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.)

18 comments:

DAJB said...

Oh my God! You do realise you've just written the first "feminist" blog entry that doesn't treat every male webcomic creator as a pervert whose sole or at least main agenda is to degrade women characters (and whose secondary agenda, if he has one, is to somehow obstruct the development of "rival" female creators)?

You do realise that you've also done all that without resorting to the use of an entire litany of obscenities that other self-styled feminists seem to consider de rigueur?

And, as if that wasn't enough, you've committed the cardinal sin of conceding that women are "people" (not a superior alien race) and that male creators are therefore just as capable of portraying them as well (or as poorly) as any female creator, all depending on the level of their respective writing skills rather than their gender.

I suspect there may be some out there among the Greater Sisterhood who may denounce you as a heretic for airing such views and, in case they decide to burn you at the stake in the very near future, I'd just like to say thank you for writing a "feminist" article that didn't seem to be designed solely to make me feel guilty for having had the temerity to be born male.

It was a pleasure to read!

megs said...

DAJB- I think if you read more of the feminism in comics collected at When Fangirls Attack you'll find this isn't such a novel idea. Most feminists aren't male bashers (though I suspect everyone engages in it at some point, just like cursing at bad drivers without pointing out how many good drivers are out there), but that type of writing seems to get more attention, just like wingnut political pundits are better known than the more moderate ones.
That and the "strawman" of the man-hating feminist makes it very easy to dismiss what any feminist has to say.

Willie Hewes said...

Hi megs,

Thanks for your comment on my blog, the guys over at Comixpedia had me coming off as some kind of lunatic troublemaker.

I'm not about to denounce you or excommunicate you rom the Greater Sisterhood, I've also not really read the kind of blog entries dajb refers to, but I suppose that not being male might make me less sensitive to between-the-lines hatred.

Either way, I like your blog. I'll be back later.

megs said...

Thanks willie! I've been meaning to talk about the whole page/strip a day updating method for a while and how much I personally dislike it for telling long form stories. And I'm glad to discover your blog and your comics!

DAJB said...

Megs - wasn't meaning to suggest that feminists are necessarily man-haters by any means ... just that many of those who style themselves feminists get so caught up in their rhetoric that they often come across that way. In some cases deliberately, I suspect, but often without even being aware they're doing it.

Willie - you think the guys at Comixpedia had you marked as a trouble-maker? I saw your thread on updates and I certainly didn't pick up on that. It was more that no-one had an answer to the dilemma, I think. Don't give up on Comixpedia - I've always found it to be among the more civilised of the forums out there. Even genteel at times!

Eisu said...

Hey, I got in through here from the comicgenesis site tracker and I'm thankful for the review you gave on No Pink Ponies. I never really wrote that comic as a feminist type thing, like you said, there's not much in there that screams "Feminist", but I just wrote it all for the sake of writing and entertaining comic, but to be said that it also somewhat champions a feminist cause and makes people not look down on the female gender, well, I am really honoured that it is thought so. Like I said, I write that comic without really thinking too deeply about it but I'm not one who looks down on the female gender cos all humans are equals with their pros and their flaws after all. So, thanks for listing No Pink Ponies up in the feminist list. I really do appreciate it.

megs said...

Eisu - Yeah, No Pink Ponies definitely seems to me like people are just written as people, and that's feminism to me. Good job on the comic and congrats on getting on Keenspot!

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Anonymous said...

Your Blog is bad and you should feel bad. You either have a fundamental misunderstanding of the term feminist and how it applies to the presentation and sexualization of woman... or you are an idiot.

apox said...

this was an amazing article and you've now turned me on to some fantastic, hilarious new comics, despite what the "anonymous" jerk has stated. it's funny how people with shitty comments leave no trace of who they are to allow you to rebuttal, not to mention the fact that whomever left it had no argument backing them. great blog!

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