Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I Write Women Hear Me Bore - Women Comic Characters Need to Be More Than Window Dressing

Last week William Gatevackes of BrokenFrontier.com explored the prevalent idea that female characters cannot successfully carry a comic book series in his Feb 17, 2009, Guiding Lines column, entitled "No Girls Allowed". William suggests this is simply an excuse not to have to write strong female characters. He points out several other contributing reasons for the recent cancellation of several female-driven books, including She-Hulk, Manhunter, Spider-Girl and Birds of Prey and offers alternative food for thought for the female character naysayers.

Gatevackes' brief article brings to mind a few thoughts. First, being canceled doesn't necessarily mean a title wasn't a success. Just as a relationship that comes to a natural conclusion isn't a failure. Could it be things simply ran their course and did well while they did and then... stopped? End of story. There are many reasons for cancellation, sales is but one of them. Gatevackes is quick to offer a few contributing factors.

But let's look at one example.

Spider-Girl has run more or less straight ahead for twelve years and had pretty solid sales. In total I think it hit about 139 issues with a brief cancellation tucked away in there. That's an incredible success despite little promotional fanfare over all that time. I even introduced it to my niece knowing the all-ages stories would be solid and compelling even as she grew towards jaded teenhood. More on the end of that series can be found here at Comic Book Resources.

Birds of Prey made it what, 127 issues? Gatevackes comments on Dan Slott being key to She-Hulk's success. Well, Slott simply jacked into the comedy that made John Byrne's original run on the title so much fun. Slott's a funny writer and ran with the concept. I must admit that other that other writers were less successful with the jade-skinned beauty.

Gatevackes doesn't actually say these canceled comics were failures but the whole idea of his column seems to support that implication. It could be this is one of the fallacies he is trying to address so I must admit I found it funny and touch ironic that when scrolling down to his review section, we come across his review of Sabrina the Teenage Witch #100 and says,

"...the Sabrina series ends with its 100th issue. Any title that reaches 100 issues is a success, whether it is a mainstream book or not. It will be interesting to see what Archie brings us next, and new directions it allows creators to take their famous characters in the future. And I wonder when Sabrina returns, in what incarnation will she come back in?"
So a long run has to be considered a success and exploring new, creative options could be thought of as a legitimate reason to cancel a series. Gatevackes has inadvertently backed up the basic assertions of his opening paragraph and simultaneously undermined their fatalistic tone.

I love it when we write and unexpected, new aspects of our subject or questions float freely out of our pens or keyboards without our even realizing it!

The bottom line is Gatevackes is right. It's not about female characters being unable to support a book. A big part of it is that many writer's don't write interesting characters and the women so often get the short end of the stick. They're the vamp, the good girl, the good girl who's really a vamp, etc. Gail Simone has success with women characters because she writes interesting characters. Who'd have thought Rag Doll, Catman and Knockout would ever be interesting?

People whose kneejerk reaction to the cancellation of a title like Birds of Prey is to say women characters are too uninteresting or don't appeal to men, etc., are as quilty of limited thinking as the writers themselves. Don't get me worng. I'm a writer and keeping things is a challenge. It requires constantly challenging yourself and asking new questions of your characters at all times. It's exhausting. And sometimes we simply don't think of something, or at least, not in time. But keep trying people. It's so worth it!

The current state of female comic book characters in mainstream comics is discussed at length in this GeekU podcast found at Hardcorenerdity.com, the social networking site for geeks. Smart geeks. Hosts, Simon Evans, Jess Frey and Nadine are joined by Liana K, producer co-star of the also-recently-canceled Ed and Red's Night Party on Toronto's City TV. She is also a cosplayer, comic fan, sci-fi geek and fledgling comic publisher, with two issues of
Ed N' Red's Comic Strip under her belt. Their discussion of feminism in fandom is wide ranging and a lot of fun. It's the best GeekU podcast yet.

Keep checking Hardcorenerdity.com for sci-fi and fantasy updates including the world of comics and more GeekU! Liana K has blog here, though she updates irregularly.

Beavers up!


  1. The thing is that the audience for this sort of comics is mainly directed to male (hence the design of the characters) rather than women, which can be a good asset to the comic community, men just have no idea of how to create a strong female character