Thursday, March 29, 2007

Wanted: Female Comic Book Legends

The following is a stream-of-consciousness meditation on the question: are there any female comic book legends in the industry? Most of this is made-up, except for the parts that aren't. It's pretty rambling, so you could just skip it.

(An editor and his plucky assistant look for female comic legends to work on their high-class high-end comic book anthology.

Editor: We don't have enough women on this book.

Plucky: We don't have any women on this book.

Editor: I tried looking for women for this book.

Plucky: I know you did.

Editor: I mean, the door is open. The vouchers are here.

Plucky: I know, I know.

Editor: Do me a favor -- take this afternoon and make me up a list of female comic book legends.

(Several hours later)

The List:
Marie Severin
Ramona Fradon

(The Editor frowns)

Editor: This is a good start, but there just HAS to be more female comic book legends!

Plucky: Colleen Duran? Amanda Conner?

Editor: They're great artists but they haven't reached legend status yet. I'm talking LEGENDS: Gil Kane, Johnny Romita, Steve Ditko.

Plucky: Trina Robbins?

Editor: Should I call Marie or should you?


Plucky: H-hello, Ms. Severin?

Marie: Yes?

Plucky: Wow! I can't believe I'm talking to you! This is so cool! I loved your work on "Not Brand Echh!"


Editor: I need a list of legendary female comic book writers for this new project. Take the afternoon.

(several hours later)
(note: this takes place before Gail made it big)

The List:
Anne Rice
Maya Angelou
Devin Grayson

Editor: Maya Angelou?

Plucky: Well, I know she isn't a comic writer...but with us hiring more and more established authors...I just think it would be very classy. Besides, I just can't think of any more, you know, legends.

Editor: Well, I suppose there is always Ann Nocenti. But see, again, good writer -- but not a legend. Not like, say, a Roy Thomas.

Plucky: But who can really be a Roy Thomas?

Editor: I want to go home.


Editor: There aren't many female comic book legends.

Plucky: I know.

Editor: I mean, like Gil Kane and Steve Ditko and Will Eisner and Johnny Romita.

Plucky: Or Roy Thomas or Stan Lee or Denny O'Neil.

Editor: And now I'm going to put these books out and there's hardly gonna be any women & people are going to think it's sexism. But there just aren't many female comic book legends.

Plucky: I know. It really sucks balls.


Plucky: Marie, did you ever get that thing where fans would say, "your art was so good, it totally fooled me, I thought a man drew it?"


Plucky: I want to become a female comics legend one day.

Editor: I have no doubt you can do it.

Plucky: But I want to write like a man. Being known as a "chick writer," that's the kiss of death.


(the present day)

Friend: You're like a legend in the industry now!

Plucky: For a blog that many consider to be a feminist rant.

Friend: Hey, whatever gets your name out there.

Plucky: Yeah, but I don't want to be writing about broken vaginas and rape pages all my life! I want to write the Punisher, man!


(Submission to Marvel, age 13)

"My story is about this mild-mannered man who wants to be cool like the Punisher. So he puts on the Punisher's outfit and tries to fight crime, but he doesn't know what he's doing and gets horribly beaten up. He realizes in the end that he doesn't have to be like the Punisher to be cool. And that he's lucky to have gotten out with his life. This could be a one-shot or stretched out into a 6-issue limited series. Also, if the Punisher isn't available, I could turn it into Captain America.


PS: I love Wolverine"


(From hand-written response to the above from Marvel Editor)

"Your writing sample shows a lot of enthusiasm for the craft. But as you get older, you will gain more valuable life-experiences that will help shape your stories and make them richer."


(email from fan of Plucky's blog)

Dear Plucky,

I usually can't stomach this Oprah shit but you're all right.

The Dudest of all Dudes


(So I wanted to do this comic which was a take-off on "Yentl," where it's 1941 and this chick goes undercover as a guy so she can fullfil her dream of being a comic book writer. The only catch is that she ends up working on this cheesy "Phantom Girl" comic for twenty years straight.)


(the feminist response:)

No, there have been plenty of female comic book talent that deserved to be considered "legends," but they either
a) work in a genre (like manga) that is not considered "real comics"
b) never had their talent & work cultivated & promoted by the mainstream publishers the way male creators have
c) are compared to solely male artists and writers, ie "her work is good enough as a man's"
d) get dissed even when they do succeed by being called "tokens"


(So I wanted to do this comic called "Fetish Lass and Pizza Boy," that would be this total parody of cheesy "T & A" comix. This billionaire heiress gets traumatized after her parents convert to the Hare Krishnas and start dancing in airport terminals. Now she fights crime. With her pizza delivery boy. And they break up this "sheep porn" ring. By dressing up like sheep. Now, would that be the very end or the very beginning of my career? That's what I want to know.)


(back to the original scenario of the Editor and Plucky talking about the anthology)

Plucky: Well, will there ever be any female comics legends?

Editor: Well, I think it's just going to take time.

Plucky: How much time?

"It's Time For Love"

Watch out, Green Lantern! Star Sapphire (and her glowing hoohah) has you in her crosshairs!

I think I had a She-Ra doll that did this once.

Of course, in a world of perfect economy, Saffy could be paired up with the dude from the Omac #3 cover and all would be well in the world...

(Anyway, just one more reason to run to your store & buy Green Lantern #18, in case you were looking)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

"Marvel Comics"
-- a report by Occasional Superheroine
(age 12)
(I found this school report as I was going through some papers the other day. I wrote it in Junior High. It was typed on this old tall black manual typewriter and had pictures cut out from Marvel Age pasted on the cover. My teacher at the time was so flabbergasted -- not only that a female wrote this but that anybody my age remembered who Bulletman was -- that the next day he gave me oversized treasury editions of Superman & Batman. Here are excerpts. I don't know, I keep seeing this amalgam of Sally Brown & Napoleon Dynamite reading this in front of the classroom. "Ol Nessie...")

(from the Introduction)
The date was 1938. The comic was ACTION COMICS. The hero was SUPERMAN. He was the first real superhero, and he spawned hundreds of imitations. There was: Capt. MARVEL, WONDER WOMAN, Capt. AMERICA, DAREDEVIL, BULLETMAN, GREEN LANTERN, HUMAN TORCH, HAWKMAN, THE FLAME, BLUE BOLT, BATMAN, SHEENA, PHANTOM LADY, SUB-MARINER, and many more. It was the Golden Age of Comics, and they sold by the millions. The plots were small, the quality was low-but no one could beat the price-10 cents.

(Stan & Jack's big idea)
STAN LEE and JACK KIRBY had a big idea. The comicbook veterans thought of the most radical ideas in that time about comic books. Heroes that were human. Complex plots. Art that was more than just art. The critics thought they would fail, the rival companies (mainly D.C. Comics, of Superman fame) said it wouldn't last an issue. But Stan and Jack didn't care. They took the company that was Timely and then Atlas, christened it Marvel, and they, an artist called Steve Ditko, and a couple of inkers, started what is now known as the Marvel Universe.

(The origin of the Fantastic Four)
But cosmic rays bombarded the ship, and the four suddenly got superpowers! They reacted to this with nervousness, tension, stress, and in Ben's case, berserkness. The world was not reacting to this with clearheads, either. In the old days, this never happened. A normal man would be granted superpowers and act like nothing happened. The superheroes wouldn't fight amongst themselves. Not here.

When letting go of a crook because of sheer lazyness, his beloved uncle was murdered. By the crook he let go. In which he learned that "with great power comes great responsibility."

But this hero was something no major hero ever was. He was blind. This was never tried in the history of comics. But that was what Marvel was and still is. Radical.

(The Hulk)
But Marvel had its strange, inhuman keepers of the peace, too. In 1964, a big green behemoth joined the bunch. He was the Hulk, and there was a twist to this one. Not a mindless monster was he. When Prof. Bruce Banner got shot through his body with Gamma rays that was supposed to be used in nuclear bombs. He was a casualty of the Nuclear Age.

(Dr. Strange)
Dr. Strange was a master of the art of Black Magic. He traveled in different dimensions, fought psychic demons, the like. But the plots were very complex. You really had to think with this one.

(The Punisher)
The Punisher was a man right out of the army, ready to start a life with his wife and kids, when a crazed murderer kills them. The police tell him there is nothing they can do. Almost losing his mind, he dons a costume and becomes the Punisher, all-purpose vigilante. And this was before Bernhard Goetz.

(The Champions)
The Champions was comprised of members from other teams. They were the first team to disband because of poor financial management.

(Secret Wars)
1984 introduced Secret Wars a limited series that was a mega-success. A god-like entity called the Beyonder whisked away the most popular characters in the Marvel Universe and watched them fight. Believe me, it has more plot than you think. Anyway, it rejuvenated Marvel, who was sinking.

(The New Universe)
With much fanfare, in 1986, they introduced a new universe called, originally enough, the New Universe. It introduced 8 titles that had nothing to do with the Marvel Universe. Marvel says that this new branch is more realistic and down to earth. In any event, it did not live up to its hoopla, critics and readers agree. But it's not a total failure, since it's too early to tell.

(In conclusion...)
Thus ends my report, but not Marvel's success which at this point is guaranteed. Marvel dominates 60% of the market. It is branching in the areas of animation and Movies, and is doing well. So here's to Marvel, the company that saved comics from oblivion. Excelsior! Nuff' said.

Monday, March 26, 2007

How A Cover Is Born

How A Cover Is Born

Reflecting on the fracas over the cover to Justice League #12 (which I highly doubt will ever see the stands in its present condition) I thought it would be kind of interesting to talk about how a cover is born -- from concept to sketch to the final product.

The amount of input the editor has in the making of the cover depends on the artist. Some artists are told, more or less, exactly what image the editor wants. Some are given plot synopses or scripts and interpret the issue as they see fit. And some artists, for whatever reason, really don't care too much about what is going on in the book and end up just drawing something iconic that has very little relevance to the content of the actual issue but will probably sell really well anyhow.

A good cover, at least in my opinion, is one that is both iconic (a bold, striking image) and tells a story. Some really great interior artists occasionally make lousy cover artists because they treat the cover like a panel -- a bunch of stuff going but no focus. And some really great "pinup" style artists occasionally turn in covers that are pointless and without context.

What might be controversial is that, as an editor, I would choose "pointless but striking" over "deep but unfocused." This is because, in terms of sales, the iconic cover will always grab more eyes on the stand. And, each month, the editor is given the "numbers" for the books she or he edits and is either patted on the back or left with a warning. Whenever you try to fathom the decisions these editors make, you should take this fact into account.

The artist will often first submit a cover sketch. This gives the editor some idea of what will be on the cover, and there should be enough leeway at that point to change things around. Some cover sketches are quite elaborate, and some are a couple of lines with a smear.

Once the sketch is approved, the art then either goes through the stages of pencils, inks, and color or, in the case of painted work, straight to the finished product. Ideally, the cover is approved and signed off on each step of the way. You need to have all these checks and balances for the comic cover, so many sign-offs, because a f**k-up that gets to print is a DISASTER. And I've seen these disasters.

For instance, when I worked at Acclaim, an issue of "Master Darque" got through with a nipple on it. I mean, the whole cover was so abstract, so etherial, that none of us saw the nipple. Until it was published. Then, we ALL saw the nipple.

Generally, you don't want nipples on your comic cover. You don't want cuss words, you don't want nudity, you don't want your artist getting cute and etching in a tiny portrait of Peter Parker when it's a DC book, etc.

Sometimes you will get a comic book that features a woman with huge gazongas. For some editors, this is a dilemma. For others, it's a non-issue. The only time I heard of an editor insisting on a breast reduction on a cover, the editor was female. Was she more sensitive to these issues? All I know is that the cover artist was a big name, the cover was finished, and this editor said: "look, she's too top-heavy and that's not what she's all about. these have to be reduced. please." And either the big-name artist changed it himself or it was changed in-house. And all his future covers reflected the change. And that was it. Maybe there was a minor grumble at the beginning. But that was it.

DC is a company, as far as I remember it, that took a special pride in the artistic quality of its covers. It wasn't just about "
selling soap," as they say. They were looking, in most cases, for Art. That's why there are so many coffee-table books that feature beautiful reproductions of their covers. And that, ultimately, is why I feel the cover to Justice League #12 has to be fixed or replaced. Not because of the "sexist" issues. But because to allow one of their top books to go out with such a cover really sends the wrong message.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Sexy, Not Sexist

In reference to my previous post about the cover to Justice League #10, I'm presenting an example of a cover that features a superheroine with a big rack that I think works.

Here we have a Wonder Woman cover by Adam Hughes. Note the big rack on Wonder Woman. Chances are, however, her big rack was not the very first thing you noticed about the cover. This is because cheesecake is not the very first quality Hughes chooses to play up in this art. The real focus is on the fun, magic, and power of the icon Wonder Woman. Make no mistake, sexiness is a part of it. But it isn't all of it. However with the Justice League cover, PG's boobs are the star of the show. I mean, they are virtual guest-stars in the comic the way Don Rickles used to be in those Jack Kirby Jimmy Olsens. Now, if you have a issue of Justice league written by New York Times bestselling author Brad Meltzer, surely there is something of more substance to feature on this cover.

Next, note how relatively realistic Wondy's boobs are in contrast to Power Girl's. They hang more naturally. There is even a hint of a tear-drop shape. It's the real thing vs. silicone.

But lets move beyond the merely physical and look at the aesthetics. Hughes obviously put a lot of time into composing his cover. The motifs of the golden lasso, the birds. The different "sides" of Wonder Woman: 1) The standing figure: Strong; 2) The flying figure: Fun, Graceful; 3) The close-up: Sexy, Pretty. There is a lot going on in this cover. In contrast, the Power Girl cover is boring, static, and uninspired. This is not a knock on Turner's work in general. I'm just saying on this particular cover, it looks kinda like a panel or something. It's just...there.

Lastly, look at the faces of Wonder Woman & Power Girl. Wondy's face has LIFE. Her eyes are alive. This isn't even the best example of the personality Hughes can put into his Wonder Woman faces. But there is a glimmer of personality. Power Girl's eyes are expressionless. In addition, she looks not that much different from Black Canary, though Canary at least has this weird sorta pissed-off thing going on (maybe because she's jealous of PG's endowments, who knows?).

I find Adam Hughes's covers to be, for the most part, sexy but not sexist. Sexy but not sexist means that your subject has some glimmer of humanity in her and is not just a blow-up doll. Sexy but not sexist means that you can see that the artist has a genuine love and understanding for the subject. Sexy but not sexist encompasses, at least for me, not only Hughes but the work of Rags Morales, Frank Cho, Darwyn Cooke, Alex Toth, Will Eisner, and many more.

And to be fair here is an example of a Michael Turner cover I did like, for the Teen Titans. It's nicely composed & fun.

Friday, March 16, 2007

It Will Never Change

It Will Never Change(the cover of Justice League #10 brought to my attention by Sammy)

Look, recent strides in the emancipation of Supergirl aside, there are two things that will never change about DC superheroines:

1) Power Girl's breasts
2) Wonder Woman in bondage

They will never ever ever ever ever change. Power Girl will always have huge mammaries, and Wonder Woman will always find her way into the chains of Mars, dig it?

I'm not saying it's right or wrong --

I'm not saying people shouldn't complain --

I'm just saying this is what it is -- just things that a number of readers out there cherish, that they're nostalgic about from when they were young. It's like Al Bundy keeping his tattered but well-loved stack of "Big 'Uns" magazine, it's like Homer Simpson keeping that mouldering old left-over hero sandwich after the party, it's like Ralph Kramden keeping his old college outfit with the straw hat, it's like Ross convincing Rachel to dress up like Slave Leia -- it's Theirs. It makes those readers happy. They don't want it taken away from them. They see efforts to take it away from them as part of a PC-driven conspiracy to ruin this tiny bit of four-color joy that such images provide.

And I'm not saying it is right or wrong -- I'm just saying I recognize what the motivation is, and, frankly, I'm choosing to not go on the stomping ground to eradicate these particular quirky bits of (lets face it) erotica that finds their way into mainstream superhero comics. Which doesn't mean I won't poke fun when it's especially stupid.

Supergirl I got down on because it featured a teenager, and that, to me, is a whole different story.

Also, I think the stubborness on DC's part to not give Stephanie a trophy box (or whatever the hell you call it) is something that should be rectified, because 1) teenage girl (and ostensible role-model), 2) it seems like such a minor thing to ask for, why the hell not just do it already? --->though the unwillingness to give her official recognition as a Robin might also have to do with "keeping the integrity of the licensable property" (i.e., Robin is always a boy), in other words a business issue.

Lastly, I read on Loren's blog that Brad Meltzer had requested a boob reduction on Power Girl on this cover -- and that what we see here is the result. I highly doubt her chest was reduced that much -- it's really hard to f**k with covers by big-name artists like Turner, to either ask the artist for an edit or go in there yourself with Photoshop. It's really an awkward thing to ask for. But besides that -- Meltzer is a New York Times bestselling author. His love for comics aside -- why the hell would he want his name on something this silly? Point is -- I met the guy, I worked with him, I highly doubt the air-bags on Kara was part of his artistic vision.

But in the end, they're just mammaries. Really big, puffy, pale mammaries. And I'll tell you, when I was 60 pounds heavier, those damn things hurt my back. But I am not nor have I ever been a pseudo-Kryptonian. So maybe PG can hack it. I don't know.

Back to my chicken salad.
Amazing Voice

I'm pretty disenchanted by most popular music today but I really like this Amy Winehouse -- her music is like classic 60s girl group stuff/Motown dipped in hard liquor and harder living. It's the perfect counterpoint to these Britney/Jessica Simpson/etc singers who glorify the night life in their music & videos but aren't really honest about its effects. Winehouse seems completely honest -- she's waking up on the floor with a shot glass in her hand, looking like s**t, and not giving a rat's ass what anybody thinks of her. Not the best role model on the whole planet, but the music is great. I might actually (gasp!) buy this whole CD

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Which Pop-Culture Hairstyle
Should I Rip Off ?

It's that hated time again -- the time when I have to go and get my hair done.

I know it should be this fun, sexy experience, going to a salon -- but to me it brings back memories of when I was 8 and of my mom having to pay the barber extra because I kept ducking the scissors.

So I figured instead of agonizing over this alone, I would open the floor up to discussion:

What is the best pop-culture female hairstyle? (in general)
What would be the best for me? (take into consideration I can't blow-dry my hair for s**t)

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Questions, Questions...

Why is John Cusack always in movies where he's standing in the rain?

Why is that man in a bear suit punching that lady?

Is that a real beer bottle Rowdy Roddy Piper is smashing into his forehead? (not for the faint of heart)

Why, after big-budget sophisticated renditions of these characters in the movie theaters, does this video still make my toes tingle?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

In Praise Of Ethel Muggs

It has occurred to me that my blog has been relatively lacking in good old fashioned comics scholarship. In an effort to rectify this, I turn my intellectual lens to an unsung heroine in the annals of comics history: Ethel "Big Ethel" Muggs.

A regular member of the supporting cast of the "Archie" universe, Ethel's singular raison d'etre has seemed to be an ugly girl to mock. I mean, it doesn't really get much deeper than that.

Tall, skinny, buck-toothed, and looking not a little like Jughead in drag, one could say that her spiritual ancestor might be the immortal "Lena the Hyena" made famous by Basil Wolverton. But whereas Lena, in all her wonderful infernal hideousness, had a mindless quality about her that rendered the character somewhat unsympathetic whilst chasing hapless Eddie Valiant off a roof in the movie "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," Ethel's singular love for Jughead Jones has elevated her, at least in this reader's mind, into the plane of Pathos.

Perhaps if Jughead possessed all the narcissistic zeal of Reggie Mantle he might have fallen for his female doppelganger; but alas, the slap-happy jokester of Riverdale could barely get hot under the collar for anything besides a hot steaming plate of hotdogs -- which is an article for another day. But if Jughead has been known to be notoriously cold when it comes to the opposite sex, he has been especially cruel to poor Ethel. Nary an issue featuring the two goes by where Jughead responds to his would-be girlfriend's advances by saying something to the effect of "I want to vomit." Such protests are considered "punchlines" in the comics.

Whether Ethel's last name is derived from that immortal phrase "hey look at da mug on dat dem ugly dame" or simply refers to J. Fred Muggs, a popular trained chimpanzee of the era, is unclear. But what is known for sure is that the girl's official debut was proceeded by two appearances of similarly-drawn ugly teenage girls that made the lives of the Riverdale boys hell by simply being their outgoing, homely selves.

In Archie Comics #30 (1948), Archie is bedeviled by a buck-toothed figure who at first he thinks is a boy. Dubbed "The Zombie" by Archie, he decides at the issue that the only way to deal with an ugly girl who likes you is to commit suicide. Later, "The Zombie" would receive a name, Ophelia Gleutenschnable, and would shift her focus away from Archie and onto his goofy best friend Jughead. Ophelia and Jughead would actually date for several issues. As Jughead explained, Ophelia's appeal was that she was "different" from the other girls: "She's the only one who will go with me!"

But their storybook romance was not to last. Somewhere through the years Ophelia became Ethel, and Jughead grew distant. Possessing a steely determination and an inability to recognize vital social cues, Ethel turned to bribing Jughead with hotdogs and fried chicken for his affection. While such strategic maneuvers yielded the girl notable short-turn gains, she generally remained the butt of Jughead's (and, in extension, the comic book itself's) cruel mockery.

Though most "Big Ethel" appearances follow the general "let's laugh at the ugly chick format," there has been a few storylines that took the opposite approach. These stories can be grouped under the "Beautiful On The Inside" banner:

1) Archie dates Ethel in "Archie's Riverdale High" #8 and finds out that she is really a beautiful girl "on the inside." Jughead gets jealous. (Note: this story, in terms of continuity impact, is on roughly the same level as the one where Lois Lane takes LSD and thinks she and Superman have a green-skinned mermaid baby with genius IQ who teams up with Bruce Wayne's own infant to helm a series of one-shots drawn by John Byrne)

2) In "Archie and Friends" #12, a handsome dude, "Hank," is Ethel's penpal. Understanding by now the impact of her ungainly appearance, Ethel sends him a picture of Veronica instead of herself. So now Veronica has to go on a date with Hank as to not shatter Ethel's already-fragile self-esteem and drive her to killing half the student body with her telekinetic abilities run amok. BUT HANK REJECTS VERONICA AND LOVES ETHEL BECAUSE ETHEL IS "PRETTY ON THE INSIDE!"

3) In "Jughead" #29, Ethel dates a blind boy, the only particular flavor of boy that could possibly stand to be near her. Which means, in pop-culture terms, that her appearance is roughly on the same plane as The Thing, Frankenstein, and the boy from the movie "Mask." In the same issue, not to be outdone, the now-jealous Jughead finds his own "handi-capable" love interest, a paralyzed African-American girl. Shockingly, by next issue the blind boy and African-American girl were completely and utterly forgotten; it is theorized that they, along with the idea of interracial romance, were casualties of the epic "Crisis on Infinite Archies" maxi-series.

One last interesting storyline development concerning Ethel Muggs is contained in the TV movie "From Riverdale and Back Again," in which Archie and the gang are all grown up. Late-bloomer Ethel, it is revealed, matured into a sexy pinup model. While she could have any man she wants in the whole world, of course she takes Jughead back, her self-esteem being somewhere between similarly masochistic Betty and shoe-heel dirt.

Big Ethel recently received a slight redesign, part of an overall effort by Archie Comics to be more sensitive to "ugly girls." As noted in her online bio, Ethel is "a beautiful person on the inside" (OUCHOUCHOUCH).

In the footsteps of similar online campaigns for characters such as Supergirl and that "Robin" chick, I suggest a "FREE ETHEL MUGGS" crusade to pressure Archie Comics into ceasing to make fun of her. As part of "reparations" for all the abuse the character has received over the years, I humbly suggest that Archie Andrews be forced to date her -- with a SMILE, damnit! -- for at least twenty issues. Then Jughead could get jealous and have a Star Trek "Kirk Vs. Gorn" style gladiatorial match for her affections using big pointy sticks.

Anyone interested in the "FREE ETHEL MUGGS" campaign or has non-pornographic fan art to post on this site can feel free to e-mail me. Together, we can make a difference! First, Ethel -- then the World!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Possible New Supergirl Costume Design
Following the uproar over the scantily-clad latest incarnation of the Supergirl character, the new editor might choose to go with something more in the opposite direction.

Image found in this site: