Women in Refrigerators Women in Refrigerators

JOAN HILTY responds

Joan Hilty is an editor at DC Comics, where she has a reputation for being fiercely intelligent. She currently edits the DC Kids Line comics, but has also done time in the superhero realm as a DC Trading Cards editor and in the mature readers realm as a Vertigo editor. On the side, she's also drawn & written indie comics. She is, by her own admission, an unapologetically cranky feminist.

Plus, she doesn't mince words, I notice. (GS)

Hi Gail -

I only recently learned of this site through the Friends of Lulu list And was thrilled to visit it. I've read comics all my life and been an editor at DC for five years, and at one point I too kept a clipping file of female comics characters, major and minor, that were killed, maimed or sexually humiliated in any number of ways. I can even name one off the top of my head that I didn't see on the list - the brutal, rape-like death of Artemis in WONDER WOMAN. It wasn't so much the story (by Bill Messner-Loebs I think, who I actually consider a wonderfully feminist comics writer) as the vile art by Mike Deodato. It was viciously gratuitous, an end that never would have been designated for a male character in a million years.

Within my first few months at DC I also remember jumping up and down and yelling about a 'Spring Break' issue of LOBO to then-LOBO editor (and still-buddy of mine) Dan Raspler. It was drawn by Jim Balent and featured at least one god-awful panel with an alien ripping out of the body of a big-titted chick in a bikini. It was pure snuff, really nasty, and while LOBO was always about satirically over-the-top violence, this went too far.

The response that 'male characters get killed too' is completely disingenuous. You only need to have the faintest grasp of feminist or semiotic theory to know that it's not just how often it's done, it's HOW it's done and TO WHOM certain things are done. The sexually violent visual language of how these women get killed is remarkably consistent. Really, the larger reality is that American mainstream comics, built by guys for guys on the crumbling foundations of superhero fantasy, remain intensely hostile to women, consciously and subconsciously. As political and cultural landscapes shift and evolve worldwide and it gets harder and harder for white guys to retain their perceived right to run the world, you can see the frustration act itself out in various forms of hideous backlash -- everything from "Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?" to Katma Tui.

The response that superhero comics are aimed at a particular audience is also lame, especially when it's been long been public knowledge that the industry is suffering. Any successful form of mass entertainment learns to adapt to popular taste to reach wider audiences. When people lost interest in Westerns, Hollywood stopped making westerns. When people lost interest in serial fiction, the Saturday Evening Post stopped publishing. Comics, for some reason, thinks it's a world apart. So the train keeps hurtling towards the cliff edge, and everyone suffers.

Whew! Anyway, great site. Keep up the good work.

Joan Hilty