Thoughts on Wonder Woman Link Roundup

This is the final post of a series on Wonder Woman, in context of her recent appearance on the cover of the February 2008 issue of Playboy magazine. You can find the first three posts here:
There’s Something About Wonder Woman Introduction
There’s Something About Lynda Carter / Blogging for Choice
Less than Wonderful
In all of the preceding posts, I’ve argued that Wonder Woman as she appeared on Playboy represented an idea, not just a character. I think I’ve pretty well covered the bases in terms of what Wonder Woman means to me, so today’s going to be a roundup of links on Wonder Woman’s significance as a character and an icon.
The Legacy of Wonder Woman
Wonder-Working Power
Wonder Woman Strong as Ever Even at 65
Dignity in Satin: Part One
Dignity in Satin: Part Two
Dignity in Satin: Part Three
Dignity in Satin: Part Four
Wonder Woman Museum
The Inheritance of Same-and-Other, Human-and-Amazon: A Brief Review of Wonder Woman #14
Loving Wonder Woman
Diana Prince: Wonder Woman
The Significance of Gail Simone
The Right and Wrong Way to Write Wonder Woman
That’s Not Power
Post more links and share your thoughtshere.

Less Than Wonderful

This is the third post in a series looking at the cultural and personal significance of Wonder Woman as a character and a symbol.
I’ve spent the previous two posts introducing a few perspectives on Wonder Woman, but thus far, I’ve skirted fairly clear of both my own attitude toward the character and how it relates to the cover of the February 2008 issue of Playboy. So, that’s where we’re going today.
Much of the following is copied and pasted from something I posted in a forum discussion last week, because it’s the best I’ve managed so far to articulate my thoughts on this issue:
I don’t find the pretty girl-in-body-paint offensive. I’m basically in favor of pretty girls in body paint.
I don’t even find the girl-in-body-paint-as-Wonder Woman offensive. As others have commented, it’s no more revealing than her costume has been in the comics.
I don’t find the idea of Wonder Woman as sexy offensive.
I don’t find the idea of a centerfold dressing as, pretending to be, acting in the role of, or identifying with Wonder Woman offensive.
I do object to the fact that Playboy, which should really know better after all, they go out of their way to come off as culturally savvy coopted THE feminist icon, removed all the strength and spirit (which is part of what’s so sexy about Wonder Woman in the first place) and reduced her to nothing but a limp smexxx object.
I object to their claims that they were dressing Tiffany Fallon as Wonder Woman in homage to Lynda Carter an outspoken feminist who has made it very, very clear that to her, Wonder Woman is all about feminism and strength.
I object to the fact that they chose to use that particular image in the heat of the first presidential election with a viable female and feminist candidate, who has likewise been reduced in popular media to nothing but a characature of feminine weakness.
I object to the fact that DC / TimeWarner, which is notoriously overprotective of their trademarks, has refused to comment on this in the process, awarding it their implicit approval.
I object to DC / TimeWarner effectively pimping out the most powerful female character in comics and the most enduring feminist icon of the twentieth century.
And this makes me a million times angrier than the WonderThong and SexySexyDanger of the WW comics, because this ISN’T limited to the comics. It’s Playboy, which is a whole other scale of exposure and cultural impact. This is not misuse of Wonder Woman the character it’s misuse of Wonder Woman the symbol, which, in my book, is a hell of a lot more important.
Yes, Wonder Woman is sexy. Yes, the early WW comics do cheerfully display a good number of William Moulton Marston’s kinks. But at the same time, Wonder Woman is maybe the ONLY superhero created explicitly for girls, to be a visibly strong woman at a time when there really weren’t any of that stripe in popular culture: Marston wrote about her creation, ‘’Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.’ She still represented that in 1971, when she made what until now was her best-known magazine cover appearance, and in the mid-seventies, when Lynda Carter played her on television.
And she still represents that today.

There’s Something About Lynda Carter / Blogging for Choice

This is the second post in a series looking at the cultural and personal significance of Wonder Woman as a character and a symbol.
Today, it just so happens that this Wonder Woman series is intersecting with Blog for Choice day. Make of that what you will.
I have never watched Lynda Carter on TV. Never saw the show only the few stills I’ve stumbled past online, usually on the way to something else.
The first time I saw Lynda Carter was on April 25, 2004, at the March for Women’s Lives. I knew who she was, of course name and face but not much more.
She was not the most famous speaker at that rally, nor the most important, nor the most qualified. She was not someone for whom I was waiting with bated breath.
But she was Wonder Woman.
If there had ever been any question in my mind of who Wonder Woman was, of what she meant, it was resolved the moment Lynda Carter stood at the microphone and began to speak.
Lynda Carter is equal measures self-possessed and passionate, sweetness and steel. She’s smart, and she’s got this incredible strength and resolve and dignity and humor she’s real, yes, but there’s something to her that seems like more.
And I remember thinking, crystal-clear, Yes. This is Wonder Woman.
‘I knew that she was, and is, a character that had the potential of being very influential in terms of how women see themselves, and how men see a woman being. Yes she can be beautiful, and she can be all that stuff, but she’s smart and she can kick my butt.
‘It was a very conscious decision on my part to play against what was expected. I never played sexuality. I never tried to ‘play’ Wonder Woman. She didn’t think she was all that! She’s not all full of herself, and certainly not against men…but for women! It was just about being who she was, and trying to connect to that secret self that we have.’
-Lynda Carter
You can discuss this column and the rest of the Something About Wonder Woman series here.

There’s Something About Wonder Woman Introduction

For the last week, I’ve been struggling to articulate my feelings about the cover of the February 2008 Playboy (Link probably NSFW). I know that I am very, very upset; I know that I feel deeply violated and profoundly hurt. I am angry appalled and disgusted.
It’s taken me longer to figure out why.
It’s not the nudity. It has nothing to do with comics, or with the general sexualization of female superheroes the Valerie Perrine Supergirl cover doesn’t push any of those buttons. And while I have the utmost respect for Lynda Carter, and the comparison between her and Fallon seems tenuous at best, that’s not it, either.
It’s because it’s Wonder Woman.
And I don’t even follow her comic.
But the, for me, this isn’t about comics or comics culture. My sexism-in-comics radar is pretty highly honed Hell, it’s part of my job. But this hit me from a completely different angle, in a totally separate and much deeper part of my gut.
There’s no denying that Wonder Woman has been the subject of some pretty horrid sexism in comics just check out the magical disappearing wonder thong.
This is different. This is bigger.
This is the first in a multi-part series in response to the February 2008 Playboy cover, because in the process of trying to articulate my own reaction, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s far too complex an issue to cover in one column. In the following posts, I’m going examine the cultural and personal significance of Wonder Woman and look at a lot of issues and perspectives associated with Wonder Woman, pornography, and feminism.
Bonus Question: What does Wonder Woman mean to you, and why?

Catch-Up

Whew, what a week! What a month, really. Or couple of months. This week’s post is going to be a series of short newsbits while I play catch-up from two operations, the death of a good friend, three family visits, and the convention season; and get ready to go to a friend’s wedding across the country next week, while putting the final touches on the Girl-Wonder Art Et Cetera Auction (which starts in gulp three days), writing a series of articles for Sequential Tart, preparing the abstract for a conference paper, and looking into putting a deposit on a studio space with two friends. Oh, and I have a birthday coming up. And no, I won’t tell you how old I’m going to beyou’ll tease.
This past weekend, I joined Girl-Wonder members Livia Penn and Noah Brand at Girl-Wonder’s first-ever convention table, at Stumptown Comics Fest. To say that it rocked would be an understatementwe were totally bowled over by the tremendously positive reactions we got from both fans and professionals, and from the number of both who were familiar with and fond of Girl-Wonder. Next week, I’ll be teaming up with Noah and Livia to take over the world post a detailed con report, complete with photos of our booth and scans of the awesome sketchbook we had there.
If you just can’t get enough of my witty, incisive commentary, you can get a double dose this week by stopping by Project Rooftop, where I’m a guest reviewer on the current feature, Spoiler Warning: A Stephanie Brown Special. The designs are awesome (I WANT KNEE-HIGH RED SPATS SO BAD!), and we have long philosophical discussions about superhero footwear.
And, a bit of mixed news: after next week’s Stumptown Con Report, Inside Out is going to go biweekly. I have way too much on my plate right now, and I’d rather post half as many good, polished columns on time than twice as many rushed, late jumbles. I’ll try to make up for the schedule change with more, better contentand maybe on off-weeks I’ll do some brief linkblogging or post fan art. Who knows? Not I…

Speak of Strange Adventures

by Samantha Robertson
Rachel Edidin, your regularly scheduled InsideOut blogger, is a hell of a writer and a hell of an editor. At the moment, though, she’s also a woman hopped up on quite an assortment of pharmaceutical-grade painkillers, the kind that pack such a mind-addling punch that they have an appreciable shady-street-corner market value. And that, ladies and gents, is why you are reading my words this afternoon.
As well as being one of Rachel’s friends, I also happen to be one of her coworkers. Yes, I too am a woman working in comics. As a woman involved in this business I do, of course, find myself frustrated by many of the stereotypes that plague my beloved industry. But the stereotypes that bug me the most? I bet they’re not the ones you’d think . . . They’re not any of the stereotypes that have to do with the physical representation of female characters in mainstream comics. My issues have nothing to do with how my gender affects my relationships with others in the industry (honestly, it’s never come up; in this regard, I’ve been blessed to work with wonderful and, above all, professional people). They aren’t actually anything related to gender, sexuality, or the authenticity of fictional representation at all.
So what are the comics industry stereotypes that bug me the most, that set my teeth on edge and never fail to bring out the verbal pugilist in me? They’re the stereotypes so frequently associated with one of my most beloved comics institutions: the comic shop. You know the stereotypes I mean . . . That comic shops are dark, shady little dens of iniquity, boys’ clubs that range from dismissive to downright hostile when faced with anyone of the female persuasion, the concept of dusting, and anything not currently ensconced in one of Wizard Magazine’s ‘top (insert multiple of five here)’ lists. That they are havens for the socially inept. That they’re all populated by people who make you think of that Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons.
These aggravating stereotypes about comic shops, and the people who work in them, hit very close to home for me because before coming to Dark Horse Comics in October of 2005 I had the privilege of working at a really great comic shop—the Strange Adventures Comic Book Shop in Halifax, Nova Scotia, up on the east coast of Canada. More than anything else, my time at Strange Adventures cemented me not only as someone who loves comics, but as someone who can’t imagine working in any other industry. Granted, I’m biased, but in my mind the place represents everything that a good comic shop can be; it’s well-organized, well-stocked, and family-friendly, a place staffed by men and women who really love what they do.
What I find particularly interesting is that after years of making a point of visiting new comic shops whenever I get the chance, I can say with some authority that I’ve seen an awful lot of comic shops in my day, and I’m ever more convinced that places like Strange Adventures aren’t exceptions to some unwritten rule; they are, in fact, the norm. Sure, I’ve been to a handful of rather less impressive comics retail establishments, but by and large the places I’ve been have each brought a smile to my face. They’re devoted small businesses run by people who really care about what they do, people who came to this industry not because they wanted to create little club houses for themselves but because they really dig comic books. They are places that are very inviting once you get over the initial sensory overload that comes with being suddenly faced with an entire shop’s worth of colorful product (there is, I think, a certain special kind of vertigo that comes with that first moment you stroll into a really packed comics shop). They are places where, in general, as much as budgets allow—and budgets are something you really learn to appreciate after working in a small business for a while—an honest attempt is made to try to be open-minded in stock ordering and satisfying customer requests. They are places where you’ll get by best if you have a sense of humor (just don’t forget to have a sense of humor about yourself, too). They are places that are, in short, fun.
Now I’m not going through all of this with you good folks because I think I need to win you over. To be honest, I rather expect I’m preaching to the choir here. Since you are all comics enthusiasts yourselves, I’m betting you each have at least one comic shop that you frequent and enjoy. The reason I’m bringing this up is because I really think it is important that those of us who love comics become more vocal and encouraging when it comes to praising those places that are getting it right. Don’t forget that when people bring up those stereotypes about comic shops, they are disparaging places that have earned your patronage, and that when people speak with disdain about comic shop customers, they’re talking about you. It’s in our best interests to disperse these myths and fight against these assumptions, so I say unto you, spread the word about your favorite shops! Get your friends and families to check them out! The next time someone rolls their eyes at you when you say you’re heading down to check out this week’s new comics, with that ‘oh, that place’ look in their eyes, drag ’em along with you and help open their eyes! The next time you’re looking for part-time work, why not see if your local shop needs an extra hand? Maybe you can help them out with the next Free Comic Book Day. And if you’re a comic fan wondering what to do with your life, perhaps someone who hasn’t found that special shop in your area, have you considered starting your own? Being a comics shop entrepreneur is a hell of a lot of work, but there is no doubt in my mind that the increasing numbers of informed, intelligent, dedicated comics retailers that I see around the world are one of the best things this industry has going for it.

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.