By RazzaTazz 24 Comments
Much has been made recently of the lack of female writers and artists (or editors for that matter) at DC Comics with its highly anticipated reboot. The reaction of those voices behind DC Comics is sometimes comical. One of the creators answered the lack of female creators with a touch of humour, stating that he might look ok in a dress. This is in itself a sort of abstract concept, trying to defer the conversation by resorting to a fairly standard sub genre of comedic fiction (cross dressing). I personally do not feel that wearing a dress is really what defines me by my gender, and anyway numerous men around the world wear clothes which would be describes as dress like if they were not on a man’s body. Perhaps in this case they could write for comic companies?
I digress though on the issue really at hand here and that’s that the comic industry looks at women and claims to have an understanding of them without truly portraying them accurately. A corollary to this might be war themed comics. War comics first started out as a jingoistic part of propaganda, to displaying a more realistic side of war (Nick Fury or Sgt. Rock), to finally descending into war stories with a sort of more fantastical bent (Creatures Commandoes or the Haunted Tank). It was only with the start of the Vietnam War that comics once again took on a new and grim reality (most specifically with Doug ’s the ‘). What happened here were artists who came back from the battlefields and the front writing stories based on their experiences and not on the assumption of what life was like. Erich Maria Remarque wrote perhaps the greatest war time novel of all time, All Quiet on the Western Front, which is simplistic in its narrative but hard hitting in its depiction of life and death. If one were to try and best this story now they would have a hard time. Erich was a veteran of the Western front (being a German soldier) and his experience was earned not assumed. That his later novels on different subjects never attained the same stature is an indication of what this experience was worth.
So without the proper experience in the field what happens are just opinions as opposed to facts. In the movie As Good as it Gets, Jack Nicholson is asked the question “How do you write women so well?” to which he replies “I think of a man and take away reason and accountability.” This is played up for its comedy in the movie, as a sort of archaic way of thinking, but inherently this is the main drawback in the depiction of women, in that they are mostly written as men and then feminized. Power Girl is drawn in a most ridiculous manner, but she is sort of the end state of what every guy would do if he was a woman (get bigger breasts.) This same line of reasoning applies to a majority of the female characters, they are simply written as men and then have female characteristics added to them. Some writers of course do not do this, some are actually adept at portraying what women would think or how they would act, but even then it seems for every heroic action there is a subsequent moment of girl talk or gushing into a diary (this happened often enough in the mostly excellent Perez run on Wonder Woman). What is lacking here is that women are indeed different and are complex, but are marginalized in terms of comic books depictions. The experience of what it means to be a woman is lost and most of the popular female characters are reduced to being female representations of “what is cool about women” without actually having much factual basis in this fact. Is it conceivable that there be a female character that is proud of her body who doesn’t mind wearing so little of a costume that she looks like she is wearing lingerie? Probably. Once it gets to either Starfire or Emma Frost type of levels though it becomes a caricature and not a fact.
The comic industry has gone through different periods in its own development, from being aimed primarily at children to being aimed at a more mature (though mostly white and male audience) to being wider and wider still. The big companies aim to reach out to new fans, but they are doing so with old methods. There is a fitting quote from Max Planck “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” Take away the word scientific and this applies to essentially everything. There will always be those that resist change but for those that embrace it they get to a place where they should be anyway. There will be women in the industry in the future, all the female voices at the moment bemoaning how comics are presented will make sure of that. It is one of the most compelling media in the world for its ability to represent anything the creators envision, as long as the writer can think it and the artist can draw it. This has resulted in journeys to pretty much everywhere conceivably in existence, but as long as the female creators are missing, this will always be a journey for the male readers where the females are just along for the ride.