Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The WTF Quote Of The Day

"J Torres, Sean McKeever, Tony Bedard, and Terry Moore shouldn't be typecast as the guy writers that you hire when you can't find a chick. They can do any gender."

--Beau Smith, "Busted Knuckles" Column

Several questions:

1) Are these writers really typecast as such?

2) Is this news to them?

3) What does "the guy writers when you can't find a chick" mean?

4) In what circumstance do comic book companies look for "chick" writers, in this context? That wasn't made clear. Are we referring to comic books starring vaginas? Or just books with sensitive male characters in them? Or, best of all -- books with vaginas AND sensitive men in them?

5) Does a book like "Birds Of Prey" -- which I'm sure is part of what Smith is referring to here -- fairly demand a "chick" writer?

6) Is there some sort of "shame" attached to being a male writer who writes stories starring women? Where does that leave the Hernandez Brothers? Are they just pussies? Are they just toiling away in Chickland until they land their big break on The Avengers?

7) Would the world be a better place if Terry Moore was writing Punisher War Journal? Would that prove that he was a manly writer?

You know, I've been asked many many times -- especially since my involvement with Friends Of Lulu -- what the state of women writing in mainstream comics is.

It's not huge.

But, it's getting better. Step by step.

Any way you look at it, can the comic companies win?

If they put out books starring women that are not written by women, they are criticized for being sexist and "not trying hard enough" to seek out female talent.

If they put out books starring women that are specifically written by women, then they are criticized for "tokenism," of "pigeonholing" the female talent.

If a male writer keeps writing books about women -- or books that might be perceived as having an appeal to a female audience -- it's like they did something wrong, or are not "good" enough, or are not "manly" enough.

And, I'm sure, if a woman wrote a strictly action book, they'd be counting the bullets to gauge just how "actiony" the book really was. Any sensitive moments? "She's writing a chick book!" "She's cutting off Green Lantern's penis!" "She's turning Thor into a Lifetime TV movie!"

There is no shame in writing a "chick" story, regardless of your gender. It's not a scarlet letter.

There are certain male writers who write female characters rather poorly -- and there are some who handle them better than some female writers can do with the same characters. And, if given the chance, I know there is some female writer out there who can write the best goddamn Spider-Man you've ever read.

And really, I see the frequent shuffling of talent on books like Supergirl & Birds Of Prey as far more being about an unstable editorial department than a plot to "typecast" Bedard, McKeever, etc. as "chick writers."

And I understand that, by distancing them from "chick books," Smith was trying to "help" these writers -- but he's really kinda not.


  1. Guess I wanna be a chick writer 'cause I WISH I could write women as good as those guys. 95% of my friends are female and I don't feel I have the skill to not make my women sound like guys (except when the character calls for that, naturally).

    This Smith dude should just focus more on the stories and less on the gender of the folks writing them.

  2. I dunno, how could you not trust a column written by a Cowboy Warrior King?

  3. Am I crazy or in his comments is Beau Smith implying that women write better books about women and men write better books about men? Somehow writing female characters is so different than writting males characters that these writers need to be pointed out for being able to do both?

  4. You left out the part where he says, "I wanted to love Project Superpowers like a really hot ex-girlfriend, then I stopped and listened to her and remembered why she's an Ex."

    Yeah, we're dealing with someone here who posesses the emotional maturity of a two-year-old.

    I have to say, Val, your blog has really opened my eyes to the way women are viewed in comics, both in the books themselves and by the peripheral (sp?) clingers-on like this guy. Not particularly liking what I'm seeing.

  5. Just because the quote is written as a sort of random thought, I'm going to go ahead and take it at face value and say that I don't think any sort of "shame" is being applied for being the guy who can write "chicks." No one's giving Joss Whedon crap about it. I think, though, that if you like certain writers, you do want to see the full range of their talents which means not seeing them pigeon-holed in any way. Judd Winnek is one writer I get sick of seeing tucked into his own corner of the DCU. He's always treated like DC's cause-head (loves the AIDS), but if you read books like "Barry Ween: Boy Genius" or "Frumpy the Clown," you see a sharp wit consistently pumping out very dramatic stories in a light-hearted way. He hasn't done anything like that in a while and I think it's because he's stagnating writing spandex. The same thing happens to writers who frequently get cast writing the same crap all the time. I read it as less bemoaning the fate of men who write "chicks" and more of a hope that we see those writers branch out from the niche where editorial seems content to keep them.

  6. No idea whether this applies to comics, but I was taught in intro-to-screenwriting that the prevailing production views were that (in terms of pitching your audience appeal) women liked stories about relationships, men liked stories about events (this was to distinguish from a false character/plot dichotomy, since those are properly viewed as the same thing).

    Could it be the same in comics? Are these guys known for how there stories focus on the relationships between characters?

  7. I'm not sure if there's a "chickier" book than mine is, but I kind of wear that with pride. If the female lead is just as strong and just has just as much lack of confidence as the male lead... you can't deny the draw to that book.

    Does Marvel see me as a chick-flick writer? Oh, God yes. How could they NOT? I i didn't enjoy being labeled as that when I started TSSTG, but over the years, I've really become fond of that title. So, yeah.. I'm totally the "chick flick" guy at Marvel.

    Does that prevent them from sending me assignments that allow me to tell the type of story I'm proud to have my name on...? No. I get assignments quite a bit nowadays... and it's usually it involves a relationship angle... and I feel like, while it's a weird rep to have, I dig having it.

    While making my series the way it is... it's allowed me to write some fun stuff I never would've dreamed of writing, some of them would even be surprising to someone who reads my series.

    Hell, I once illustrated an S/M porn story for Trisha Sebastion for Smut Peddler magazine. Those who've read my series may be shocked to hear that.

    But my chick flick series got me the opportunity to do something SO outside my territory as an S/M porn story.

    So, yeah.. we do get typecast as writers. I'm not someone you call when you want something gory. I'm the guy you call when you want something based on relationships... as they did for WEB OF ROMANCE and FANTASTIC FOUR: ISLA DE LA MUERTA. But both those stories were a blast to read, according to the reviews and readers' reactions.

    I totally dig those assignments and I love putting in something that makes you closer to the character in some way.

    And making a reader care about a character is a pretty great talent, to me at least. And I can only do that because I write TSSTG.

    Everyone out there can most likely write much better fight scenes and action pages than me. I won't even debate it... those guys you love write mind-blowing action scenes and intricate storylines that are challenging and exciting to read.

    But I've made readers cry.

    Tell me that what I do isn't awesome? I feel a charge go through me as I write the pages and ink the linework... getting the story down. I cry my eyes out in some of those scenes... which usually means the audience will do the same. I've yet to be wrong.

    It is an awesome feeling to hear someone was moved by my stories. To see some dude who's been reading Batman or Wolverine for ten years break down and tell me that he cried during a scene I wrote. Or to get wedding invitations from people we've never met. Just because they feel that I'm writing their story. It's very gratifying.

    So, if this is what it means to be a "chick flick" writer... cool. You're right. I write "chick flicks."

    And I fucking love it.

  8. Anonymous3:26 AM

    At my first job (in college, circa `93) one of my proudest moments was when my coworkers--all female--declared that I "really write women well." This keeps coming up, but strangely I get more heat from the way that I draw them. Turns out that a lot of women won't take a female character with an A-cup (or lacking the proverbial "badonkadonk") in comics that seriously (whereas a man will just assume said woman is really an 11-year-old in disguise or something). o_O

    I think there's a definite expectation for certain tropes in comics that define the medium's femininity. Do I want to see Wonder Woman kicking hella ass? You'd better believe it. She's a superhero and that's what I paid for. At the same time, I was raised by a tough-as-nails single mother and the current models of misogyny in the media just baffle me. If Catwoman punches some male villain in the face and she takes one to the breadbasket, some people will absolutely SCREAM about how it's a hidden message from The Patriarchy.

    I think it's the other way around. The idea that the only acceptable action scenes starring a woman are girl vs. girl "catfights" is just ridiculous and outmoded. Mary Marvel using Kyle Rayner as a club on Donna Troy is pretty funny, but why would Donna getting payback be a better story than Kyle? Because he's a guy and he's attacking a girl? It looked to me like Donna got hurt but Kyle got humiliated.

    If those roles were reversed, you know that Round Two would involve the close-up shot of Donna, eyes blazing with fury, pummeling Mary (off-panel) into the pavement while thinking thoughts of how good revenge feels. End of issue.

    Kyle Rayner does that and suddenly we've got a six-issue story arc where he feels guilty, questions his heroic motivation, and goes on a journey of self-discovery and redemption.

    Entertainment, like water, seeks the path of least resistance. The female comic readers that I've encountered over the past twenty years or so don't care if it's Donna or Kyle kicking the beejeezus out of Black Mary just so long as someone does it because WTF is her problem? Furthermore, most readers--male and female--have an even bigger problem with turning pure-and-innocent Mary Marvel into a stereotypical "bad girl." Not because bad girls are bad, mind you, just because that's not how that character would ever, EVER behave.


    Rant over. ^_^;

  9. Well, Smith's comments were voiced in an awkward, sexist way, but I don't think he was making a dig on those writers.

    I think the statement he's making is that it's not easy for male writers to write female characters who actually act like women, and that he feels these guys actually do a good job of it.

    Writing women isn't necessarily difficult in itself, but writing lead characters outside what one knows runs the risk of having them turn out flat or stereotypical.

  10. I totally understand where you're coming from, but you are referencing a column written by a guy who openly admits he's at least a little sexist, what with his "real man" tagline and all.
    In this particular case, a little more context other than the link might help.
    No offense intended. I'm just sayin'.

  11. I never really take Beau Smith seriously. He comes off like one of those old-school writers cultivating an image of being a great white hunter, so it's just laughable. I mean, I've seen the guy...come on. :)

    That said, anything to spark debate and I think good writers are good writers and they understand that gender is far less important than giving us a complex character. The current Manhunter is definitely a good example of that. She's awesome.

  12. Chapter11Studios wrote:

    "Yeah, we're dealing with someone here who posesses the emotional maturity of a two-year-old."

    It's good that you can evaluate a person's emotional maturity based on a couple sentences. Maybe you can set up a carnival act and make a buck or two.

    I get that many don't find Beau's good-old-boy manner to their taste, but your assessment is uninformed and inaccurate.

    As for the comments themselves, they pretty much boil down to "Writer's shouldn't be pigeonholed."

    Which is one most people would agree with.


  13. I never said Beau was anti-woman. He has plenty about women in his columns. Those informative "Babe of the Week" segments, for instance. Without them, I would have never known that Lisa Lapira was a hot babe.

  14. I can't see how this statement is even remotely sexist. All he's saying is that editors only consider these writers for one type of book, and that they should also consider them for another type of book. You're reading in a disdain for "writing female characters" that simply isn't there, express or implied.

  15. Chuck Dixon wrote Birds of Prey for a good while.
    What do Beau's comments say about him?

  16. Interesting post. I wonder when the last time was that Bendis or Johns, the two current "superstars" of comics, wrote books about female characters. Not females on teams full of men, but featuring women?

  17. Lisa,
    Don't forget Bendis has written Jinx and Alias, both very estrogen-driven books, though admittedly in a testosterone-y way.