An Outsiders First Comic Book

Comic books have long had a strong subculture of avid fans.  I am not one of them and I never have been.  In Junior High I was forced to read a graphic novel about a family of rats that I’m pretty sure was allegorical representation of World War 2.  I didn’t dislike it, but it also didn’t do anything for me.  Most of my friends with a true love of comic books have been cultivating that relationship since they were young kids. At the risk of sounding like an eighty year old, when I was a kid comic books were not marketed to girls.  Also, my parent’s weren’t comic book people and a lot of our exposure to that kind of thing comes from what our parent’s want to share with us.  Flash forward fifteen years and I still haven’t read an honest to god comic book, but I have been trying to expand my little culture circle. It never struck me that I should pick up a comic for several reasons.  The first being that now I think of them as being created for children.  The second is that most women I see in pictures from comic books have proportions that wouldn’t be considered realistic in a Barbie Universe and I don’t need another huge set of boobs shoved in my face.

I still believe both both of these points to be at least marginally true. I know several adults who read comic books, but if you have loved something since your childhood it can hold a magic for you that isn’t there for other adults.  (I choose to believe this is the case for those people obsessed with My Little Pony).  I am skeptical that picking up the medium as an adult I will find something that really speaks to me, but you don’t know until you try.  As to the second point, I have heard from several friends that there are comic book authors out there who are doing justice to their female characters so maybe the tides are changing?  The cleavage is still just ridiculous though.  I mean come on, I saw some drawings at Louisville comic con that made me wince.

So if I am all vehemently opposed to comic books, why would I bother to pick up one up now if I think that I won’t like it on principle and it will make my feminist brain explode.  Simple, I get bored very easily and I like to try new things.  So with that in mind I downloaded, to my Kindle, (yes I go electronic, I don’t mind if you swing the other way it’s just a personal preference), Black Widow The Name of the Rose issues 1-5 on the referral of a friend*  I am going to give myself a big mental shake to try to brush aside some of these prejudices before I start reading but it isn’t realistic that it will go away entirely.  So stay tuned for Part 2, an Outsider’s Look Inside a Comic Book.

*That friend is Jason over at The History of Bad Ideas Podcast.  You can find it on itunes or at it’s a super fun listen.


4 thoughts on “An Outsiders First Comic Book

  1. I’m a lifelong comic fan. (I’m also a Brony, as an aside, and I think I have to disagree with the idea that My Little Pony fans have only watched since childhood. I never watched it as a kid, on account of being a guy, but I tried Friendship Is Magic, and I love it. That seems to be pretty common for Bronies.) And I kinda disagree with comics, in general, being for kids. There are some aimed at kids, yes. Some that are appropriate for kids. But I think the target audience is actually adults, with most being appropriate for teens and up. (And some that are adults-only.) The one you mention in your first paragraph, Maus, is certainly not for kids. (It’s also one of the most critically acclaimed graphic novels ever, the only one to win a Pulitzer Prize. The pulitzers created a category just to honour it. That’s how damned good it is.)

    So the first prejudice is definitely incorrect. The second one . . . well, there’s where you’ve got a strong case. Particularly in superhero comics, the tendency remains for women to be drawn with exaggerated bodies, in ridiculous poses, and to just generally be overly sexualized. That is something that’s changing, at least at Marvel. A few females have had their costumes drastically redesigned, to make them show less skin. There’s a few artists who draw female heroes with proportions that are, if not realistic, then at least no more ridiculous than the male characters. These artists also draw women in less silly poses. So the cheesecake is being toned down a bit, though there’s still too much out there. And, of course, there’s quite a few writers doing fantastic work with female characters. There’s even a couple female writers doing ongoings at Marvel, and a female artist doing an ongoing book, too.

    However, the other thing to remember is that superheroes aren’t the only comics out there. Marvel and DC aren’t the only options. Image has a ton of books that get huge amounts of praise. The first volume of Pretty Deadly comes out in trade tomorrow. It’s a mystical Western, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, and drawn by Emma Rios, and it’s a gorgeous book, worth checking out.

    I haven’t read The Name of the Rose yet. Marjorie Liu isn’t a writer who ever does anything for me. I recognize that she’s talented, and I like some of her stuff, but in general, I just find myself shrugging at her stuff. Still, as I said, she is definitely a talented writer – she also writes romance and mystery novels – and she is, after all, a woman, so she writes female characters well.

    • I’m glad you knew the name of Maus! I want revisit it now and see if it strikes me differently. It’s funny that you think of it as not for kids when my only exposure to it was when I was 12 or 13. That makes me wonder if my teacher was a big enough fan that she had us read it despite the more complex or adult topics.

      I am fully prepared to be wrong about my first point and I think it’s the reason my mind goes straight to superheroes when talking comics. I just don’t know enough about it to associate it with the more adult material. I will definitely check out some of the comics you mentioned here and it could very well change my mind.
      The only other thing I would add is that you don’t need to be a female to write good female characters. You just have to be willing to treat them as people and not objects. But I do get your point that you would expect good female characters from Liu. Thanks for sharing your perspective!

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