Part three of this series was planned to go out last week, but I received a response that has dynamically shifted the conversation. Good friend and fellow comic artist, Shell Presto, has thrown her hat into the ring and offers a view that, quite frankly, a lot of people may disagree with. I’d like to address her thoughts. Please be respectful of her opinions and experiences. Above all else, civility. You can read her original response here.
Part III: A New Challenger Approaches! (The Other Side of the Crash)
Representation in comics is a very touchy subject. That rings true for Shell as well, but she is concerned that discussions like this may be “a matter of a squeaky wheel just getting grease.” I strongly disagree.
I’ve said before on my stream with @soulkarl, comics (and entertainment as a whole) is a reflection of who we are as a society. Although Shell has had nothing but pleasant experiences stepping into nerd space, there are plenty of women who have had nightmarish experiences and it is beyond me to belittle that.
I was at a Magic: the Gathering store in rural Connecticut and some guy called me “Two-Chains”, am I to ignore how racist that situation was. Should I have given him the benefit of the doubt, maybe he thought I world renown rapper Two-Chains?
Men who ignore a woman clerk in favor of a male clerk should not be given a pass because maybe he is uncomfortable speaking to females. What does that say about how we view women? What sequence of events led to this human’s inability to see a woman as an equal in this space. I refuse to sugar coat this reality, if you’re a male and you have difficulty speaking to women, you must ask yourself what “speaking to a woman” means.
Shell and I see things eye to eye when it comes to voting with your dollars. I draw the line when claims are made that things are fine the way they are because comics are intended for such and such an audience and that audience likes such and such a thing. This series is about the problem with representation in comics, at the heart of that problem is us. Remember that at one time “black-face” was an acceptable form of entertainment, try and get away with that today.
You have the right to freedom of speech, but not an exemption to the consequences of what you say. I personally would like to see change, I think that thought processes like these are stifling and detrimental to progress.
th+ink comics is an attempt to dynamically discuss the sociopolitical side of comics and sequential art. Feel free to engage.
I am not a feminist. Though by definition I am, which is extremely problematic to me. By merely “supporting” the idea of feminism I am good enough to meet the requirement. I’d never claim to be a feminist. To do so would be insulting to the ongoing struggles and daunting adversary women face. I’d no sooner claim to be a doctor because I put a band-aid on someone once. Therein lays the problem: Good Enough.
Part II: Good Enough: The Key that Binds Us and Seals the Future.
There are some that would claim that we live in progressive times. I’d argue that we live in an era where progress is stagnating. The gears whirring in the machines of change are grinding to a halt. All because we are overwhelmed with what little representation we are allowed. In that instant that we are content with seeing ourselves represented, we forget what we represent. In comics, we make excuses and support female characters that are subjugated or are nothing more than objects for male characters. Yes, we are there, but I’d be so bold to claim that merely being there is not sufficient. I’d go a step further and say that until we are accepted and respected no amount of pandering and isolated examples of excellence will ever be good enough.
An unforgivable transgression: It was my mother who introduced me to Star Wars and taught me how to play Pokémon cards. I have vivid memories of watching her play Legend of Zelda as a child, and not being allowed to touch her PSP when I was in High-School. Not to mention, in her prime she was both a better artist and athlete.
The idea of women in “nerd space” was never a troubling concept to me. After all, in my house it was common place. I’ve noticed an ongoing trend of women being treated as trespassing imposters when it comes to “nerd space”. I talked with steenzartblog, a manager at Saint Louis’s top comic shop, Star Clipper, about this issue.
Steenz, known for habitually wearing a Robin costume under her clothes, has impressive encyclopedia-esque knowledge of all things comics; from indie to mainstream. She shared with me a scenario that happens quite often at her store. A male-human would walk in the shop, and be greeted by her and asked if they were looking for anything. The patron would ignore her, and gravitate towards another male under Steenz’s management and ask for the latest Batman or whatever he was looking for.
This is indicative of how the presence of women in this space is perceived as disingenuous. The same can be said about women and gaming and women at conventions. When it comes to games, they are a joke or poseurs. When it comes to conventions, they are objects to be judged or scenery to be enjoyed. It’s rare that fandom or passion is applicable reason for participation in these things.
I believe that women in nerd-space plays on the insecurities of men occupying that space. Directly questioning their masculinity. In Comics and Ideology by Matthew P. McAllister during the chapter about women’s suffrage and comics, the idea of mannish women is introduced. Women interested in things like politics was a direct threat to the comfortable status quo men have become accustomed. An empowered woman would have no need to be dependent on men. Through comics, politicians attacked women who fought for their cause by depicting feminist to be undesirable and mannish.
It’s no secret that nerd-space is a reprieve for many delta-males looking to escape the trappings of “main-stream” society. A woman choosing and supporting her fandom on her own accord is mannish and therefore in direct threat to what fleeting masculinity they’ve found in their escapism. Think of it this way, if what you did to feel like a man was an activity enjoyed and dominated by women, what would become of your escape? This may seem trivial, but I implore you it is not, it is of the utmost paramount. Though women are not physically barred from attendance like they were from the polls, or blacks from pretty much everything during segregation, there still exists this very real human factor. It is that human factor that acts on it’s intolerance and privilege.
A nerd’s frustrations and anxiety about “real women” would be multiplied by the presence of women legitimately wanting to exist in this space. Especially when those women are creating and extracting their own ideals about their (male) popular fiction in a space they thought they (men) held dominion.
I’ve always seen the attack on women by men in nerd-space to be an appalling hail of contradiction and ignorance. If you’re an “attractive” woman you have no place amongst elves and starships. If you are not mannish, you should be concerned with the Kardashians and not the Cardassians. If you’re neither you are put in a corner. Ignored and disrespected.
It resonates with the way I feel being about being black and playing Magic: The Gathering. I can’t tell you how many shops I’ve walked in to across the US and had someone explain to me what Magic was while white patrons get a pass.
This is a sore subject. It reveals the worst of us all and how we were raised. It reveals the flaws in our ideology and our unwillingness to accept people as people. In the coming weeks, I will continue to attempt to explore this and take it as far as I can. The key to our shackles is giving in to the ideology that things are “good enough”. That where we are is good enough. The day we accept good-enough will be the day that define us.
I do not self-identify as a woman. Never have, probably never will. I cannot begin to pretend to think that I know what it is like to be a woman. So, I’d like to thank all the women, like Steenz, kind enough to share their experiences with me. With that I will end this week with a quote from Steenz, herself, that sums this week’s discussion ever so eloquently.
“ More women are finally saying that they have been reading comics all this time. Bros are saying that they need to GTFO like they just waltzed into a man’s world. Which is false.”
th+ink comics is an attempt to dynamically discuss the sociopolitical side of comics and sequential art. Feel free to engage. Updated Wednesdays. __________________________________________________________
Stories for Humans: Representation in Comics, a discourse of race and gender inequality.
Scott McCloud would say that comics are stories for humans. No matter how abstract the art, humans will see themselves in it. But, what about those of us who struggle to find ourselves portrayed in comics? Over the next few weeks I’d like to engage a very important, seldom discussed, topic: Representation.
Part I: The reason I make comics: Introductions are in order.
One of the most difficult topics I find to talk to white people, white men in particular, about is representation. Simply said, if you’re a white male representation in media is a no-issue. Seeing yourself constantly portrayed in the media has a desensitizing effect and at the same time it heightens your awareness to abnormalities. Think of it this way: A non-white character’s predominant descriptor is their non-whiteness. Example: Miles Morales, is the “Black-Spiderman” and Steel is the “Black-Superman”. This is a testament to how intrusive non-white non-male figures are in the medium.
I started making comics because I wanted to see people like me represented in comics. When I was a kid, I found it hard to find comic book characters that looked like me. If there ever was a “black character” they were knock-offs of their white counterparts. As a child I found this highly offensive. It would make me question the legitimacy of black figures in this space. I recall profound feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness. When I was in middle school, comics trumpeted the idea that because I was a black kid from South Providence (a “bad” part of town) I was a second-class citizen. The best I could hope to achieve was to become an imitation of model whiteness.
On the other hand, when it came to non-imitational representation, the imagery was stereo-typical and forced inevitable identity crisis issues. It’s truly suffocating to constantly be put into a convenient colored corner. Imagine, if you’re a young white male, you have a choice to be the Red, Blue, or Green Ranger. All radically different characters that represent varied paths for self projection. As a person of color or a woman, our choices are slim, if they even exist. We are essentially told what we are supposed to be.
It’s arrogant to claim that our development as human-beings is not shaped by media. Comics, for many of us, are important aspects of our lives. I think that the recent, and growing, main-stream popularization of “nerd” culture is telling of just how twisted our perception of the world actually is. You can, with very little effort, find many posts and blogs about aggressive backlash against women who dare to step into the male space that is comics. Or, the hateful comments directed towards people of color who cosplay white characters.
I make comics in effort to change our current perceptions as to what comics truly are. I encourage you to share your stories and engage these articles. Comics are for everyone. In the coming weeks I will be tackling what it means to be non-white, non-straight, and non-male in comics. I have reached out to many people in preparation for this task, but I desperately need you. I embody one of many perspectives to a topic we, as a community, are too afraid to talk about because it reflects the worst things within us as a society.
Introduce yourself. Your experiences are valid and important.
th+ink comics is an attempt to dynamically discuss the sociopolitical side of comics. Feel free to engage. Updated Wednesdays. __________________________________________________________