For several years I’ve written a summer reading post around the Fourth of July. It’s the perfect time – Memorial Day may be the unofficial start to the summer season, but the Fourth is the heart of it. This summer in New England has been particularly aggressive – a brutal heat wave that’s started earlier and lasted longer than we usually see around here. And so I should probably offer you some light, breezy reads that you can bring to beach and promptly forget about. But I’m nothing if not a contrarian, so instead I’m going to offer two pieces of fiction to make you think, and one cookbook to lighten the mood and because I’m personally going to use it a lot this summer with my new ice cream maker.
It can be hard for parents to navigate the shelves at a comic shop, particularly if they haven’t read a lot of comics themselves. The misconception that all comics are for kids is waning, but hasn’t totally been extinguished yet. Luckily, most shops have a section devoted to all-ages books, and staff trained to make recommendations. Here are a couple that I’ve enjoyed, if you need to spark some ideas.
I’m perfectly fine admitting that I never thought that I would be writing this post. I was never a huge fan of the Evil Dead films and as a person who has seen many of her favorite intellectual properties canceled or rebooted with less than stellar results, the absolutely perfect Ash Vs Evil Dead series kinda annoyed me. The tone is spot on, the horror elements are both unique and hilarious, and Ash is the same kind of person he’s always been. This series is proof that reboots can be done, and done well… And almost as if to add insult to injury, Ash Vs Evil Dead accomplishes the very thing that the previous films lacked – interesting and capable female characters.
What? An article arguing that Ash Vs Evil Dead is feminist and contains not one but two notably kickass female characters? Indeed. So here we go.
For those of you not as familiar with the show, when we first meet Ruby Knowby (played by the suspiciously ageless Lucy Lawless) she claims to the be the daughter of Raymond Knowby – the professor in the Evil Dead films who discovers the Necromonicon and Kandarian dagger. I don’t think I would be spoiling too much to say that Ruby’s history is much more, um historical? complicated? spooky? than that.
What makes Ruby a great character is that she’s smart. Smart enough to connect herself to Ash’s past and insert herself into this life. She’s also smart enough to adjust her plans to the circumstances around her. You almost feel shocked when an idiot like Ash gets the better of her, but I think that’s the point. It’s engaging because Ruby is formidable and interesting in her own way. She gets annoyed at Ash but always manages to keep her goal in sight. A well-written villain (and acted – Lucy Lawless is GREAT!) is one that you’re excited to see, love to hate, but also find appealing on some level…even when you know you shouldn’t. Ruby is one of those villains. Oh, and she’s a woman. Well done, TV show.
The other awesome female character in this show is Ash Williams’ friend/teammate Kelly Maxwell. In many ways, Kelly starts off as a basic “strong female character.” She puts Ash in his place when he tries to flirt with her and is basically angry all the time and bitterly sarcastic. In a lot of shows, this would have ticked off all the boxes for their required strong female elements, but over the seasons of the show, Kelly has proven to be more than that. Her attitude is linked to her life and past rather than just it just being a personality trait. Better yet, she even becomes more comfortable showing other parts of her personality including extreme loyalty to her friends and loved ones.
Kelly becomes even more interesting as a character when you compare her with her counterpart on Ash’s team, Pablo Simon Bolivar. Rather than just having Kelly fill in what may be considered the more feminine role on the team, most of that role sits comfortably with Pablo. Kelly is the one who takes to fighting more naturally and it’s Kelly who formulates a lot of strategy and planning. Additionally, when it comes for the group to take a break, Kelly is the one who grows restless with no demons to battle while Pablo is perfectly content to stay in town with Ash to both support him and set up a food cart. Pablo is the one serving as the emotional heart and team cheerleader. Best of all, it isn’t a bad thing and he still is a force to be reckoned with on his own.
I personally find it very exciting to find awesome ladies in surprising places. Ash Vs Evil Dead proves that you can not only reboot an older male-focused property but also update the story to include more women characters who serve as much more than plot devices. There are rumors that the third season of this show could very well be the last, so if you’re a fan of kickass ladies and inventive horror action sequences, you should be getting your hands on this in hopes that the series might continue a bit longer. You might be surprised by how much you enjoy it. I certainly was.
In recent years, there’s been a lot of talk saying that the comics industry has shifted to making social justice a priority in its storytelling, and that “social justice warriors” are ruining comics by pressuring the industry into representing these issues.
What these folks fail to realize is that telling stories about current events and the changes we’re going through as a society has always been a part of comics – as a dated periodical, comic books are necessarily a product and reflection of the times in which they were created.
The earliest days of American comics coincided with the rise of Hitler and the beginnings of World War II, and the heroes of that era and the adventures they had are entirely reflective of that. When the war ended and the economy boomed, the stories became lighter and more imaginative. The 60’s and 70’s brought women’s liberation, the civil rights movement, and a growing sense of eco-consciousness, and characters like Diana Prince, Black Panther, and R’as al Ghul appeared in stories with those themes.
Recently, we worked with our friends at Comicazi to present examples of how comics have represented social attitudes and values, as well as how they’ve changed over the years. Called “Issues on Issues,” it was part museum-style exhibit, with comics from the golden, silver, and bronze ages on display, and part comic salon – an opportunity to discuss the books and their topics with others. Attendees were asked to consider – whose story is being told? Who is telling that story? And how would we tell it today?
Comics aren’t necessarily promoting a particular answer to social problems in America, but like all art, they reveal the hopes, fears, and dreams of the times in which they’re created. The comics displayed here are examples of how these themes have been portrayed in the medium throughout its history. Some of the books we displayed at the event have had a lasting impact, while others clearly missed the mark, or represent views we no longer ascribe to as a society. Still, others were misses in their first incarnations, but have changed and adapted from their well-intentioned but clumsy characters into nuanced, well-thought-out characters. As more people with different gender, cultural, ethnic, sexual, and religious identities are writing and drawing the stories we read, the perspectives and ideas being shown become more diverse and authentic. While this seems to dismay a small, vocal minority of fans, it’s also opening doors for new readers to fall in love with comics for the first time.
It seems only fitting that our first blog post for the Ladies is going to highlight games designed by women. Our game day is dedicated to getting women together to game and introduce little girls to gaming while being surrounded by confident women who share the hobby. There are some amazing woman-created games out there. We are going to highlight just a few for you here. Each one is highly recommended and odds are that the games are on one or both of our game shelves.
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