Candy Is Good For You

By Noah Brand
Because Rachel Edidin is unable to post this week, she arranged a guest columnist. Noah Brand generously agreed to help her out. — Ed.
There’s a lot to love about the original William Moulton Marston run on Wonder Woman. Especially if you like bondage and discipline. For me, though, the awesomest part of those strange, didactic old stories isn’t Wonder Woman at all; it’s her sidekick, Etta Candy. Etta, unlike most Golden Age sidekicks, wasn’t a miniature Wonder Woman in looks or personality. She was her own person, more feminist in many ways than Diana herself, and unlike any character before or since.
Etta Candy was a student at the fictitious Holliday College, where she was the leader of the Holliday Girls, a combination sorority/band/commando unit that she would bring in whenever Wonder Woman needed help. How many sidekicks are sufficiently badass to have their own team of sidekicks?
Here’s her first appearance, along with the Holliday Girls (Yes, she later went from being a blonde to a redhead. Lots of girls do that in college.):
ettafirst.jpgLet’s take a moment to look at her body and her attitude about it. Etta is short, and she’s fat. Not a little plump, not fake Hollywood Janeane-Garofalo faux-fat, actually fat. And she’s surrounded by all these girls who are a clear foot taller than her, with figures like Wonder Woman’s. Does Etta look embarrassed to you? Does she look self-conscious, ashamed, any of the things a girl who looks like her is expected to be? Hell no. And it’s not just those five panels; go over every page Etta’s ever appeared on, and look for a single moment when she apologizes for or is ashamed of how she looks. You won’t find one. While you’re at it, find me another female character with the same body and the same attitude about it. Check the 40s, check the present. No, go ahead, keep checking. I’ll wait.
Here’s Etta in a duplicate of Wonder Woman’s body, for the usual plot-related reasons:
Etta likes her body. She’s aware that some other people don’t; the villains are especially prone to calling her rude names. She does not, however, feel obliged to give a damn about anyone else’s opinion.
She’s also frankly sexual; look at her intro panels again. She likes men; likes ‘em plenty, and so do all her friends. Even Wonder Woman was stuck in her chaste-longing deal with Steve Trevor, but Etta and the Holliday Girls got to just plain like men. Indeed, when Etta would get herself in trouble, it was usually over a handsome face. She doesn’t want to land a man, isn’t dreaming of being a housewife or a helpmeet; she just enjoys them. More than any other female character of her time, Etta is able to want men without needing them. She feels as much shame about this attitude as she does about her big round butt. And why? Because Etta Candy is utterly without fear—social or physical.
She throws herself right into whatever kind of trouble is going on without even a second’s hesitation. Fighting Nazis, going to Atlantis, astrally projecting herself to Mars (seriously), whenever Wonder Woman needed backup, Etta was there. Even Robin, second-best sidekick of the era, would occasionally express reservations, lines like ‘But Batman, how can we defeat all of them?’ Etta, never. She would throw down with anyone from Axis agents to actual deities without a moment’s hesitation, and it always worked. Well, usually. Generally speaking. A solid majority of the time, it worked.
Actuallyand again in sharp contrast to her contemporaries like Robin and BuckyEtta didn’t get beaten and captured that often. Indeed, most of the time it was Wonder Woman who was imprisoned (gotta have some reason for her to be tied up, after all) and Etta and the girls who came riding in to help her out.

ettasong.jpg

The manner of the Holliday Girls’ arrival was always memorable. Generally they’d show up playing instruments and singing, as in this scene where they’re busting into a U.S. military base:
Even when they’re captured and ticked-off at Etta, they give her a hard time in song form.
By now the alert reader will have noticed the most common emotional state for Etta and her friends: joie de vivre. They go on these adventures with Wonder Woman not because of some oath of vengeance, not because of an ideology, but just because going on adventures is freakin’ awesome. They’re young and fearless and tough, and they find it enormously fun to go get captured and sing at people and get in fights. This isn’t just subtextual, by the wayit’s explicitly their in-story motivation.
ettafun.jpg
Throughout Marston’s Wonder Woman, there’s constant strong messages of female empowerment. Not in some abstract sense, either; Marston gives us page after page of explicit statements that women can make themselves stronger, take control of their lives, and be their own heroes. Etta Candy and the Holliday Girls are the strongest manifestation of that message. Through nothing more than shaking off societal expectations, Etta made her college cohorts a team of heroines able to take on any challenge and have a hell of a time doing it. Her ethos was also theirs: don’t be afraid of who you are, and do what you can do without stopping to ask permission. Every hero expresses a different philosophy, but Etta’s was better than most, and damn near revolutionary in the context of her time.
Etta’s mostly forgotten now, retconned out decades ago as too silly and fat, retooled as a military officer with a couple extra pounds, made safe and acceptable and nonthreatening. But for me, she will always be the short, fat, crazy-ass college girl diving headfirst into adventure because nobody gets to tell her what she’s not allowed to do.
Discuss this column here.
Noah Brand blogs a bit at noahbrand.blogspot.com
September 10th, 2007
Categories: characters, Guest Column . Author: admin

Sexual Assault (in comics) Awareness Month: The Widowmaker

This is the fourth installment of a series about sexual assault and comics. You can find the previous posts here:
Introduction
Rape in the Gutters
Writing Sexual Violence, Part 1
Writing Sexual Violence, Part 2
In January of 2005, Dark Horse Comics released Conan #12. Subtitled ‘The Widowmaker,’ the comic introduced a character who had lurked around the edges of a few previous issues. Despite sporting an exceptionally impractical outfit, she comes very close to kicking Conan’s ass (in fact, she probably would have, were it not for the timely intervention of a third party), and they end up traveling together. Midway through the issue, Conan asks Janissa how shea Zingaran womanhad become such a skilled fighter, and she replies,
‘Once upon a time, there was a silly, stupid girl, the daughter of a wealthy merchant in the Zingaran city of Ceodiz.
‘Her father was blessed with wealth but cursed with lack of sons, and thought to use his daughters to bring the family into the nobility.
‘But while the girl’s sisters were content to think of little but the latest fashions, the balls they would attend, and which lordlings they would be chosen to marry
‘she burned with anger at the thought of being a possession, to be used, bartered or sold like an expensive horse.
‘She wanted freedom. She wanted to make her own way in the world, by her own wits, her own skills
‘rather than a life of silks and satin to be chosen for her by men.
‘And so, one night, the girl crept from her father’s manorand made her way, free and daring, into the wider world.
‘She’d heard of a sorceress in the hills. A womana woman!with great power, who answered to no man.
‘The sorceress was known only as the Bone Woman. And the silly, stupid girl found her.’
Flashback: Janissa finds the Bone Woman, who asks what Janissa wants. Janissa responds that she wants strength and skill, for which she says she’d give anything. The Bone Woman gives her terms: that Janissa will be strong and deadly, but in return, she will serve the Bone Woman for twice the length of her training; Janissa agrees.
‘The Bone Woman blew a yellow powder in the girl’s facepowder from the crushed leaves of the yellow lotus.
‘Instantly, her world went dark.
‘And when she awoke‘
Flashback: Janissa is in a dark pit. The Bone Woman throws down a sword and says that Janissa’s first lesson is beginning.
‘It was a demon. Its matted hair smelled worse than goats, and its breath stank of sulfur. It leered at the girl, licked its cankered lips
‘and leapt.
‘The creature tore her garments from her and raped her, scarring her flesh, her soul.
‘It took her repeatedly, until she passed out from the pain.
‘And when she awoke
‘When she awoke, she was still there.’
Flashback: The Bone Woman gives Janissa food and water and tells her to learn on her mistakes‘there will be two of them tonight.’
‘There were two of them that night.
‘Three the next night.
‘Every night, they attacked.
‘In the days, the stupid girl trained as best she could, fighting her weak muscles, her lack of speed
‘fighting even through injury, for she knew what would come.
‘The night she first killed one, she almost shouted with a savage joy
‘before she was overwhelmed by its demonic brothers, and brutalized once more.
‘The next day, the Bone Woman came not just with food, but with potions for pain, for healing.
‘And she spoke to the girl of strategies, of gambits she could try.
‘The girl wanted to embrace her and weep, or to kill her. But she could not do either.
‘But she killed two that night before falling to their numbers.’
Flashback: As time passes, the Bone Woman gives Janissa more ‘support,’ mostly via enchanted bones that the Bone Woman claims will enhance Janissa’s abilities.
‘More bones came, sometimes days apart, sometimes more
‘and the girl began dully to comprehend that someday, somehow, there might be an end to her ordeal.
‘But it did not come.
‘It did not come.
‘I don’t know how long it lasted. Months? Years? A decade?
‘But the time came when I killed every demon she sent at me for a month. Left a horde of them strewn dead around me in a single night.
‘I have served her ever since.’
No one thought it was a pretty story. One member of Conan’s creative team, Thomas Yeates, was so bothered by some of the content that he declined to work on the issue (Yeates left the title soon after, for reasons unrelated to Conan #12). There was little argument that the sequence depicting Janissa’s backstory was profoundly disturbing.
I started working on Conan in June of 2006 and discovered that eighteen months after its release, Conan #12 was still generating a tremendous response from readers. Letters regarding the demon rape sequence had dominated a half-dozen letter columns and were still pouring in.
Fan responses to Janissa’s backstory tended to fall into two wildly disparate camps: one group hated the story and attacked it for all it was worth; the other defended it wholeheartedly. Even the detractors were divided: some felt that the content was inappropriate for a mainstream comic; others felt that Janissa’s portrayal was unrealistic; still others believed that by describing demon rape, we had betrayed the spirit of Robert E. Howard’s original work. The one thing the letters had in common was that they were all from male readers*.
The first reader response to Janissa’s rape appeared in the Conan #21 letter column, in October 2005. It was from a man who was ‘angry and disappointed with [Conan #12]’ because it had offended his wife:
This story lacks any sense of masculine maturity and goes a long way in a short space to discrediting a beloved genre. YesConan literature is full of lascivious depictions, but having a heroine gang-raped by demons every night for a decade is grotesque and weak.
My wife enjoys a highly developed genre rangefrom French history to classic erotica and adults-only manga. She has no problem with depictions of females engaging in tentacled sex, or with pornbut Conan is not meant to be porn, so why does a woman have to get raped as ‘just a natural part of the past that brings the character into existence?’ [his quotes; I have been unable to trace the source of the text and so am assuming that it is not actually a quotation.] Why stick this in a story about Conan?

This is a bad habit in all forms of entertainment, where the female character is raped as a plot device to explain how a woman got to be something other than a mother or a homemaker. It’s a cliché that decent men shouldn’t dream about even in the context of fantasy. You can go as deep into it as you have the courage to ask questions of your society. From an academic and humanistic perspective, it belies our culture’s inability to relate to women.
The writer also noted the gender disparity in fictional rape victims:
Can you imagine the appeal of cinematic characters such as Conan or Han Solo if they got casually raped as a plot device? Most men would walk away in disgust at the thought of their favorite male role model hero being used as a sex slave, condemning the character as a homosexual… This only happens to heroines though.
This letter bothers me for several reasons (not counting the misuse of the word ‘belies’): first of all, its writer is speaking on behalf of his wife in a letter about the abuse and silencing of women; regardless his intentions, which I’m inclined to believe were genuinely good, he is adopting the same attitude that he so vehemently condemns. I am not attempting to downplay the importance of his wife’s reaction, but ultimately, her reaction was not the subject of the letter: instead, it was her husband’s dismay at her reaction and at the comic that had caused it, and the women involvedthe female character and the female readerboth remain at the functional mercy of their male caretakers. Furthermore, although the writer claimed to be writing because his wife had taken offense at the story, he mentioned only the reactions and responsibilities of men: the story lacks ‘a sense of masculine maturity’; rape as an element of female heroes’ backstories is ‘a cliché that decent men [my italics] shouldn’t even dream about in fantasy.’ ‘Most men [still my italics] would walk away in disgust’ from a male hero who had been raped.
But what would women do? We don’t get to find out: we know that the writer’s wife was offended, but we never get to hear her actual reaction or concerns, only her husband’s.
And that’s symptomatic of much of the response to Conan #12, and all of the direct responses we saw to Janissa’s rape. Male fans wrote in to express their outrage at or support of the all-male creative team; female fansand there are more than you might suspectwere silent. Even on the net, very few women responded to Conan #12.
I wasn’t the only person who noticed the skewed gender dynamics. In his response to the letter that appeared in Conan #21, editor Scott Allie wrote, ‘This sort of thing exists in fantasy literature because of less than savory tendencies in our real culture. You suggest a male victim of rape would be considered gay by some readers. Those would be some stupid readers, but even you aren’t willing to consider that a male victim of rape might have a female aggressor. The sexist, inequitable relationship is there, and even when you try to see around it, you can’t.’ Scott went on to request more letters on the subject: ‘If I get any replies to this letter, I will bump them up in the queue, because I’d be very interested to see a dialogue on this one.’
Readers responded. In May of 2006, the letter columns of Conan: Book of Thoth #3 and Conan #28 were entirely devoted to discussion of Janissa’s rape and responses to the letter that had appeared in Conan #21. Several readers remarked that there was, in fact, a male rape victim in popular comic: Guts, of Berserk. Others argued that Janissa’s backstoryand rape in generalwas perfectly appropriate to the Hyborian world that Robert E. Howard created. Several commented that Conan was neither intended for nor read by women, and so had no obligation to be sensitive to potentially offensive material. Again, while several of the responses discussed the potential reactions of female readers, all of them were written by male fans.
A month later, I started at Dark Horse and immediately found myself inundated by a small sea of letters regarding Conan #12. By that point, Kurt Busiek had left Conan, and Janissa was no longer a regularly-appearing character in the series (to what small extent she ever had been). We continued to respond to the letters; shorter ones went into letter columns and longer ones generally received private responses via email. At the same time, we were developing future issues, including Conan #39, which would be the next issue to feature Janissa. The issue was due to be released the following April and seemed the perfect context for developing the discussion of Janissa’s rape: not only was it the first issue to feature Janissa in nearly a year, but it also happened to be scheduled for Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
The version of the Conan #39 letter column that eventually went to print was the result of a long series of revisions and discussions about gender and realism in Janissa’s development and backstory. I addressed readers’ concerns regarding whether Janissa was a realistic rape survivor, and the question of whether her backstory was sexist.
As I wrote in the letter column, the obvious test is to ask how much the story would change if Janissa’s sex were reversed: in this case, not much. And while the story doesn’t exit in a vacuum and cannot be treated as such, it avoids most of the more common clichés in the portrayal of sexual assault. Most significantly, Janissa’s assault is not her impetus to become a warrior, nor is it remotely sexualized.
Instead of writing a second column this week, I’m going to refer you to the Conan #39 letter column, where I articulate my thoughts on Janissa’s rape in a fair amount of detail. I want to thank my kickass boss Scott Allie, the brilliant and nefarious Katie Moody, the Girl-Wonder community, and cimmerianbloke from the Conan.com message board for their help in making that and this column happen, and for promoting and perpetuating dialogue about sexual assault in comics.
You can discuss this column, as well as the Conan #39 letter column, here.
*While all the letters that specifically mentioned Janissa’s rape came from male readers, we did receive one more general letter about Janissa from a female fan, who commented, ‘I love Janissashe is one tough lady, and to think that Conan would think he could break her like a twig. Her agility proved her to be his equal. I love this story!’ (This letter appeared in Conan #20’s letter column.)

Sexual Assault (in comics) Awareness Month: Writing Sexual Violence, Part 1

This is the second installment of a series about sexual assault and comics. You can find the introduction here and the first installment here.
I previously discussed some of the more common trends in the portrayal of sexual assault in comics and came to the conclusion that the most problematic instances stem from a combination of ignorance and laziness: writers who use rape as a shortcut to add depth to characters without concerning themselves with the depth of the stories themselves. As a result, they end up relying on tired tropes and stereotypes, and their stories in turn perpetuate some of the most harmful and misogynistic myths about sexual violence.
What follows is a writers’ guide to portraying sexual assault. I’m going to break this down into two sections. The first will have to do with general story decisions, and the second (which I’lll post later in the week) will address some specifics. This guide is written with comicsparticularly superhero comicsin mind, so if you’re not a comics writer, adapt as necessary to your form of choice.
So, without further ado, I present Rachel’s Guide to Writing About Sexual Assault:

  1. Don’t.
    Sexual assault, particularly retconned sexual assault, is overused to the point that even the most sensitive and respectful depictions are met with groans of ‘Oh, no, not again.’
    Take a good look at your story. Why do you think a rape is what you need for it to progress? Is there something else that could fill the same function? Unless you have a damn good reason to include rape in a story, you probably shouldn’t. Using sexual assault as a motivation-in-a-box or an equivalent trope will do nothing but steal credibility and respect from a really serious, really important subject. Plus, you’ll look like a twit.
  2. Here are some questions to ask yourself if you’re considering including a sexual assault in a story:
    -Why do I want to write a story involving sexual assault? If it’s because you think it’ll raise ratings, make your story more ‘mature,’ or identify you as sensitive to women’s issues, think again. If you are an assault survivor writing to exorcize inner demons, seriously consider whether this particular story is the best context in which to work out your issues. I don’t say this to discourage any survivors from telling their storiessomething I think is vitally importantbut I do want to stress that a fiction story may not be the most appropriate context for doing so, particularly if it involves other people’s characters or plotlines (as in a shared-universe superhero comic).
    Some of the worst stories out there come from genuinely concerned individuals who want to raise readers’ awareness of sexual assault issues. Remember that something that you care passionately about or that has affected you deeply and personally may not be the best subject for a fictional story, since it’ll be very hard to separate yourself from your work enough to get a decent perspective.
    -How will it affect the development of my characters? Even though sexual assault is a big deal, it’s rarely the single defining experience of a survivor’s life. Using it as a shortcut to character development is a cheap and ultimately ineffective trick, and it’ll come back to haunt you later.
    -How will it affect continuity? Will it matter? Why, or why not? ‘Because rape is a big deal’ is not a good enough reason.
    -How much do you actually know about sexual assault? Are you a sexual assault survivor? Do you have close friends who are? Have you ever sat in on a rape trial? Have you ever spoken with a perpetrator? If not, odds are pretty good that you have a flawed understanding of the factors surrounding sexual assault, and you’re going to need to do some serious research to write about it without falling into stereotypes.
  3. If you’re considering writing sexual assault into a character’s backstory, you should ask yourself a few more:
    -What about this character makes me think that she or he is a sexual assault survivor? Why is a history of sexual assault the best explanation for those traits? Not all women who are touch-shy, tough, misandrist, obsessively self-reliant, or paranoid are assault survivors. In fact, most probably aren’t. It goes the other way, too: a confident, caring, and generally well-adjusted individual has as much chance of being a rape survivor as the basket case to her left. Be very wary of less obvious stereotypes, here, too: to assume that a man who is raped or rapes another man is gay, or that a lesbian must have had at least one bad sexual experience with a man is every bit as offensive asif not more offensive thanmaking similarly broad assumptions about any other group.
    -Why has the issue not come up before? Why is it coming up now? ‘Because I just thought of it’ is not a good enough reason.
    -What effect will disclosure of the character’s history have on the story? Will it be a major plot event? How will it affect other characters?
    Later this week, I’ll discuss how to handle specific issues and avoid falling into stereotypes when writing about sexual assault. In the meantime, you can discuss this column, ask questions, and make comments here.

Girl-Wonder Elections: Technical Issues and Extension

Greetings, true believers!
Unfortunately, we’ve run into some technical issues with our membership page, and nominations have not gone through. If you’d like to sign up for a membership or nominate potential Board members, please email info@girl-wonder.org. Membership fees will be waived during this process. If you’ve already paid your $5 membership, please let us know so that we can check to see if the payment’s gone through and refund it.
Extended nominations will be open until Friday, February 10th. Again, please email info@girl-wonder.org with your nominations and membership requests! We apologize for any inconvenience.

Where My Girls At? NYCC, Actually

This past weekend, I attended New York Comic Con. I’ve been attending NYCC since it started in 2006 in fact, it was my first and so far only comic con and over the years I’ve noticed some changes. Now, bear in mind this is all anecdotal I don’t have official attendance stats or anything like that.
But the line for the ladies’ room was definitely longer this year.
Back in 2006 I was relatively new to comics. I’d certainly never been to anything like NYCC before (which, itself, was a smallish con, sharing the convention center with two other very confused conferences). I don’t remember seeing a lot of women there, but I do remember at least one: a really fantastic Phoenix cosplayer, who looked like she’d stepped out of the pages of the comics. And I remember seeing guys following her around not with her, not talking to her, just…staring. Creepily. And thinking to myself, ‘I will never cosplay.’
This was my fifth NYCC (there was none in 2009), and a lot has changed. The con has expanded, taking up the whole of the Javits Center for four days (well, along with New York Anime Festival, which partners with NYCC). I buy my tickets in advance now because they usually sell out, and I go for the whole weekend instead of just one day. I say hi to creators who recognize me from previous years or from Twitter. Instead of feeling shy and alone and out of my depth, I feel like I’m with my people. (One of the highlights of the con for me was getting into an increasingly-loud conversation with a complete stranger about our mutual outrage over the fate of Wally West. Where else can you find someone to shriek, ‘BUT BARRY’S DEATH WAS PERFECT!’ with you?)
And I see women everywhere: Behind tables in Artist’s Alley. Selling comics-themed jewelry and shirts. Waiting in line to meet the biggest and/or grittiest names in the industry. Wrangling passels of kids dressed as Spider-Man and Supergirl. And yes, cosplaying everything from Phoenix to Yvonne Craig’s Batgirl to Stephanie Brown’s Batgirl to gender-bent Dr. Who and Static Shock to Rainbow Brite. Heck, I even saw one woman dressed as the famous ‘Clean all the things!’ panel from Hyperbole and a Half, complete with scrub brush and word balloon. And yeah, I’ve cosplayed myself the past couple of years, and it’s been much more awesome and less creepy than my initial impressions led me to believe. I’m sure there are still creepers out there, but everyone who asked me for a picture was polite and respectful. (It might have helped that I was dressed as Guy Gardner this year. You don’t want to piss off Guy Gardner.)
Look, every time someone points out sexism in a comic book or in the industry, there’s at least one naysayer arguing that women don’t read/get/love/want/deserve superhero comics, so why bother? But big public events show that things are changing. I wasn’t at the Batman panel where DC ‘didn’t have room’ for one of their few female creators, but I was at the Womanthology panel, where the line doubled over five times and not everyone got in. I was at the Disney/Marvel Kids panel, and when I asked why Disney and Marvel hadn’t put out any books about female superheroes yet, because I was pretty sure the young girls in the room with me wanted heroes too, the rest of the audience applauded: mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters. I talked to a man whose six-year-old girl loves comics so much she’s already bagging and boarding and organizing them. I rode the bus back home with six girls in matching costumes who didn’t care about the strange looks they were getting, because they were having an awesome con.
We won’t have the gender breakdown for NYCC for a few weeks, but we do know that women made up 40% of this year’s San Diego Comic Con attendance, and I’m eager to see how NYCC compares. I’ve always said that the only events I go to where the line for the ladies’ room is shorter than the line for the men’s room are baseball games and comic cons. It looks like I’m going to have to stop saying that, and frankly I couldn’t be happier. If it means women are publicly showing their love of comics and having a damn good time doing it I’m willing to hold it for an extra five minutes.
Just no one talk about Aquaman until I’m done, okay?

Your Weekly Link Allocation, Citizen

-How DC’s previews reveal their priorities.
-An interview with the now-infamous Batgirl of SDCC, who made it her mission to ask important and uncomfortable questions of DC Comics.
-The good and the bad from the SDCC ‘Oh, You Sexy Geek!’ panel.
-Female creators are having to go to extreme lengths to get a writing gig at DC these days…
-Answering Dan DiDio.
-Not only has DC’s relaunch taken their female-creator percentage from 12% to 1%, approaching the percentage of female Popes, there are even fewer female characters Straitened Circumstances has the stats.
-On Amy Winehouse and double standards.
-And finally, the joys of cosplay.

Standard-Issue Links with Standard-Issue Lateness

First up, an apology last week’s linkpost incorrectly attributed a blog post by S.E. Smith to their blogmate Sady Doyle. It’s been corrected, and I’m sorry for the error.
Second up, a plug Girl Wonder tumblr No More Invisible Girls is looking for self-identifying female comics fans to tell us their stories.
And finally, our links:
-Fantasy fans in particular may appreciate this tumblr of Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor. They’ll be adding sci-fi ones too soon.
-Hurricane Irene failed to dissuade many women from reading comics in public.
-Some great stuff at Sequential Tart lately, in particular this piece on the opportunity represented by the DC reboot and this Barbara Gordon retrospective.
-Speaking of my personal favourite member of the Bat-Family, the New York Post has previews of BATGIRL #1!

Yes, Actually, I Do

By now the company-wide relaunch of all of DC’s titles shouldn’t be news to anyone in comics fandom, nor should the fact that with the reshuffling around of talent, DC has gone from women making up 12% of their credited creators to 1%. This has, understandably, raised a lot of concerns with fans, several of whom male and female broached those concerns at last week’s San Diego Comic Con, where they were met with deflection, jokes from male creators, and a bewildering amount of hostility from Co-Publisher Dan DiDio, who demanded to know who they should have hired.
And here’s the thing: several popular female creators were approached to take part in the relaunch, like Kelly Sue DeConnick, Marjorie M. Liu, and Rebekah Isaacs. Probably more were approached or submitted pitches that we haven’t heard about. Maybe a lot more. So yeah, I don’t entirely blame DiDio for being frustrated, if he tried to get female talent, was unable to for various reasons, and is now being taken to task for it.
But 2 women to 105 men is a pretty hefty imbalance. And I doubt 103 women were approached and turned DC down.
I’ve been reading a lot about this and the comment I keep seeing is ‘What do you want, a quota?’ People critiquing the hiring decisions are quick to deny that they want a quota and instead offer lists of female writers and artists they’d like to see in the relaunch: ‘No, I don’t want a quota, but how about Amanda Conner?’
I’ll say it: I want a quota.
This is not to say that I want DC to grab the first ten women who walk by the office and give them jobs writing and drawing comics. And I’m aware that DC doesn’t hire people who haven’t already established themselves in some way, and with good reason. Top publishers don’t take unsolicited talent. (Despite Grant Morrison’s implication that you can simply ‘send in your stuff’ to DC and be considered.)
I’m also aware that there are far more men working in the comic book industry than women. And I would assume that there are more men trying to break into the comic book industry than women, though of course it’s nearly impossible to know the stats on that. So if there’s one writing job and 9 out of 10 of the people gunning for it are male, odds are it’s going to go to a dude.
But it’s a self-perpetuating cycle. The reason there are more men trying to break into comics is because comics are still perceived as being Not For Girls. Because the industry is already male-dominated. Because the comics are mostly about (straight, white, cisgendered, able-bodied) men. Because the industry markets itself to men. So women consume manga and independent comics and webcomics, and the superhero comic book industry ignores that audience and its potential revenue.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t women trying to break into superhero comics. It just means that there are fewer women trying to break into superhero comics, because they’ve been told so often by the marketing tactics, by the covers, by the stories from the industry, by being mocked and dismissed at conventions that superhero comics are Not For Girls.
But as Laura Hudson points out beautifully, a more diverse stable of creators leads to better comics. Plus, simply by appealing to women who, you know, make up half of the world DC has the opportunity to nearly double their revenue. Twice as much money! Who doesn’t want that?
If DC wants to rectify their skewed gender ratio even a little, they need to start by mining that small pool of aspiring women more heavily than the larger pool of male creators. Again, I’m not saying DC should hire women at random or compromise their standards. But here’s a thought: why not open up a month-long call for submissions from female writers and artists who’d like to break into the industry but haven’t quite gotten there yet? Female artists can send in portfolios; female writers, pitches and scripts. Sure, you’ll have to wade through a lot of dross, but that’s what interns are for!
I’m not suggesting putting an untried artist on Detective Comics right off the (forgive me) bat. Just let her get her foot in the door. Hire female artists as inkers as a stepping stone to them becoming pencillers. Give female writers one-shots and miniseries as trial runs, or backup strips. Give women who don’t necessarily write or draw in the house style a chance, as Marvel did with Girl Comics.
And if you do that, if you open that door for women and tell them that you want to see what they can do and if you look at what they can do in good faith, with the intention of finding creators to hire among them you can easily bump that 1% up to 5%. Or 10%. Would I love to see 50% of the creative credits on DC’s titles taken by women? Of course. But even 10%, aggressively sought after, would make a difference to the market, and be an enormous show of goodwill to fans everywhere who are concerned about the current gender ratio.
Dan DiDio was asked if DC was committed to hiring more women. He didn’t exactly answer the question (‘I’m committed to hiring the absolute best writers and artists.’), but if the answer is yes, then they should show that commitment by actually hiring more women.
And if the answer is no, then they should say so, and we can all stop wasting our time.

Link Sandwiches

A slow week for links here at Gworg HQ. Here’s what we’ve got:
-Racialicious asks Are DC’s POC Titles Already in Danger?
-Clearly what DC needs is Strong Female Characters. And Kate Beaton provides, like whoa. See also all the fanart.
-And some interesting thoughts on marriage in comics from Sequential Tart.

Double Decker Linkspam

Girl Wonder apologises for the lack of a link roundup last week, due to ‘human error’, which I think is the standard term for ‘I fucked up’. To make up for it, here’s a bumper crop of links:
-Friends of Lulu is officially finished as a group. Here’s an enlightening interview with interim director Kynn Bartlett about what went wrong.
-How much has changed in the past ten years?
-An oldie but a goodie: Privilege 101.
-Richard Dawkins: just not getting it.
-The problem with publishing explained via dogs and Smurfs.
-The Dwayne McDuffie tribute Comic-Con International wouldn’t print.
-got sexism?
-Shortpacked on the DC Reboot.
-From the horse’s mouth: Spoiler was set up to die from the start. (also featuring our own Karen Healey!)