At Comicazi Book Club last week, we had a new member stop by (we LOVE new members, so if you’re local to Somerville, MA – come sees us!), and we were discussing other books we’d read recently. Elfquest came up as an example of a rare book so massive we needed to break it up into two meetings – since we’d read volume one of the “Complete” edition, it was 720 pages of story. At the mention of the book, Honorary Lady Bill mentioned that he’d recently watched a documentary on Netflix that had featured Elfquest creator Wendy Pini, albeit more for her groundbreaking Red Sonja cosplay than for her comics. A documentary about women making comics? And me without a post? It was a match made in heaven. The Toyman and I sat down and watched the other night – what did we think?
In our “We Can Do It” series, we talk to women who have careers in male-dominated industries. A few weeks ago, former wrestler Melina Perez visited Comicazi to do a signing. In her career with the WWE, Perez was a two-time Women’s Champion and three-time Divas Champion, and is recognized as having one of the most impressive arrays of offensive moves in the industry. She graciously agreed to chat with The Red Menace about comics, her career, and the joys and pitfalls of being a woman in that world. Their conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.
I once had a teacher in grade school who told me that she loved to read my essays because she could tell that I was enthusiastic about learning and the subjects I would choose to write about. There was just one problem though. If everything I wrote about was “the absolute worst” or the “absolute best” that wasn’t going to give me a lot of space or freedom to really make careful and thoughtful comparisons. So why is this little anecdote important to my recap of LadiesCon 2017? Because I’m about to throw that advice out the window and use superlatives like crazy. Wanna know why? Because LadiesCon 2017 was THE. ABSOLUTE. BEST.
For those of you familiar with our event last year, the first LadiesCon was essentially a testing ground to see if our vision of an inclusive Con would even be something that the community wanted to see. In a donated office space, we managed to catch lightning in a bottle and learned just how dedicated the Boston comics community was to making an event that was for everyone.
This year, we took that to a whole new level. We tripled the number of panels and doubled our space, guests, and vendors. We reached out to artists and creators who were making things that were original, beautiful, and even a little terrifying. The response from the community was once again warm and enthusiastic, and together we created a colorful and vibrant Con.
Friends, I’m going to be honest – this isn’t the post I want to write this week. I was planning to tell you all about the delightful manga series I’ve been reading lately, but it will have to wait, because once again, Twitter went insane over women in the comics industry, and it feels necessary to unpack that a bit.
If you haven’t been following the story, you can read all about it here, but the gist is that Marvel editor Heather Antos posted a selfie with a bunch of her fellow Marvel lady friends, holding milkshakes. The caption was “The Marvel Milkshake Crew #fabulousflo.” (More on that hashtag in a minute.) What she got in return were a bunch of nasty tweets and direct messages, complaining that the women were fake geek girls (yawn), who are responsible for Marvel’s flagging sales because of their “SJW agenda.”
Now, there were plenty of folks who jumped to Antos’s defense, creating the #makeminemilkshake tag to show solidarity with Antos and women in comics in general. I think the supporters vastly outnumber the haters, and that’s a wonderful thing. What troubles me with this whole foolish business is that it keeps happening, and I can’t help but ponder the series of bizarre conclusions the haters need to have drawn in order to make the comments they did; the crazy leaps of logic that lead someone to speak with abject cruelty to strangers. It does no good to attempt to understand internet trolls, but I can’t help it – I strive for understanding.
What it seems like is that there are three major issues at play here:
1. These people believe that women making comics is a recent phenomenon.
2. They equate these “new” women with story lines that promote a social justice agenda at the expense of storytelling, art, and the beliefs of the readers.
3. They believe that Marvel as a company is complicit in actively promoting said agenda.
So let’s break these down in order.
1. Women in comics is a new thing: Remember that hashtag, #fabulousflo? It’s a reference to Flo Steinberg, who passed away at the end of July from an aneurysm. Flo was one of the earliest members of the Marvel bullpen, hired by Stan Lee as a secretary, but taking on so much more in running the Marvel fan club, wrangling temperamental artists, and sending artwork to be approved by the Comics Code authority. After she left Marvel, she published Big Apple Comix, one of the earliest examples of “indie comics” – a bridge between the underground work that preceded it and the glossy mainstream work. She returned to Marvel in the 1990s, and worked as a proofreader until this year. Flo was truly a comics industry legend – and she was there from the beginning of the publisher that these trolls are lamenting is being ruined by women. And she’s just one example – women at Marvel and DC are not a new thing, even if they’ve been more behind the scenes than they are today.
Which leads us to:
2. The trolls believe women (and pretty much everyone who isn’t a white man) are promoting a liberal agenda. Spiderman’s a black kid sometimes! Iceman is gay! They made Thor a lady! What’s weird about these accusations is that writers on all of the stories are white men. Perhaps the women in the milkshake picture are manipulating everything behind the scenes! Hmm, that doesn’t seem super likely, does it? What makes more sense is the fact that you have characters who are, on average, 50-100 years old, with whom you’ve been telling stories continuously for most of that time. It seems inevitable that changing up who wears the mantle will happen sometimes, and if that change is a dud, they’ll either change back or into something entirely different yet again. Yes, you can make NEW characters who are women or Muslim or gay or trans, but that doesn’t entirely give you a new direction for your old characters. So it goes.
And here we come to:
3. They think Marvel will ruin the company in order to promote a liberal agenda.
Publishing is a business. The trolls point to these character changes, and point to Marvel’s dropping direct market sales, and then lament that if only the publisher saw the error of its terrible liberal ways, they could FIX this! But because Marvel is so dedicated to this SJW message, they say, the company just won’t do it.
There are two main problems with this thought-train. One simple one is that it doesn’t really take into account how comic sales have changed. While direct market sales are still really important, they don’t track digital sales on things like Comixology. So a book might not be doing well physically, but we don’t really know its total reach.
But the part that puzzles me even more than that is the idea that people believe that a corporation would ever put beliefs over profit. For me, a liberal who IS invested in social justice, that’s a really nice thought. It’s also utter horseshit. Marvel cancels books with flagging sales all the time, without ceremony. They don’t exist to promote an agenda, they’re here to sell you comics, and if the troll-dollars matter as much as they seem to think they do, then the stories will change again in due time. We shall see.
In the meantime, this makes me feel that projects like LadiesCon are more important than ever, not because women, non-binary folks, people of color, and LGBT folks are a new thing, but because we’ve all always been here. We make comics. We read comics. We buy comics. And we drink milkshakes and take selfies, and we don’t need to apologize for it.
Hey all, I’m gonna review the Netflix show, GLOW. If you haven’t seen it yet, go watch it and then let’s chat. There be spoilers here and I don’t want to ruin the show for you, ok?
GLOW starts with an acting audition that is too real even by today’s standards. Main character Ruth (Alison Brie) is at an audition; she reads a meaty part with passion, and conviction….only to be told, no honey, that was the male part, can you try it again reading the other part? The other part is one line, letting the boss know he has a call on hold. This sets the stage for one of the more meta themes of this show. Yes, it’s 2017 now, but really, how much have things changed? Continue reading
I don’t know about the rest of the world, but here in Massachusetts the weather has finally embraced full-on summer, the kind with clear blue skies, warm nights, and the occasional thunder-storm to keep things exciting. It’s a great time to hit the beach or a park and catch up on some reading, so here are some suggestions to get you started. Continue reading
It’s been a while since I’ve done an honorary lady post, but I think it’s time. For those of you new to these posts, this is where we want to highlight and all attention to those who are out there fighting the good fight, highlighting issues, blazing paths, creating, and building community. You get it, yeah? We want to give some love back to Ladies (and some non-ladies) who are doing things we love and want to see more of. There is a lot to be said for positive reinforcement and I feel like these days it’s even more important to acknowledge those who make a positive impact on you and prompt you to learn more about something that you might not be totally familiar with. So my Honorary Lady this time around is Shoshannah Stern!
So, who is she?
Shoshannah Stern is a deaf actor and writer who has most recently been on Supernatural (but has also been on other shows like Lie to Me, Jericho, and the lady-led comedy Another Period). I’m gonna keep this write-up spoiler free about that because really this post is about the actor, not the character. But suffice to say, Shoshannah has made a huge impact on the SPN fandom in her few appearances with her portrayal of Eileen Leahy, a hunter who happens to be deaf. This is an important distinction as deafness is not what defines the character, but rather is merely one aspect of who Eileen is. Not having deafness as the central character driver is a point of representation that Shoshannah feels passionate about. So often when deaf characters are represented in entertainment being deaf is what defines their character and their story is a discussion of struggle or hardship solely around being deaf. Deafness is often seen as something that one must overcome to be successful. It can have an encompassing hold on the character and prevent other aspects of a character from being explored. This type of representation can carry over to how how people see deaf people outside of the media, and that’s not great.
How is she helping representation?
Shoshannah works hard to push back against one dimensional representation of deafness. In her own writing characters are deaf because they are, and that’s because people just are. There isn’t a point to be made about being deaf except to show that while being deaf is a minority experience, within that experience there are many levels of how deafness is part of ones life (and many different levels of deafness itself). Shoshanna has played character with more or less levels of hearing than she herself has and her character on Supernatural can read lips much better than she can. Her most recent work The Chances is a series about deaf characters written by deaf people. The hope is to highlight the intersectionality of the lives of deaf people and move toward portraying them as full 3-dimensional characters rather than ones with only one note. Like all representation this can also help educate those who may not have interaction with deaf people on a regular basis about the different aspects of the deaf experience. But more, and perhaps most importantly it helps to break down stereotypes about deaf people and opens doors to new opportunities and experiences.
A cool thing she did that you should know about.
Shoshannah established the Eileen Leahy Scholarship, named after the character she played on Supernatural. Shirts and mugs were sold and the majority of the proceeds from these items support the scholarship that will help a deaf woman attend Gallaudet University, the premier university for deaf students and Shoshannah’s alma mater.
As Women’s History Month marches on, we are happy to bring you another post in our “We Can Do It” series, highlighting women who strike out in underrepresented fields. Check out our first installment about female tattoo artist, Sandra Burbul.
When local creator and publisher Lindsay Moore reached out to us wanting to tell her story of publishing an all-female horror anthology, we jumped at the chance to have her share her experience. Lindsay talks openly and honestly about her challenges as a woman in the male-dominated fields of comics and horror. When she met resistance, Lindsay decided to strike out on her own and make her dream of Dark Lady (and other works) a reality.
Well well well, we haven’t done one of these in a while. Recently the Ladies did a little research into our own Meyers-Briggs types. You have to pay for the real test but here is a free online assessment to take for funsies. Once we had our types, of course the next logical/fun step was to look at various fandoms and see what fictional characters shared our types. (There are tons of these out there, pick any fandom, Google and enjoy.) I’ll spare you some of mine lest you think I am a total sociopath (I’m looking at you Supernatural MBTI chart), but this exercise did remind me of a character I have often felt a connection to and who may not get as much attention in the pantheon of kick-ass fictional ladies.
I’ve been writing a lot about zombies lately, so I was going to change it up this month and write about some great comics I’ve been reading. But then I read this strange review of the new Netflix Original Series, Santa Clarita Diet, (SCD) from Esquire by a woman named Katie Van Brunt, and frankly, it demanded a response.