It has been said that super hero comics are male fantasies. I don’t remember when and I don’t remember where, but it’s true. So when Hope Larson posted the results of a survey on what women want from comics, it was clear that every female who read those results was hoping to see more comics that satisfy female fantasies.
Girls and women want mainstream comics to change to include them. By include them, I mean that Marvel or DC shouldn’t be creating separate comics for the ladies (which is terribly sexist), but to allow female readers everywhere to read a comic without cringing at a super heroine who looks like a Barbie doll who’s gone under the knife or sighing at stories where women take a backseat to a more powerful male hero.
That isn’t to say we want all those male heroes to be replaced by strong women in outfits that don’t make them look like hookers, but that we’d really like more of a team dynamic. More ladies stepping up to the plate would be nice. If we can look up to those ladies and not see someone who looks like her primary function is to make guys horny and isn’t kicking ass as much as she should. Below are my suggestions to help make super-hero comics more accessible without compromising what makes them popular in the first place…
1. Stop with the Porn Star Barbie: I get that guys want their eye-candy, but to be honest it grosses me out (and a lot of other girls I know) to see the way most ladies are drawn in comic-books. It’s actually one of my main complaints about comic book art is that everything is so grossly over-exaggerated and 0ver-stylized. I am not saying that needs to change drastically, but it would really really be great if got to see some thick girls (they don’t have to be fat girls, some girls are just naturally thick at their healthiest weight) or girls that can fit into bra sizes regularly sold at Kohl’s or someone who wears sneakers with their crime-fighting garb instead of some ridiculous heels. Don’t force everyone to show off their tits either. Let a girl cover her chest up. Maybe then she can show off her J.Lo booty. Maybe there are some male readers who would really like to see some J.Lo booty. And a lot of girls with big butts ARE proud of them. Anyway, you don’t have to change Emma Frost’s bra size. Just stop turning her into some exotic dancer whenever she puts on a costume. It would actually be way nice to see the men toned down too. The one really nice thing about Kick Ass was that Mark Millar did not force us to believe that Kick Ass was anything more than a normal guy with a normal body type. And let’s face it, few people are instantly attracted to men with monstrous muscles when they walk down the street but intimidated!
2. None of this: If you clicked on that link, you just saw a bunch Disney princesses and other characters in various states of sexy pin-up girl. They are also in various states of vulnerability, with the exception of Maleficent, and undress. Guys, your first reaction may be “so what?” but there are tons of women out there who look at something that has art like this and choke down guilt for buying something so demeaning just because they like the story or a character. It’s like making a girl buy condoms when she would never ever make you buy her tampons or pads. It’s uncomfortable and what if someone notices? Awkward! In this art, these female characters have to pose like models when most of them AREN’T models. Do you ever see the guys pose like that? No. Because that would look (excuse my language) gay. So they get action shots or power stances when they’re on a cover, but when a woman (or women) gets one, she’s more likely to look like she’s auditioning for Victoria’s Secret. Where are the ladies’ power stances? Just once, I’d like to see a bunch of women on a cover with no tits pushed out for the world to see!
3. No more sexual violence: Like the above, it makes women in these comics vulnerable. And do we ever see a male super hero become the victim of sexual violence? Uh, no. That would be emasculating. Guys wouldn’t respect Batman anymore if he had to reach for the soap in a prison shower. Even gay characters don’t have to deal with that kind of violence. So why is it O.K. for the ladies to be the subject of that kind of violence? It isn’t no matter how you put it. If you can’t make it happen to both men and women without turning off your readers, THEN DON’T DO IT. Figure out some other way for a character to be humiliated and shamed. It’s not impossible.
4. Treat your ladies like they are your bros: Not every woman in super hero comics has to be so much a part of the team that she only dates/marries/sleeps with/etc. with other super heroes. There are plenty of girls who wouldn’t even think of dating some of their guy friends because they don’t want to ruin that friendship or make it awkward. And where are the great romances between super-heroines and their civilian partners? I can’t think of any that are as well-known or long-lasting as Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson or Clark Kent and Lois. Sure, it’s normal for a group of close friends to have hookups, but that can easily lead to the kind of drama you left back in high school. Do you really want to read about that AGAIN? Wouldn’t it be cool for more super heroes and heroines to find love and acceptance outside the world of capes? Yeah. Wouldn’t it be cool for them to still be totally active as a super hero with super hero and non-super hero friends? Oh yeah. I want to see more super heroes and heroines just be great friends who plan parties and go drinking with the X-Men AND people outside the JLA.
5. Let the ladies kick ass and take names: It’s not that they can’t, it’s that men so often steal the spotlight. Letting a lady shine every once in awhile will probably make her more popular. Then all the much-ignored super-heroines might be able to become the stars of blockbuster movies and whatnot. That seems like a really great way to monetize the ladies. Either way, if publishers depend on what they know will interest the readers they already have, they lose a lot of opportunities to create interest where there wasn’t any before.
6. Don’t make your super hero comics about romance: Let’s face it, if women were getting into capes because we wanted to squeal about such and such with so and so, we would probably avoid all the issues that didn’t focus on a romance. Ladies like action too! That’s why any devout female reader buys comic books. We know where to get our romance fix a lot faster and a lot cheaper than collecting tons of issues of comics. That isn’t to say you can’t include romance at all, but include it in such a way that a reader is getting a glimpse of the life outside super hero life. Let them do their laundry on top of going out on a date. Show real life when you’re showing real life! Super heroes need to make dinner too! In the end, you should be creating your super hero comics for everyone. Not just women, not just men, not just children. Expand your market as much as you can and you’re more likely to get more readers. It can’t hurt to try. What have you got to lose? Readers you didn’t have before anyway?
By starting to cater to more than just grown men and children, comic book publishing companies will be fulfilling not just male fantasies, but female ones as well. Not just women, but catering minorities or other ethnicities will probably have more of an impact than most publishers would think. I know the way the Jewish community works, anything that involves Jewish people some way somehow gets talked about in Jewish papers worldwide. I doubt other communities are much different. If a comic book company does it right, they’ll get good press with an untapped audience. People will probably buy their stuff just because it’s got an Armenian or Cambodian or transgendered super hero or heroine. Why? Because people will think it’s cool that someone in the mainstream media is finally paying attention to THEM.
What we have now is a world of fans that would love growth, but an industry that relies too much on a world of fans who are stuck in their ways. Just look at the comments of this interview with Hope Larson, who did her survey in order to better reach more people who would want to read her comics. The misogyny, hatred and arrogance of some of the commentators will just make super hero comics a dying breed because people will start moving over to where their fantasies are satisfied.
It’s time to get with it. Starting with the ladies and working our way through everyone else.
Another great read on the subject:
The Problem with Representations of Women in Comics – Jezebel.com