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Superhero comics have come a long way. The range of female superheroes, vigilantes, and villains has broadened considerably since earlier times. There’s a lot more on offer for feminist fans of mainstream comics.
But today’s fans face a whole new set of stumbling blocks: objectifying, inappropriately sexualised art styles; gruesome deaths designed only to forward a male character’s story; and a generally held public opinion that superhero comics are the domain of boys and men and therefore have no need to be female-friendly.
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Avengers Academy is possibly the best book Marvel is currently publishing. Written by Christos Gage and drawn by a number of fantastic artists (including Mike McKone, Sean Chen, Tom Raney, and soon Tom Grummett), Avengers Academy tells the tale of 6 new teenage superhumans who share a history of capture and torture at the hands of H.A.M.M.E.R. director Norman Osborn. In the wake of Norman Osborn’s fall from grace, these troubled teens (Veil, Striker, Mettle, Finesse, Hazmat, and Reptil) have been taken under the Avengers’ wing to become the inaugural class of Avengers Academy. But, as the kids very quickly discover, they weren’t chosen because they have the best potential to become heroes – they were chosen because the Avengers fear that, without guidance, they might turn into villains.
What separates this book from the dozens of other teen superhero books that have passed through comic shop shelves over the years? The answer is Christos Gage, a writer who has rapidly risen to become one of Marvel’s brightest stars. Gage’s work deals with consequences at a level that few other superhero writers are willing to tackle. No canon, no matter how old, is irrelevant for Gage. He expertly weaves the past and the present (without, it should be noted, relying on fans’ assumed knowledge of past stories) to illustrate the ways that past experiences and actions shape the lives and futures of all human beings. The Avengers Academy faculty includes characters like Hank Pym and Pietro Maximoff, characters who have made their fair share of mistakes and want to pass along the lessons they’ve learned to the next generation. The lives of superheroes are difficult and messy, and this book addresses that fact with a rare honesty.
Yet the book is far from glum and gloomy. Ultimately Avengers Academy is a story of hope, of adults trying to help kids and kids trying to help themselves and each other. The kids have their problems, but they’re still very much kids – they even have a prom! – and their interpersonal relationships are bright spots amid the stresses of battle. They have successes to match their failures, and the book is frequently quite funny. I rarely finish an issue without a smile on my face.
For those whose interest has been piqued, I highly recommend picking up all the trade paperbacks of the series so far. But for those looking to dip their toes in, the book’s recent status quo change – moving the school to the old West Coast Avengers headquarters and adding new characters – is a perfect jumping-on point. Pick up last month’s issue 21 and see what the fuss is all about.
Violence: This is a superhero comic, so there’s plenty of fighting of all kinds, including violence that ends in death (though not for our protagonists). Given the premise, all of the characters also have some kind of torture in their backstories. But violence in this book is rarely graphic or gory.
Sexualized Violence: There are references to the past sexualized attack on faculty member Tigra (which happened in another book) and one of the male characters is implied to have been molested as a child. Sexualized violence is never graphic or cast in a positive light, however.
Gender: Half of the original team was female, and more recently two more regular female students have been added, in addition to a number of part-time students (including former solo title stars Spider-Girl, the Savage She-Hulk, and X-23). The girls come from a variety of backgrounds and have distinct personalities, and gendered plots and dialogue are extremely rare. The girls are both as heroic and as screwed-up as their male counterparts.
The Bechdel-Wallace Test: Since the gender-balanced cast spends most of its conversations talking to each other about their powers, fights, and education, I doubt any issue has failed to pass the test, though I don’t have specific figures.
Minorities: From its inception, this book has made a conscious attempt to include diversity in its cast. Reptil is Latino, Hazmat is half-white/half-Japanese-American, and Mettle in flashbacks appears to be at least half Native Hawaiian (he’s also half-Jewish). The new cast includes a white queer character (Julie Power) and a Puerto Rican female character (the new White Tiger, taking up the mantle from wholesale jeans, Hector Ayala), and recent writer comments have hinted that one of the original team may be gay. The teaching staff, relying as it does on older characters, is totally white and straight (and mostly male), but that could change at any point as the cast shifts. In addition, the new part-time students come from a variety of backgrounds.
Parents May Wish to Be Aware: I would rate this book at least PG-13; it is definitely aimed at teens and adults, and the level of violence and implied sexuality is probably too high for younger kids. But compared to some superhero comics, this book tends to be less graphic and grim-and-gritty; the costumes and art are not sexualized and there is a strong moral center to the story. Teenagers should be fine.
Let’s face it — if you had a choice to wear sweatpants to work, you would do it; so do most of your colleagues. Fortunately, you can now pull off the office version of denim jogging pants, the “cooler cousin” of sweatpants. You just need to know and follow the ground rules of the office to do this with aplomb. To learn more, read on. The last day of the work week is a time to wear a new fashion trend in the office. Give it a test, maybe once a month, and push the envelope. If there’s no resistance, make it a casual Friday staple. Add a jacket, a professional shirt (preferably with buttons) and dress shoes, and see if your boss notices. If you get caught, you can excuse yourself for not knowing the “casual fridays” rule. You also may want to have a second outfit ready to go in your vehicle. Jacket makes everything and everyone look a little more professional, even college professors. By pairing your navy blue jean joggers with a customized jeans, you are hiding the fact that you are pulling off wearing sweatpants to work. If you’re convinced that a shirt makes the whole outfit look more formal, it can also cover up a lot of mistakes. Choose muted colors and patterns. Make sure your button-down shirt matches your jogger and it is as professional as possible. There is a plan to test out your blue and black joggers on a day where you will spend most of your time sitting at your desk. Until you’ve mainstreamed to wear joggers to work, you shouldn’t wear them on a day when you have to give a big presentation to your boss. By planning to wear them on a down day at the office, you can minimize your exposure to the office and thus make it less noticeable. Give your joggers a polished look with twill or other professional-looking wholesale jeans. Don’t wear patterns because they draw attention to you. Match them with an all-business jacket, shirt, and shoes, and you will be able to pull it off with ease. Jean joggers are basically sweatpants that, when paired properly, can be worn in the office. The key is the pairing and the timing. Jeans jogging pants are basically sweatpants that you can wear in the office with the right combination. The key is pairing and timing.
Dear Jen Van Meter, Thank you for doing more with one post to raise the level of discourse in the comics community than the whole blogosphere could manage in years, and for owning your work and responding to criticism thoughtfully and respectfully, and for putting a lot of thought into the stories you write even while recognizing that intention doesn’t always translate to end product. You make me proud to be part of the comics industry. Love, Rachel P.S. You can discuss this column here. December 10th, 2009 Categories: Uncategorized . Author: Rachel Edidin
Dear Mr. Van Lente, Coercing someone into having sex with you by pretending to be someone else is rape—ethically and legally. Coercing someone into making out with you by pretending to be someone else is also sexual assault—again, ethically and legally—although it’s not technically rape. Neither is funny. Sincerely, Rachel Edidin P.S. You can discuss this column here. September 26th, 2009 Categories: Creators, Marvel, rant, sexual violence in comics . Author: Rachel Edidin
The interwebs have been all a-flutter of late with the news that Disney is buying Marvel Entertainment. Everyone’s got their panties (and the tights beneath) bunched up with worry, wondering if Spidey’s gonna sprout mouse ears or Wolverine will still be allowed to say ‘Fuck’ in MAX titles. Yawn Actually, I wasn’t going to write about this at all. But then, I woke up yesterday with a link to the NYT article in my inbox, accompanied by the following note: Hi, Rachel. What do you make of this? (Note the gender slant that the article describes.) And far be it from me to leave my public hanging (Hi, Dad!). So, here’s what I think.
Not much is going to change at Marvel Comics. You’ll see more ads for Disney properties. There might be a cross-over event at some point, and people will laugh and play along, and it’ll be sucky or mediocre or surprisingly awesome, and things will basically stay status quo, but probably with slightly better benefit packages.
Disney will begin to use Marvel properties to develop their lines for boys, especially tween boys. Disney’s been struggling with this elusive boy demographic for a long time (much as Marvel has been known to struggle with the ‘lady-creature’ demographic), and Marvel comes with a set of iconic but versatile characters with strong brand identification who resonate with exactly the group Disney’s trying to wrap its grubby mouse-fingers around.
This is where the gender thing comes in, because Disney is specifically looking to develop Marvel properties as boys’ entertainment. To an extent, this is exactly what Marvel has been doing with them, although Marvel’s target demographic is arguably even narrower. On one hand, I’m peeved that Disney’s approach seems to mostly involve reinforcing the fallacy that superheroes are for boys (girls, of course, get princesses and Hannah Montana.). On the other hand, I’m still glad to see the demographic for Marvel superheroes wideningand, if nothing else, I know Disney’s too calculating and ruthless not to see opportunities to market across gender lines.
Yeah, I have some Disney issues. I grew up in South Florida. It’s pretty much inevitable. I mean, they have this whole charter town called ‘Celebration,’ and at orchestra competitions, their whole orchestra would be outfitted in matching ballgowns and tuxedoes. Bizarre.
Also, I’m interested in seeing how this is going to affect the villains in animated Marvel films. When I did research last year on gender transgressive villains in comics, I found comparatively few in the Marvel ranks who fit the Disney drag queen mold described by Meredith Li-Vollmer and Mark E. LaPointe in their 2003 study ‘Gender Transgression and Villainy in Animated Film.’ It’ll be interesting how much of the visual design of the children’s and teen programming and products will be informed by Marvel versus Disney sensibilities.
Going back a bit: for all its faults, Disney is fantastic at marketing to and developing products for the ladies. Sure, Disney’s the evil empire, but it’s gotten there by being very, very good at what it does. And, honestly, I doubt they can fuck it up much worse than Marvel has been. Spider-Man lip gloss, my ass.
If any of the drones of Disney’s amorphous hive-mind happens to be reading this: A Power Pack Saturday morning cartoon would rock really hard.
Of course Wolverine will still get to say ‘fuck’ in MAX titles. If no one could use naughty words in a property produced by a Disney-owned company, the porn industry would have to put a lot more time and energy into developing colorful metaphors.
Feeling drab and dowdy? Tearing your hair out in search of a stylin’ new look for SDCC? Worry no more, true believers, because, as it turns out, Marvel wants to help you look stylish! For the gents, they have an assortment of superhero costumesmost with built-in muscles. And for the gals…well, there’s… Wait for it… Lip gloss. How, exactly, is lip gloss supposed to be analogous to superhero costumes? Is it perhaps super lip gloss, with the power to imbue its wearers with the reflexes and proportional strength of a tube of lip gloss? Let’s turn to Dogulas Miller, marketing coordinator for Lotta Luv (the cosmetics company with whom Marvel teamed to produce not only lip gloss but an entire line of Marvel make-up), for some enlightening commentary: ‘With a branded line of make-up from Marvel, girls will be able to feel as if they are going from ordinary to extraordinary just like the super hero characters in the stories, ’ he explained. ‘There is also such a nostalgic undertone that either young or older girls are drawn towards because of the long history and brand behind the name Marvel.’ (Miller went on to defend his expertise in matters of the feminine mind, informing readers that his mother ‘totally used to be a girl,’ and that once, while intoxicated, he had accidentally watched the opening credits of an episode of Sex In the City.) So, the guys get to power up with stuff like invulnerability, strength, deadly frisbee skills, flight, manipulation of fire, and being an undead spirit of vengeance whose head is a flaming skull. And the girls get lip gloss, associate with the power to have…shiny lips. (There’s a whole side discussion here on the habit of defining normal human virtues like beauty and confidence as the girly equivalent of superpowers, but that’s a column for another day.) ‘But wait!’ you may argue. ‘They’re focusing on the lip gloss because it’s a new product! Surely their products aren’t that wildly gender-dimorphous!’ That’s very open-minded of you. In fact, I had the same initial reaction, which I attempted to validate via one of the article’s myriad links back to the Official Marvel Shop, stocked (the article claimed) with ‘numerous costumes (for kids and adults).’ Here is a list of the costumes I found: Black-Suited Spider-Man Muscle Chest Adult Costume Captain America Muscle Chest Adult Costume Set Captain America Muscle Chest Kids Costume Set Fantastic Four: Dr. Doom Adult Mask Fantastic Four: Mr. Fantastic Muscle Chest Adult Costume Fantastic Four: Mr. Fantastic Muscle Chest Kids Costume The Human Torch Muscle Chest Kids Costume Fantastic Four: The Thing Muscle Chest Kids Costume Ghost Rider Adult Costume Ghost Rider Child Costume Hulk Inflatable Adult Costume Iron Man Adult Helmet Iron Man Deluxe Muscle Chest Adult Costume Iron Man Light-Up Muscle Chest Child Costume Set Iron Man Movie Quality Child Costume Set Iron Man Quality Muscle Chest Kids Costume Punisher Muscle Chest Adult Costume Spider-Girl Sassy Deluxe Adult Costume Fiber Optic Spider-Man Kids Costume Spider-Man Glow-in-the-Dark Kids Costume Spider-Man Muscle Chest Adult Costume Spider-Man Muscle Chest Kids Costume The Incredible Hulk Adult Latex Full Mask The Incredible Hulk Deluxe Adult Mask Hulk Deluxe Muscle Chest Kids Costume Set The Incredible Hulk Muscle Chest Kids Costume X-Men: Beast Muscle Chest Kids Costume X-Men: Wolverine Deluxe Muscle Chest Adult Costume Noticing a pattern here? Of the 28 costumes in the Marvel Shop, 27 are of male characters. The 28th, the ‘Spider-Girl Sassy Deluxe Adult Costume,’ is a sparkly little minidress that resembles Spider-Girl’s actual costume only in fabric pattern. It doesn’t take a mind-reader (even one with the proportional strength of a tube of lip gloss) to figure out what’s going on here: between the lip gloss and the Divas, the writing on the wall is pretty clearday-glo, even. In its decision to market directly to female readers, Marvel, like Wizard, seems to have adopted the philosophy that the population is divided into two groups: people, and women. In a few months, when they realize that girls are not rushing to buy Spider-Man lip gloss and Incredible Hulk tampons, expect Marvel to poutily insist that this is proof that women are not interested in comics. The irony, of course, is that Marvel is a company whose comics, historically, have been extraordinarily girl-friendly. Ensemble casts, full of strong female characters, dominated the line for decades. Series like Runaways, Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, and even Spider-Girl (despite its rocky history), drew the kinds of crowds of teen girls that Minx could only dream of. I cut my geek teeth on New Mutants and Excalibur, and they, in turn, defined my criteria for girl-friendly superhero comics. While the distinguished competition was stuck in ’50s gender sensibilities, Marvel books were passing the Bechdel Test with flying colors. Even the heroines clearly designed to titillate the straight male gaze (I’m thinking Emma Frost and the Goblin Queen) had personalities and dimensions beyond their skimpy costumes. Marvel, I think it’s time you and I had a chat. For the last couple years, you’ve been trying your little heart out to work your sticky fingers into the pockets of that elusive female demographic. Out of respect for what you used to represent to me, and in hopes that you’ll come to mean that again, I’m going to tell you how. No strings attached: this is a gift, from me to you. -Don’t start a new line of products. Make small tweakslike, say, making a decent X-Men or Avengers t-shirt that’s available in girls’ sizesto customize your existing products for women. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, or even paint it pink; you just need to take it in a little at the waist and shoulders. -Can the make-up. Girls don’t want Spider-Man lip gloss. No one wants Spider-Man lip gloss, because it’s a fucking stupid product. -By the same token, you don’t need to push contrived Sex In the City knock-offs to attract female readers. You’ve been producing really solid, character drama-focused books with fantastic female characters for years. If you want to widen your female audience, broaden the marketing, not the product. Bringing back the classic New Mutants is a great start, though. -Make products featuring female charactersthe real characters, not pinkified, defanged ‘saving the world can be glamorous!’ versions of the characters (with the possible exception of Millie the Model, who could probably pull it off). -Especially Storm. -Talk to some actual girls and women. Ask them what they buy, what they look for in comics and licensed products, what comics they do and don’t read, and why or why not. Listen to their answers. -Lockheed plushies. -Seriously, though. Can the make-up. -Discuss this column here.
The following is an excerpt of Wizard Fan Awards categories and contestants, cut and pasted for your edutainment: 21) FAVORITE HERO: Batman (DC) (Details) Spider-Man (Marvel) (Details) Captain America (Marvel) (Details) Superman (DC) (Details) Hellboy (Dark Horse) (Details) 22) FAVORITE VILLAIN: Skrull Queen/Spider-Woman (Secret Invasion) (Details) Dr. Hurt (Batman) (Details) The Joker (Joker) (Details) Brainiac (Action Comics) (Details) Red Hulk (Red Hulk) (Details) 23) FAVORITE FEMALE: Buffy Summers (Dark Horse) (Details) Witchblade (Top Cow) (Details) Emma Frost (Marvel) (Details) Fallen Angel (IDW) (Details) Wonder Woman (DC) (Details) I think Wizard‘s choice of poll categories makes for an interesting lens through which to view a larger argument that’s taking place in the nets: whether, and to what extent, there can and should be ‘female superhero’ movies. I’ve been wading around the trenches Jezebel comment threads, and much (but not all) of the coverage I’ve seen has echoed what I see as a kind of problematic assumptionthe same one Wizard makes in their pollthat there is a fundamental difference between ‘superheroes’ and ‘female superheroes.’ There isn’t. Or, at least, there doesn’t have to be. Female superheroes’ gender doesn’t magically supersede their jobs. They don’t automatically have to have Shoe Shopping and Relationship Drama in every story, any more than every male superhero story requires a rousing football scrimmage. The problem isn’t with the charactersit’s with our own assumptions about the categories into which they’re allowed to fall. For example, Kill Bill, despite its female protagonist, overwhelmingly female supporting cast and villains, and substantial female fanbase, is categorized as an action movie, not a ‘girl’ movieand, despite its protagonist’s colorful costume and iconic code name, certainly not a ‘female superhero’ movie. More significantly, though, Kill Bill doesn’t get categorized as a ‘female superhero’ movie because it doesn’t fit the stereotypes we’ve come to associate with such movies. It’s not a poorly-produced b-grade write-off. It didn’t fail miserably. It wasn’t a stereotypical ‘chick flick’ with a couple action scenes slapped on. And, incidentally, it starred a woman who had played an enthusiastic role in the creation of her character and story rather than brushing itand the genre it reflectedoff as kid stuff or a shitty dues role. It’s absolutely true that ‘female superhero’ movies like Elektra and Catwoman don’t succeed. That’s not because they’re about female superheroes, though. It’s because they’re bad movies. Here’s how you make a good ‘female superhero’ movie: Write a good, involved, interesting action story about an interesting, three-dimensional superhero. Then, lose the penis. You can discuss this column here. January 10th, 2009 Categories: characters, fandom, feminist stuff, general comics, invisible women, media, Superheroes . Author: Rachel Edidin
Today, the president of Dark Horse walked past another female editor and my (adjoining) offices and stopped to call in that he’d just learned that we don’t exist, because someone else (I didn’t catch who) has been going on about how there are no women in comics. In retrospect, I should have asked if that meant we could have the rest of the day off, but it also makes a nice segue into one of my pet peeves. A lot of the problem with how sexism in comics is addressed in media, and one of the reasons those reports are so easy for the comics industry to blow off, is that the reports of sexism in comics are almost always built around the essential fallacy that there are noor painfully fewwomen working in the comics industry. This fallacy seems to stem from a couple main sources. First of all, when the general news media (and even a lot of more specialized media) reports on comics, it often does so with a conception of the industry that begins and ends with writers and artists on mainstream (read: superhero) titleswho are, in fact, overwhelmingly male (which is a problem, but not the same problem as which it’s often framed). Second, the same media’s understanding and portray of comics seem to be based largely on the perpetuation of a stock of convenient sterotypes, with little attention to or examination of reality. Even generally comics-friendly articles are often full of astonishment that comics readers (and, to some extent, creators) aren’t all mouth-breathing recluses who subsist entirely on pizza and bondage fantasies in their parents’ basementsand, it should go without saying, all male. Look, there are absolutely sexism (among other -isms) and misogyny in comics, and in the comics industry, and comics culture, and much of what passes for comics ‘journalism.’ The majority of the creators who get high profile, highly paid art and writing gigs are male. Sexual harassment is rampant at conventions and comics shops (and within the industry, although that’s something I’ve not experienced first-hand). These things are terrible, and they need to be called out and addressed, loudly and persistently. But not by ignoring the many, many women who make their living and art in comics. Every time we are conveniently erased because some pop-cult page needs an appropriately sensational headline, or some hack journalist or blogger decides to lionize the lady he’s profiling by painting her as a lone Amazon in Man’s World, we fade that much further into the gutters. This isn’t Man’s World. It’s oursall of ours. You can discuss this column here.
This post is for Keely, whose idea it was, and without whom I would likely have let both Love Your Body Day and Fat Talk Free Week slip by without noticing. But! Luckily for me (and you), Keely is more alert than I, and thanks to her, you get a roundup of Five Characters Who Break the Paradigm of Feminine Beauty in Comics!
1: Reagan, of Templar, Arizona, by Spike
Reagan takes no shit. If I needed one word to describe Reagan, I’d go with ‘big.’ She dominates every panel she appears inand not just because of her ample body. I imagine her talking in a just-a-bit-louder-than-life voice and laughing the kind of belly laugh that makes me proud to be human.
2: Scar and Anzu, both of Knights of the Shroud, by Matt Bayne.
Scar also whistles. Ainzu is regal. I love Knights of the Shroud a whole lot. If you’ve been following this column for any length of time, you probably know that already. And now you know yet another part of why. Reagan is gorgeous, which is part of how she fucks with our beauty standards. Anzu and Scar challenge them because they’re not pretty. They’re powerful, and regal, and damaged, and maybe even beautiful, but if there is a single impression they give, it is that they are not there to be your eye candy. They have their own livesand their own ideasto follow. You’re just along for the ride.
2.5: Another reason I love Matt Bayne is that he responded to my LJ post asking for suggestions for this column with a link to someone else’s comic. I haven’t read much of Dicebox myself, but it certainly seems to fit the bill.
3: Amanda Waller, of the D.C. Universe.
Amanda Waller can kick Batman’s ass. There is no oneno onein the D.C. Universe more badass than Amanda Waller. She is smarter than Batman. She is tougher than Darkseid. And she is one of the most morally and humanly complex characters in fiction. She embodies a combination of deep compassion, profound ideals, and utter ruthlessness that female characters rarely get to touchand she will fuck up your binaries and paradigms better than any other character in mainstream comics.
4: Sharon Ford, from Baker Street, by Guy Davis
Sharon Ford knows your secrets. In his introduction to Honor Among Punks: The Complete Baker Street, Guy Davis wrote, ‘I wanted the series to have a couple of things not seen much in comics at the time: a strong female lead whose focus was her character and not her breast size, and also making it a fantasy piece for the punk scene I was into.’ The series protagonist, Sharon Ford, is a middle-aged queer punk detective and one of my all-time favorite comics characters. The reverence and deliberate care with which Guy draws charactersmale and femalein all their glorious and profoundly human ugliness is one the most persistent and compelling aspects of his art.
5: The entire cast of Dykes to Watch Out For
No picture for that one, ’cause it’s late and I’m tired. But you should read the archives anyway. These five (and change) are some of my favorites but far from the only ones. Tell me about your favorite bodies that break the mold here.
Happy National Coming Out Day! Thank you SO much to everyone who offered storiesyour bravery, diversity, talent, humor, and love makes me proud all over again to be part of the queer comics community. Thanks also to the folks at Prism Comics, who posted my call for stories on their front page, and who work like crazy to support and celebrate queer comics, creators, and fans. Originally, I had planned this as two postsone about great coming out scenes in comics, and the other focusing on coming out stories from members of the comics community. But as I looked through what I had lined upand heard from youthey started to bleed together. I considered setting these up with a table of contents and target links but finally decided against itless because I’m lazy than because every single one of these stories deserves your full attention. You don’t get to pick and choose your sexuality; you don’t get to turn a blind eye to lives and experiences; and you don’t get to choose which stories you see. Some of these stories contain links to comics and stories off-site. Please show their creators and hosts the same respect you would be expected to on the Inside Out forum. And, a final note to friends in and out of comics: Inside Out is not an inherently political columnbut queer visibility and rights are an inherently political issue. This November, three states have ballot items defining marriage as ‘between one man and one woman.’ If you live in Florida, California, or Arizona, please, please get out to the polls and vote NO against propositions 2, 8, and 102, respectively. And even if you don’t live in those states, take a few minutes to make a donation or some phone calls and strike a blow for equal rights: http://sayno2.com/index.php http://noonprop8.com/home http://www.votenoprop102.com/web/index.php And now, stories! Arion Hunter: For a long time, I was interested in comics, but could never find a space for myself in the comics culture. The one time I did visit my local store, the man behind the counter watched me the entire time as if he expected me to shoplift. Unsurprisingly, I was suitably scared off of comics after that. So on my first day of college, I randomly ran into another freshman and we hit it off rather well. It turns out she was a huge fan of comics, and so I agreed to head back to her dorm to inspect her collection. I had, up to this point, not been out to anyone around me. As a test of the waters, I made an off-hand comment about ‘probably not meeting another gay person on campus.’ She looks at me, laughs, and says, ‘Well, you just met one.’ She’s still one of my best friends to this day. Siduri (originally posted at http://shannon.users.sonic.net/blog/?p=99): National Coming Out Day is October 11, so it’s come and gone for 2007 and it’s a long way away for 2008. It’s been a while since I felt any need to mark this holiday. But I recently got into a conversation about gay marriage on a mailing list I frequent, and I realized: for a lot of people, I’m in the closet. I’m a wife and mother, and some people—the people I’ve met recently, including my husband’s wonderful family—wouldn’t have any reason to realize that I’m queer. So here we go. I’m a bi woman. I’m one hundred percent monogamous and one hundred percent devoted to my husband, but in the past I’ve had girlfriends as well as boyfriends. Not at the same time—that’s called being polyamorous, and it’s a different thing from being bi—I’m bi and I’m monogamous. But I’ve had girlfriends, at least one who I deeply loved, and she’s still important to me. I would never repudiate that part of who I am. The way the dice fell for me, my soulmate is a man, and so I could marry him. But they might have fallen another way. I could have ended up in love, forever, with a woman. That’s why the issue of gay marriage is so very important to me. And also, of course, some of my dearest friends are gay, and I witness the very real and ongoing harm that our country’s unjust laws are wreaking. I get a ton of legal benefits from being in a heterosexual marriage. That’s actually why I don’t talk more about being bi. It seems presumptive to claim a queer identity when I’m enjoying so much heterosexual status and privilege. But I came out to my friends and family a long time ago, and I’m not willing to go back into the closet. Hearts and minds are changed when people realize that ‘gay’ isn’t some scary person they see on TV, it’s a real person they know and love. I’m a faithful wife and a loving mother, and I’m bisexual. If you didn’t already know that about me, surprise! Maybe it won’t make a difference to you and maybe it will, but it’s something I want everybody to know. Happy Coming Out Day, late or early, and God bless us every one. Joe Palmer of Gay League: My whole coming out story is a gradual one and not all that exciting in its retelling. I have early memories of when I was four and five, having an internal monologue and knowing something about me was fundamentally different from everyone else around me. I didn’t have a word for it. Who does at that age. It wasn’t till I overheard my grandmother whom I loved dearly tell my mother she’d ‘better cut loose the apron strings or she’d have a sissy on her hands’ that I knew there was a word for it and hearing it reinforced the understanding to never let anyone know. I was six years old. My understanding began to clear up some when I became fascinated with watching TV shows like Batman and Robin, Green Hornet, and Star Trek. I was consumed with looking at Kato, Sulu, and Chekov, Imagine my surprise when George Takei publicly came out. Around this time I discovered comics. Unlike a lot of gay men, my coming out and sexuality don’t have a strong, early connection and identification with Wonder Woman. It’s almost heretical, right? I fall into another group because the Legion of Super Heroes became my first and lasting passion. Here was a group of teens, more guys than girls, living together without parents. It was how I came to understand the idea of a chosen family and it was an extremely important idea for a nine-year old whose family was very dysfunctional. Of course, it was impossible for comics to have any gay content back then. This is 1967 after all and the Comics Code Authority is at full strength. Like with TV shows, there were male characters I became fascinated with, especially Ultra Boy and Element Lad. Unlike TV, comics were an entirely private ritual that allowed me to gradually come to understanding that realization of being different I had as a young child. At one point when I was a teenager my father tried to stop me from reading comics because they had nothing to do with Christianity and were therefore Satanic. He watched television for hours on end so I thought tit for tat would be good. For two or three weeks I blacked out everything in the TV Guide that wasn’t a Sunday morning religious broadcast, and got my message across. If he’d had any real idea how I’d related to comics I think he wouldn’t have relented. The following are coming-out storiespersonal and fictionalin comics form. Follow the links to read the full comics. I Like Girls, by Erika Moen, was part of the inspiration for this post. I read this for the first time when I was in college, long before I met Erika, and it remains one of the most powerful coming-out narratives I’ve read. For another incredible comic by Erika on coming out and why visibility matters, read When We Hold Hands. Erika writes: ‘I Like Girls’ was originally written as an essay for my ‘Memoir and Autobiography’ class, freshman year of college. I had JUST gotten into my first openly gay relationship and had not yet come out to my (homophobic) mom, so the paper was kind of a mental practice/preparation for that. The comic I didn’t start working on until my sophmore year again, I think I did it for a class? An art class? I don’t exactly recall, but it is still the longest single comic I’ve ever completed and even though the artwork is oldy moldy it’s still the project I’m most proud of. Everyone always asks if I came out to my mom by having her read the comic. That’d be a great story, but no, I did not. I told her face-to-face towards the end of freshman year, so she already knew (and was in denial) before I started illustrating my essay. After four years, my mom is as supporitve as she possibly can be (Though it’s no secret she desperately would prefer me straight) I Like Girls, by Erika Moen I Like Girls, by Erika Moen Brian Andersen, of Unabashedly Billie: I have been a comic reader since I was a wee little boy of 8. Comics were (and still are) my safe haven from all the meanies and bullies at school who harassed me relentlessly (stupid, dumb jerks!). Growing up I always felt awkward and different and didn’t realize that my outsider feelings were because I was totally, completely, and utterly gay! In fact, I didn’t even come out until I was 26 whopping years old! ‘Unabashedly Billie’ is my semi-autobiographical comic book story of my coming out, my first date with my now boyfriend (we’re going on eight years together) and all the internal fears and joys that went along with me discovering and accepting the real me! Yay! Unabashedly Billie, by Brian Andersen Unabashedly Billie, by Brian Andersen and Preston Nesbit proggirl: My comics about being out appeared in Lavender magazine, but that was years ago. My characters have been coming out their entire lives (at least the GLBT ones!). Here’s a page I did lo these many years ago for Gay comics #25: http://www.bcholmes.org/images/foxtown/trannytowers.gif I’ve done little comics work dealing with sexuality in recent years- maybe I’ve said what I have to say, or else I just want to think about it for a while before I say anything else. Thank you again to everyone who contributed stories and comicsand to everyone who has stood up and spoken out about queer rights and identity, in and out of comics. You can discuss this postand share more storieshere (I’ll add stories to this post as/if they arrive!).
More questions from you! Answered by me! Benel R. Germosen asks:Best fight sequence ever rendered in comics…ever? Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. All of it. hippokrene asks: What was the first comic you fell in love with? According to my parents, I used to make them sit and explain Kliban cartoons to me when I was one or two, so I guess those, followed fairly closely by Nicole Hollander’s Sylvia, Mark Marek’s Hercules Among the North Americans, and Tintin in Tibet. I had a gloriously weird childhood. Who is your favorite female action movie heroine? It’s a toss-up between the two main characters of Outrageous Fortune, the Bride from Kill Bill, and Yu Shu Lien from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I seriously think Michelle Yeoh is going to revolutionize the roles of older women in action movies over the next few decades.
What is the best flavor of ice cream? Baskin-Robbins’s Gold Medal Ribbon. I don’t know if you’ve read The Hollows novels, but if you have, what do you think of Ivy Tamwood as a portrayal of bisexual women? I think I’d have a stronger opinion on the topic if I’d read the novels. In a visual medium like comics, can a character be ‘feminist’ even if she’s continuously dressed in spandex thongs and contorted into spine-breaking sexual poses, or will the art always undermine other aspects of the character? If that portrayal is clearly tongue-in-cheek, sure. The art will always trump the rest of the character’s portrayal for some readers, but considering how many people make social judgments based on appearance, that’ll be a problem no matter how a given character is drawn. And I think most readers will realize that portrayals like the one you’re describing say a lot more about the artists than they do about the characters. Urbane Zombie asks: Do you ever privately imagine One Fish Two Fish being recited in the deep, sonorous voice of James Earl Jones? I sure as hell do now. If you had to take care of someone else’s big, smelly, drooling dog for a week, what would be the absolute worst comic-style superpower for that dog to have? I’ve thought through the more obvious awful superpowers, but all those seem like cheating, so I’m gonna go with the power to drool on things from a distance. That would be really damn creepy. Let’s say you inadvertently killed the Scorpion King and found yourself the absolute commander of thousands of big, musclebound, jackal-headed spearmen in little gold lamé skirts. What would you order them to do? Moonwalk! And then I’d probably be wracked with guilt and have them go volunteer for community garden projects or something. Do you think that pies can be used to express respect as well as ridicule? Absolutelyin fact, I use most pies I make to express respect, affection, and the fact that blackberries are in season. Which I respect. Does having children of elementary school age telling someone not to use drugs decrease that person’s level of drug use? My partner’s stepfather quit cigarettes for almost twenty years after his six-year-old stepson burst into tears and told him he was afraid it would kill him, so I’ll guess yes. Are there any decent names for a dark-costumed character who fights crime when it is night-time, that haven’t been used yet? Yes. They’re stockpiled in a warehouse in Queens, along with mint copies of the Shade miniseries. AND SOMEDAY, THEY WILL ALL BE MINE. Is Order really Good? Is Chaos Really Evil? Only about a third of the time. If you could only have one minion, but they could be any kind of minion you wanted, what would they be like? (They need not be a previously existing minion.) Definitely Warren Ellis. I can’t imagine anything cooler than being able to say that Warren Ellis was my minion. I’d take him to parties and go ‘Hi, I’m Rachel. And this is my minion, Warren Ellis. That’s right. Warren Ellis. Who is my minion.’ And then I’d probably make him play scrabble with me, because I’m really a terribly dull person. Giant spider… or giant centipede? I don’t care, as long as I can ride it to work. Of all female comic book characters, who do you think best exemplifies the middle ground between useless passivity and openly sadistic ultraviolence? I can think of a lot, actually, but if I only get one, I’ll say Kate Corrigan. She’s freakin’ awesome. Of all male comic book characters, who do you think best exemplifies the middle ground between useless passivity and openly sadistic ultraviolence? Again, I can name more than I can count on fingers and toes, but let’s go with Jack Knight, my all-time-favorite super guy. I would definitely party with him, even though I suspect he’d talk a lot about art deco furniture if he got drunk. If you had to make a feature-length live-acted summer blockbuster action movie remake of Dr. Snuggles, what acting-type-person would you cast in the title role? (Note: Sir Peter Ustinov is unavailable.) He already looks an awful lot like Sir Ian Holm. If you were making gender-swapped James Bond movies, what would be three good names for the boy versions of the Bond Girls? Rock Hard, Jack Hammer, and Penis Penis Penis. Oh, yeah. I went there. If you could distill secular morality into a sort of glowing green liquid, what would happen when you splashed it on people? Revolution, baby! If you really want to, you can discuss this column (or ask more questions) here.
I’m writing this post to announce my resignation from the board of Girl-Wonder.org, and to reassure my readers (That’s you! All six of you!) that said resignation does not signify drama, angst, or imminent meltdowns and is, in fact, a Very Good Thing for all parties concerned. This isn’t a break-upI am still snuggly with both Girl-Wonder as an organization and its board members as individuals and a group. Neither I nor Inside Out will be going anywhere, and I will still be serving as a community moderator on the forums, so don’t get any ideas. The reasons for my departure are nominally ‘personal,’ in that they have nothing to do with Girl-Wonder, and everything with the fact that I had hopelessly overextended myself and needed to either find things that I could stop doing without fear of them crashing and burning, or resign myself to life with no time for creative projects, interpersonal relationships, or sleepand I’d pretty well fulfilled my quota for the latter situation in college. That I’ve been able to detach myself from my board responsibilities this painlessly says a good deal about the grace and competence of the remaining board members, and I am looking forward to watching from the sidelines as Girl-Wonder continues to flourish under their care. If you’re so inclined, you can discuss this column here.