Interview: DevilDoll

Before DevilDoll gained internet-notoriety by posting a sarcastic link to Sideshow’s Mary Jane Comiquette, I knew her as someone who regularly posted quirky, often comic related links to things I hadn’t seen. When I judged enough time had gone by that she’d recovered from the experience, I asked her for an interview about it, which she granted, and then took on a demanding volunteer position and broke her ankle. (I swear, the Hulk joke was timely when we started.) Now, finally, she is able to give her interview, and here it is! What’s your history with comics?
‘I was a pre-school fangirl! Complete with a pillow case tied around my neck as a cape, and death-defying leaps off the porch in pursuit of bad guys (which usually just resulted in crushing my mother’s flowers).
‘I read comics as wee child, both new ones I purchased with my practically non-existent allowance, and the ones I inherited from my father. (And boy, do I ever regret taking my crayons to those Silver Age books. I guess it was important to me at the time that all the women have dark hair like I did, and I was a little too young to fully appreciate the prospect of retiring early on the proceeds from my comic collection.) I was also a huge fan of any and all comic-related television shows such as Batman, The Incredible Hulk, and Wonder Woman. I had superhero-themed Halloween costumes, birthday cakes, the works.
‘Then I became a teenager, discovered punk rock and hair dye, and focused much of my attention elsewhere for several years. I came back to comics briefly in the early 90s (I still have the hologram covers to show for it), then drifted away again until about seven years ago, and have been a steady reader ever since.
‘I’ve attended a few cons, but I generally find them too expensive and too crowded. I work part time at my local comic shop, which usually fills any need I might have to be in the same room with other people who read comics.’ Prior to thong-a-palooza, how would you describe your interaction with comics-fandom?
‘I would characterize myself as more an observer than a participant, because I tend to be out of step with fandom both in taste (I would not walk across hot coals to read Grant Morrison’s grocery list) and timing (my big Batverse phase pre-dated the DCU fandom explosion on LiveJournal, so when I wanted to talk about that stuff, no one else cared, and then by the time they did, I’d moved on). And because I tend to get behind in my reading, I don’t participate in discussion as much as I once did. Reading a book two weeks after it comes out is practically an eternity in Internet time.
‘I used to regularly post reviews of the books as I read them, but after a while you couldn’t swing a temporarily dead superhero without hitting a blog full of reviews, and it became a wall of white noise. I do still discuss comics, post news and pictures, and pimp things I like, but my days of steady reviewing are over. What was your view of comics-fandom as a gendered space?
‘When I first started poking around on the Internet for other comic book fans, the pattern I immediately noticed was that men outnumbered women on the discussion boards, while the opposite was true in fan fiction-focused spaces. It took me a bit to come around to the idea of reading fan fiction, so I initially floundered about on the message boards, not making much of a connection to anyone, feeling put off by the spelling-impaired hostility that passed for conversation.
‘Then I stumbled across a fan fiction archive that had a message board, and lo and behold, it was full of women talking about comics. The topics ranged from the serious and thought-provoking to the completely shallow, and we certainly did our share of complaining about the books (what fan doesn’t?), but we did it without insulting each other at every turn. That was the first place I interacted regularly with other comic book fans, and had fun doing it.
‘Not long after that, I opened an account at LiveJournal, which was intended to be more of an online diary than anything else. As luck would have it, shortly thereafter a sea change resulted in a large fannish migration to LJ, and it’s been my base of operations ever since. I like it there. It tends to be a female-friendly, civilized place; we certainly argue, and we disagree all the time, but we don’t threaten to, you know, rape each other over a difference of opinion.’ Has [your view of fandom as a gendered space] changed? If so, how?
‘The biggest change, and the one having the most noticeable impact, is the explosion of women blogging about comics, and doing it from a feminist point of view. This has led, predictably, to an increase in the backlash associated with that kind of commentary. […] I think Lester Q. Fanboy was okay with us playing in his sandbox, and even critiquing comics, until we began critiquing them in relation to ourselves. Saying you think a story line sucked might spark a debate, but saying a story line treated a certain group badly causes a whole different kind of uproar.
‘Has there been progress in bringing those issues to light, and in getting them addressed? Absolutely, on both creator and fan level. But for every person who has had their mind opened, and realized that just because something has always been a certain way doesn’t mean it’s the best way, there’s another person digging in their heels and refusing to be enlightened.
‘Because of this polarization, because of the rising level of resentment, I think some forums are even less welcoming to women now than they previously were.
‘On the plus side, we don’t need those forums. The number of fannish spaces welcoming or catering specifically to women is increasing every day. And the dialog is there. People are bringing attention to feminist issues, and the Powers That Be notice. They might dismiss it publicly, but they notice, and in some cases are forced to acknowledge it. (I mean, really. The fact that Joe Quesada had to make a statement to the press about the Mary Jane statue because of something I said in my blog? That will never stop being funny.)’ Tell me about any positive experiences you’ve had with men involved with comics.
‘One thing I find really interesting is how many great guy friends I made as a result of the MJ kerfuffle. I’m sure those lovely trolls who spent days sliming around in my journal during that time would like to think I made an enemy out of every comic fan with a Y chromosome, but that’s just not true. I actually have way more men on my LiveJournal friends list now than I did before.
‘And I like it. I like seeing what interests them and what makes them angry, and I like having proof, right there on my screen, that fanboys and fangirls can get along.
‘And of course I have to mention Craig, who co-owns the shop I work at (Neptune Comics plug plug). Not only is he a really nice guy who runs a really great shop, he gave me a job. :)’ Do you remember your first reaction to the image of the Mary Jane Comiquette released by Sideshow?
‘I think it was a combination of ‘Ugh!’ and ‘Is this seriously official merchandise?’ I couldn’t believe it was real, because it was so over the top. The pose, the thong, the laundry. It looked to me like the sort of thing you see on a custom figures forum, something some dude made for his own personal enjoyment (the kind of personal enjoyment you don’t want to know or think about). The fact that it was a licensed product–unbelievable.’ What kind of reaction were you expecting when you posted about it on your blog?
‘That some people on my friends list would comment, we’d talk about how incredibly over-the-top it was, and life would go on. I didn’t think it would be any different from any other post I’ve made.’ Your post seemed to get linked all over the place. What was your impression of the people who linked to it?
‘In the beginning, it was mainly women who were as put off by the statue as I was. As word spread, and the gender divide widened, the one thing everyone had in common was that they felt very strongly about it, but the longer it went on, the fewer people seemed to actually understand what was going on. I saw a lot of ‘This bitch wants to ban sexy statues!’ and the like. Yes, that was exactly what I was saying. Except where I wasn’t saying that at all.
‘So, a lot of hysteria, a lot of really repugnant commentary. But also a lot of indignation from both men and women who were able to spot a nasty gender stereotype when they saw it. Strong reactions, either way.’ What kind of audiences did it find?
‘That was probably the most surprising thing–the level of interest from people who normally don’t give a passing thought to comic books. It was immediately evident that it had struck a chord with women outside comics fandom, because the comments and the linking were coming from all over LiveJournal. It then made a similar jump outside LJ, where it went from a comic website topic to being featured on feminist blogs, and then to MSNBC, Fox News, and
‘Some people scoffed at the attention it got, calling it a slow news day thing (and I don’t discount that completely), but I think the defenders of the statue really, truly don’t understand what something like the Mary Jane comiquette looks like to a person who isn’t in comics fandom. Comic fans are so used to seeing things like it (and worse), that they’ve lost the ability to see it from an outsider’s perspective. And that’s part of the reason why it got so much attention–for someone who has never heard of Lady Death, and thinks manga is a fruit, that statue was a shock.’ Talk about the response your post got. (Any hilarious trolls you want to share?)
‘Well, the charming fellow who suggested some nice anal rape would straighten me out was one to remember.
‘While the threats and the insults were by no means pleasant, I couldn’t have asked for the trolls to prove my point any more thoroughly than they did. ‘Degrading and sexist images are not harmful! They don’t have any affect on society as a whole! And to prove it, I will make degrading and sexist statements about you! Wherever could I have learned that’s acceptable behavior?’
‘I mean, ya gotta admire the level of cluelessness being displayed there. It’s something you probably have to work on full-time in order to keep it so perfectly honed and impenetrable to logic.
‘Toward the end, people began sort of boggling in general at just how nastily I was being treated and just how long the whole thing was going on, and I did get a nice wave of ‘hang in there!’ comments, which countered the trolls quite nicely. The support that came pouring out was phenomenal. I’m far from a Pollyanna about fandom, and I think sometimes we treat each other horribly, but when the chips are down, man, you can count on the fans.’ How long did it take before people stopped popping up to comment?
‘About two and a half months.’ Has the reaction to your MJ post affected what and how you post on the internet?
‘Not really. Previous to this I had a very low-drama internet personality (no, really, I swear! That’s why it’s so funny that I still get singled out as an example of strident feminist harpies who bitch about everything!), so there was really no profile to lower or anything of that sort.’ Has it affected your view of fandom?
‘It’s reinforced my belief that a fuss needs to be made. The images we see and the things we read do make a difference, and they definitely influence how we see the world around us, and the way we treat the people we share it with. I don’t think anyone can look at the things that were said to me in that post and deny that.
‘Am I trying to suck the fun out of everything? No. But I personally have a hard time taking enjoyment from something that I know offends or demeans a specific group of people. I don’t think the status of something as entertainment gives it a pass on offensiveness.
‘The majority of our entertainment is geared toward the white, heterosexual male gaze. It’s so pervasive, and has been like this for so long, that most of us don’t even realize it. I didn’t realize it for years, and I can completely understand why someone wouldn’t notice the bias–it’s what we’re taught to like and identify with from the time we’re young children. I don’t blame someone for not realizing it, if it’s never been pointed out to them.
‘But once someone points it out, well, that’s your cue to pick up the ball and run with it. Take an honest look, ask yourself some hard questions, consider what it might feel like to be on the other side.
‘I’ve been in that position, too, and still find myself there. Just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I’m exempt from perpetuating sexism, and I can be just as thick-headed about spotting racism and homophobia as the next straight, white person. So don’t think I don’t know how it feels to have to accept an ugly truth about something you enjoy–I have to deal with it, too. It’s hard, and it sucks, and it means you have to face unpleasant things about yourself and about the things you like, and I absolutely respect anyone who has done it, because I know how difficult it is.
‘I don’t always agree with accusations of sexism or racism or any other ism, but I always do consider them, and if I disagree, I take an extra second to think about why I’m reacting the way I am, and ask myself some questions.
‘1) Am I just being cranky because someone criticized something I like?
‘2) Do I feel like I’m being called a sexist/racist/homophobe because I like something that has sexist/racist/homophobic overtones?
‘If the answer to either of those questions is yes, then I know I’ve got my head up my ass and I need to remove it.
‘And sometimes… well, sometimes I know the complaints are valid, and I have to suck it up and deal with the reality of that.
‘Here’s what I know: liking things that other people find offensive doesn’t automatically make you a bad person. Threatening to rape or kill someone just because they don’t like those same things? Makes you a very bad person.
‘Being active in comics fandom on the Internet is sort of like a form of role play, where you get to choose your own level of lameness. Some people are incredibly lame, some people are barely lame at all. Aspire to be less lame, is what I’m saying. It’s totally doable, and we all have things we could work on in that respect.’ If you could shoot one Marvel character into space, who would it be?
‘Sabretooth. Yes, I know he’s currently in that spoilery state where Jeph Loeb put him, but we don’t really believe that’s permanent, do we? I’d love for it to last forever, though, because every time he shows up, there’s a woman in peril. (Usually a woman connected to Wolverine, and even writers I like to think are above that kind of thing fall into that trap. I’m looking at you, Greg Rucka.)
‘X-Men #28 hits the trifecta in that respect. Sabretooth attacks Jubilee in a dream sequence, overpowers Pyslocke, and is shown threatening Jean Grey on the cover. Jean eventually owns his ass at the end of the book, but the sheer number of pages devoted to portraying Sabes as a particularly potent source of fear and physical violence for the X-women is pretty telling.
X-men 28 Jean X-men 28 Jubilee X-men 28 Psylocke
‘Feminist concerns aside, the Sabretooth-as-threat-to-all-women plot was already over-used years ago, and no matter what they do to him, writers keep bringing him back to do it again. Obviously, the only way to stop it is to shoot him into space. Though that didn’t work so well with the Hulk…’ Your dream comic: Who draws it? Who writes it? What’s the solicit?
‘The Adventures of Mary Marvel, written and drawn by Jeff Smith.
‘’If you thought the Monster Society of Evil was bad, that’s nothing compared to grade-school teachers and know-it-all brothers! Mary Marvel lets the bad guys have it, shows her brother Billy just how tough girls can be, and somehow gets her homework done, too, in this new, ongoing monthly book that picks up where the Monster Society of Evil series left off.’

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