"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.