I love comics. I love to read them. I love to study them. I love to talk about them. I love the process of making them. I love the culture that has built itself around them.
That last statement is why I take it very personally when the aforementioned culture starts accepting harmful ideas or repelling people who have every right to love this medium as much as I do. That sort of behavior became very obvious this week.
For those of you that don’t know, a few major figures in the comics industry said some pretty divisive things over the last few days. Mark Millar (Kick-Ass, Ultimates) referred to the rape scene in his book “Kick-Ass 2” stating, “I don’t really think it matters” and has previously said about the lack of female inclusion in comics “I think it’s meaningless. A tiny storm in a tea cup.” Todd McFarlane (Spawn, Haunt) referred to superhero comics and female inclusion, “I would do it in either a TV show, a movie, a novel, or a book. It wouldn’t be superheroes because I know that’s heavily testosterone — driven.” Gerry Conway (The Amazing Spider-Man, Justice League) claimed his daughter and other girls are “not interested in the guy stories.”
A lot of people have already responded about these statements in blogs, newspapers, statuses, tweets, forums, and plenty of other places. People a lot smarter or more involved than me have already called out this nonsense, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be restated. This is important. This is something we need to be aware. This is something we need to talk about.
These guys are big deals. They’re publishers and bestselling writers. To people who aren’t very familiar with comics, they represent the face of the industry. So statements like this can be dismissed as the uninformed or childish remarks of a few guys who didn’t bother to think about what they were saying. But to outsiders, those who have not yet fallen in love, they represent the face of comics.
When parents are looking to help their little girl start reading or when a young woman is checking out different lit. courses in her freshman year of college or when a female teacher is considering what books her AP English course should read, this will be part of their impression for an entire medium. Statements like this repel people and for good reason. There’s no need to discuss why rape matters, or why an entire medium or genre shouldn’t be purely for those of us with more testosterone. So it’s not hard to make the leap that when these sorts of statements are associated with something, it becomes less desirable. It also means that everyone loses.
Creators lose because their audience is narrowed. That’s sadder now than ever, when women like Kelly Sue DeConnick, Becky Cloonan, and Fiona Staples are producing some of the best work in all of comics and when men like Matt Fraction, Kieron Gillen, and Brian K. Vaughan are producing equally good work that features beautifully realized female characters. These creators have unique and talented voices that should not be quieted, by no fault of their own.
Fans lost because their favorite medium is diminished. Not only are those of us who love comic books put on the defensive when talking about them, but we lose potential friends to discuss and share these stories with. Comic publishers are not making beau coup profits, not by a long shot. The survival of this medium is dependent on introducing new readership. I sure as hell don’t want to see a great new idea fail to be published because the market begins to shrink.
Most importantly though, every potential reader who decides not to read loses. This isn’t just about women. It’s about every person who thinks less of reading comics because of these issues. Comics, more so than almost any other story-telling medium, are incredibly accessible. It’s so easy for people of all ages and continents to pick up a comic and understand and share in a story. For anyone to not want to read “Maus” or “Bone” is a tragedy. For anyone to not want to simply read is a tragedy.
So what does all of this have to do with feminism?
Feminism isn’t a scary word. It’s about treating people fairly, specifically women. It’s the basic belief that boys and girls should not be told how to behave or what they can do based purely on their gender. I’m no better than anyone else because I’m a boy and no one is any better than me because they’re a girl. That’s not scary. That’s sort of beautiful.
So I would bet, based on that, you are probably a feminist. (If you don’t think so, then come over sometime and let’s talk. I really mean that. I’ll pick up some beers and grill something and we can talk about gender equality, because there’s already too much unfairness in this world to not talk about this kind of thing with an open heart.) For everyone that already is a feminist, congratulations. Treating people decently is pretty awesome. It’s also the big take away from this entire ordeal.
Please don’t walk away from this angry. That was my initial reaction and a little indignation is perfectly understandable. But reacting with hate towards guys like Mark Millar or Todd McFarlane isn’t going to make any of this better. They said some dumb things, but that doesn’t make them bad people. Hopefully, one day, a friend of theirs will invite them over to grill and have a beer so they can talk about this. The best way to fight messages of ignorance and exclusion is to respond with the opposite.
So when you hear something like this, speak up. Say something. Don’t shout. Just explain that women create and love comics too, that women have every right in the world to read about amazing female heroes and make their very own, and that sex crimes are not a throwaway story beat. More importantly, when you meet a woman interested in comics, remember she’s no different than anyone else, simply ready to fall in love with a good story. Be the ambassador to everyone interested in these stories, make recommendations, engage in conversation, and encourage them to keep reading, no matter their pairing of chromosomes.
Just be the good guy.