There’s been a lot of women in comics related chatter all over the internet the last week or so and most of it is at least a little frustrating. So I reached out to fellow a fellow blogger – creator of the crazy popular and yet fairly recent DC Women Kicking Ass Tumblr blog, Sue – for a chat. Sue has made a huge mark for herself in less than six months – becoming a serious resource for images, commentary, and information, especially as it relates to women and superheroes. As some of this week’s news related directly to Sue’s petition to DC regarding the ridiculous DC 75th Anniversary logo which bizarrely leaves out Wonder Woman, I thought Sue might have some thoughts on this week’s craziness and beyond. The following is an edited version of our two plus hour conversation on yahoo messenger…
KELLY: So why do you think we keep running into this idea that women shouldn’t read comics, or that nobody cares if they do? It’s like saying women shouldn’t watch TV or listen to music or read books…it’s strange and I don’t know why comics seems to be the medium that it’s acceptable to say women shouldn’t be a part of.
DCWKA: I think comics changed sometime in the 70’s from a kids medium to a male medium. I can't quite put my finger on it. But the idea that girls would read comics just evaporated somehow. I think the direct market certainly drove the audience that way.
KELLY: I agree that the direct market is definitely our biggest problem because that leads into access and I also agree that at some point there was a switch, but I just can't understand the kind of blind fear about women reading comics that I keep running into. It seems to really scare some people (otherwise why such hate?), although in fairness a TON of people (and most especially men in my experience thus far) are really in favor of some change in the industry.
DCWKA: There is a fear. And I find it sad. I don't think it reflects the whole readership, but a small vocal part. I meet guys at cons all the time and I rarely run into anyone who isn’t willing to chat and treat me like an equal fan. I think most fans are smart enough to know the more people reading the better. They love comics and want to pass that love along.
KELLY: I have to say, with no disrespect intended to Brigid Alverson on sister site Robot 6, I was really upset by some things that she said in her posts last week. I was sorry to see Brigid - a woman, a writer, and a comics fan (even if it's not superheroes) kind of reinforcing the "superheroes are designed for boys and read by boys" argument this past week. It feels a bit like a betrayal considering how hard some of us ladies are working to effect small change on this issue.
DCWKA: Yes, I was very disappointed. Very surprising. I spoke with Brigid and told her I didn't agree. It feeds into old stereotypes best left behind. Like sports are for boys. Brigid's view was that they played into the old tropes of boys rescuing girls. And I told her that had changed.
KELLY: But even if superhero comics DO fall into those old tropes (which I think is more rare these days) that doesn't mean that's how it HAS to be...even if every single book on the shelves was boys saving girls...does that mean we shouldn't ask for something better and smarter and with more diversity? I don't like the attitude that this is how it is and so this is how it is. And while I have no interest on piling onto Brigid, there's something really upsetting about a woman that obviously loves comics, validating the argument that superheroes are for boys, which of course simultaneously invalidates any women that already likes and read superheroes, and also further instills this false idea that continues to make it harder for that genre to make small changes to become more diverse.
DCWKA: Change is good and needs to happen. Society changes, readers change. I really felt there were some broad strokes that were off in her post. I'm not sure Brigid has read a superhero book with a female lead in a while. I told her to read Batwoman. I hope she does.
KELLY: We should chip in and send it to her. In fact, I've got the hardcover, maybe I'll just send her mine. Brigid…if you’re reading…you want to try it out?
DCWKA: Ha. I was thinking the same.
KELLY: If that's true - that she hasn't read a superhero book with a female lead in a while - and I'm not trying to be a jerk, but if that's true, then why is she talking about superheroes at all?
DCWKA: I don’t know. Some of it seemed to be "I don't know where to start". But in that regard Batwoman is perfect because issue #0 is out next month. I think her viewpoint was based on a past impression honestly. But I feel good about my conversation with her and she seemed open to trying the book, so good for her! She was willing to listen. That helps. God, I've had other conversations with people about comics where I might as well have been speaking to a wall.
KELLY: Agreed - willingness to listen is a huge part of the equation that is too often missing. But, before we move on from Brigid (unfortunately)...she did another upsetting thing to my mind in her Robot 6 reporting on your tumblr post about the 75th Anniversary Logo...in which she basically alluded in her last paragraph that none of us should care about these things because there are other "real womens' issues" out there that we should be focusing on.
DCWKA: It was little backhanded maybe?
KELLY: Yes. It's an argument I despise and one that gets us nowhere - it's also an argument that I expect from comic fans on boards and forums, but not by "professional comics reporters/bloggers". First this argument assumes that women who care about these “insignificant comic things” do not ALSO care about these other "real issues" and are not active in them in other parts of our lives - which is patently false. And secondly, it undercuts the fact that media IS important. Especially for young girls, as it shapes their perceptions of the world and what they are allowed and not allowed to do/be/have/etc. while they’re still figuring all of that out.
DCWKA: Yes. I went on a bit of a Twitter rant after that. (which is why I love Twitter). Of course in the scheme of things it IS small, but then again in the scheme of things a publication devoted to writing about comics probably shouldn't be trying to say something in comics isn't important in the "big picture”.
KELLY: Exactly. The article (both hers and yours) are posted on a comics site – devoted to comics news. We’re all here for news about comics, not DADT, or the latest abortion rights issues, or equal pay…we have other sites and programs we go to for those things.
DCWKA: And specific to the logo - if you have a something that excludes 50% of society that is a problem. It's not like the analogy of "well football is all guys so don't be surprised if you see all guys" If you have DC making an investment in female characters like Wonder Woman, Batgirl, BoP, and Batwoman and then don't include them – that’s not right.
KELLY: It’s also just shooting themselves in the foot. I mean it makes no sense from an investment standpoint. Why promote and make these books if you're not going to continue to promote the characters and the franchising of those characters – which we all know is where the big money is.
DCWKA: From an investment point of view and business point of view it’s backwards. Think about the whole marketing picture - if you don't promote the characters then why have them? There's such an opportunity sitting there ready for the taking - grab it!
KELLY: So do you have any thoughts on the 75th anniversary logo stuff you'd like to share? I saw a tweet of yours today regarding Didio...
DCWKA: Yes. So apparently someone asked him and he said DC Comics didn't put out the logo. Which they probably didn't as Warner Brothers handles licensing and stuff. But it doesn't really matter if DiDio knew or not but that someone put a logo together that was all men. The logo was developed for joint marketing with an online site for 75th Anniversary swag - you can make you own hat or button or whatever with the logo. It's not like the site doesn't have other stuff with Wonder Woman and, I might add, some awesome Catwoman sneakers, so they know there's a market for female hero stuff. It’s just puzzling.
KELLY: Yeah, I find it a little disturbing. Not only because Wonder Woman is the obvious number three in the “DC Trinity”...but the idea that you'd add Flash and Green Lantern and STILL not get Wondy in there...very disturbing to me about their views of what comics...and the last 75 years are all about.
DCWKA: I understand the push behind the Green Lantern, as they have the upcoming movie. But the Flash? Instead of Wonder Woman? I know he's selling books but this is to celebrate 75 years, not the last 5. And really this thing can get fixed in about an hour. It's not like the graphic is that elaborate. Pick four female characters and do it. Man, I'd buy everything with a logo with Batgirl, Supergirl, Wonder Woman, and Oracle or someone else. The only stuff you can buy now seems to feature old school Barbara Gordon Batgirl, headband wearing Supergirl and pre-crisis Wonder Woman.
KELLY: Well I would love a ladies 75th Anniversary logo...but I really think they need a Wondy with Bats and Superman...I'm not sure separate but equal would satisfy me here.
DCWKA: Yes, that would be my preference too. Maybe the Trinity plus Green Lantern. But my strategy was not to say "replace it" but "supplement it". I felt that would work better - if it works at all
KELLY: I was actually pleasantly surprised to see fans’ reactions to Wonder Woman’s absence – and the feeling that it was wrong for her to be left out. Maybe they need three- one "all boys", one "all girls", and one with just the trinity (plus GL if they must). I just bought a Wonder Woman business card holder the other day and I would buy the hell out of another one if it had the "ladies logo" on the front. Not that I need two business card holders...hell, I barely need one.
DCWKA: Yes, three would be great. Pick your logo! Again the site lets you build you own swag so WB would be ponying up two new graphics, not paying for production. We'll see. I was told righteous rage lead nowhere with DC
KELLY: In my experience thus far righteous rage (even with massive hits and comments) leads nowhere with DC or Marvel.
DCWKA: Except for Stephanie Brown.
KELLY: Yeah. That was the one time it appeared to work. (eta: and getting Wonder Woman her 600th issue!) You love the new Batgirl book, right?
DCWKA: Yeah, I think Batgirl is a terrific book. I think some of the problem people have with Steph as Batgirl is the treatment of Cass. And I can see that. It's too bad you couldn't have both characters. I hope it changes. Soon.
KELLY: That's certainly my problem with the book (Steph). I think Batgirl is...a good book all things considered, and I'm glad it exists and I will continue to support it with my dollars because we need more books with non-sexualized good female roles models...but I definitely don't think it’s a great book when I compare it to something like the old Batgirl series with Cass. But this idea of - is Batgirl a good book, or a terrific book, or just a book - dovetails nicely into David Brother's 4th Letter post about BoP we were talking about.
KELLY: I think maybe we're going to disagree a bit but I'd like to hear your thoughts about BoP and David’s post...
DCWKA: I discussed it with David. I am not a fan of Benes. I think he's not as bad as David says but Benes is just not a favorite of mine. And I've been honest. "Benes is the price you pay for BoP" I think the art was okay for me in the first few issue. The coloring I didn't like but it didn't overwhelm me as much as say, when he did JLA. But I wasn't happy with David’s comment “do you read it because there's slim pickings for lady comics."
KELLY: I can see why you didn't like that comment, but in all honesty, his comment really hit home for me. Because while I am a huge and well-documented fan of Gail Simone, and I can acknowledge that perhaps I unconsciously hold her to higher standard, I don't think the book is that good. Even beyond Benes art.
DCWKA: Yes, I've seen you write that.
KELLY: I hate the art. In fact, if I wasn't writing this column I would probably not be buying the book on principle to protest the art, even if it meant missing out on Simone and all those characters I like. But in truth I have had a problems with the book beyond the art – which disappoints me – stuff like the striptease dream scene, a cruel joke in issue #1 that unnecessarily denigrated (I thought) cheerleaders, among a few other more serious things – some of which the internet has been a little wild over.
DCWKA: I love the characters. I think that she's a terrific writer. Was the first arc an out of the park home run? No. But I still think its good. The dream sequence? I wrote about that. I thought it went on too long.
KELLY: I like the characters too...and nobody else is writing them and so the question is do I buy the book because it's "all I have"? I think there's some sad truth to that. I love Gail, I believe she'll turn it around and I don't want to suggest any writer censor themselves - especially when they're going for funny, because you have to willing to bend rules when you go there - but what point did that "sexy dream sequence” serve? The answer is NONE. It did not add to the book, it didn't tell us anything we didn't know, it wasn't funny, and it didn't further the plot (if anything it just held it up)...so I don't see any reason for it to be there except for a chance for crazy out of control cheesecake and to further sexualize characters that are already hyper-sexualized. And I think Gail's better than that. And perhaps unfairly, I expect her to be better than that.
DCWKA: I think the dream sequence would have worked better if they hadn't been in their costumes but looked more like the Cliff Chiang cover. The way it appeared, honestly, I had to read it twice to get the joke.
KELLY: But…I mean...what was the joke? If there was something funny about it, it's still lost on me.
DCWKA: I also think the book has had to overcome the art in that they've had so many artists. It's really too bad. I am glad Jamal Igle is joining. I like the characters, and there is still so much story to tell. Do I love Hawk and Dove in there? No, the book is already filled with interesting characters and I want the originals to get more panel time. But when those characters get going and Gail is flying that book is a song - but the first arc was a bit frenetic. I compare it to seeing an old friend for the first time in a while. You both talk so fast to catch up that it leaves you exhausted and not quite sure what was said.
KELLY: That’s a pretty good analogy…but four issues in and no sign of letting up? Anyway, I love Gail and believe she can turn it around (if someone can make me fall in love with Wonder Woman, that person can do anything as far as I’m concerned) I just don't think this book is good enough to be a must - which is what I think what David is talking about a little. Is it the "MUST HAVE female book”...or is it really just “THE female book”?
DCWKA: I didn’t take it that way. I think he was saying “ugh this art is horrible why do you put up with it, because there is nothing else?” And do you do it to support the book? And I told him no book lasts over 100 issues and sells out multiple times by appealing to a niche.
KELLY: Hmmm…I'll have to look at it again...but I thought he was more saying "this book - especially the art - just isn't that good, but everyone's talking about it and buying it...but is that because it's the only game in town”...you know? Regardless, Gail is a powerhouse and I’m not ready to give up on the book – especially with Igle slated to take over on art.
DCWKA: It’s natural I suppose that we want the one female creator at DC to be great. It’s not like the odds get to be spread across multiple creators!
KELLY: It's true. It's a lot of pressure on her.
DCWKA: I've said before, Gail isn't just a comic book writer for some fans. She is THE comic book writer. She writes strong females and non-stereotyped gays. People see themselves in her characters. That's a lot to put on one writer.
KELLY: I agree. I think that's why I expect more from BoP, and right now...I don't feel I'm getting it. It may not be fair, but it’s how I feel.
DCWKA: Everybody sees books different ways. But it's good you’re honest. I am too - I wasn't crazy about some of her Wonder Woman. There are no true Gods in comic book writing (except for Alan Moore perhaps!). Well I hope you get there with BoP. And I am hoping Batwoman is great too. I just reread the trade this week. Honestly the first arc, Elegy, was good - not great. Except for the art, which was fantastic. But Go was sublime. I hope J.H. Williams can pull it off.
KELLY: You and me both. Go is one of the single best books/arcs I’ve ever read – easily the single best superheroine story I’ve ever read…it’s everything I’d been waiting for in superheroines…but that’s a lot to live up to. Hey, while we’re here I wanted to ask you about the Women Reading in Public tumblr you did for Read Comics in Public Day this year.
DCWKA: I was thrilled. There was such passion. There is such a potential opportunity sitting there for the taking. These women made an effort to be included because they care. And publishers don't have to do much to capitalize.
KELLY: I agree, I think the effort and actual change they have to make is very small in the scope of things.
DCWKA: Exactly! Basically an investment in marketing, awareness outside the direct market would bring them new readers to already existing books. It kills me. I mean, Batgirl is just a huge opportunity. Batwoman huge, HUGE. Go where the women are. Don't expect them to find you. My god the Batwoman story is awesome. Why aren't they having it reviewed in books/ magazines/publications women read? And modify the pitch - Batwoman is a woman driven to serve after having to leave the army. She's a detective, a vigilante. She has a great dad. The fact she's a bat? Tangent point. Batgirl - college student by day, crime fighter by night.
KELLY: No, no, I totally agree. And I think access and pitch are a huge part of the issue and they’re missing the boat. It might not pay off immediately in the form of huge sales, but eventually it would - and the immediate result will be a change in the perception of comics, which I think is critical – especially with superheroes. There’s this perception I think that superhero comics aren’t for women and I feel it’s a very chicken or the egg thing. Did women decide that X isn't for them and now the industry is re-enforcing it? Or did the industry decide and now women are re-enforcing it? Maybe a bit of both.
DCWKA: I think women want strong action heroes. Do they want them in skimpy costumes? Probably not.
KELLY: Agreed. I mean, what was it in 2007 when that studio head - Rubinov I think - said they weren't going to be making any more films with leading women...and you just have to look at it and say..."you're doing female leads wrong". It's not the female part of that that's screwing it up...it's your execution.
DCWKA: But that's what is so frustrating about a Wonder Woman movie that can’t seem to get made. The thinking seems to be - 'well Catwoman bombed, Supergirl bombed, Elektra bombed. So let's not bother trying to get it right – let’s just move on and say women leads don’t work in films' - meanwhile we're on our second Hulk movie, which bombed.
KELLY: Yeah, it's hard to take the "well this bombed therefore we won't/can’t do that" seriously when The Hulk is out there like this big giant green failure…that spawned a SECOND giant green failure.
DCWKA: Did you see the treatment that was done by Ramon Perez for a potential web comic with Big Barda? Cameron Stewart did one with Zatanna too.
DCWKA: I posted on the Barda one. It was adorable. I wish they would do these. Now that's a way to get some female readers on board.
KELLY: Oh wow (I just found it). That looks great too!
DCWKA: Yeah, it’s like Wednesday Comics done via digital.
KELLY: Well the idea of Wednesday Comics done digital is a good one - and I'm certainly trying to embrace the digital and how it might hopefully expand the field of potential readers - but part of the beauty of WC was the format…which I ADORED.
DCWKA: Yeah the format was great, but I just mean out of continuity stories that any reader of any age can jump on was key. Give new artists a chance, give new writers a chance.
KELLY: Add to that “give new readers a chance” and I think we’ve got the future slogan of comics all worked out. What a wonderful world it would be. I'm dying for that freaking Ben Caldwell Wonder Woman.
DCWKA: Ben Caldwell's Wonder Woman is like that - I know you and I agree on the one.
KELLY: Yes, I 100% agree on that - and we should probably end there – in 100% agreement. :) So thanks for taking the time out of your schedule to talk to me for She Has No Head! Sue, I’d love to have you back sometime.
DCWKA: Thanks for having me – and anytime!
You can follow Sue on her tumblr site DCWOMENKICKINGASS and on her twitter (where she is kicking my sorry ass in followers) at: http://twitter.com/dcwomenkicknass