-yet for this story, it just seemed like it was, “accidental on purpose”, a necessary reminder that, hey, there’s chicks fighting in this issue…and sadly, this one the best selling issue for this arc. 0_0.

      Now, I don’t mind these sort of occasional gimmicks, and no–not all super hero comics go overboard, as you can see, the occasional break from the ‘objectification-junk-food’ does take place in between what are some damn good stories. Yet lately, and I don’t know if it’s because of the media attention, or the rise in attention of the comics industry in general…but the instances of cheese are occurring, far too close together these days. I’d be happy going back to just the occasional titillation, as opposed to the constant crap that’s been cropping up, every new solicitation.

    19. davidpwelsh says:

      “I’d be happy going back to just the occasional titillation, as opposed to the constant crap that’s been cropping up, every new solicitation.”

      I can’t argue with that, and there seems to be less and less of a playful quality to any of it. It’s just tits and ass without any life to it. (And thanks for linking to that Wonder Woman run, which was one of my favorite books at the time until everything started going all crisis-y. I remember the interior art being really solid, too.)

    20. John Jakala says:

      Tina -

      No problem: I was offline all weekend, so there’s a lot I’m still catching up on myself (and a lot I’m probably missing).

      Based on your later comment to David, it sounds like your remarks were more general and not directed at me specifically, so I’ll just focus on one point I found interesting. (Let me know if I missed anything that was supposed to be directed at me!)

      What manga are you thinking of when you write “Japanese action comics have some of the worst representations of women, ever”? I know not all manga offer the best portrayals of women, either, but most of the series I follow have strong female characters in them. Kekkaishi has Tokine, who in many respects is more adept than Yoshimori and who often pulls his fat out of the fire. Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service has a strong female lead who serves as the group’s leader (although the artistic choice to show her nipples as perpetually erect is distracting and annoying). Bleach has several strong female characters (although I’ll grant that too often Tite Kubo inflates female characters’ mammaries to ridiculous proportions). At first Ako annoyed the heck out of me in Dragon Head, but in later volumes she’s been holding her own. Nausicaa features a strong female lead. Akira has Kei, who kicks all kinds of ass. Even Sgt. Frog has Aki and Natsumi (and while there’s fanservice involved, both characters spend a fair amount of time kicking frog butt.)

      The one example that came to the mind was Cyborg 009, where the only female cyborg on the team seems relegated to caring for the infant cyborg, but that’s an old series that has other problems as well. (The racial caricatures are embarrassing and outdated.)

      I’m sure there are bad examples out there; I just don’t think I’ve run across them yet, so I’d be curious to hear which ones you were thinking of.

      As for the rest of your comment, I agree with all of it, so I’ll just stop there.

    21. [...] Filed under: Quick Comic Comments, Netcomics, Del Rey — davidpwelsh @ 6:09 am Not long ago, I posted a list of my favorite comics created by women. Not long after that, an Amazon shipment [...]

    22. [...] Jakala and David Welsh recently shared some of their favorite comic works “that happen to be by female [...]

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