Fan GAIL SIMONE responds
The legends surrounding Gail Simone, and her unhealthy obsession with the color purple, Disneyana and Canadians, are beyond number, and need no recounting here. The strange hold she seems to exercise over the comic industry does need explanation, but unfortunately no one seems to have one. (BY)
I have a secret.
I love superheroes.
Oh, I read "Hate," "Berlin," The Comics Journal, "Strangers in Paradise" and was hooked on "Love and Rockets" (sniff!), but I can't stop buying the other stuff, also. I'm a voracious reader of novels and non-fiction, but when I just want to read something fun, give me the JLA or "Teen Titans." So, yes,I'm addicted bad. Have been for years.
I tend to like the bright shiny heroes the best, and when comics went grim and gritty a while back-that was a period where comics had lost their appeal for me. It was books like "Kingdom Come" (which was still fun despite the apocalyptic tone) and Grant Morrison's "JLA" that brought me back. So, maybe I can admit to a bit of a bias regarding the really grim superhero stuff.
In any case, having a uterus myself, I found that I most enjoyed reading about the girl heroes, or Superchicks. And it had been nagging me for a while that in mainstream comics, being a girl superhero meant inevitably being killed, maimed or depowered, it seemed.
So, really for my own edification and with malice towards none, I started making a list of the superchicks who had gone down in one of those ways (ignoring for the moment the wives/girlfriends of superheroes - a whole 'nother problem). I'm not hugely up on continuity issues, and I'm not a Marvel scholar by any means, so the first list had lots of errors and notable omissions. But as I said, it had just been me doodling, essentially. When I realized that it was actually harder to list major female heroes who HADN'T been sliced up somehow, I felt that I might be on to something a bit ... well, creepy.
The great thing about the Net is, it can make someone like me, who never seems to make it to the post office, into a TITAN of correspondence. So, I hastily assembled a letter around the list, and sent it off to several comics pros.
THE RESPONSE FROM CREATORS
My thanks to the creators who responded. It's all very much appreciated. I've left most of these responses without a reply from me. What struck me in a few cases was that some of these creators seemed a bit defensive, as if I sent the letter as a personal attack. Whether that's because I worded my letter poorly or because these poor people are deluged with negative fan mail, I don't really know. All I know is, my intentions were pure-I really didn't mean to accuse anyone of anything, and was perfectly happy to listen to any evidence that didn't support my proposal, re: Superchicks get killed a lot.
Several respondents mentioned that male superheroes ALSO get beat up, cut up, and killed up-an undeniable truth, I say. However, it's my feeling that a) the percentages are off. If there are only 50 major female superheroes, and 40 of them get killed/maimed/depowered, then that's more significant numerically than if 40 male characters get killed, since there are many times more of them total.
And b) I can't quite shake the feeling that male characters tend to die differently than female ones. The male characters seem to die nobly, as heroes, most often, whereas it's not uncommon, as in Katma Tui's case, for a male character to just come home and find her butchered in the kitchen. There are exceptions for both sexes, of course, but shock value seems to be a major motivator in the superchick deaths more often than not.
It got me to wondering, honestly, why it was OK, or even encouraged somewhat, to kill women, more than men, statistically.
For example, is it that the comics-buying public being mostly male that is the cause of this trend? In my talks with these creators, no one seemed to have a really good guess as to what the female percentage of the readership is. I'm in marketing, and that really surprised me. So, I have to assume that we're statistically only of marginal import.
So, it's possible that less thought might be given to the impact the death of a female character might have on the readership. Or, it's possible that there's rarely a fan outcry when a female is killed. Or, maybe since many major female characters were spin-offs of popular male heroes, it was felt that they had to go to keep the male heroes unique, and get rid of "baggage". Or maybe many of the male creators simply relate less to female characters. Or maybe it's a combination of these.
This is not to say that some of these female characters haven't been improved in these stories; many are fond of Oracle, preferring her over her Batgirl persona, for example. Neither did I mean that some of these stories weren't effective, or moving. In fact, in a few cases, the death scene of a woman character provided her finest moment.
More often than not, though, there's a feeling of inconsequence, of afterthought, to these stories. I'm still kind of hoping to get a better understanding of the trend.
THE FAN RESPONSE
Because, obviously, how women are treated in comics stories is ultimately part of many larger issues. But just focusing on comics - if most major women characters are eventually cannon fodder of one type or another, how does that affect the female readers? Do they give up?
Combine this trend with the bad girl comics and you have a very weird, slightly hostile environment for women down at the friendly comics shoppe. No, I'm not against cheesecake or sexual content in comics, but when that content is strictly for boys and the women are just bizarre centerfolds with fangs and big hair ... well, it starts to smell like a guy's locker room. Or worse. Let's face it ... some comics readers smell pretty bad to start with.
OK. I kid the fans. I love the fans. But here's what happened that was odd. I took my plucky little letter and posted it at a couple comics sites, including Jonah Weiland's Comic Book Resources at www.comicbookresources.com (hi, Jonah! Love ya!) because, like I said, I knew the letter had some errors in it.
BIG mistake. I was flamed, called evil names and essentially just blasted by the fans there. Apparently, this is not a question that some fanboys enjoyed hearing. The creators had been courteous even in disagreement. But a small subsection of the fans' responses were really really unpleasant to read.
But I DID also get some really nice and helpful responses. Thanks guys! And you flamers-you make us all look stupid. Well, to be fair, mostly, you make yourselves look stupid. For god's sake, put down that Big Gulp and read a book. I say this because I care. Sorta. :)
RAYS OF HOPE
There are many. I actually think things are improving. First, comics simply aren't as grim anymore in general. Comics like Mark Waid's Flash helped usher in a brighter period in comics. Of course, sales are way down ...
Writers from the prose and cinema fields are writing more comics ... Joe R. Landsdale, Nancy Collins, Bob Gale, and others bring an additional viewpoint, as do writers from other countries. It's not that our domestic writers don't have talent - it's just nice to widen the writing gene pool.
Friends of Lulu and other less-organized groups are helping to get attention on female fans and creators.
And there ARE more female creators than ever before, I think ... Devin Grayson, Barbara Kesel, Amanda Conner, and Christina Z are not only creating, but are achieving widespread success. More than likely, this'll be the key that eventually creates the bridge between women and comics.
But it's not just women creators paying more attention. Books like "Supergirl," "Spider-Girl," "Fathom," "Danger Girl" and "Witchblade" are proving women can hold a title ... FINALLY.
And team books are focusing on women again - check out "The Titans," "Gen13," "X-Men," "Young Justice," etc.
Also, some characters that have been wiped out are returning, like Batgirl and Supergirl, in altered forms, apparantly due to reader demand.
I even find some hope in the seemingly-dying bad girl comics trend, although I'm sure others will disagree. At the store I shop at, I'm told "Lady Death" is very popular with female readers. It's a bit scary, but that's probably a good sign. Somehow.
I called one of those Psychic lines, and they told me comics are going to include more women in the future. I thought that was pretty good information, and it only cost me like six hundred dollars for the call. But they make a good point, there's lots of reason to be optimistic.
I still think women are pretty unevenly portrayed in comics, but so are men, really. Ultimately, we speak most loudly with the choices we make at the cash register. And to future creators - we ARE out there reading. Please don't barbecue all the characters we like!
Before I go, special thanks to Beau Yarbrough, who writes the best comics news column on the net and built this site (since I don't know how), and thanks also to John Bartol, John Norris, and Rob Harris for all their help in proofreading, editing, and wise counsel. Love to all and don't forget to e-mail me if you have something to say!
Thanks for reading,