Saturday, November 18, 2006

Assorted Thoughts & Reactions

Assorted Thoughts & Reactions

I haven't really sat down and read the comments & the emails & the reactions until the last couple of days. When I first wrote the memoir, I was scared to death of the reaction I would receive. Now, after reading nearly a hundred emails and general reactions to the piece, I have come to this conclusion --

--that I sorely underestimated the support male comic book fans have for women in comics.

Every single message I received from men was positive and reaffirming not only of my blog but on the need to have respect for women both in the industry and in the comics themselves.

I wrote a couple of blog postings a while back basically saying "it's a lost cause why fight it" regarding comics feminism. "Give the market what it wants," I wrote, lying passive on the ground and prepared to let whatever rebellious spark I had left in me twinkle away into nothingness. It's very easy to do this, to retreat into the cave of what has always been familiar to you, to parrot the same talking points and fantasize that one day you'll be let back into the "club" because all you know is that goddamned club.

Oh, yes, give the market what it wants. The Market. The answer to everything.

But what exactly does this market -- male comic fans -- want?

I read a hell of a lot more voices in favor of women's rights in comics and against the depiction of sexualized violence against female characters than I ever dreamed of. Voices from across the comic-collecting spectrum -- bloggers, Comicon/Newsarama/CBR crowd, alternative comix fans, mainstream comic fans. Surely they are all part of this Market.

I also received emails from many professionals in the industry, including one that just about made me sail out of my chair at work. Imagine looking at a flashing button on your phone and having the receptionist say: "Hi, you have God on line 4, would you like to take it?" This particular person's email just about made my millennium; the mere fact of receiving it and the kind words within gave me a tremendously renewed hope about comics, and about the people within in the industry.

But actually, getting the words of support from every person that dropped a line my way made my millennium; touched me deeper than I know how to express. It has made all that happened before...if not "worth" it, at least something I can process.


While I still feel that a degree of "cheesecake" in comics is ok, I am also no longer naive enough to believe that it has no effect on the way men see women, or that it doesn't objectify them. It is a very complicated subject and I don't feel I am the best objective judge to make these "calls" or to suggest concrete solutions. I have inhabited a mostly male social circle for my entire life. So as a "feminist" blogger all I can really do at the moment for the cause is tell my personal story. Since my name has entered Google Eternity twinned with "vaginal mishap" and other such topics I feel I've paid my dues in this respect.


My friend's health is doing much better, thanks to all who've asked.


I was going to post this when Robert Altman died a couple of days ago, but after just reading a comment by Elayne referencing it now I've just got to do it. It's from one of my all-time favorite movies, Popeye. Enjoy.


  1. Now I'm gonna have that song stuck in my head all day!

    Reading the latest entry makes me just a little bit proud of the comic book community that we (as I hoped we would) have enough decent people who will be touched by a story such as yours. I hope that the future brings some amazing goodies your way.

  2. "But what exactly does this market -- male comic fans -- want?"

    Well, speaking as a guy, what I want is good stories inhabited by archtypes of the best and worse of us. I want heroes we can sympathize with, villains that are rememberable and plots peppered with twists and humor and looking at old ideas in new ways. And for the most part that is what comics deliver for me.

    I never got cheesecake in comics. There is just so many pictures of real women out there, why spend 3$ on an drawing of a woman who is not even real. I know that just blew any credibility of a caring male, but least I am honest.

    Cheesecake in comics just doesn't do anything for me. There has been about maybe five times where an artists drew a beautiful woman in a comic that has made me stop and take a second look...but now I don't even know what characters those are or who drew them. That is how much of an impression they left.

    Great characters, on the other hand, like Sue Dibny or Ted Kord...those are things I will be remembering for decades to come. That is what we need, more good characters of all stripes.

  3. So, is he large?

    I'm glad things are doing better and you've got renewed hope. ^^ Ditto to what catman said - good stories and heroes we can sympathize with and memorable villains. While I understand cheesecake in comics and sometimes really do like it, I don't let it shape my views on women or transform them into sex objects. That's for Frank Miller to do.

    I'm glad you got a great e-mail of support from someone on the inside and I hope you can keep things going well for you. ^^

  4. Thanks for posting that video, Val! I feel so special. :)

    Wow, this post was so upbeat, I'm glad your mood seems to have turned around on this overall subject. There are lots and lots of good people in this industry, both pros and fans, and it seems to me the best way to fight against the bad folks is to surround ourselves as much as possible with the good ones. When my time in comics fandom got to the point where some people decided to be antagonistic towards me (mostly Usenetters, and right around the time of my divorce from my first husband, a long-time comics fan with whom I'm still quite friendly), I used to bring out "the imaginary scale" and "weigh" their attitudes towards me against those of the friends I found I really cared about. I would hold up my hands and go "[antagonist], Alan Davis, [antagonist], Alan Davis" or "[antagonist], Heidi MacDonald" or whatnot. And the hand that "held" the true friend would drop with meaning and the one with the false friend would rise into nothingness. And to this day that's how I remind myself who and what is really important in my life.

  5. Well, I should have been working, but ended up reading this blog from start to finish (even with white-on-black text, which hurts my eyes). Very brave, and very compelling.

    I just wanted to say that yes, there are men who absolutely support better treatment of women in comics and animation, both on the page and in the real world. Personally, how women are portrayed is a huge factor for me when it comes to buying comics or watching cartoons, and it's one of the reasons I'm now down to just two regular superhero titles. (As I write this, I realize that in 34 years of reading, my comics consumption has never been this low.)

    I usually think of this as an uphill battle. But reading about the men who have supported you is quite heartening. Hopefully blogs like this and the people who support them can eventually force a change in the industry. Because if I see one more superheroine-as-fetishistic-porn-object, I don't know what I'll do.

  6. I'll definitely add my voice to male comic fans who are not appreciative of either female comic characters or live employees being treated differently.

    The sheer number of conversations my friends and I have had over the Spider-Marriage, Sue Dibny, and "The whoreness of Gwen Stacy" (Sorry that's the only way I can truly refrence that arc) has just always made me wonder what is it with the male domination around here.

    The fact that the Doran story has still been swept under the rug ever since it first came out again with no acknowledgement from anyone other than her and contempt from everyone else is just a shame.

    But what it does do, is make me far more eager to sample more female creators in the industry. To see the talents that they do have, and to hopefully be part of the reason they flourish and continue to strive here.

    And hopefully more are knocking on the door everyday.

  7. Thank you. Thank you for writing this, for keeping it up, and for being so honest. I wish that there were nothing like this to be honest about - that we'd already reached a place of equality and respect. But since we haven't, it's things like this that'll help get us there.

  8. the Ed Brubaker Darwyn cooke to Cameron Stewart run on Catwoman was one of the happiest comic book collecting moments of my life. Until the Gulacy sleaze art started coming in, it was like a knife in my eyes.

    Reading your blog made me realise this sad truth again on the shortcomings of an industry that almost seems to refuse to branch out of its narrow mindedness.

  9. Thank you.

    Thank you, because I see a lot of my future laid out in this blog.

    I'm 20 and female and, while I am a fan of comics, my passion is video games, and I want to be a writer.

    I've already had my first job in the gaming industry, just working in a chain game store in my hometown. I worked there for a bare 2 months and already I was ignored, treated like I didn't know jack, sexual harassed by customers who then threatened me with violence if I didn't date them, seen friends screwed by the industry, sexually harassed by my boss, told there was nothing I could do about the sistuation, and finally screwed over by the industry myself.

    Thank you.

  10. glad to send kind words your way.

    one of many reasons i love joss whedon is that his female characters are always strong (and it OBVIOUSLY works since Astonishing X-men is the #1 X book, go Kitty Pryde!), and when he takes over Runaways he will have a bunch of strong females with varying backgrounds and diverse races and even a lesbian and a shapeshifting guy who is a lesbian half of the time.

    love your blog!!

  11. You know what went through my mind upon reading the whole saga in one fell (and falling) swoop?


    Not necessarily at the principals, but at people like Karen Berger and Jenette Kahn, who have the power to STOP this kind of mindset. After all, went the initial thought, they're WOMEN.

    And then my anger intensified. And changed, directed in large part at myself. We shouldn't NEED Berger or kahn or any other woman in the industry to clamp down on this kind of discrimination; we should expect just as much of a reaction to sexual discrimination from Paul Levitz, or Dan DiDio, or ANYONE, regardless of their own gender.
    After all, we're all HUMANS, last I checked.

    That being said ... I have no problem with "cheesecake" in comics--or at least with the fetishization of the female form. After all, very few characters in mainstream comics, male or female, are NOT over-idealized and fetishized.

    What I DO want to see, however, is a lot less treatment of women as ornaments or instruments; as victims or seductresses. Or, rather, ONLY as those things. Victims exist; bad things exist, and we would be fools to deny that. But when that sort of victimization or demonization becomes the PRIMARY portrayal of women, then we fail.

    I may be something of an anomaly; I avidly read the mainstream tights-n-fights stuff, but just as avidly read books like BLUESMAN, STARCHILD, STRANGEHAVEN, BERLIN, BOX OFFICE POISON, and others regarded as indy or anti-mainstream.

    And I simply do not understand why more female creators aren't carving out their niches in that market. Why don't we see the Aeires ("Queen of Wands"), Shaenon K. Garritys ("Narbonic"), or Lise Mhyres ("Nemi" toiling in the fields of print comics, rather than just doing webcomics? And why don't female-friendly cartoonists like Phil Foglio or Fred Gallagher have a greater presence in the comic store?

    One good sign is that we're seeing more female writers moving into the field; authors as diverse as Denise Mina, Tamora Pierce, and Laurell K. Hamilton are showing up in the pages of the Big Two's comics; I'd like to see more of that. If comics companies were as ardent in their pursuit of writers like Lois Mcmaster Bujold, Jane Yolen, Kage Baker, Alma Alexander, and others as they were in going after Orson Scott Card, Tad williams, and stephen King, we'd be a lot closer to gender equity.

    Which I believe would move us more toward a gender EQUALITY.

    I'm very glad things are looking a little brighter for you.

  12. "While I still feel that a degree of "cheesecake" in comics is ok, I am also no longer naive enough to believe that it has no effect on the way men see women, or that it doesn't objectify them."

    Right on, Occasional!

    And I hope that your story and your bravery gets you paying work and job security as well as supportive emails. Industries like comics should value its truth tellers and ass kickers. If they make it clear they value the people who keep it real, then they will be showing their strength.

    - Liz Henry

  13. Hey Occasional Superheroine,

    I first met you at the NY Con in February. I'm horrible at remembering people, but you did have a distinctive card. This was a little after you'd left Gilgongo! I've done a lot of work for them, but you'd never edited me.

    Then I emailed you last summer, soliciting help to advertise a charity auction. You mentioned you were recovering from surgery, but I didn't want to intrude and ask about your medical history. Your replies were cheery and helpful.

    It feels odd being a very minor character during someone else's story. As a guy, we often feel shock at the things women go through while showing such esprit and humor. As someone else said, there would be no human race if men had to give birth.

    I had no idea how much sh*t you went through during that time period. Like the4thpip, I'm a little proud of the support you've been given. But I'm ashamed of how some of my colleagues treated you.

    I met Ned Hasely at a dinner during the early 90s. He was charming and funny and gracious. Later I found out how important he was to comics history. And years after that I learned about how he'd treated young women in the industry. Sometimes, far from the editorial coasts I see things that worry me today.

    I think 'comics' as an industry will become more and more woman friendly. I don't know if Marvel and DC will be part of this. There's a huge new generation of comics readers enjoying the wealth of stories from Japan. The new kids reading and creating comics will include lots of women too. If the Big Two don't jump on board the kids will leave them behind. DC and Marvel are trying, so lets hope they change.

    Keep in mind that I consider you one of those kids. As a late 30-something I claim dibs on calling anyone under 35 'kids'. I don't know if you still want to work in comics, but if you are I think the field will get friendlier with time. You're a wonderful writer and insightful, so I hope for our sake you haven't been completely driven off. This may sound odd, but I think your story would make a good comic book. Some of it might be black panels with word balloons. Of course it already makes a very good text story.

    It sounds like you're doing pretty well now. You've got my (public) best wishes. I hope you find great success in whatever you do,

    Gene Ha

  14. I have... I'm not in one of the identities where I usually talk about this stuff, but I can say that for various reasons having to do with my creative and professional life, I feel qualified to speak of cheesecake.


    Telling stories about rape is not a bad thing. But if we are to tell them, we must be willing to face them. These are not casual vignettes. What strikes me about the awful practice of telling rape stories as cheesecake, even leaving ASIDE the ethical concerns, is the tacky banality of bad craft.

    It's like someone reporting the news of the World Trade Center disaster while inhaling nitrous oxide and giggling maniacally. If they can't deal with it minus the blinders, they shouldn't be the ones talking about it.

  15. Aren't comics great?