Cockeyed optimism

May 24, 2007

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.