A Notice

May 6th, 2010

Girls Read Comics (And They’re Pissed) is an archived blog; I don’t expect to make any further updates.

I’m still active on the forums and in Girl-Wonder.org. For more about my other work, including my young adult books (and lots of feminism, and occasional comics mentions), check out my website and my blog.

I remain incredibly grateful to all the many excellent readers who sent email, commented on the forums, or just sat and read what I wrote and thought about it. You people are fabulous; really, for two years, you regularly made my week. My special thanks to my guest columnists, for contributing such wonderful work, and to Betty, for wrangling recalcitrant internets.

Needs More Glitter.

April 5th, 2009

Oh, hey! It’s been a while! You see, I was under deep cover in an undisclosed location.

By “deep cover”, I mean “the duvet”, and by “undisclosed location”, I mean “my bedroom”.

Anyway, I’m back, lured by the tantalizing scents of bad copy and casual sexism. Check this out: Marvel’s selling stuff to women now! Women!stuff! Only not women. Females.

The consumer products team at Marvel is thinking big when it comes to females.

That’s the first line. Who writes this stuff? (That is a question rhetorical: the WWD byline says someone called Julee Kaplan, who I will charitably pretend is really sad about the damage done to her perfectly articulate article by some confused intern.)

This one always gets me. Referring to women as “females” is dehumanizing, particularly when it’s contrasted with the use of terms like “men” or “guys”, rather than “males”. Both female and male are fine as adjectives, in moderation. However, when you want to use a noun to refer to female humans, “women” is better, both stylistically and politically, as a recognition of that very humanity. If you want a description for both women and girls, then “women and girls” is the way to go.

The fashion industry magazine in which this article runs was, by the way, originally titled Women’s Wear Daily.

The words “female” or “females” appear five times in the article, three as an adjective (twice as “female product”), and twice as a noun. Women turns up once, as “women’s apparel”. When men turn up, they are not “males”, but “guys”, in this truly wonderful quote:

“Since our core customer has always been guys, we need to be very careful when we introduce female product so that we don’t alienate our core,” said Paul Gitter, president of consumer products, North America, for Marvel Entertainment Inc. “What we have found through testing is that we haven’t alienated them, which gives us the OK to move forward with female product.”

That’s what he says. What I read:

One: When introducing things specifically designed for women, we must be careful not to alienate guys. Because when it comes to things for women, it is the opinions of men that are most important.

Two: Did I say women? I meant females.

Three: Also, our core customer is lots of guys, squished together to make one super-huge dude. Subject-verb agreement is hard! Let’s go shopping!

The actual products, of course, are the typical cutesy girl!fare – lip glosses, T-shirts that express love for superheroes rather than identification with them, heart pendants. These things are not inherently bad. I personally love sparkles; I have a plastic wand with a star that lights up and twinkles and I adore it beyond all reason. I also note with no little glee that one of the twin heart pendants features Spider-Man and the Green Goblin. Their love is so volatile!

What I resent is more of the same gender-specific shit: girls don’t want to be superheroes, they want to love superheroes; “female product” is about specific kinds of normative feminine, rather than “shirts cut with space for breasts”; before making anything for women, we have to be careful not to piss off men.

I’m aware that, broadly speaking, products marketed to be appealing to men can also be appealing to women, but the reverse is much trickier to pull off – partly because of centuries of gender-specific marketing. Nevertheless, you’d think Marvel’s president of consumer products would have the grace and marketing nous to realize how ugly this sounds, and refrain from baldly stating so.

You don’t have to be a marketing expert (although the one I know agrees with me) to notice it’s pretty dumb to announce you’ve got big plans for selling to women in terms that are so insulting to women.



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Discuss this column here.

Show, Don’t Tell

November 20th, 2008

DC, after recently announcing the cancellation of the Minx line (my thoughts thereon remaining unprintable), has gone on to announce the cancellation of Blue Beetle, Birds of Prey and Manhunter.

Of course, rumours immediately abounded that BoP in particular wasn’t actually going to be cancelled, just relaunched after a spell, and this may well be so. But fuck it. Comics companies continually lie to their fans, and second-guessing them is extremely tiresome. While I never believe a word about upcoming storylines, I save myself some energy when it comes to cancellations, and discuss what they are actually saying.

I am not actually die-hard opposed to the resolution of series, even ones I really adore. I am okay with stories that end – witness Sandman, or better yet, witness Alias, one of the best superhero titles of the last decade, with a definite beginning, middle and end. Jessica Jones went on to other things, some of which are awesome (Young Avengers) and some of which have been pretty pallid (Mighty Avengers), but Alias was no worse off for its ending. Provided Blue Beetle, Birds of Prey and Manhunter hit it out of the park in their conclusions, I won’t mind that they do conclude.

What I, and many other activist fans are worried about, is the fact that removing these titles significantly decreases the diversity of the DCU. These are not just titles where women and people of colour played starring roles; they are titles where women and people of colour were the focus, of the title, and of the storylines. With them gone, the DCU becomes that much more focused on the intriguing adventures of white dudes.

Newsarama asked Dan DiDio about this, thusly:

3: With that news in mind, and to bring in some of the themes of questions that were posted, with the cancellation of Manhunter, Birds of Prey and Blue Beetle, you’re moving back towards virtually all male characters in title roles (Supergirl and Wonder Woman notwithstanding) and they’re all rather WASP-y.

Diversifying the line has been something that you have championed in the past, so is this a situation where you’re buckling down for now, or a rejection of the ideas of a more diverse DCU by the market?

DD: In this particular case, since I know what’s on my schedule, I feel very confident that we are not walking away from any of those issues. Like I said, Birds of Prey goes away, but there’s an Oracle miniseries coming which places a prominent female character front and center. We have Supergirl running and reaching a new level of prominence and success. We have Vixen still running as a miniseries right now. We have Secret Six running, with strong female characters in the lead, we have Power Girl about to premiere, we have Wonder Woman who is the preeminent female character in all of comics.

In terms of diversity, one of the things we did in regards to bringing in the Milestone characters is that we brought in the true ethnic mix that made that line so unique. I have to believe that what the future holds for those characters is that not only will they be appearing in both touchstones books like Justice League and Teen Titans, but also in their own books somewhere in the foreseeable future.

So, realistically, it may seem like we’re shrinking things, but what we’re actually looking to do is to give every opportunity for success, and if these books cannot achieve the level of success and not achieve the goals we set for them, we’ll rest them for the moment, and come up with new ideas and new concepts which will diversify the DC Universe and hopefully attract a larger audience in the process.

This is mildly encouraging, but only mildly. Firstly, awesome as miniseries might be, they are not titles; they do not provide a similar impact upon the common memory of a comics universe. A miniseries starring Vixen does not make the DCU as commendably diverse as an ongoing title would. Secondly, Super Girl, Wonder Woman and Power Girl are all excellent characters, when handled well, but I will point out that they are also all white women. Not since Batgirl (also cancelled) has a non-white woman been a title-carrier in the DCU.

And thirdly, it’s not enough to include women and characters of colour in your team books, though it is an excellent start. How they are presented in those titles is also of vital concern.

If Mr DiDio is really concerned about the promotion of diversity in his books, he might want to take a close look at the team titles he retains, and consider a few changes:

  • He might want to have a word to Ed Benes about his ludicrous female butt shots in the pre-eminent team title. (If he is determined that characters must be sexy sexxors, he could grab Nicola Scott or Dale Eaglesham, both of whom are more than adept at drawing sexy sexxors of any gender, and who rarely sacrifice storytelling for sexxorness.)
  • He might make it a point of editorial concern to prevent colourists bleaching characters of colour or artists from portraying them with Caucasian features.
  • He might want to enact overall editorial policies that actively resist moments of sheer racist stupidity, such as the moment in The Elongated Halloween where Vixen refers to her past self as “Intombi” and a note helpfully reveals that this means “young girl” in African.
  • He could stop referring to “strong female characters”. Unless one is clear as to the specific strengths of the characters, it’s a term that is commonly invoked to describe the mere existence of any female characters in a title, and thus lacks all meaning. (And are there so many weak female characters that we must so distinguish the strong ones? Why is there never reference to strong male characters – perhaps because good male characterisation is automatically assumed to be a strength of a story? “Strong female character” shouldn’t be a description of a title’s outstanding feature. It ought to be a default.)

I’m saddened, but not devastated, by the cancellation of these three excellent titles. I’m pleased that the head of DC editorial avers his awareness of diversity issues and his dedication to maintaining and improving the diversity of the DCU. However, I have a hard time believing him. Until I see better all-around portrayal of diversity, especially in comics that merely feature, rather than star, women and minorities, I don’t think I ever will.

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Discuss this column here.

[Cerise Crossover: Guest Post] Inspirational.

October 26th, 2008

This week’s guest column is from Cerise editor and contributor Richie. His musings on film, film school, gaming, and life in the big city can be found at Crimitism.

I hadn’t heard of Lady Bullseye. This is par of the course for me, as somebody only dimly aware of what comics are, and whose sole exposure to Man Bullseye was watching the Daredevil movie on a hotel pay-per-view service. I had, however, heard of Lady Snowblood; the DVD’s been a ubiquitous presence in virtually every “Asian Cinema” aisle – even the ones that bother stocking genres other than martial arts – for the last five or so years, thanks in no small part to it being cited as the inspiration behind Tarantino’s Kill Bill. Since it would be quicker to list the major martial arts films that aren’t referenced, parodied or outright plagiarised in Kill Bill, you could be forgiven for thinking that this is just marketing, but there turns out to be a hell of a lot more to Snowblood‘s influence than “Yeah, woman with a sword, let’s do that”.

Snowblood’s out for revenge against a gang of criminals who have since gone their separate ways and re-integrated into society. She journeys across Japan, picking them off one by one – preceded by a crash zoom into her eyes as she recognises them, natch – while the audience learns about her history, motivation and training through flashbacks, before it all comes to a messy end in a snow-covered courtyard. But while Tarantino might have pilfered the basic outline, Lady Snowblood is the polar opposite of Kill Bill when it comes to tone.

What’s striking about Snowblood as a character, and what still manages to retain its power three decades after the fact, is that when she says that revenge is all that keeps her going, she bloody well means it. Here it’s not just an industry standard motivation, nor is it there to make her body count seem morally justifiable; she’s an extension of her dead mother’s unfinished business, an avatar willed into being to settle a score, not a femme fatale with a haunted past or an ice queen who secretly craves a good deep-dicking. So, when I read that Lady Bullseye was apparently a crazy sexy Dragon Lady assassin who’d been a Yakuza sex slave before Man Bullseye inspired her to do something about it, I had to re-watch the movie to make sure we were thinking of the same character.

We were, sort of. Y’see, according to the Wikipedia – yeah, yeah, I know – Lady Snowblood’s manga incarnation, which predates the movies and therefore truer to the artist’s original creative vision SO THERE, is “a seductive and beautiful woman” who “often uses her sexual appeal as a weapon”. Tragically, this doesn’t mean her breasts are actually missiles, a la Mazinger Z. The synopsis is even less promising:

In chapter 4, Oyuki [Snowblood] is contracted to find blackmailer Genjirô. It concludes in a cliffhanger with Oyuki about to be raped by Genjirô. Picking up from the previous chapter, Oyuki escapes Genjirô clutches and deals a fatal blow to him. However before he dies she has intercrural sex with him, placing his penis between her thighs.

No, no, you’re right; I haven’t actually read the book in question, and for all I know it just sounds like every piece of misogynist fanservice ever written in the entire history of time. After all, one of the most commendable aspects of the film is that it depicts the abuse of women as abuse, rather than wallowing in misogyny under the guise of condemning it. That a samurai revenge film from thirty years ago manages to be significantly less exploitative than anything around now speaks volumes. It is, ironically, an excellent twenty first century samurai movie, which keeps the best parts of the genre while moving beyond the shitty sexual politics. It just happens to be from 1979.

But whether it’s the movie’s avenging angel or the manga’s sexy avenging angel, the connection between Lady Bullseye’s character outline and the source material seems… tenuous. Neither version of Lady Snowblood was “Tortured. Used. Broken”; she’s been a self-reliant survivor since childhood, refusing to yield regardless of what’s thrown at her. It’s what made the character – on film, at least – so hypnotic in the first place, and replacing her motivation to simply “rape made her go crazy” is equal parts crass and mystifying. Similarly, where previously violence and revenge had been part of her character since – quite literally – her moment of conception, Lady Bullseye apparently needs Man Bullseye to inspire her to fight back. Eh?

Yeah, I know they aren’t supposed to be the same character. Question is, though, where was the inspiration drawn from? Does a crazy sexy ninja broad whose motivations all revolve around men actually need to be inspired in the first place?

Or was the inspiration that of the writer: “Yeah, woman with a sword, let’s do that”.

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Commenting on GRC Guest Columns: A Guide.

1) Please assume good faith on the part of the guest. I invited these writers because I am familiar with their work and I think it’s good. I don’t edit their columns, and I may not agree with them 100% on every subject, but I think they say smart and thoughtful things. You are free to disagree with them, but please consider them my honoured guests in this space that I host, and be polite in your disagreement, as per general forum rules. The columnist, if they respond, is naturally bound by those same rules.

2) If you have questions for the columnist, address them to the columnist (who may or may not respond). If you have ideas related to the topic, discuss them the same way you would discuss them had I written the column.

3) Guest columnists may write in styles and discuss topics I don’t or haven’t. That difference is almost certainly one of the reasons I invited them here. If you have objections to the guest’s style or choice of topic, you may voice them – politely – but you may like to consider whether you are actually adding anything to the discussion, or performing the equivalent of saying, “Karen, your column would be great if it wasn’t written from the point of view of a girl reading comics and getting pissed.”

With all that in mind, you may well like to discuss this column here!

[Cerise Crossover: Guest Column] Getting It Right: Girl Games in Japan

October 18th, 2008

This week’s guest column is by feminist pop culture critic Andrea Rubenstein, founder and regular contributor to Shrub.com and co-founder of feminist gaming site The Iris Network and its magazine, Cerise.

Hey GRC readers! Karen was nice enough to ask me over to contribute to the Special Crossover Issue: Comics in Gaming by doing a guest blog for her. I tried to gather up sufficient rage to do the subtitle of this blog proud (I do read comics! I am pissed!) but right now my life’s too busy to hold onto the kind of rage that makes a good post. So, instead I’m going to gush about a genre of game that I absolutely love: Japanese Girl Games.

Girl Games? Like, ponies and rainbows and stuff?

Now, when Westerners think of “girl games” the image that probably pops into their mind are Barbie, My Little Pony, and all those awful licensed games made by people who think if they paint a pile of poo pink that girls won’t know that it stinks. The Japanese Girl Games are different; the term refers to a subset of text/graphical adventure games that are aimed at women. Girl Games have a close association with erotic games, most notably the “boy’s love” (BL) genre, but (according to the Japanese Wikipedia, anyway) they’re distinct genres.

Girl Games have a close relationship with the shojo manga market. Perhaps even more so than in the US, popular series are almost always expanded beyond their original format. It’s so frequent for popular games to be made into manga and/or anime and vise versa that if I particularly enjoy a game I’ll google it to see if there’s a manga I can pick up. In fact, I recently picked up Angel’s Feather, a BL game that I got turned onto because of the OVA.

While the style of gameplay varies from game to game, one of the unifying features of Girl Games are that they almost always feature a female protagonist. The style that gets imported the most are the dating simulation ones, but there are also ones that play more like an interactive graphic novel. Dating plots are frequent, even when the style of gameplay isn’t itself a dating simulation. The games are also aimed at women of all different ages, not just young girls, although the ones made for consoles (or are ported to them) aren’t allowed to have sexual content.

What women want

The thing I like best about the Girl Game genre is that, while there are obvious trends meant to appeal to women, the makers of the games clearly recognize that women have varied tastes and can’t be shoved into some neat little pink box.

One of my favorite series, Mizu no Senritsu caught my interest because it was a dark urban fantasy adventure game with horror elements. I also own one called Love Drops (yes, I bought it primarily because the name was hilarious) that is a more lighthearted urban fantasy where you release a group of hot supernatural men (their group includes a vampire who doesn’t drink blood and a dog boy) who immediately start hitting on you.

In the straight up dating sim genre, there’s the well-known Tokimeki Memorial: Girl’s Side. I even found a game where your prospective boyfriends are hosts! Unfortunately, as interesting as the concept for that one is, the gameplay is rather lacking. No matter how many times my friends and I played through it, we never seemed to be able to “win”. Although I suppose there’s some sort of argument in there that it’s true to real life; it’s not exactly realistic to expect a host to become a real boyfriend.

Another thing it’s worth pointing out is that games marketed towards women aren’t confined to the Girl Game genre. There are a whole host of other genres that have large female followings, and companies more than happy to milk that market for all it’s worth (see the Nintendo DS).

This is good, but you can do better

I have, of course, only touched upon the positive aspects of the Girl Games genre and not really talked about the negative. Long-time readers have probably already picked up on the two most obvious problems: the practically mandatory insertion of romance into the plot and the rampant heteronormativity.

Heterosexual romance-oriented games aren’t bad in and of themselves. But it is definitely playing into one of the typical “pink” stereotypes; that adding romance to something is a recipe for attracting women. The concept isn’t exactly wrong, per say, but if you look at the popularity of dating games aimed at guys you’ll see that the “add a dash of romance for success!” way of thinking certainly isn’t limited to one gender.

One of the arguments I can see people making against the heteronormativity complaint would be to point out BL games. BL, whether it be games or shonen ai/yaoi comics, is a “by women for women” genre. So, yes, on the one hand it’s great that BL games acknowledge the existence of male homosexuality, but I would argue that it’s no less heteronormative to market homosexuality for a heterosexual audience (guess which gender female/female romance is marketed to… if you said the male one, you win!). I’m not sure if there are any queer adventure games out there marketed for a queer audience, but I’m pretty sure that we’re still a long way from that kind of game being mainstream. But, who knows, maybe I’ll get to make a game that has a pansexual protagonist and a cast of cis, trans, and genderqueer people of all types and it’ll be a runaway hit. Hey, a girl can dream, can’t she?

Ultimately, though, I would argue that despite the shortcomings of the genre, a company – whether it be in the video game industry or the comic one — looking to attract more of a female audience could do worse than to do some market research into Japanese Girl Games.

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Commenting on GRC Guest Columns: A Guide.

1) Please assume good faith on the part of the guest. I invited these writers because I am familiar with their work and I think it’s good. I don’t edit their columns, and I may not agree with them 100% on every subject, but I think they say smart and thoughtful things. You are free to disagree with them, but please consider them my honoured guests in this space that I host, and be polite in your disagreement, as per general forum rules. The columnist, if they respond, is naturally bound by those same rules.

2) If you have questions for the columnist, address them to the columnist (who may or may not respond). If you have ideas related to the topic, discuss them the same way you would discuss them had I written the column.

3) Guest columnists may write in styles and discuss topics I don’t or haven’t. That difference is almost certainly one of the reasons I invited them here. If you have objections to the guest’s style or choice of topic, you may voice them – politely – but you may like to consider whether you are actually adding anything to the discussion, or performing the equivalent of saying, “Karen, your column would be great if it wasn’t written from the point of view of a girl reading comics and getting pissed.”

With all that in mind, you may well like to discuss this column here!

October Fest

October 11th, 2008

October! Awesome for so many reasons! Three of which I shall enumerate!


It’s SPRING. Melbourne in spring is the prettiest place I have ever lived.


That’s right, it’s that time again! All proceeds from the Art Et Cetera Auction go directly to Girl-Wonder.org; the staff, me included, are all unpaid volunteers. Last year’s auction raised over US $3000 – enough to handle web expenses, merchandise establishment, promo materials and the costs of our ongoing incorporation process, with a nice chunk left for security and peace of mind. This year, with the generosity of the donators and the enthusiasm of the bidders, we’re hoping to make enough to start a scholarship fund to aid women making and studying comics.

Go check out the items on offer and spread the word! There’s some really great stuff; my own contribution is the Birds of Prey page from #106, where Misfit kicks Harley Quinn in the face swearing darrrrrrrk vengeance.

So it’s pretty much the coolest thing ever.


Aw yeah Cerise and Girl-Wonder crossover SPECIAL ISSUE!

Cerise, the gaming magazine for women, is our sister site and close ally. Girl-Wonder.org and Cerise have worked on many projects together, as befits two geek cultures with so much crossover: many of our staff are good friends; many of our members belong to both communities. This month, we’re doing a number of things to celebrate this closeness, and the crossover issue is a sensational beginning! (My contribution is this gamer story on How Much I Fucking Love Penny Arcade, by Karen, Aged 27.)

I’m delighted to host the next event: the first in a series of audio discussions between Cerise editor Robyn Fleming and myself about comics, gaming, pop cultures, ethical creation, geek communities, and critical activism. Enjoy!

Pop Cultures: What Games and Comics Have In Common.

(MP3, 13.38 minutes)

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Comment on this post here.

Lady Subversive

September 28th, 2008

Have you heard of Lady Bullseye?

She’s got a really twisted character and has a really fascinating history—inspired as much by [manga and Japanese film character] Lady Snowblood as Bullseye,” Brubaker shares. “It’s explained in the first issue why she’s chosen that name. It ties into her origin. I like to play with people’s expectations sometimes, and when someone hears ‘Lady Bullseye’ they think of a very specific story. Hopefully the story we’re telling completely subverts that.”

So, you know, in Daredevil #111 it turns out she’s a crazy sexy ninja assassin (a very thorough summary, with pages, is here). This is actually exactly what I thought when I first heard “Lady Bullseye”, familiar as I am with Bullseye (crazy assassin) and the Dragon Lady stereotype (sexy ninja). Maybe the subversion lies in leading me to think, “Phew! I guess that’s not going to happen!”?

But what, Karen, you ask, is her motivation? Well, it turns out that as a girl she was kept as a yakuza sex slave and driven “nearly insane” by rape. (Quote: “Tortured. Used. Broken.”) Until Bullseye happened by on a job and inadvertently inspired her to fight back, wherein she escaped and ripped out an armed sex slaver’s throat with some keys. All she needed, y’see, was inspiration.

According to interviews, Brubaker tossed the idea for Lady Bullseye around with editor Warren Simons and Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada. These are intelligent men with years of experience in comics, and I cannot easily ascertain how they could possibly have arrived at this character concept without once pausing to realize how closely it resembled something assembled from a Make Your Own Sexist Stereotype Kit.

So I have very thoughtfully made it all up.

Scene: Marvel Bull-Pen.

Joe: Guys, we need more strong female characters! That is what the people want! So, let’s come up with a strong female character for Daredevil.

Ed: Hear hear!

Warren: Wait, strong as in…?

Joe: Strong as in strong, you know. Strong female characters. Everyone loves them.

Warren: Well, there are lots of ways for characters to be “strong”. They could be more than normally courageous, or be very capable in crises, or possess a sharp sense of humour, or be physically adept, or-

Ed: Physically! That one.

Warren: It’s just that a lot of people use “strong female character” as a way of saying “a female character”. It’s become a pretty meaningless descriptor. So I think it’s important to be specific about the qualities that make her actually strong.

Ed: Okay, so how about… She’s an assassin!

Warren: … I guess you’d have to be pretty strong to assassinate people!

Ed: Hey, the kids are into Japan, right? Manga is cool! I like manga! What if she was… a ninja assassin?

Warren: That’s very original and shocking!

Joe: A sexy ninja assassin!

Ed: A crazy sexy ninja assassin!

Joe: A crazy sexy ninja assassin with ties to the Hand!

Warren: Good point; she needs some sort of connection to the Daredevil mythos. She needs to be inspired by someone important in the Daredevil rogue’s gallery.

Ed: Possibly by another crazy assassin?

Joe: Some sort of crazy assassin who was extremely important to the Daredevil mythos with a connection to the Hand?

Ed: I’ve got it! How about Bullseye?

Joe: I like it! We could call her Bullseye Girl.

Warren: Bullseyette.

Ed: Bullseyina.

Joe: Bullseyelle.

Warren: Lady Bullseye!

Joe and Ed: Yes!

Ed: She needs something extra though. A dark secret, haunting her past. Some form of torment that drove her insane and made her the twisted psychopath she is today. She needs an origin story that totally subverts what the reader would first think when they hear “Lady Bullseye”.

Warren: Well, I’m stuck.

Ed: I know! If only I could think of something totally original. And shocking.

Joe: Guys! Guys! She’s a female character, right?

Ed and Warren: A strong female character.

Joe: So… I’m just throwing this out there as a wildly original and shocking stab in the dark… what if… the reason she’s a crazy psychopath is because… she was repeatedly RAPED?

*stunned silence*

Ed: Joe, you’re a genius. That is incredibly subversive.

Warren: I am so originally shocked right now.

Joe: Well, my work here is done! *disappears in a puff of rainbow glitter*

Exeunt, with Divers Alarums

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Discuss this play in one act, here.

Oh Dear

September 15th, 2008

I would like an extra seven hours in every day and some sort of additional appendage, please. And a pony. Made of gold.

This is by way of an apology, insofar as I make them, for my utter slackitude over the last several weeks of this column. Many things have happened – I turned 27! The Secret Six title started again! The Runaways and Young Avengers began another crossover! Several commenters on scans_daily and stupid_free were utterly appalled at the way Genius (my review/interview) hints that possibly police in L.A. are not always kind and gentle neighbours to people of colour in low-income neighbourhoods and there might be some complex and interesting dynamics worth exploring in a comic*! – but I have not written about them, because I have been writing about other things, and, not incidentally, giving myself some really spectacular muscle cramps. Also, baking. Go me!

During this period of GRC neglect, many wonderful things have been happening in the magical land of Girl-Wonder.org! Here are but a few:

- Planet Karen is back, with its eponymous author! This is news that’s definitely worth a celebratory glass or ten.

- The Feminist Friendly Comic Book Store Map has been well and truly debugged. It is freaking awesome. Visit and review your favourite stores, to the delight and convenience of your peers, and the honour of your LCS.

- Spoiler Space is looking for submissions (ignore that date). Share your feminist and intersectional activism thoughts on comics and the comics community, enter the caption contest, or scribble up a comic submission. Reprints of material you’ve already published elsewhere are welcome.

- Girl-Wonder.org is partnering with Cerise, the online feminist gaming magazine, for a special October issue on the overlap of gaming and comics! Cerise is looking for submissions – details are here! Topics can cover any intersection of comics and gaming, from creative to fannish. What can the industries learn from each other? What are the best game-based comics or best comic-inspired games?

- As part of this joint venture, keep an eye out for Cerise bloggers stopping by Girl-Wonder.org in October, and your chance to win combined prize packs. (Also, Cerise-editor-and-my-best-friend Robyn Fleming and I will probably interview each other again. Fun with accents, and maybe that story about how we scarred Justin Pierce of Wonderella fame with our wild party girl ways. [Speaking of Wonderella, did you know that you can now buy it in book form?])

- Rachel Edidin has stepped down from her Board of Directors position. We are sad to see her go, but she’ll still be blogging at Inside, Out and fulfilling her position as one of the Mod Squad!

- As a result of Rachel’s reluctant resignation, we have a Board seat free. We’re holding a by-election – all Girl-Wonder.org volunteers are eligible to run and vote, so get your nominations in to me at karen.healey@girl-wonder.org by September 21st. Self-nominations are welcome!

- A heads-up – our big yearly fundraiser, the Art Et Cetera Auction, fast approaches. It’s running October 6 – 12, and the donated items are freaking awesome. Keep an eye on the frontpage newsfeed as we start highlighting donations on the run up to the auction opening!

And that is all for now. I hope to resume this column’s regular-ish schedule in the very near future. For one thing, Misfit keeps bouncing in and wondering very loudly if perhaps I would like to drink straight spirits from the bottle, and the last time I ignored her hints I eventually woke up with a concussion. I rather like my brains unbruised.

* I highly recommend Naamen’s take on the Genius uproar, here – he also includes a links round-up to other commentators. For my own part, I wish to observe that the people who complain that Genius has a Mary Sue for a main character and is poorly written compared to the other Pilot Season offerings are perfectly entitled to their opinions, even when one of the other offerings stars a famous novelist who dreams perfect translations of ancient tablets found on Mars and who wields Excalibur. The novelist – a professional writer – then earnestly narrates the caption, “Mankind was notched down a peg or two on the food chain,” which is my favourite line in a comic for months.

Con Anti-Harassment Project Launched.

August 22nd, 2008

Following yet more reports of harassment at conventions, Girl-Wonder.org was moved to action. We are proud to launch the Con Anti-Harassment Project.

(Because conventions should be fun.)

The Con Anti-Harassment Project is a grass-roots campaign designed to help make cons safer for everyone. Our aims are to encourage fandom, geek community and other non-business conventions to establish, articulate and act upon anti-harassment policies, especially sexual harassment policies, and to encourage mutual respect among con-goers, guests and staff.

We offer a con database with contact information, template letters for writing to con organizers, policy tips for con organizers who want to establish such a policy, and a moderated safe-space forum available for those who want to discuss their experiences or accounts of harassment.

Conventions can’t completely eliminate harassment. They can be prepared to act upon it when it occurs, and send a clear message to harassers that they are not welcome.

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Discuss this column, such as it is, here.

Cross-posted: A Serious Note From John

August 16th, 2008

John of Comics Oughta Be Fun helps out little stuffed bull Bully with a serious note:

Overheard at San Diego Comic-Con while I was having lunch on the balcony of the Convention Center on Sunday July 27: a bunch of guys looking at the digital photos on the camera of another, while he narrated: “These were the Ghostbusters girls. That one, I grabbed her ass, ’cause I wanted to see what her reaction was.” This was only one example of several instances of harassment, stalking or assault that I saw at San Diego this time.

1. One of my friends was working at a con booth selling books. She was stalked by a man who came to her booth several times, pestering her to get together for a date that night. One of her co-workers chased him off the final time.

2. On Friday, just before the show closed, this same woman was closing up her tables when a group of four men came to her booth, started taking photographs of her, telling her she was the “prettiest girl at the con.” They they entered the booth, started hugging and kissing her and taking photographs of themselves doing so. She was confused and scared, but they left quickly after doing that.

3. Another friend of mine, a woman running her own booth: on Friday a man came to her booth and openly criticized her drawing ability and sense of design. Reports from others in the same section of the floor confirmed he’d targeted several women with the same sort of abuse and criticism.

Quite simply, this behavior has got to stop at Comic-Con. It should never be a sort of place where anyone, man or woman, feels unsafe or attacked either verbally or physically in any shape or form. There are those, sadly, who get off on this sort of behavior and assault, whether it’s to professional booth models, cosplayers or costumed women, or women who are just there to work. This is not acceptable behavior under any circumstance, no matter what you look like or how you’re dressed, whether you are in a Princess Leia slave girl outfit or business casual for running your booth.

On Saturday, the day after the second event I described above, I pulled out my convention book to investigate what you can do and who you can speak to after such an occurrence. On page two of the book there is a large grey box outlining “Convention Policies,” which contain rules against smoking, live animals, wheeled handcarts, recording at video presentations, drawing or aiming your replica weapon, and giving your badge to others. There is nothing about attendee-to-attendee personal behavior.

Page three of the book contains a “Where Is It?” guide to specific Comic-Con events and services. There’s no general information room or desk listed, nor is there a contact location for security, so I go to the Guest Relations Desk. I speak to a volunteer manning the desk; she’s sympathetic to the situation but who doesn’t have a clear answer to my question: “What’s Comic-Con’s policy and method of dealing with complaints about harassment?” She directs me to the nearest security guard, who is also sympathetic listening to my reports, but short of the women wanting to report the incidents with the names of their harassers, there’s little that can be done.

“I understand that,” I tell them both, “but what I’m asking is more hypothetical and informational: if there is a set Comic-Con policy on harassment and physical and verbal abuse on Con attendees and exhibitors, and if so, what’s the specific procedure by which someone should report it, and specifically where should they go?” But this wasn’t a question either could answer.

So, according to published con policy, there is no tolerance for smoking, drawn weapons, personal pages or selling bootleg videos on the floor, and these rules are written down in black and white in the con booklet. There is not a word in the written rules about harassment or the like. I would like to see something like “Comic-Con has zero tolerance for harassment or violence against any of our attendees or exhibitors. Please report instances to a security guard or the Con Office in room XXX.”

The first step to preventing such harassment is giving its victims the knowledge that they can safely and swiftly report such instances to someone in authority. Having no published guideline, and indeed being unable to give a clear answer to questions about it, gives harassment and violence one more rep-tape loophole to hide behind.

I enjoyed Comic-Con. I’m looking forward to coming back next year. So, in fact, are the two women whose experiences I’ve retold above. Aside from those instances, they had a good time at the show. But those instances of harassment shouldn’t have happened at all, and that they did under no clear-cut instructions about what to do sadly invites the continuation of such behavior, or even worse.

I don’t understand why there’s no such written policy about what is not tolerated and what to do when this happens. Is there anyone at Comic-Con able to explain this? Does a similar written policy exist in the booklets for other conventions (SF, comics or otherwise) that could be used as a model? Can it be adapted or adapted, and enforced, for Comic-Con? As the leading event of the comics and pop culture world, Comic-Con should work to make everyone who attends feel comfortable and safe.

Con harassment: it’s an ugly and disgusting reality that embarrasses the geek community and actively discourages participation.

Recent examples:

The Open Source Boob Project.

KC describes being harassed at the Girl-Wonder.org/Cerise party at WisCon.

Rachel talks about the “Free Hugs” guy who tried to wheedle one after a “no”.

Cheryl Lynn recounts the extra-special racism of sexual harassment.

Delux_vivens likewise.

Yaoi/yuri paddles, or, don’t fucking hit people.

Basically, no one is entitled to touch other people’s boobs or butts or hair. No one is entitled to verbally harass or stalk people. No one is entitled to smack other people into performing sexual acts for their pleasure. It doesn’t matter how drunk/high/horny they are; there is no excuse. If it’s not consensual, it shouldn’t happen.

You’d think that’d be obvious, but apparently not.

And since it’s not, SDCC definitely needs to take further steps to address it.

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Comment on this column here.