Women in Refrigerators Women in Refrigerators


I love my husband lots, but we can barely make dinner together without serious creative differences popping up--yet somehow, Tom and Mary Bierbaum manage to write lots and lots of comics together without killing each other. That's pretty cool. They've written "Legion of Super-Heroes," "Xena," "The Deadly Duo," and worked for the licensed properties section of Image and Maximum Press. Tom's point here (#1) about male writers possibly trying to show how life can be hard for women is an interesting one I hadn't considered. Thanks, Tom! (GS)

Hi, this is Tom Bierbaum, responding to your question about female characters in comics. I'll try to give Mary a shot at the computer to give her thoughts on the matter as well (we now have two young kids and computer time is golden for both of us).

I suspect the fate of female characters isn't that much worse than it is for most male characters. I often think about the Silver Age JLA and how unfortunate and unrealistic it is that virtually every one of them is now either dead or has gone through some horrible, scarring trauma. The industry's current idea of what you do with characters is fairly narrow, and most of them sooner or later get dragged through death, dismemberment or some comparable horror.

If indeed female characters get off even worse than the males, it might reflect some different and somewhat contradictory forces:

  1. The tendency for some writers to sympathize with women's issues and think any relevant portrayal of a female hero should examine their difficult lot in this world.

  2. The tendency for some writers to feel hostility toward female characters.

  3. The tendency for some writers to consciously or subconsciously sense that female characters in peril, suffering or dying have more emotional wallop for most readers than male characters in the same situations.

Anyway, we were very pleased to hear from you. We always enjoy communicating with fans and especially female fans. We, too, wish there many more women reading comics, if only because it would give more commercial viability to the less testosterone-driven genres.

Alas, I suspect the real issue is reaching young kids of any gender, because if we don't find a way to seed the business with future generations of devoted fans, there won't be much readership left, male or female. Thus, the best way to get a higher ratio of female readers might be to reach young girls in mass numbers with true kid-aimed product, so that in five and 10 years, they'll be the devoted fans buying the more sophisticated material.

Anyway, thanks for the interest, and I'll try to get Mary to respond as well.

Tom later had this to add...

I think one of the differences to keep in mind between male characters and female characters is that there are a few male characters that have a large, established following that must be catered to by any profit-seeking company. So there must be a viable Batman that's roughly compatible with the Batman of the movies and TV animation, same for Superman, Spider-Man and perhaps a small handful of others.

And I suspect that skews any comparison of the fates of Batgirl and Batman, since the biggest real-world difference between the two characters is probably not their gender but their relative levels of popularity. For example, my favorite DC character is Hal Jordan, and I'd dearly love for him to have ended up with Barbara Gordon's fate rather than what he got. Ditto Barry Allen, my second favorite. Neither of those characters commanded the following of the Bruce Wayne Batman, so neither had to be preserved and so both are gone.

So we have a chicken-and-egg thing, where there are probably no female super-heroes on that level (Wonder Woman probably comes closest, but I don't believe her following has rivaled those of the top male heroes now for several decades), so no female hero gets the kind of protection from real long-term disaster that the small handful of untouchable characters get.

Even so, I don't consider that any of those male heroes, or virtually any currently published hero of either sex, has what I would describe as an existence that's fun to identify with. I know I wouldn't want to live through what these guys are living through. And that could certainly be driving away young readers, male and female, plus anyone older who would rather be actually having fun with comics than using them to examine the darker facets of the human existence. Not a good thing when the industry's total readership is spiralling ever downward.