Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Links and Missin' Comicon

Shaenon's got a couple of posts up on Anne Cleveland and Jean Anderson that are pretty much must-reads:
One and Two. The humor in these old comics really struck a chord with me. I went to a woman's college myself (RMWC!), but my mom went to Agnes Scott in the 60's and has told me stories about pushing up her pj pants legs and fastening on a raincoat to make it to the morning meal while looking like she was wearing the proper skirt or dress. But it's fun to see the women's college experience hasn't changed that much.

(Of course, I can never think of Vassar without thinking of PDQ Bach's Classical Rap for some reason.)

Josh Lesnick (he of Girly, one of my absolute favorite webcomics) reports back from San Diego on DC's hot new series, "Wonder Woman Gets Put In Her Place".

A confidential informant tells me that the awesome Gynostryker was mistaken for me in a certain bar last Saturday by one of the authors I mentioned in my Monday post on feminist webcomics. I hope he's sufficiently upset I called his webcomic feminist! Marked for life!

Oh, I wish I could have made it to Comicon this year. Con is special. Not for the actual con, really, but the people. I met some of my best friends there, not to mention my husband. San Diego is why this southern girl is living in freaking Canada. Behold the power of comics!

Monday, July 24, 2006

What's a Feminist Comic?

If I were going to ask the question, it'd be more like "What's NOT a feminist comic?".

I was thinking about highlighting some excellent webcomics that are feminist and I came to realize that ALL webcomics I think are excellent are feminist, because to not be feminist is to be a bad writer in many ways. I can think of a few good comics with some bad moments, and rest assured I'll get to those when I feel like being a bit more mean and ranty, but for the most part good writers write women as people, and that's feminism.

Granted, comics that strongly feature women are more easily described as feminist. The first one that came to my mind is the excellent Liliane, Bi-Dyke. I recently bought a bunch of the mini-comics Leanne puts out and this is such good stuff. The comic deals with Liliane's life and touches on all sorts of gender, sexuality, and regular life issues, but never forgets that Liliane is real and makes mistakes, gets irrational, can be scared while being right, clever, and strong. And the humor is fantastic. But isn't that, at the end, really just good writing (and good drawing to express so much so well!)? This is a well written comic.

The Devil's Panties was just voted best slice of life comic of the year in the annual webcomics awards and boy, does it deserve it. Once again, it's not feminist just because it's written by a woman with a female main character, it's because it's written well. This is a comic where I know plenty of guys who read this and go "I identify with the lady there!". That's a tremendous sign of a) how awesome this comic is, and b) how awesome webcomic readers are. As a side point, webcomics readers are awesome. They are going to read a comic because it appeals to them, not because it's marketed towards them, and are much more likely to try out new things to find out what appeals to them. No one knows what webcomics you read! Unless you start listing ones you like where people can see it. Crud.

No Pink Ponies is another one of my favorite webcomics, but I'd probably get around to it after scores more of ones that yell out "FEMINIST!". But it is. And not because the main character is a girl who decided to open her own comic shop. No, it's because even in this sitcom-wacky, stereotype heavy comic, all the people in it are well written. The 4 nerds are, well, nerds, but their namelessness beyond the obvious physical characteristics is a funny point. (The fact that so many characters don't get names for a long time is a great running gag.)All the characters are allowed to be weird (and so they bust out of being stereotypes), or even normal. Or weird when they're supposed to be normal, like when Jess finally gets the cute (nameless) guy out on a date, he shows up dressed up as "Furreast" (aka Beast, shh!). Or even nerdier when they're already deemed a nerd.

It's that kind of writing that keeps No Pink Ponies so fresh and fun.

Now let's see to what ends I can stretch my "feminist comics" definition. What about comics I like that barely have any women in them at all? Is Penny Arcade feminist with two periphial girlfriend/wife characters and one (albiet rocking) niece? Sure, why not? It's about two guys by two guys and it's going to be awfully male, especially as most of the one shot characters from real life they're making fun of are going to be male (video game store clerks, execs, makers). The only strike against it would be that the automatic gender assignment for inanimate objects come to life is male. Div is male. So is, uh, the Fruit Fucker. Catsby, of Twisp and Catsby, could totally be a girl though. But Penny Arcade is probably streching it a bit, but it still fits, even if it can't sit down in those feminist jeans.

What about another of my favorites, Rob and Elliot, another adventures of two guys created by two guys? So far there's really only one female character, Noel. Other than that horny old lady where Elliot works. But despite the ease of keeping this one lady non-stereotypical by just adding another gal, Clay and Hampton have made her seem like she has a life outside the main characters. The comic focuses on these two guys, but it doesn't make it seem like everyone else does, too. Which is a really important distinction. So a comic entirely by guys, about guys, with barely any female presence can keep from acquiring that nasty anti-feminist vibe just by writing those two guys well and writing the woman as if she has her own life that's just not detailed in the comic.

But women reading and relating to a comic about guys is old news. What we need are more guys reading a comic and relating to the ladies. It works both ways, people! That's your feminism/equalism right there, where men and women are ultimately people. And hey, you're a people! You like stuff! And things!

In conclusion, step one of my evil plan to make people think "feminist" when they see something awesome is now complete!

(And yes, my definition of feminism may differ from yours. This just about sums up my views.)

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Ditto and Awards

I was thinking about adding on to my previous post on this topic, but you know, just ditto. How To Write An Original Female Lead Character In A Fashion That Doesn't Drive Karen Crazy works for me.

The Web Cartoonists' Choice Awards are over and the winners are here. I nominated and voted and am pretty well pleased with the winners, though they're not many of my choices. If you don't read any webcomics, this list is actually a really good place to start, though.

Friday, July 14, 2006

The quick and easy guide to not writing stereotypes

I have a list of topics I want to write about, but right now I'd like to touch on a subject I brought up briefly in my old column: stereotypes.

It's really, really easy to write stereotypes. Afterall, people tend to conform to them (and this is one reason why feminists want better female characters). Kids looking to conform often model their behavior after what they see, and stereotypes are usually exactly that because they're common. Or kids looking to not conform often end up looking and acting similarily. Theater has a long tradition of stock characters, because they are so easily identifiable and often you don't want to spend too much time defining a character when you have other things to get to, especially comedies. If we didn't have stereotypes, we wouldn't have humor where they're turned on their head. Stereotypes aren't all bad or the mark of evil, but sometimes they can be really boring, and well, common.

But this is my one step guide to how to not write a stereotype:

1. Have more than one character like the one commonly stereotyped.

What brought this to mind was Archie Week: Minority Characters on Poptown!. I've noticed this before when reading Archies. (My husband's family is really big on them and they are in nearly every bathroom, despite them being, well, French. What happened to the Schtroumpfs?) There is often just one of whatever group you pick. This does seem a little odd in a comic that is based on foils; Betty and Veronica, Archie and Reggie. But the extras in Archie comics are almost always stereotypes, because Archie is so often about trends and easily classifying people. There's a hippie. There's a stingy rich man. There's the smart kid. These are stock characters doomed to repeat their experiences over and over again and never learn. But it's still irritating. One black guy comes off as representing all of black maledom, while white guys are allowed to be Archies, Jugheads, Reggies, Moose(es?), Diltons. It's one thing to have stock characters (the regular guy, the goof, the brain), and another to treat an ethnicity (or gender) like a stock character.

I see this pop up in a lot of fiction as well. Especially with the "one woman". Women often are alone amongst the boys and it's very hard to not see blatant stereotypes in her simply because she is the sole representative of her sex. It does sort of peeve me, no matter how well written she is, because I look around and half the people I see are women.

Take for example Zap! (in space!). It started out using a lot of stereotypes. There's the dumb, fortunate hero with a super power who gets thrown into a position of command despite being a goof. There's the surly, protective big guy. The robot who mouths off. And the woman in charge who has a heartbreak in her past that distracts her and who has to step down from control because of the goof showing up, despite being more capable, and who gets rescued by said goof, again despite being more capable. Despite hating him initially, she starts falling for the goof. And she's the only gal around.
I've seen these elements before, but luckily the story is fun enough to keep rolling despite the set up. The creators start getting on their feet, add on more layers to the story, and most importantly, add more female characters. Suddenly our first woman, Reona, becomes her own character and not just a collection of stereotypes. Zap! is good stuff.

There are countless other webcomics that have started out with one single female and when the writer really started to figure things out, added multiple others. Here's one everyone knows - PVP. Jade bucks some stereotypes, but she seems a heck of a lot more real with female friends and incidental other women. It makes it hard to levy the charge that she's a geek ideal woman or something when she seems real. (Now, if she'd only learn to stop dressing like Sharon Stone at the Oscars in 1995!)

Not to say you can't skirt stereotypes with just one character, but I did emphasize this was the easy method. Some of my favorite heroines are just the one woman amongst men, but it's often because the entire cast feels real and you can see how this would just happen to be this way. Like, uh, Voltron. Or drawing from my own life, I remember sitting in a Waffle House with my 3 closest friends in high school and us suddenly realizing we were just like Seinfeld. Crazy guy, wise cracking overly critical guy, over-anxious self-depreciating guy, and cynical me. Except I can dance. OK, we weren't just like Seinfeld, but you had to be there, obviously. (And I'm pretty sure that other people have had the same experience, hanging out with their friends and realizing they are direct parallels to the good guys in Star Wars, or the Golden Girls, or something. There's a name for the kind of logic where you only pay attention to what fits and ignore other things, but I can't remember it off the top of my head.)

To sum up, a lot of writers get off to a shakey start before they find their legs and can really develope their characters and so end up with accidental stereotypes. Stereotypes are easy. But they're a bit like writing fanfiction in that you're writing someone else's characters and not even doing what fanfiction does well by fleshing them out. This is your story. You don't want characters interchangable with someone else's. That's boring.

The hard way to make sure you don't write people as just stereotypes is to take that early stuff as a draft and start in earnest where it gets better. Webcomics, however, are usually works in progress and we all hate our early stuff. So the easy way to avoid stereotypes is to include more than one.

And then don't kill them all off.

Monday, July 10, 2006

A few questions to start

Why aren't there more women creating webcomics? Why aren't there more women getting noticed creating comics?

I've been reading quite a bit lately on the Marvel summit and Joe Quesada's comments on why there aren't any women writers there.
NRAMA: Noticeably absent (and for some time) is a female creator in that group. Big picture wise, why hasn't a women creator made it into the tight circle of Marvel creators?

JQ: Because currently there aren’t any female writers working on any of our major titles.

There's a big difference between the print world and webcomics. For starters, it's hard for anyone, regardless of who they are, to get into working for the big publishers. Webcomics is a level playing field that anyone can enter into and so most excuses fall into the category of "that's just the way it is". No one actually discriminates against women creators here, or even truely could if they wanted to. No one is hiring here.

The excuse makes sense. Not as many women were there around the start of webcomics. Guys like Tycho and Gabe and Scott Kurtz were and that's one reason why they're at the top - they were early, they were good, and they worked for years to get results. They were also lucky to find their audiences early on. There's also carry-over effects from the non-interweb world where most comics readers are male, most student newspaper comics creators are male, etc. There just weren't as many women doing it, period, and so the odds weren't so hot for one of them to make it, statistically speaking.

But this excuse works less and less well the longer we go on.

How do webcomics gain an audience and how does a creator gain acclaim? What does it take for a creator to get to sit on a panel at Comic Con, for instance?

Linkage is where it's at. You can create the best comic in the world, but someone has to link to it. That's how google works, and that's how most readers find out about new comics. I remember when Jim Zubkavich started up his comic, Makeshift Miracle and sent out emails to a few lists of creators, who liked it, linked it, and suddenly everyone knew about it. There's no way to duplicate this and see if it would be any different if Jim had been a woman, but I suspect it would have been. Makeshift Miracle has lovely art and a winding, magical storyline. Even with a male protagonist, it's not classic "guy" fare. And many stories that aren't classic guy fare, when created by a woman, get labeled "girly" in the minds of many men. You know it, from examples with movies, books, and other creative mediums. There are a tremendous amount of guys who don't do this, so this is not directed at you, though it wouldn't hurt for you to sit back and wonder if you ever have dismissed something as for girls. You too, tomboys. I know I've done it, based soley on the fact it was written by a woman. "You can trust a guy not to make a romance too girly!", "A male author isn't going to just do romance, he's going to make it a well rounded story.", etc.

So men are going to be hell of a lot less likely to try out something they suspect isn't for them, and I posit that the sex of the creator is going to give them clues as to how much they'll like it.

As for acclaim and the chance to sit at roundtable discussions and on panels, a lot of that is tied up in popularity and a lot is tied up with connections.

I can show some actual examples of connections, since so many of them are made very obvious. Keenspot, Modern Tales, Blank Label, Dayfree Press, Dumbrella, etc.

Keenspot has the most female creators, with about 9, and about 35 men (I couldn't tell on a couple, so I didn't count them). They're also a quarter female at the top, with Teri Crosby being incredibly awesome. (I am biased. Soooo biased. Shut up.)

Modern Tales itself doesn't fare well, with only 2 women listed from what I could tell. Donna Barr does about ten comics and Dorothy Gambell has a couple listed, so I suppose they are trying their darndest. But they are only two, people! With about 30 guys! I know MT is probably reeling from the loss of Shaenon Garrity, but come on. I suppose most women are directed over to Girlamatic, which has a much more healthy ratio of 11 men to 16 women (or so, very unscientific counting here), plus the indomitable Lea Hernandez. I don't particularily care for stating clearly which comics should be for girls, but based on hearsay, Girlamatic has a sizable amount of male subscribers who realize they can like what they like, without worrying that it's "girly".

As for the other big collectives? Nary a gal in sight! (Ok, Liz Greenfield on Dayfree Press. Darn you for softening my critique! I love Stuff Sucks) When Blank Label formed, I jokingly called it a sausage fest while wishing them well. Keenspot responded by adding on Jennie Breeden and her two comics, which I felt was entirely too suitable. Mostly becuase Jennie is incredible and funny, but it also just felt oh so right.

But for the most part, we have a swarm of men getting together, forming clubs, sharing ideas and helping each other up. It's sort of what people do. You find people with similar tastes and whatnot and hang out with them. Unfortunately, it seems like many of these guys don't even realize how they might be classifying women and their comics, some of which would make a perfect fit with their collectives. It's just like when kids play, the boys may leave out the girls entirely without malice, but only because they don't consider girls to be like them and have never really considered it. That's those tricky underlying symptoms of the "patriarchy" (which I put in quotes because I do think it's a little silly to blame, even if I see the effects of the dead patriarchy all the time).

And please, I'm not saying that boys can't form boy's clubs and we should force them to open their doors. If I direct anything at these men, it's that they should probably think about their reasons why. I accuse them only of not examining why they don't have any women in their group and why most of who they promote and link to are men.

We have equal oppurtunity here. Equal talent (in the wider sense, not individual). But far from equal results. I don't ever want to dictate equal results, because tokenism also sucks. I just want people to wake up and realize we still need feminism even in such an ideal playing field because people aren't thinking.

One thing we thankfully don't seem to have in webcomics are women fighting other women to be "the girl". You know, the one who laments about those feminists and says she's just one of the guys. Who promotes herself at the expense of other women. Think of Ann Coulter. Even female creators who don't go out of their way to promote feminism are doing it simply because they want to focus on doing comics and looking at things equally, regardless of gender. And that's the ideal. That's what we want, where everyone can just do some comics, link to comics they like, hang out with people they like, and we get equal oppurtunity and equal results just kind of happen. We're very close to being there, but it's going to take a little self examination.

Saturday, July 08, 2006


My name is Meaghan Quinn. I'm a webcartoonist and have been for about 6 years, drawing and writing my comic Eat the Roses, though lately I've acquired a writer. I've done other things too. I belong to Keenspot, have been on Modern Tales and Graphic Smash, have several good friends in webcomics, and am probably very biased. I'm also a feminist.

Once upon a time I wrote a column for Comixpedia called Webcomics are from Uranus. This is my continuation of that column, except less structured. I find I still have much to say about webcomics, particularily on the topic of gender or sex or whatever in webcomics.

To begin, let's start off with my basic views on feminism. Feminism is the default. Everyone is a feminist, and anyone who isn't has morality problems. Feminism at it's most basic, which is where most people are, is the idea that people are people and that's what comes first. Like I said, if you've got a problem with that, you're a jerk. Feminism isn't that women should rule the earth, or that men are bad, or anything like that.

With such a basic principle, it's amazing that there's anything more to say about this. Unfortunately, feminism hasn't been around nearly long enough to sink into most cultures to the exent that there aren't prejudices or patriarchal remnents sticking out that are rant-worthy. I seriously doubt any of the webcomics I'm going to discuss as problems here set out to demean women, but that doesn't mean they don't do stupid things.

Feminism is also about good writing. It's bad writing to write a female character as if "being female" is a characteristic, much as you have your hero, sidekick, and villan.

Feminism is about realizing that despite the open playing field in webcomics, most of the people on "top" (those making money off webcomics, or the most popular) are men. There are probably many reasons why, none of which have anything to do with women being slighted or not as good, but just because there's no one to blame doesn't mean you can't do anything about it. Bringing good webcomics created by women into the limelight, encouraging more girls and women to create and be interested in webcomics in the first place - none of these things do anything to harm guys, but advance equality. That's what I'm about.

And I'd better go at it, right?

ETA: Why is it called Webcomics are from Uranus? Number 1: it's "fart and dicks joke" crude humor. Number 2: Play on the whole Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus BS. Number 3: Webcomics is a strange beastie.