Labor Day never meant anything to me until a few years ago when my globetrotting friend Arlo suggested we actually begin celebrating human endeavor.
In a nutshell, every Labor Day I make sure to give some of my money to the independent artists, programmers, and content creators whose work I enjoy and, further, to highlight their work on my blog so that others may find them, too.
In putting together my Labor Day picks this year, I decided to run with a theme.
Women in Comics.
If you follow such things, you know Batgirl showed up at the San Diego Comic Con to ask Where are the women?
So, where are the women? Well, they’re right here and they seem to be doing fine without Marvel or DC.
Meredith’s comics have great pacing, she’s capable of everything from explosive action to capturing the subtle, fleeting emotions we haven’t even bothered to name.
Meredith primarily writes and illustrates Octopus Pie, a webcomic about a couple of young women living in Brooklyn. Her work is funny and smart, driven by a strong voice and well expressed through her distinct visual style.
I can only speak from my own experience as a “Woman in Comics”, and I usually choose not to. In the context of interviews it always seems irrelevant and forced. I’ve found that many women my age – whose work amasses years of experience in both major and small publishing, self-publishing, webcomics, all measures of freelance, and studio work – are reluctant to bring their gender into a discussion of their craft. It simply has nothing to do with the ability to get the job done (which we’re also quite busy doing) and serves to “other” women in discussion of a male-dominated industry.
I’d never play favorites in an article like this but if I did, Vera’s the one. She’s weird. She’s a curmudgeon. She’s brilliant.
At age sixteen, Vera was writing and illustrating her own webcomic, Return to Sender. It became a bit of a legend in the webcomics world and people still ask about it at conventions. It’s worth checking out even though it’s been mothballed for the past several years.
Vera contributes to the Flight Anthologies but what you’ll really want to find is a copy of her recently released book, Anya’s Ghost. It’s a twisty little story and goes in pleasantly unexpected directions.
Jen’s work on Koko Be Good is breathtaking. Her lines sway and dance, it all feels very natural, as if she somehow figured out how to paint with wind.
Just this summer, Raina won an Eisner Award for her autobiographical story, Smile. That’s the big one, the Oscar of comics and it was well deserved.
Smile is colorful and has a timeless element to it. For me, I was drawn back to middle school and the story was like having a friend along who could understand all the same problems and embarrassments of growing up. It’s exactly the book I want to get my nieces when they hit sixth grade.
Raina also logs plenty of hours on the Babysitter’s Club graphic novels and has a nice collection of webcomics.
Erika Moen has the best biographical webcomic I’ve ever read. DAR: A Super Girly Top Secret Comic Diary. It’s probably not safe for work or kids but I guess that all depends on perspective.
Erika’s artwork improves dramatically from start to finish of the comic but the real beauty is in how she writes. Erika is incredibly authentic and after a while it just feels like you’re sitting in a room with the funniest most awesome little punk lesbian friend you’ve ever had.
And then she farts.
There are others women in comics. Dozens. Hundreds. Thousands. Go find and support Hope Larsen, Kate Beaton, Katie Shanahan, Jess Fink, Danielle Corsetto, Alison Bechdel, Hailey Bachrach & Bridget Underwood, Emily Carroll or any of the others.
I realize that the Women in Comics issue is more complicated than just pointing to some awesome women who are brave enough to pursue their creative passions. Marvel and DC are the big houses and it’s scary how underrepresented women are in the core of the industry.
On one level, it’s just dumb comic book drama but the roots go much deeper into the heart of entertainment, media and society. Stories reflect and shape our world and it’s appropriate to ask difficult questions about their content. Do these stories resonate with our values? What do they expose about the human condition?
There is a grand old tradition in literature of marginalizing, erasing, and dismissing the work of anyone outside the demographic in power. You can treat them like anomalies, divorce them from history and context; you can patronize and infantilize their creative work; and, of course, you can tuck them neatly away in genres outside the mainstream.
Artists have a responsibility beyond entertainment but audiences also have a responsibility beyond consumption. What we support through purchases or patronage changes the shape of the world.
If you believe having women comic creators is important, go support them with your patronage and encourage others to do the same.
Marvel and DC were born from a core audience of men and boys who fantasized about having super strength and a pretty girl on their arm.
I’m one of them, I can’t help it, maybe I’m a victim of my culture or maybe it’s in my code? Either way, the world of comics has some systemic issues and change will only happen if people make a conscious efforts as consumers to pick and choose their entertainment wisely.
So yeah, maybe it is time for DC and Marvel to make some big changes… Or maybe they’re better off just getting left behind? It is a bit like complaining that Seventeen doesn’t have enough quizzes for men. It just doesn’t.
The real problem is when readers feel that publishers are telling them what sorts of story they, as girls, “should” want to read. “You’ll never be a real fan, sweetheart, but look! We made this comic just for you.” Lots of girls are going to want the pink book encrusted with hearts and ribbons, but lots of other girls would prefer to see someone’s entrails ripped out. There’s no one-size-fits-all girl book. Girls like what they like because that’s what they like, not because they’re girls.