Friday, August 03, 2007

Girl Characters and me

This is the third time I start writing this, and I hope this time, I can finish.

I've been reading a lot in forums about women characters in comics (Specially in superhero comics) and how some fanboys (Because I can't call them other way) insist that since comic books are made for guys, and guys like their women with revealing costumes and we should all shut up because after all it's just comics and why are we doing a mountain over this? Girls have manga, right? So they shouldn't complain.

(I end up wondering why it's always 'Girls' and never 'Women' but that's a consideration for another post)

And of course, this kind of discussion tend to end with either the fact that those who complain are jealous of fictional characters, or the old tried maxim: "Well, if you don't like it, do your own."

There are a lot of problems with that particular phrase, and much better bloggers have already dissected it to death, so I won't repeat what has been said.

What got me thinking, and, in time, caused this post and it's previous non-posted versions, was that yeah. Most of the women (And men) complaining about the sexism in comic books now, if they want to create comics, will most probably not do all the things that they don't like in comics. That's true. But I was
thinking... what about all those future creators who do not spend any time in comic book forums and are not familiarized with the community and this type of discussions? The ones who are reading comic books and manga right now and met every possible type of awesome guys and so-so girls? (And if you don't believe how much a girl reader can hate a female character, go hang around an anime forum for a while. Even the ones who hate yaoi take female-character bashing to an art)

I.Doll thenBack in 1994 there was this mexican comic book, drawn manga style. The main character was *everything* one could come to expect of a stereotypical manga heroine. She was cute, bubbly, had pink hair, was a professional pop singer, day dreamed about the guy she wanted to be her boyfriend, and even when she had the whole army of hell trying to kill her, she never did anything to defend herself. Her friends (Two guys, and a girl) did all the saving. Man, I hated her.

The punchline?

I had created her.

Her name is Irene, and she was my first professionally published heroine. I had started writing her story as a half a joke, you see? But in the joke, I made her... well, just as every single heroine of the man
ga I read at the time. Clumsy, boy obsessed, fashion victim. Incapable of realizing she was in dire danger, or trying to save her own life. I came to hate her so much that even when she was the main character of the story, I wrote a complete chapter where she didn't appear at all (Which my partner at the time called me on. But I don't think she realized how much I hated to write about miss bubbly head)

Now, the thing is... She was liked. A lot. Even when her story had been approved by the editor with the clear intention that it was only going to last for three issues (And that's a story for another day), it became the most popular story of that particular magazine, and the only one that lasted for more than four issues. And when the magazine was canceled, everyone asked what happened to the characters, as the story hadn't been finished.

I moved on. I worked on other stories, with other characters, and every now and then someone asked me when would I finish I.Doll. And after a long time, I sat and asked myself... why do I hate her so much? Why did I created a character with so many things that bother me? And I looked around at my comic book collection, with the Sailor Moons, and Fushigi Yugi, and a ton of shojo, and then how Jean Gray might be the world's most powerful mutant every five years, but she still will get killed and left powerless, and I re-read a lot of the things I had been reading at the moment I started my career, and I realized that... she wasn't that different from the 'nice girls' I read about back then. Hell, it even coincided with the Infinity Wars at Marvel, where Sue has to absorb Malice and become 'bad' to be the team leader. And, even when I *hate* the idea that one has to use sexy images to sell a good story, I even did a cover in which my heroine (15 years old, btw) was completely naked. And the editor let it be published. To this date, I don't know who was the worst offender there. Me for drawing it -even if it was a non-sexual nude- or him for not pulling back that cover.
I.Doll now

I wrote my pinkhaired nighmare the way I did because 'that was the way comic book heroines are'. It was it, right, it was what sold, it was what was expected. And yes, I was being a sheep, but it was the influence I had. It wasn't until I was exposed to a whole lot more of comics -and, more important, to a whole lot more of comic book creators- that I realized that I was going at it completely wrong.

And it was mostly due to influence. And I'm not going to say that every single creator is responsible for what one 16 year old hopeful creator did when she was young -or that every single girl who reads manga and comics would come to the same conclusion that I did. But then, I see y!Gallery, with many very talented artists who simply shun the female form and have wrote that 'girls are icky' being women themselves. And at the office, I see comic after comic that is written by women and still propagates the very same problems we're complaining about and when I ask those creators "Why are you writing your heroine as a useless pinup model who needs the hot cute guy to save her?" they will most of the time answer either a) Because I don't like girls, and writing about girls is boring, b) well, it's my style. And (insert popular mangaka here) does the same, or, my personal favorite c) Guys draw girls with huge boobs, because that's what they like, so I draw cute guys all the time because I don't like girls.

Like most of my posts, I don't have a very good conclusion. I know that the industry gives a very clear image to those who are starting now to read comics, and I'm pretty sure that a lot of people don't like that image (Just look at the Heroes for Hire cover. Or, leaving american comics for a moment, the Nymphette situation with Seven Seas). Of course the question is... why there's so much resistance to change that image?


Rocketlex said...

That's an interesting story, especially to me as a writer myself.

I think what you went through is just a natural part of maturing as a storyteller. You start "inside the box," drawing from story and character elements you see in other fiction without really questioning them or examining them. (I know that everything I know about three-act structure I learned from Beast Wars cartoons.) As you develop, you take these elements and look at them more closely, figuring out what they mean to you. You came to hate your little pink-haired ditz because you made her out of tropes you didn't like. It's natural. I don't particularly like my early characters either.

I have to say, though, that nowadays whenever I create characters which are meant to embody traits I find lacking in fiction or humanity in general...they somehow end up being my favorites. O_O

Ami Angelwings said...


That's a great point and that's a rly great story to tell to illustrate it even tho it must be angering to have made that character. :(

I've done the same thing. :( I wrote a lot and growing up all my heroes were male and tough and brave and saved the girls. :\ I wrote an ongoing series online taking over from somebody who went on to write film scripts... >.>

And it was very popular, and I introduced the FIRST female hero.. and she was promptly depowered, raped, mind controlled and then rescued by the non-powered (but totally kickass!) male side hero. Who, incidentally, was all kick ass because b/c his girlfriend had been raped and put into a coma and he wanted to avenge her.


I now hate that story. And my story about a girl who gets rescued by her (male) cat (it was supposed to be an off beat love story) from an abusive relationship. :\ I wrote it as a "love story" which shows how skewed my idea of "love story" is. >:|

And none of this bothered me b/c it was par for the course of the fiction I'd been raised on. :(

It's definitely important to be aware of these things and to push for change! It's not enuf just to say "make your own" b/c it's so ingrained in our culture!

Men are heroes, women are victims. Female heroes aren't as good as male heroes.. or even male sidekicks, or male side characters...

or cats. :\

Ami Angelwings said...

Oh. :\ I should add that when I took over I was aware that the story had a large male fanbase, I was a new writer (even having a small amount of internet ppls read it was huge for me) and I wanted to do a good job and give them something they'd like.

It was very comic booky (and I took it into more so of that direction), but I remember what rly hit home. :\

My first draft came back with a comment from the original author who told me that having homosexuality in the story would turn off the (almost entirely male) readership. :| And that I had to change that part.

So I did, wanting to impress. And it just stuck in me and I tried to be aware and be a good writer. And without realizing it, I fell suddenly into writing for men. I loved the responses I got back. Everybody loved it. To this day I STILL get email from ppl (and it's a 6 year old story now sitting someplace on the internets) telling me how they want me to write more parts (I never finished it cuz I couldn't stand all the rape and killing I had thrown in). :\

But it's so easy to fall into this and go totally against what you would want. :(

Anonymous said...

What amazes me is that you seem to have failed to get the point of your own story.

So called "mysogonistic characters" sell

Feminsist icons of womanly (or should that be womynly) perfection do not.

Its that simple.

Margeret sanger will never sell comic books. A Mary Jane watson who doesnt shave her legs, wears birkenstocks, and works for a LGBT magazine wont.

See thats the fundamnetal reality none of you "feminist comic fans" get. What you want wont sell. It wont sell because for every militant fanatical feminists online there are thousands of fanmen who like traditional superhero stories.

(BTW bitching about the use of the word "girls" when you lump in all comics fans as "fanboys" is hypocritical.

Noone wants to read "the
adventures of the fat lesbian" Noone wants to read "the adventures of an ugly chick fighting against sexist standards"

As for "write your own" The reason no one ever does is becasue you all know to do so, would guarantess your titles failure.

KarenR said...

First of all, that's a great post, thank you.

Now, I wonder why people post anonymously ;)

Why does everyone think that feminist = militant lesbian who doesn't shave her legs.... All it means is that women are strong and smart and don't need men to save the day. How hard is that?

Anonymous said...

Why does everyone think that feminist = militant lesbian who doesn't shave her legs.... All it means is that women are strong and smart and don't need men to save the day. How hard is that?


No it doesn't.
Becasue if thats all it meant, then there wouldnt be so much bitching about how "hot" female superheroes are. There wouldnt have been any bitching about the MJ statue because feminists would realise a woman can be both strong and smart and want to titlate her man. If feminism actually meant what you say it does, feminism wouldnt be a dirty word. It id, becasue what feminism is really about is bitching incessantly about anything and everything utill women are given greater rights than men and men are reduced to servile metrosexual pussies who are afraid to be masculine. Its about turning "manly" into a dirty word. its aboput denying the fundamental differences between the sexes which arose due to evolutionary pressures.
Feminism as currently practised is about demonising men and deifying women.

Feminism is about thinking you can do anything men can do only better cause y'know, men are just at best housebroken troglodytes and at worse mysogonistic rape machines.

Susan Knowles said...

See thats the fundamnetal reality none of you "feminist comic fans" get. What you want wont sell.

Yeah I know, because Sailor Moon's kickass heroines didn't become ultrapopular with gals AND guys. And Nobody reads Wonder Woman. And Birds of Prey under Simone was never something anyone picked up.

Honestly, I can't help but wonder how you kids from Bizarroworld keep getting access to our world's internets.

Anonymous said...

Yeah I know, because Sailor Moon's kickass heroines didn't become ultrapopular with gals AND guys.

Actually it didn't. Even among comic fans who are a minority population, sailor moon fans were a minority.

And Nobody reads Wonder Woman.
Very few people do. WHy do you think the character has had so many reboots, and cancellations?


And Birds of Prey under Simone was never something anyone picked up.


Birds of prey was regularly outold by a great number of titles and was never even in DC's top 20 sellers.

Honestly, I can't help but wonder how you kids from Bizarroworld keep getting access to our world's internets

And I cant figure out how people from nobrainworld keep figuring out how to use the internet.

Unknown said...

Rocketlex: Thank you for your kind words. As you say, it's mostly a part of what everyone does. I just wish next generation of creators have better examples both for women and men characters than the ones we had.

Ami: Exactly! I did that nude cover just trying to impress the male editor, and later I felt bad when he tried to pin the blame of a lawsuit on me.

Anonymous: First of all, congratulations. You're the first anonymous to grace this blog with the usual 'women don't want hot superheroines'. I would point you to my post where I said that I wouldn't mind a comic book with a hot, kickass heroine totally naked through 32 pages, as long as she was kickass, but I won't. Also, I've changed the pink haired girl a little. She's still hot, she still dresses as she used to. The one difference, that makes me not hate her, is that she now takes charge. She now defends herself. And her fanbase hasn't changed.
Oh, and btw, I am not lumping all male comic book fans as 'fanboys'. I call 'fanboys' the small group who don't want any change to the status quo, even if it is for the betterment of the medium. The rest, are fans. Just like I can't stand the same fangirls who claim to hate female characters, I can't stand those who think that 'I want a female character who has some selfrespect' automatically equals 'fat lesbian woman', because it doesn't.
Feminism is about equality, not about someone being better than the other. I don't mind women being beaten, as long as they're not being beaten just because they're women. To use a current example, check the woman baddie in Die Hard 4. Sure, she gets beaten up quite badly, but she gets exactly the same treatement as every single one of the male baddies.That's the whole point. Treat both genders the same.
Karen: You're welcome :) And thanks for commenting. Yeah, I wonder about that too. Why no one gets the many posts saying that we don't mind hot characters, we want hot AND kickass characters?

Unknown said...

This is what happens when I take too long in writing an answer :)

Susan: Welcome here :) Yes, I wonder about that. How Sailor Moon became a worldwide success if no one likes kickass heroines (And Usagi herself, the more traditional 'girl hero' was never the most popular of the 9).

Anonymous again: I forgot something. My old editor was acting with the same premise that you do about sales. My story, as I mention briefly in my post, was selected so they would have something to fill the magazine with, and since it was so girly, no one would want it to continue past the third issue, and the other, superheroic guy who is inmortal and stuff would stay. They left it for the readers vote, and my story won. So I guess there is a fanbase for girly stories and girly characters.

Anonymous said...

And yet, in all these Femifans message boards I see the same comments over and over again.

Even when those who take the opposing viewpoint point out "kickass" thiongs these superheroines have done it doesnt matter, cause shes "hot".

Huntress kicks five mens ass? Doesnt matter she was earing a midriff top.

Powergirl becomes the head of the JSA? Doesnt matter shes got a boob window.

Batwoman kicks ass? Doesn't matter, cause shes a lipstick lesbian designed to fulfill male fantasies.

Always the same comments, always the same BS arguments, it doesnt matter how "kick ass" the character is, the hive-vagina cant take it if shes hot.

Anonymous said...

So I guess there is a fanbase for girly stories and girly characters.

Of course there nis. Boys like girls. They like saving them they like looking at them, they like fantasising about them.

Which is what thwe feminists have a problem with.

Anonymous said...

You know, I wouldn't mind reading a comic about a fat birkenstocks-wearing hairy-legged lesbian.

And I wouldn't mind reading a comic starring a "hot" woman. Hell, I read plenty of these already. Too many, in fact. Which is only part of the problem.

There's nothing inherently wrong with a character, female or male, being "hot." The problem is when the script, illustrations, or actions of the character demonstrate that that so-called "hotness" is that character's most important trait, above anything else. I don't want the splash-panel of Power Girl's moment of righteous triumph against Le Villain to be drawn as a pretty frame that accentuates her cleavage. Power Girl is a visual character, in a visual medium, but she's not only a visual, especially not a sexual one. She's a character. She's a fictional person.

And that holds for any damn character, whether or not they're female. I don't want any ineffectual prettyboys standing around the sidelines of an intergalactic war, jutting their hips out an
d pouting in just-so-cute confusion about why do those big bad aliens just hate us so much?
This is an empty character. A boring character. A character that has nothing beneath their illustrated surface.

There is no such thing as a feminist icon of womanly perfection, or male perfection, just as there is no such thing as a biological code for beauty. And why can't an overweight woman be considered beautiful? A gay woman? A woman who doesn't shave her body hair? A woman who wears sandals? Why do we all have to agree on some arbitrary standards of beauty?

I have no need to housebreak and emasculate men to make myself feel better. And why should I? Teamwork helps get the dishes done fastest. More time to play video games.

(oh, and....great post! it's hard to take such a hard look at yourself and your own predjustices, especially when they're what's earning you money. And, hey, at least you got out there and made something. Not too many people can say that, me included. ^^)

Ami Angelwings said...

There seems to be a large surge in anonymous "omg feminists r crazy" comments lately. :\

Also I find it odd how these commenters always ignore what we actually blog about wanting and instead make up a strawman argument of "omg you want unshaven large smelly cavewomen!"

And I sure hope that when anon is talking about how comics SHOULD favour men b/c more men read it, that he has no problem being pushed to the side or having his privileges taken away, or being marginalized in situations where he's not the majority. For example, there are more women in the world than men. So... he should be totally okay with this tyranny of the majority, if I argue that more women breathe than men, so air and living should rly be catered to us right?

luxshine said...

Anonimous: Huntress doesn't need the bare midrift to kick five guys's asses. And no one would mind her having it, if it wasn't because of all those other woman heroes who have the same sort of costumes. Still, *I* personally couldn't care less if Huntress kicked ass completely naked as long as a) It made sense in the plot, and b) she *did* kick ass. I have no issues with PG's boob window. In fact, I *like* PG, and this white suit with the boob window is the best IMHO, so you won't see any complains about the boob window in this blog. I haven't seen Batwoman kicking ass, but I'll take your word for it. Now, is she a *real* lesbian, or a 'I say I'm lesbian but don't date girls lesbian'? Because I honestly don't like the second type. That sounds too much like fanservising for me.
Oh, and yes, guys like to dream about saving girls. They also, I hope, dream of not having to carry the girl everywhere because she's too damn dumb to run when there's danger.
Meatwichdreams: Welcome to the little blog. And thank you. It took me a lot to write my feelings over pinkhaired menace, but now I think I'm ready to write about the female character I did liked from that project. At least, now I won't feel like I'm hiding the bad skeleton in the closet :)
Ami: I love that proposal! Don't you love that when there are more women than men in a group, we still have to be polite and not talk about girly things around them? It's one of the things that I honestly can't understand. Majority only rules, apparently, when they're the majority.