Two Quick Links

My very best wishes to Scott at Polite Dissent who has suffered a mild heart attack.

Dirk goes further than I did:

Like it or not, superhero comics are made by and for men. That doesn’t mean that’s all they can ever be, but that’s the way it is now, and until female fans gain enough economic clout to dictate terms, they’re going to remain safely ignorable. Want to change that? Make the f***ing comics and build the audience you need to affect change. Granted, it’s easier to demand that other people do what you want them to do, or whine about statues, but that’s how success works: If you want the world, go out and carve yourself a piece of it.

There’s lots more at the link, including comparisons to the John Byrne forum and pictures of Betty Page and gay porn (so probably not safe for work). It’ll be interesting to see if he receives the same level of outrage I did. I suspect not, for several reasons: the first blush of venom has already been expended; he’s known for being outrageous (working for Fantagraphics gets you that rep); and he’s not female, which I suspect played into the kind of attacks I received. (I think both men and women see females as easier targets online, and I could be considered more of a betrayer to my gender, thus raising more of an emotional response.)

(Because I’m still gun-shy, comments on this post will be moderated. Discussion, debate, and disagreement are welcome; insults and personal attacks will be deleted.)

But back to the point: I think Dirk goes too far. I think accurate, well-reasoned criticism can have an effect, but I think the most important immediate action to take is simple. Stop buying what you don’t like. To take a non-gendered example, I can’t believe I see people saying “the first issue of Countdown was bad, so I’ll only give it 4-6 more issues to see if it improves” or “I hated Countdown, but I have to get it because everyone’s going to be talking about it all year”. Just stop.

What you say doesn’t matter if you keep giving them money. If you object to the way superhero comics portray women or if you just don’t enjoy reading them, quit buying them month after month.

17 Responses to “Two Quick Links”

  1. Guy LeCharles Gonzalez Says:

    I suspect Dirk will see less outrage partly because Journalista doesn’t typically generate many comments within itself at all. It pushes outward, whereas your blog draws people in.

    As for women being an easier target — a debatable opinion in the context of online discussion where everyone is an easy target — I’d say it was more of a feeling of betrayal that spurred the outrage in your case. Several people, including myself, noted a defeated tone in your initial post and subsequent comments, which is disappointing considering you’re such a high-profile blogger with a generally progressive take on the industry.

    While you may think your efforts over the years haven’t changed effected any noticeable change, I’d vigorously argue otherwise. The Almighty Dollar is certainly the ultimate determining factor in what does and doesn’t change in this industry, there are myriad battles to be fought in the “war for better comics” and your abandoning your post, or simply ceding ground on the superhero front, is a loss bound to draw some friendly fire.

    With minor influence comes great responsibility, and if you stray or go rogue, you become part of the problem.

    Did I torture those metaphors and analogies enough to make my point and clear moderation? :-)

  2. Guy LeCharles Gonzalez Says:

    PS: I’d also argue that Dirk offered a solution (“Make the f**king comics!”) whereas you effectively told people to stop whining and go read something else.

  3. Joshua Macy Says:

    I’m absolutely 100% with you on not buying comics that you don’t like, but I suspect if you could get people to do that it would actually make gender issues in mainstream superhero comics even worse. I don’t think there’s a secret silent majority of current readers who take issue with women-in-refrigerators or hyper-sexualized costumes and poses, so if the ones that do bail the publishers will be forced to re-evaluate–instead all that’ll be left is the people who either don’t notice/care or actually approve…and just as every time in the past when faced with slipping circulation, they’ll just pander harder to the remaining fans.
    Note that I’m not saying that fans who care ought to stick around in hopes of serving as a slight ameliorating force. They shouldn’t support stuff they don’t like, period. But they shouldn’t quit just as a tactic to try and gain concessions either…I just don’t see that happening. Quit because it’s crap, and don’t look back. Buy and create the stuff you can support and be proud of.

  4. mark thorpe Says:

    Another problem I see, is the direct market’s lack of female freindly atmosphere. If we could snap our fingers and have the kind of comics we want, it still wouldn’t change the direct market, who look at women like a strange alien pod that has landed a few feet from them ( guilty, once or twice myself ). As it is now, I have never seen a woman in a comic book store alone. She is always attached to the arm of a boyfriend or husband. Always. If you could change comics,get female creators and female centric story telling, the direct market wouldn’t know what to do with itself.

  5. Lyle Masaki Says:

    Hm, Dirk’s example of gay porn doesn’t work for me in this case since the MJ statue and the Bettie Page picture are doing something for their man (and happy to be doing the service, it seems) while the cowboys are having fun together. It would’ve worked better if there were an example of a guy doing some husbandly chore with a similar “I’m sexy and I’m unclogging the drain because what makes you happy makes me happy” dynamic. (Or, on a similar note, there are the “Kitchendales” videos of handsome men cooking and spilling stuff on themselves, thus necessitating the removal of clothing.)

  6. Johanna Says:

    Guy, I think you’re misreading or assuming, because I do think things have changed for the better since I got back into comics in 1992. And I’m not abandoning anything — my new site design has oddly reenergized me to take on the battles that matter and promote comics that are great.

    Joshua, you may be in right in the short term, and it may be that the only solution is for the dinosaur (-driven and -pandering) companies to go out of business. I totally agree with your last two sentences.

    Mark, let’s not throw the baby out. There are plenty of great direct market stores out there that love and support female customers. It’s the bad apples (that sadly do still exist) that give the whole setup a bad name.

    Lyle, I bow to to your greater experience in the area. :)

  7. Ed Sizemore Says:

    Here is an odd idea, but one hopefully related. It would be nice to see the older superhero characters finally become public domain. (Mind you this doesn’t mean that you can use the character names since they are trademarks and those never expire.) But image if Superman and a few others finally became public domain and people were free to write their own versions of the characters. Then the comic reader could buy the version of the character they find more enjoyable. So someone like Tintin could finally get her version of Wonder Woman on the market. I suspect that Tintin’s Wonder Woman would sell like hotcakes, while DC’s would lose all but its most diehard readers. Then customers would be accomplishing two things at once, voting with their dollars and showing the comic producers exactly what they want. But I guess I might as well ask for a free trip to Japan while I’m dreaming.

    I agree with your argument and analysis of superhero comics completely Johanna. I’m sorry that you’ve gotten so much flax for simply telling the truth. Thank you for not backing down. I’m glad to hear you’ve gotten your second wind. Your blog is always an oasis of thought-filled writing that I enjoy everyday.

  8. david brothers Says:

    Stop buying what you don’t like. To take a non-gendered example, I can’t believe I see people saying “the first issue of Countdown was bad, so I’ll only give it 4-6 more issues to see if it improves” or “I hated Countdown, but I have to get it because everyone’s going to be talking about it all year”. Just stop.

    Yes. This. I can’t see myself spending money on something I don’t enjoy on some level, be it art, writing, or content.

    I don’t talk about bad comics on my blog (generally, I mean) because I don’t buy them. The “Oh, maybe it needs a few issues” is bunk. A good story grabs you from the beginning, not partway through. Anything else is just bad storytelling.

  9. Lyle Masaki Says:

    Heh, well, my main point was that the two female pinups were there for the viewer while Dirk’s gay pic had subjects were there for mutual fun. I actually had a difficult time thinking of something that would be similar in nature.

    Joshua, I disagree about the silent majority. I think they’re exist but that they’ve also slowly dropped out of reading DC/Marvel out of frustration. Then again that’s just a feeling from spending time with like-minded people who’re finding it easy to drop superhero comics now that there’s so much non-creepy manga to enjoy.

  10. caleb Says:

    …he’s known for being outrageous (working for Fantagraphics gets you that rep)…

    I suspect that this will be the big factor. When Dirk says something bitter and angry attacking/poking/criticizing mainstream comics and their fans in general on Journalista, it doesn’t really stand out, does it?

    And I think the subject of your two posts vary quite a bit, although the ground covered overlaps here and there.

  11. Sarah Says:

    Eh. The defenders of the industry show such a constant inability to distinguish between asking for material specifically pitched to women and asking that comics in general not treat women as if they were subhuman that it scares me. It’s as if they literally cannot imagine material they would enjoy that did *not* treat women as subhuman. If I was a man, I’d be horrified and ashamed to realize that I thought that way.

    At this point, I don’t really care if Marvel and DC want to pitch stuff to me. It doesn’t seem to *me* that they’re doing so all-fired well that they can throw away affluent readers who enjoy their genre, but what the hell, it’s a free market. I can spend my money elsewhere. What I *do* care about is that their product not be a hopelessly misogynistic cesspool that makes it just that much harder for women to make their way in the world. There’s nothing inherently misogynistic or sexist about superheroes as a concept. There’s no reason Marvel and DC have to be that way–unless they’re conceding that the sole function they have left to fulfill is to be slightly less socially unacceptable soft porn. (And even soft porn doesn’t *have* to be sexist, actually.) In which case, they can stop whining about their storytelling and artistic integrity straight off.

  12. Johanna Says:

    I think grouping people as “defenders of the industry say” is about as accurate as “the feminists think”.

    I think real change won’t happen until some personnel changes happen, starting as high as possible.

    And DC does want to pitch stuff to you, Sarah. They named it Minx and kept far away from superheroes. :) That’s one significant distinction between DC and Marvel: DC’s much more diverse in terms of imprints and thus audiences.

  13. Terrence Says:

    I will start this post by saying that I’m honestly perplexed. I really enjoy your blog, and love the clean look you’ve recently given it. I come to your blog at least 3 times daily to read about non-superhero comics, and have enjoyed some great material. I posted a while back, but I have been uncomfortable posting here because I do not see the foundation of your argument. I do believe that sexism and racism are present in superhero comics, a legacy of decades of ignorance that hasn’t completely left the genre, but the examples given are usually shallow and a bit of a stretch to me. Sue Dibny’s murder, while in poor taste, is no worse that what airs on CSI every week, and that reaches 20-30 million people! An earlier poster claims that superhero comics treat women as sub-human, which ones. While profiting off sex is cheap and oafish, I don’t see how that is sub-human. I don’t want to seem like I think the people here are making stuff up, but I think that a clear example is needed, not a “well Power Girl’s face isn’t on the cover, but her boobs are” kind of thing that most people, no matter how they feel on the issues you present, will notice. So far the examples given are vague and hard to follow. I have no wish to support sexist creators or comics, but I don’t really know who the enemy is in this. Regardless, I hope you keep up the great work and I wish you well.

  14. Ray Cornwall Says:

    I think Guy hit it on the noggin on the first point- Dirk has a conversation AT you, while you have a conversation WITH us. It’s a different thing. And to his credit, I don’t think Dirk could do what he does a different way. He’s doing day-to-day reporting with a scope far larger than most in the comics blogosphere, and he does a good job. He just doesn’t seem to be someone who would be open-minded in a conversation about superhero comics.

    I wonder if part of this conversation gets cloudy because people equate Marvel and DC comics as JUST superhero comics. Marvel and DC comics are their own genre altogether: the collaboratively-written multi-perspective fictional megaconstruct. Because of the number of collaborators and the economic success of both constructs, and the number of genres each construct has touched over the years (both have roots in Western, romance, sci-fi, and other genres), and because of the numerous works created for each construct on a periodical basis, both constructs look inviting to everyone. It’s only once you get close up that you realize that most of the creators were men writing for men, and even more truthfully, mostly white, Christian or Jewish men writing for a similar audience. There’s not even any real attempts to significantly diversify the creator base. Without that diversity, the constructs will always have a limited appeal outside of their current base.

    But that doesn’t mean SUPERHERO comics are necessarily capped- there’s nothing to stop new creators from creating something friendly to a wider audience. Heck, isn’t the Matrix a superhero story, and didn’t that appeal to a very wide audience?

  15. Johanna Says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Terrence. I appreciate your continued reading, and I hope next time you find something vague or confusing, you’ll feel comfortable asking for more explanation.

    Ray, I like your coinage, although I think CWMPFM doesn’t quite roll off the tongue. :)

    When we start getting into wide-reaching superheros, you can cite Buffy and James Bond, but then it starts becoming about how you define the genre. Within the traditional spandex expectations, the only explicitly female-friendly creation I can think of is Go Girl. Reportedly, that took cracking the bookstore market to succeed; it got canceled at least once within the direct market. I’d love to know what some of the feminist superhero critics thought of that… but I suspect many of them haven’t ever seen it.

  16. Tintin Pantoja Says:

    “PS: I’d also argue that Dirk offered a solution (“Make the f**king comics!”) whereas you effectively told people to stop whining and go read something else.”

    Johanna maintains a list of comics by women. She’s promoting comics by women, women who’ve ALREADY made the f**king comics. She’s providing alternative reading. That’s what I call a solution.

  17. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » May 15, 2007: Money feeds my music machine Says:

    […] reactions — a moment please, while I namecheck Alice Hunt, Valerie Dorazio, Laura Hudson and Johanna Draper Carlson. Most of the responses centered around my notion that complaining about funnybook sexism is […]




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