"The women of Bikini Kill let guitarist Billy Karren be in their feminist punk band, but only if he's willing to just "do some shit." Being a feminist dude is like that. We may ask you to "do some shit" for the band, but you don't get to be Kathleen Hannah."--@heatherurehere

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Buy Comics By Women

This week in my year-long experiment to buy comics with at least one woman on the creative team means that I still get to read most of what I want, but I don't get to read some stuff that is likely really good. Once again I'm pleasantly surprised by the number of women working on the comics that I want to read, and sad at the glaring omissions. 

The Nope Pile
God is Dead 31
Past Aways 1 (matt kindt!)
Drifter 5 
Wytches 5
Darth Vader 3 (Gillen!)

The Valiant 4 (Lemire! matt kindt!)

The Buy Pile
Hit 1957 1 Art: Vanesa Del Rey
Suicide Risk 23 Art: Elena Casagrande
Conan Red Sonja 3 Writer:Gail Simone
Grindhouse Drive in Bleed Out 3 Writer: Alex De Campi Art: Afua Richardson
Red Sonja 15 Writer:Gail Simone Cover: Jenny Frison  
Autumnlands Tooth and Claw 5 Colorist: Jordie Bellaire
The Fuse 11 Colorist:Shari Chankhamma
Wicked + Divine 9 Colorist: Marguerite Sauvage
The Dark Tower: Drawing of the Three House of Cards 1 Writer:Robin Furth
Divinity 001 Cover:Jelena Kevic-Djurdjevic

Drifter and Wytches really hits me where it hurts, as I love some hard-boiled sci-fi and some Scott Snyder. But how can I complain when I get a Grindhouse book, a Red Sonja cover by Jenny Frison, and get to keep reading one of the most underrated titles out there, Suicide Risk?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Lots of Comics Artists Who Are Also Women

Another week of The Experiment (spending a year only buying comics that have at least one woman as writer or artist), and something I'm a little surprised by is creeping into my consciousness: I was already reading a lot of books that had women working on them.  And: There are a lot of women working as inkers, cover artists and colorists in comics. 

Here are the books I'm allowing myself to buy this week:
Alex + Ada -- artist Sarah Vaughn
Burning Fields -- colorist Joana Lafuente
Giant Days 001 -- artist Lissa Treiman
Lumberjanes -- Writer: Shannon Watters   Art: Carolyn Nowak
The Kitchen -- Art: Ming Doyle   Cover: Becky Cloonan
Sensation Comics featuring Wonder Woman -- Art: Noelle Stevenson
Outcast -- art and cover by Elizabeth Breitweiser
Manhattan Projects Sun Beyond The Stars -- Jordie Bellaire, colorist
Red One -- colorist Rachel Dodson
Zero -- art by Jordie Bellaire
Captain America and the Mighty Avengers -- Rachelle Rosenberg, colorist
Princess Leia 002 -- colorist Jordie Bellaire; Rachel Dodson inks

All New Captain America #5 -- if I can find the Marguerite Sauvage variant cover

Nope Pile:
B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth 
Frankenstein Underground 

The Fly Outbreak

That nope pile is so dinky! And aside from BPRD, I'm not too broken up I don't get to read the others. I'm kind of glad my experiment turns out this way some weeks, so I can get through the weeks where I don't get to read most of the comics that I want that week. 

One more note: Is Jordie Bellaire the hardest working artist in comics? 

With Male Privilege Comes Male Responsibility

A few weeks back I found out a writer that I used to love, but whose comics I had given up because of misogynistic douchebaggery, has a new book coming out, and three of my favorite female artists are working on the book. I wasn't likely to read Brain Wood's "Rebels" at any rate, since it looks like Tea Party Porn to me, but, but, but: Andrea Mutti! Jordie Bellaire! Tula Lotay! -- All of 'em on one book! My first instinct was to tweet out to any/all of them and ask why they were working with him--but of course that instinct is also misogynistic douchebaggery itself, y'know? These are grown-ass women, and they make their own decisions, know more about him and about comics than I do, and I don't have a "right to know".  But that was my instinct. Trying to own that. 

Now the completely convenient non-apology from Chris Sims comes out, and even though I also wasn't interested in reading his new X-Men book anyway, I find a promotion quote from one of my fave writers (also a woman) on his website.  And again, my lizard brain responds with: "I WANT TO KNOW WHY!!!!"

And Rachel Edidin, a friend of Sims, has a bunch of answers to the 'why?' question, most of which basically say "this shit is complex". You should read what she wrote: It's pretty great.

I know that. I know Brian Wood is a human being who can make mistakes. I know that Chris Sims is a dude who was steeped in the same bullshit misogynist culture that all of us are, and that we can make room for nuance, and forgiveness, while still keeping room for not-forgiving (which is why Edidin's take is so great). And I think that women in the industry, and women who are fans, get to make whatever decisions they want without me butting in--of course they do, of course they do, of course they do--that is part of the whole point of feminism. 

But as pro-feminist men, I'm not sure we get the same options. I think we have to give up some shit, whether it's reading what might be a great comic, or something more serious, like choosing a different fucking career from the one where we behaved very, very badly. It's male privilege that allows a dude like Sims to think that he can still deserve to write for mainstream comics after behaving like that, especially given the timing of his sorta-apology--and male privilege for men to continue to support men like him. As long as men still have so much more power in the comics industry than women do, as long as women are still underrepresented as writers and artists, then men need to hold the feet of other men to the fire. I'm not going to get on women who understand these men and want to work with them, but I'm still going to get on the men who hire these dudes, and the men who buy their comics, because it's not acceptable that the only repercussions from bad behavior are a slap on the wrist.  

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Why Am I Not Reading East of West?

One of the most interesting things about my experiment of only buying comics with at least one woman creator is that I'm discovering a lot of colorists!  One of the other interesting things is how many of my absolute favorite comics don't have any women working on them. I'm having to give up some of the best comics being created, I think. That's the downside. The upside: Still reading some of the best comics being created, and also discovering different writers and artists (though mostly artists).

The Nope Pile:

  • Rachel Rising: This one hurts, and it seems kinda unfair putting a comic that is created solely by one person in this experiment, but for now I'm doing it.
  • Abe Sapien: Even after the great interaction with Scott Allie I had this week, there are no women working on this fantastic comic, so it stays off of the buy pile. 
  • Astro City: Another painful one. This has consistently been one of the best comics (and has been coming out pretty regularly in its Vertigo run!), and I definitely feel like I'm missing out. 
  • East of West: I have to ask myself, at this point, if this experiment makes sense. East of West is one of those books that should have an even larger following, I think--it's imaginative, beautifully drawn, twists and turns in ways I can never predict. I hope a woman comes on board at some point soon so I can return to reading this one.
  • Star Wars: I'm not the biggest Star Wars fan, but I was enjoying this one, before the experiment started. 
Buy Pile:
  • Cassanova: Acedia -- Cris Peter as colorist
  • Bill and Ted's Most Triumphant Return -- Whitney Cogar, colorist
  • Coffin Hill -- Caitlin Kittredge, writer
  • Red Sonja -- Gail Simone, writer
  • Star Trek -- Claudia Balboni, art
  • Postal -- Covers by Linda Sejic
  • Shutter -- Leila deLuca, artist
  • Captain Marvel -- Kelly Sue DeConnick, writer
  • Ms. Marvel -- C. Willow Wilson, writer
  • The Surface -- Jordie Belaire, colorist
  • Sheltered -- Shari Chankhamma, colorist
  • Silver Surfer -- Laura Allred, colorist
Buy-if-I-can-find-the-variant-cover:  New category because there are so many this week. Turns out that his could be an expensive experiment if I take it to it's conclusion. Not sure if I'll find/buy these, but I'll ask about them at my LCS:
  • Thor -- Stephanie Hans, alt cover
  • Howard the Duck -- Sara Pichelli variant cover
  • Spider-Gwen -- Sara Pichelli variant cover
  • Cluster -- Jordie Bellaire, colorist on Declan Shalvey's variant cover

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Gender Gap from One Editor's Perspective

So here's a thing that is happening to me: Someone who has worked on some of my favorite comics of all time is chatting with me about his experiences as a comic editor (of some prestige and for 20 years or so) as regards hiring women artists, writers and editors. That's a pretty cool early result of my year-long experiment of only buying comics that are written or drawn by women.  It started when I suddenly realized that my experiment meant that I wasn't going to be able to buy some of my favorite comics of all--the Hellboy family of comics, including B.P.R.D., Hellboy in Hell, Abe Sapien and the like. It made me curious, since I've been reading the books for a while and couldn't remember when I've read one that involved a woman creator, and after some looking around, I couldn't find any female creators for any of the books. I reached out to Scott Allie, who I knew would know the answer.  Allie was kind enough to get back to me! It turns out I was wrong, but sadly not by much:

Curious, I asked if there were some coming up.  Allie said no, but was cool with discussing the subject in a non-twitter-sized format:

It's kind of incredible to me that the Editor-in-Chief of a comics company would bother responding to tweets from a stranger, and then exchange some emails--I think it says something not only about how great comics are as a medium, but also about how important companies like Dark Horse are, and folks like Allie. And I'd venture to say that Allie has been a strong ally for women in the industry (my words, not his) in various ways: Not only hiring female editors and other talent, but also getting out there and talking about problems with the industry regarding the gender gap. He gave an interview last year with Jill Pantozzi at The Mary Sue that addressed women in comics--characters and creative talent--in which the very subject of women in the Hellboy books was addressed, and it sums up a lot of what Allie indicated to me in his emails. I highly recommend reading the interview in The Mary Sue in full, because Allie details a lot of the work he's done regarding getting more women in the industry jobs. His ideas around the why and wherefore of a distinct lack of women creators on the Hellboy books is summed up in the article as well:
Allie: Absolutely. The goal is not to fill a quota. It’s to reflect reality. We’ve been given a little bit of a hard time, you know, by a handful of people online, literally a few, that BPRD doesn’t have more female creators involved. Despite everything else I’ve said here, I don’t think myself a hypocrite for saying that I haven’t made an explicit effort to hire women to write or draw [Mike]Mignola’s books. I haven’t made that a specific priority. I’ve looked for the right people to work on the books. A few times that’s led me to women, but I’ve not made it a quota. Nor have I done that on Buffy—it’s just that on Buffy, the pursuit of quality has more often led me to women. Is that because of the themes of Buffy? Or is it about what Buffy needs to be, creatively? I don’t know. It only occurred to me recently, when the diversity thing kicked up after Image Expo, that the first two comic book seasons of Buffy—real comics, all of them—were drawn by a black man, and the current season is drawn by a woman. That wasn’t intentional, it wasn’t a decision we made before we hired our talent, but it’s appropriate.
However, when hiring for editorial staff, I do make it a priority to bring in women. When you’re hiring writers and artists—when I am, anyway—I’m hiring them for what they’ve done, assuming that they will continue to do work of that calibre. When I’m hiring a young assistant editor, I’m hiring them on a hunch. I don’t really know what they’re capable of. I’m guessing, based on whatever factors I can take in. So it’s easier for me to let gender play a part. I’m not going to hire a less talented female penciler over a more talented male penciler, because I’m not looking to fill quotas—I believe I can judge those talents with some objectivity. Whereas with a potential assistant editor, I’m guessing, it’s way more subjective, and it feels like an appropriate place to take a hunch and say, We need another voice in the mix.
Allie has obviously put a lot of thought into this, and has made strides to get more women in comics. He also could have just said to me: Here, let me google it for you and you can go read The Mary Sue article! But instead he engaged. That is a good indicator to me that he's got a genuine interest in making things better. I also don't fault his basic strategy--having more and more women editors will mean more female writers and artists in comics, undoubtedly. But I'm also interested in why he doesn't go further, and try different things (and not just him, of course, but editors in comics in general).  

Choosing the best person for the gig is something that's hard to argue against--problem is, it's becoming more and more clear that we all have unconscious biases. All of us, not just the jerks. The people who are out-and-out misogynists have it, pro-feminist men have it, people doing good work have it. Hell, women have it against women, sometimes. It's a thing.  Why not try out some tools for avoiding unconscious bias as often as possible? The New York Philharmonic discovered that even well-meaning folks have unconscious bias, and gender-neutral hiring techniques caused the hiring of women to go up 40%. Allie has a thoughtful response to this idea:
But I won’t be a one-issue editor, I won’t hire with the sole motive of balancing this inequity, or put that motive above all else. My job, the thing I got into this work with the desire to do, is to make good books. That’s hard enough to do, in my opinion. If I work to create other obstacles and hoops to place between me and my goal, to further my personal political agenda, I am doing it wrong. In terms of hiring an editor or an assistant editor or a writer, the hoops I’d have to jump through to prevent myself from knowing the applicant's gender would prevent me from knowing other important things about them. So anyway, no, I can’t imagine a circumstance under which I’d do the equivalent of that double blind thing the orchestra did, though I’m glad it worked for them. 
Now, none of this means that we shouldn’t do things like Womanthology or the stuff Gail is doing with Red Sonja or Vampirella. There’s plenty of room for books like that, and, as importantly, there’s enough amazing talent out there that you can make those books great. And doing those things will help foster talent that we’ll all use in various ways on other projects. -- from an email
I don't work in comics. I don't even work in publishing. I've never been a paid editor, and that's why Allie's point of view is valuable to me--it has to be hard to make good comics, and to do so for so many years, so I empathize with the desire to not add extra work to that. It's pretty likely that I'll never know just how hard it can be do put out good books so consistently. I also think that, as men who have benefited in whatever ways from the unconscious biases of others, we have an added responsibility to do extra work to shift our workplace cultures. Maybe "double-blind" hiring can't work for a comics editor, but there have got to be some more ways of keeping unconscious bias to a minimum. Hiring women editors to do talent hiring will almost certainly help, something Allie is an strong advocate for, but as it stands, there is a way in which male editors who take this position reinforce the idea that it's the women who do get hired who will have to do the bulk of the work changing the culture, which is part of how the gender gap harms women. Also, as Allie himself pointed out to me, historically Dark Horse has had lots of the editors-in-chief who are women (Barbara Kesel, Diana Schutz and Melanie Crawford Chadwick, for example), which underlines to me the idea that hiring women editors just isn't enough to change the culture as regards gender.

I'm grateful that folks like Allie are making great comics, and thinking about these issues (and other issues of diversity, which I haven't touched on here). I think that we can be fans, and support comics pros, yet still ask these questions, still push them to create more and more diversity, to close the gender gap as quickly as possible. This interaction with Allie makes me hopeful, even though of course we may disagree on the details -- I'm going to miss these books for the year that I'm doing my experiment, and I'm hopeful that as things shift, such an experiment won't be useful anymore. 

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Week Two: A Year of Buying Comics by Women

Last week I officially started my experiment of spending a year only buying comics that have one or more women creators.  I'll repeat that this is just an experiment--I'm not advocating for others to do this, or that it's the way to get the culture of comics to be less sexist. I wanted to try it out to see how it would feel, for me. It's akin to Judith Levine's Not Buying it, or even more similar experiments, like only reading novels by women for a year.

This week there are a lot of comics that I want to read, that I have to leave off the buy pile because of this experiment:

No Women Creators Pile:
god is dead     

day men hellboy and the bprd 1952
big man plans
black science
rat queens

All new hawkeye

The Buy Pile:
Revival -- regular covers by Jenny Frison
Saga -- art by Fiona Staples, cover by Fiona Staples
lady killer -- words, art and cover by Joelle Jones

names -- regular covers by Celia Calle
[Update] princess leia -- Jordie Bellaire, colorist
[Update] blackcross -- cover by Tula Lotay and cover colors by Jordie Bellaire, if I can find 'em
[Update] Rat Queens -- cover by Jenny Frison, if I can find it

Some thoughts about this week: 
  • First off, that's a small-ass buy pile. I have some new webcomics on my radar thanks to The Ormes Society, including the fantastic Agents of the Realm
  • Second thought: It looks to me like the Hellboy line of comics will be off-limits for me all year, since (correct me if I'm wrong) it looks like there has never been an artist or writer on any of the Hellboy books. I hope I'm wrong about that, and/or it changes soon.
  • I'm missing out on some awesome comics with this experiment.
  • It's tough to find who lettered an issue online. Any hints on this? 
  • Lots of coloring is being done by companies, rather than individuals. Huh. 
  • There's something wrong with an experiment like this that doesn't let me read Rat Queens. [Update] If I can find the Jenny Frison cover, I can do Rat Queens!
  • On the other hand: Nobody involved in creating the Princess Leia comic is a woman?  [Update] I WAS WRONG: Jordie Bellaire is the colorist!
  • [Update] I'm going to count variant covers done by women, if I can find them either hard copy or digital.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Year of Buying Comics Created by Women

I really like reading comics--and one of the things that has gotten me back into comics after a few years of not buying them has been the influx of women creators.  I have been buying comics on-and-off for about 20-25 years. I'd estimate that about 90% of those comics were written by, drawn, colored and lettered by men. This is a ballpark figure, of course, but I think it's probably pretty close to the real figure. There's nothing amazing about this--I am a product of Marvel/DC marketing in a lot of ways, I'm over 40 years old, and those comics have historically been overloaded with creators (and readers) who are male.

Given I've spent so many thousands of dollars on male-created comics, I thought I'd try an experiment: For a year I'm only going to buy comics that have at least one woman working on them.

I'm taking the idea that this is an experiment to heart--I'm not advocating that this can fix gender inequality in comics in any way, that everybody should do this, that it will even really make a dent in the problem. Instead, I want to check out my "stuff" around gender in comics: How important is it to me to support women in comics? What does it look like to support women in comics? How important is representation in the material (e.g. Captain Marvel has her own book!) , and how important is representation in the creation of that material (Lumberjanes was created by all women!)?

Here are, loosely, my rules:

  • I'm going to only buy comics that have a woman involved in the creation of the book at one of the following levels: writer, artist (drawing and/or coloring), letterer.
  • I'm going for "consistently has a woman involved", so if a guest-artist is a dude, but usually it's drawn by a woman, I won't skip the issue
  • I'm going to mostly read stuff I would have read anyway, but since I'll be missing out on some good books, I'll probably expand my reading choices, too
  • I'm going to try this for a year. I've been doing it informally for January and February so far, so I'll do it until January 2016.
  • I'll keep weekly lists of the comics that I *want* to read, but can't, because there are no women involved in them.
  • I'll probably also talk a bit about the books that I *can* read.
  • I'll do a weekly summation of how the experiement is turning out.

The first thing that comes up for me is that some of my absolutely favorite comics ever will now be off my pull list, at least for now. No Sex Criminals. No BPRD. No East of West. FUCK!

Also, some books with great female protagonists will be off-limits: Copperhead. Rat Queens. Lazarus. SPIDER-GWEN. FUCKITTY FUCK!

I also considered counting editors who are women as ok for the buy pile--but while editors are so often the unsung heroes of comic books, I think comics companies, especially the "big two", often fill their ranks of editors with women far before they hire more women as creators, in the same way that, say, tech companies fill their marketing departments with women, but not their coding departments. This is something I want to highlight for myself.

I'm also fascinated by just how many books I *can* still read--if I had tried this experiment 10-15 years ago, I would have not been reading many books (or I would have been reading a bunch of incredible books I haven't heard of yet?).

Friday, September 12, 2014

Rasputin: Gread Writing, but Still Women in Refrigerator Writing

Alex Grecian knows a lot about violence, and a lot about comics. His novels  about "Scotland Yard's Murder Squad" are well-received best sellers. His comic book, Proof, ran for over 28 issues. He's an avowed pacifist--which rings true; who better to write about the horrors of violence than someone who doesn't think violence is ever a good solution to a problem? His bona fides regarding comics and violent characters are obviously solid.

I also suspect he knows more than most folks do about the historical (and mythologized) Rasputin, given that his new comic, debuting in October from Image Comics, is set to explore Rasputin from new angles.  He certainly knows more about Rasputin than I do. I'd only run across Rasputin because of a smattering of interest in a few Russian plays and novels, and, of course, the wholly fictionalized account of Rasputin as a villain from the Hellboy comics.

When I saw Image's tweet about an article by Grecian about his new comic, I clicked--I don't love all of Image's books, but that's like saying I don't like all of the fiction in the library: One of Image's best attributes is that they choose to publish good stuff, regardless of genre. I wasn't surprised that the link took me to playboy.com--the tamest of adult men's magazines--Playboy seems to be in the midst of re-branding itself as feminist-friendly. I even thought, upon seeing the first art in the interview juxtaposed with a link to "22 Insane Profile Pictures from Russian Gals on Dating Sites" to be depressingly fitting: Did Playboy's algorithms have a sense of humor? 

Being a fan of learning about writers' processes at least since I used to read Kameron Hurley's blog, Brutal Women, which (among other things) detailed the process of writing her first book, I was glad to learn a bit about why somebody would tackle Rasputin in comics form, especially given the mountains of books written about the man. It was difficult to stick with Grecian's words, however, given the stunning art by Riley Rossmo was right there.  Scrolling down through the panels, however, I was taken aback by the choice of panels to appear in this article in Playboy.com. We're treated to a scene of intense domestic violence, and Rasputin's father beats his wife to unconsciousness and perhaps death right in front of the young man.  After his father leaves, Rasputin then heals his mother in a dramatic fashion in the final panel we're shown.   These few pages of the comic, especially within the context of both Playboy and the recent video involving Ray Rice, made me immediately think of Women in Refrigerators phenomenon:
The term describes the use of the death or injury of a female comic book character as a plot device in a story starring a male comic book character. It is also used to note the depowerment or elimination of a female comic-book character. Cases of it deal with a gruesome injury or murder of a female character at the hands of a supervillain, usually as a motivating personal tragedy for a male superhero to whom the victim is connected. The death or injury of the female character then helps cement the hatred between the hero and the villain responsible.  
On the few pages we're given, we see the beginnings of the "hero" (or in this case, anit-hero?) Rasputin, as he is immersed in the violence of the villainous father, and heroically saves his mother's life.  I'm not going to show the mom getting the shit beat out of her by the father here, but you can check it out at the original post.  I think Rasputin looks remarkably superhero-ish here, which seems to be something of the point of this new book.

Given the information I had, I tweeted the following:


Which led to the following discussion:

Regardless of the rest of the issue plays out, the choice to show these particular pages on the Playboy site seems inappropriate at best to me.  Even if the rest of the book shows that this isn't a case of Women in Refrigerators, as a preview, this is (great) art showing a husband beating his wife to a bloody pulp on the floor; the power of such images seems like a poor choice for a set of preview art--in a culture where dudes like Ray Rice exist, we need to give context to any art that shows domestic violence against women, context that by definition can't be given in a preview, probably.

So does the rest of the book show my intuitions were wrong or unfair? What about "the actual story"? Well, even though it seemed the offer of a preview read wasn't on the table any longer, Grecian's agent at Image was kind enough to reach out and send me a preview copy, asking for nothing else but an objective review, and to avoid any spoilers. I read it last night, letting it sink in, and again this morning. It's a well-written book, with art to match. I'll probably pick it up in October, and give it at least a few issues to see if it's for me.  That said, it is textbook women-in-refrigerator comics. Rasputin's mother is there only as a plot device--her beating motivates Rasputin later on to be less-than-kind to his father a bit later on in the book. The father is more fleshed out--we know infinitely more about him than we do about his mother.  Later on, the adult Rasputin we see briefly in this first issue is still affected by his now-dead father, appearing as a ghostly figure. 

Does his mother's beating give emotional resonance to the protagonist? Mabye--but that is central to the whole point of the women in refrigerator concept: Harming/killing women characters is too often done in comics as a shortcut to add emotional resonance--it's a shortcut that has been used so often that volumes have been written about it. Can harm to women characters in comics be done in a way that is not an example of " 'friging'? Of course. Mignola's Hellboy and B.P.R.D. comics are full of women characters who come to harm, but they're not examples of 'friging because they're allowed to actually be characters, not there just to motivate the (usually male) protagonist. Here, we're not given much about Rasputin's mom to work with.

So it turns out this is a solid first issue, and also a prime example of Women in Refrigerators. It didn't have to be both.