WOMEN IN COMICS: WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?
I have been meaning to do a column on this for a number of months but haven’t been able to work out a way of doing it that wouldn’t come across as condescending or preachy or just not come across in the manner I meant it to. My being a guy talking about women in comics could come across as any my being patronising in some way. This was causing me to feel ill at ease in endeavoring to write the piece at all. Maybe silly but it is how I felt. My eureka moment.. well moments came at the Not Just A Boys Club panel at the DICE 2013. The Sunday. Eureka moment number one came when I heard about, British writer, Paul Cornell’s stand on women being on convention panels. He won’t sit on one if there isn’t at least one woman on it (This cleared up my confusion at him sitting in the audience during the Marvel Panel on the previous day). This gave me the idea that I should take some sort of similar stance or just decide to do something and should maybe write about that. The second eureka moment came from, colourist extraordinaire, Jordie Bellaire’s reference to people standing back and looking at the matrix and just seeing how things really are. This gave me the idea that I should stand back and take a look at the books I collect and see how the creators and characters match up from a diversity point of view. I’m going to start with that and get to my plan at the end. So how did my books do from a creator point of view? It was far worse than I thought… or was it?
I collect twenty-two mainstream ongoing books a month so I looked at the creative team on last issue of each. I decided to include the writer, artist (penciller and inker) and colorist. Artists faired worse as two books had female pencillers or inkers with a male counterpart so I scored that as one. Call it 5%. Writers came next with two books having a female writer but both were written by Gail Simone (10% ish). Colourist faired best at seven but this again comes with the qualification that five of the books were coloured by the one colourist – Jordie Bellaire (32%). I thought I was doing badly until I discussed this piece with others (and my feeling that I was fairing badly) and discovered that females account for about 10% of the creators in the mainstream so I wasn’t far off that. This test isn’t an exact science either as artists like Amanda Conner (who’s work I adore) don’t do monthly titles that regularly (she will be co-writing one soon though) and I have since added a new Gail Simone book to my list (if she writes it, I will try it). I was also advised to look at independent or small press books as things tend have a more even split. For this, I decided to look at Irish small press as I more familiar with the Irish comic book community.
Looking at Irish books is a bit trickier as they generally don’t come on a monthly schedule so I just took at the books I read over last year. My list includes Maura McHugh (writer on Jennifer Wilde and Róisín Dubh), Karen Mahoney (a British writer who worked on Jennifer Wilde: The Wilde Hunt), Leeann Hamilton (writer/artist on Finn & Fish and, more recently, the webcomic Things Happen), Anthea West (The Earthbound God) and Ruth Redmond (who did some colourist work for some Lightning Strikes books I read). On top of these, I follow the work of ICN’s own Hilary Lawler (Superhilbo!) and recently backed a Kickstarter project called Kore by Anna Fitzpatrick. Again, I thought the list was a bit small so I asked Maura McHugh, who amongst other things is involved with Laydeez Do Comics and who I have chatted with at a number of conventions on a variety of topics, for some recommendations. Maura very kindly provided me with a link to a list of Irish and European creators she has been compiling since 2011 because of the stupid accusation that were no pro women working in comics in the UK. She started with the UK/Ireland and expanded to Europe this year so it is only just the beginning. (I’ll stick all kinds of links at the end of the piece). Recommendations would depend on what I kinds of books I liked so it was a bit like asking someone to recommend a restaurant without saying what food you like.
There are a couple of other aspects to this discussion that I want to cover too and that is representation in relation to the characters themselves and their portrayal so, once again, I’m going to look a little bit at my mainstream ongoings again and then the Irish books.
I collect three female solo series. Batgirl and Red Sonja were both picked up as they are written Gail Simone (I’m not a sword and sorcery guy so Red Sonja was a tougher sell). The other one is Lazarus. I picked it up as it has an interesting futuristic/gangster concept which uses real world scientific concepts. The lead just happened to be a woman. Writer Greg Rucka is known for writing interesting female characters (see his Wonder Woman and Batwoman runs) and this continues to be the case. I have also tried Wonder Woman, Batwoman and Captain Marvel but I ended up not liking the creative direction or there was a creative team change and I stopped following them (notably Rucka leaving Batwoman).
My favourite monthly book is the team book Avengers Arena which has great characterisation. The cast started at an exact 50/50 split, which was probably deliberate for a number of reasons, including the plot, but has become 2-1 in favour of female characters. Women must be better survivors! (You’ll have to read the book to get those comments). My reading also includes the all female book Fearless Defenders which includes a lot of female villains too. The whole point of the book seems to be to highlight the great, and underutilised, female characters that exist in the Marvel Universe. The only book I collect that could stand out in a negative sense is The Manhattan Projects. It has an all male cast but this relates to the fact that the book is a weird version of the real Manhattan Project which included all male scientists. Writer Jonathan Hickman is usually pretty balanced in his other books so I am going to accept the reason and won’t feel guilty for enjoying it.
When looking at the Irish scene, I’ll start with the book that started my journey into Irish Comics: Freakshow (published by Atomic Diner). Half the cast were female and I’d argue the the toughest character in the book was Susan White (she saves the day on more than one occasion). The book focuses evenly on all the characters and also included some interesting female villains too. Atomic Diner continues to include a diverse cast in its books with League of Volunteers having two female characters in a team of five: Blood Rose and Emerald Scorpion . Even though the book is set in the World War II era, the characters are not limited by the restrictions of the time. Blood Rose is a women with a mission to eradicate evil (and would prefer to do it alone) and Emerald Scorpion is an experienced spy with a tough past who holds her own especially when it comes to training with her male teammates. Atomic Diner also publishes two female solo books Róisín Dubh and, a personal favourite, Jennifer Wilde. Jennifer is smart and independent minded and I find her to be as witty as her co-star. This is impressive considering the co-star is the ghost of Oscar Wilde. There are plans for an all female team of demon hunters, called Renegades, featuring female characters already seen in Atomic Diner books as well as well at least one solo book based on a character in that book.
Other books I have read that I think are worth mentioning include Tommie Kelly’s The Holy Numbers, a book dealing with an Irish cult, which includes a take on how men deal with women’s sexuality with parallels to the Catholic Church’s treatment of Mary Magdalene. Tommie is currently writing and drawing a female solo science fiction series, Zara Rogers, which will be released as a webcomic starting in January. Another noteworthy series is Lady Babylon, written by Darrin O’Toole and beautifully painted by Alan Hurley. It explores the story of Leila Waddell, an interesting real life character, and her relationship with famous occultist Aleister Crowley after their deaths. Darrin recently announced he is working on another book called Trace which deals with the important issue of missing women in Ireland. Another recently announced book is Queen of Storms by writer Dave Hendrick and artist Luca Pizzari. The book will focus on Grace O’Malley a chieftain of the Malley clan and pirate in 16th-century Ireland. These are just the books I am aware of course so there could be more.
What are you going to do about it?
So what was the point of all this? I think it showed me that there are lot of great female creators and characters out there and that I seem to be willing to try books available to me regardless of who writes/draws/colours them and who they are about. Not that I am perfect and that is the other point of this piece so I am going to keep thinking about it. I think the Irish comic book scene stands up pretty well when it comes to female creators and characters and their portrayal. I am in the unique position of being able to highlight that and being able to promote female creators and books on ICN. I hope this piece does a bit of that and I hope you check out some of the books I mentioned. I will be looking at Maura McHugh’s list of Irish creators and checking out their work. I will also endeavor to get more women for my 7 Questions feature. I have already gotten Maura McHugh and Leeann Hamilton so check those out. I am in various stages when it comes to others.
I hope this piece gets you thinking and that you’ll find some plans of your own.