Thursday, October 19, 2006

The nazi of the feminine?

There is so much wrong with the latest Shortpacked! storyline, I don't know where to start. Not that it's not hilarious (because most of the wrongness is the kind I enjoy, mytaste kthx bye), but it's a little scary how close parody is from the parodied. Or how close it was until it was saved by getting wronger.

For those of you just tuning in, Galasso runs the toystore. Conquest (Connie?) is his daughter, ala Ra's al Ghul and Talia. Normally her purpose is to have sex with chosen men, because Galasso wants an heir, but now she's working in the toystore and... sex. Sex happens.

And there is something horrifically wrong/hilarious about him dismissing her claims to selling out their entire stock (of everything!) because she hasn't sexed up an heir, when she sold out their entire stock by giving away sex.

I was not liking this storyline until this strip. I mean, now is not the time for developing the only truly fleshed out character who seems to have a soul. Not that I expect characters in this comic to have morals (they don't, they sell toys), but the random attempt at poignancy in a Conquest storyline feels so very wrong.

So then Willis takes it way over the top. He makes something I've always been mildly uncomfortable with despite the Batman overtones (the pushing of your daughter onto the most eligible male), pairs it with Constance basically selling sex, and it all sort of drifts into really bad and terribly uncomfy territory until he gets Galasso to actually compare the two and, so in character, decide his plans are most important. And that's funny. Awfully, horribly funny.

The only reason I'm blogging about this, though, is because Willis linked to the strip with the word "feminazi" and after reading the comic, I decided I liked his usage. You figure it out.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Girls beating guys = Comedy Gold? PART III

Ha, I'm going to have to make this a feature. The monthly girl-on-boy smackdown. I see so many examples and I'd like to go over each one and see what's going and then maybe reevaluate my earlier thoughts. I'm excluding, of course, stories about fighting, because if the girl is supposed to be kicking bad guy butt, then that's totally different. And then comb through Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, which I know has examples of both girls hitting guys and vice versa, and is always hilarious.

In the latest few No Pink Ponies strips, the answer to my question is "yes". This is comedy gold.

Maureen alone at the truck stop has three big gag classics going for it- surprise, repetition, and escalation. She's apprehensive and has always seemed like a sweet if clueless girl, so you don't see it coming at all. Especially since it's simply a bad pickup line that sets her off. Her reaction is way over the top (and legally would put her in the wrong, which makes it even funnier to me, but might ruin the joke for others.) Then in today's comic, the pickup line gets worse and the beatdown gets worse.

Plus, it reminds me of Jess' only other physical altercation, where she unexpectedly hits a guy after trying to break up a debate. Again with the inappropriate and over-the-top reaction that comes out of nowhere. Jess never really gave off violent vibes, so it's funny that way, but she's obviously impulsive. Maureen is not. Again, this is an escalation.

I've written before about how Eisu handles stereotypes and how I like it. It puts me in mind of stock comedy theater, where stereotypical parts are used to quickly tell the audience who each character is so the playwright can quickly get down to the business of being funny. That's all the trucker is. If this were a different comic trying to tell a different story, this sort of thing might be uncomfortable. Trucker stereotypes are old, old, and usually boring. But Eisu usually puts out a stereotype so he doesn't have to waste anytime he could be devoting to the main characters and the jokes. You can tell this is exactly what he is doing because of the consistency - there's the stereotypical tough and exhausted looking waitress smoking right there, nonplussed by the beatdown.

And I think I can safely dismiss any quibble with Maureen throwing the first punch and unfairly hitting a man while down since instead of a "real world" response, he continues with the bad lines. This is silliesville. This is a very important distinction to make. A comic with more "real world" tone couldn't get away with this.

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Non-Adventures of Wonderella

All I really have to say is I LOVE THIS COMIC. I already loved Kilroy and Tina, which I should probably review on account of the awesomeness, and also because it's all free now, but Wonderella is such good stuff. And she can jump hella high.

Variety, Dammit!

I had a laugh and a rant about the whole Wizard How-to-Draw books, and sketched up a fury stupidosity about it here in my livejournal. But the fact is, I really, really enjoy drawing hot ladies. Well, and hot guys, too. But ladies are easier and more fun. I see the fun in drawing hot ladies, even as I can see the sexism behind stating that female superheroes must stand differently than male superheroes, because without the sexy pose, she might as well be male.

And I see some backlash from the ranting going on in some of the posts linked from the latest WFA . The "why can't I have my sexy ladies?" all-or-nothing mentality, because everyone knows all feminists really want is no more fun or sexy thoughts. And you know, rolling eyes already.

Hello internet, you can have BOTH. And then some.

I am amazed I still haven't linked to John Troutman's webcomics here yet. I mean, he's one of my best friends and I like his comics, but also because a) he likes girls (A LOT) and draws them (A LOT) while b) he's worked very hard to draw lots of differently shaped girls with different personalities and interests and occupations because they're all his characters and he wants to write his stories well. He also has lots and lots of female characters and I get so much joy from situations where I feel like I want another male character, instead of the usual reverse. So long as not everyone is attracted to the main guy, it's okay. (Good thing for Trout's comic that most of the female characters are the main guy's sisters! No harem manga here!)

I am really, really sick of the straw argument that when feminists complain about the depiction of women in comics it means that you can't have fan service. Or comics that are nonsensical and the heroine can wear her high heels and corsets and kick ass in exclusively sexy poses. Stupid, fun comics have a place. Honestly, we need our crack, whatever it may be.

We just also want sensible, realistic portrayals in realistic, sensible comics. It's okay to have green alien babes in bikinis that would simply fall off in the real world if your science fiction is pretty much magic with different terms. And elf chicks who battle with no armor if you've got a story where a group travels around and never needs to carry food or hunt or sleep. This is suspension of disbelief writing. It's fun. You bend things and don't have to explain it.

But if you've got a world where heroes have to sleep and shit and things are practical, please please please don't give your ladies the same costume you would in cracktastic world! Or the same figure when she's supposed to be working out everyday. She'll look like an athlete, not a model. She'll move like an athlete, dress like an athlete, not like a Barbie doll.

Or you can have BOTH. Which brings us back to Trout's comics. For the most part, his ladies run around looking like normal ladies, making pretty faces and funny faces. But every once in a while he switches the "camera" to show the point of view of his main male character, Basil Flint, when he sees his love interest through "The Most Beautiful Woman in the World Cam" (aka TMBWITWC). You can have your cake and frost the lense you view it through, too.

To go back to the superhero comics, my point is that a lot of the time, the camera is always on "TMBWITWC" setting. This makes sense if the entire comic is on the same fantasy setting, but it doesn't if the rest of the comic, especially the male characters, abide by real world rules. If you're writing a realistic, gritty comic where you have reasonable sounding explanations for how super powers work (instead of just "oh, alien!" or "oh, magic!" or, uh "'s a webcomic!"), then ladies take off their high heels and use them as weapons, they don't wear them into battle.

I think people get too accustomed to how the silliness works that when they try to make superheroes more real life, they forget which translates over and which doesn't.

And seriously, I love me some Catwoman in high heeled, thigh high boots in a costume that cannot exist in real life (because, well, zippers where?). Just like I like campy Batman where inexplicable things come out of the pouches on his utility belt and guns have endless bullets.

But as soon as guns run out of after the amount of bullets they can actually hold have been shot, that's when Catwoman wears reasonable shoes and not every movement she makes is maximized for ultimate sexiness. She gets to move like a real person.

There's not an either/or, though. There are shades of reality, afterall, in fiction. All of comicdom runs the gamut, really, especially in webcomics, which is why there's very little to complain about in webcomics in terms of general trends outside those of society in general. There are shamlessly sexist webcomics drawn just for the wank factor, but they don't pretend otherwise. There are people trying to write good stories, or cracktastic hilarious stories. The problem you get into with superhero comics, Marvel and DC, is sometimes it seems like different writers are going to give us real, fleshed out stories with characters to indentify with and symapthize with, and then suddenly their women are preening and posing in every panel. It's not so much that we want only realistic stories, but that when we get them, we don't want them with the unrealistic trappings that seem to be there only because it's supposed to be what sells. Sure, it may sell other books, but if people are buying a book for its realism and different tone, that's what's going to sell it, not constant pin up poses. Readers who are attracted to men have no problem being attracted to, lusting over, slashing, appreciating the hottness, etc. male superheroes who don't show off handsome faces, don't always show off their bodies, lurk in shadows, and generally aren't constantly drawn for aesthetic reasons. Why not do the same for female superheroes? Are men (and others who like the ladies in various ways) incapable of seeing hotness in various ways?

I hate having to remind people, but sexism hurts everybody. Remember when that Dove "Campaign for Real Beauty" came out? Stupid or not, the reaction I most heard from men was "FINALLY! HOT WOMEN IN ADS!". They wouldn't necessarily be talking about the same model, either. This is why guys often have different favorite artists, because there is no one best way to draw a hot lady for all of maledom.

I was sketching out character designs for a project and drew a thin and wiry, athletic girl with a round face and messy, almost punky hair. My buddy and partner in webcomic crime Andy thought she was hot. I thought she was hot. Trout didn't. He liked the curvy, fleshy other girl. So did I. And then Andy tries to make me draw gothy girls, who I don't think are hot and neither does Trout. But I consider that a challenge to myself as an artist, to draw people I don't find attractive to myself. Andy also pushes me to draw bigger guys, when I like soccer player build, not football. Then there's the problem with drawing people not in shape. Skeletal people are easier to draw, because, well, skeletons and stick figures are easier. Skin tight clothes are easier than realistic folds. I guess I just expect way better art from professionals than what I can produce. I want people to learn from so I can get better. I don't want to look at a "How-to-Draw" book and think that I more realistically, even with my cartoony style.

I'm going to try and come back to this topic later, because I'm being extra rambly today and not as cohesive as I like to be, but I'd already had a pot of tea this morning when my husband brought me coffee, and well, buzz. The problem is there's a lot going on here. How women are depicted, perceived audience wants, selling comics to a broader audience vs existing, the general sameness of superhero comics, wank material, meaningful stories vs fun stories, realism vs fantasy, personal taste in hotness, the place of hotness in storytelling... No wonder I seem to have lost all my essaying skills.

So, Summary: Variety. It wins.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Makeshift Miracle and a visit to Toronto

I forgot to mention here that I did a guest column over at Comics Should Be Good, mostly because I was in Toronto when I wrote it and only got back late Wednesday. And then immediately got sick. It was a pretty "pass the sick around" weekend, but mostly it was all about comics. My husband was there for work (which is how we got the free rental car, because we are car-less bums), but I was there for the comics. Pretty much our first stop was the Beguiling and from there through the course of the visit I pretty much hit every single comic book store in the Toronto area. Hope Larson and Bryan Lee O'Malley missed their flight out for their original signing on Saturday, but I lucked into meeting them very quickly the day after and bought two of Hope's books, Salamander Dream and Gray Horses, both of which I now love and am really glad I finally got. We were mostly there, though, to hang with Jim Zubkavich, who we met through webcomics and is a very awesome friend. He was incredibly helpful in helping me move up to Canada, for one. I have a blog post brewing around my head about why I associate webcomics with drinking and he's a big part of that, wink wink.

At one point I was talking to Jim about this blog and what things I want to cover about stupid things webcomics do, like one where characters keep changing gender "because... it's a webcomic" I say. It's funny, but it's true, in both the damning and uplifting senses. Webcomics are a chance to do whatever you like for absolutely no reason. This is not necessarily a good thing, as horrors are daily unleashed because of this freedom, but it's still freedom and it's fun. For maybe the person drawing it. Hopefully. (Kids, don't write in gender swapping rays just because. This is your brain on just because.)

When I was a kid, I didn't read any comics. I knew about them, because I'd wander down to Oxford Comics when it was located in the creaky old house beneath Oxford Used Books, where I made pilgramage as often as I had a few dollars to buy cheap sci-fi. I'd pretty much only read some Elf Quest, which was fun, but I never really got into. And I wondered why that seemed to be all the fantasy I ever saw in comics. The rest seemed to be about fighting with some sci-fi gobbelty gook used to make it more "awesome". It seemed to me, even as a pre-teen, like a big waste of the medium. This is back when it was hard to make convincing effects for movies, but comics, I reasoned, had no limit. It was as cheap to draw a dragon as a tank. As cheap to set the story in ancient cities of gold as a wooden shack. Why wasn't there more imagination? Granted, I wanted fantasy personally. I wanted desperately to see a comic with a freaking unicorn on the cover and please let it be a one shot, because even then I was scared of "issue 4 of 6"! But where was the fantasy? Where was something that really took advantage of the visual medium like those illustrated kids' books that never had the same style as the next? Why was everything a bunch of white guys hitting each other?

This gets us back to Jim Zubkavich. Jim did so many things oh so right when he started his webcomic, The Makeshift Miracle. It helps he already knew plenty about how to make a comic and storytelling, but he also had a good number of comics queued up so he wouldn't run late for a while. His comic is my favorite example of a comic that hit the ground running, as it seemed to get noticed and linked to right off the bat. Mostly, I think, because even to the already weird and imaginative mini-world of webcomics, this was something amazing and new.

The art got a lot of the initial kudos, but very soon it seemed like the art and the initial pages were merely sucking the readers into something much more vivid. Words freaking fail, look at the pretty pictures.

And the story and art work together perfectly. The art shows you what kind of story this is more than I could describe.

Inbetween his busy schedule being awesome, Jim's remastered this puppy and it's coming out as a book. Which is great, because despite my great love of webcomics and high speed connection, I really honestly prefer reading books. Especially when they're something so interconnected in terms of plot as this. And re-readable. Reading it again now, I'm surprised at how fresh it is and how much I really love it, despite having read it all as it was coming out. Good stuff don't get old, y'all.

But the main point is, I would have picked up this book at any point in my reading career when I was old enough to pick out books for myself. No unicorns on the cover, but I think I might have outgrown my need for a certain amount of unicorns in my diet. Makeshift Miracle is fantastical and inventive in its own way and really uses the fact it's a comic for all its worth. Historically, it may even prove to be a big shift in all of webcomics, where after this I know I personally saw a bunch more people creating more lavish and less newspaper strip like comics. I personally signed up for Modern Tales mainly because Makeshift was moving to it, and I know I'm not alone.

Buy the book already! I'd like to talk about the ending here (as it's got a male/female element to it that's really interesting), but I don't want to spoil it for anyone!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Girls beating guys = Comedy Gold? PART II

Everytime I write something and publish, I think of two million more things to say.

I went back to the Pandagon post that inspired me to have something more to say on the subject of women hitting men and considered some more. It occured to me as funny that in the first snarkoleptics post I linked to before that twice someone brought up the lesson they learned as kids that just because someone hits you or says something bad doesn't mean it's okay to hit them. It is very often considered childish to lash out violently and be goaded into hitting back is shameful because you're lowering yourself to a childish level of behavior.

At Pandagon, Amanda quotes a Dr. Helen:
Scalzi shows a picture of Krissy with a baseball bat and a caption reading, “Respect me for me. Or because I will beat the holy crap out of you. Really, it’s your choice.” How charming. So the implication is that if one is a woman, she can beat the crap out of someone for “disrespecting her?” This regressive behavior is typical of the violent youth I see who have so little impulse control that they beat someone up for “dissing them.” I would hope a grown woman of Krissy’s obvious intelligence would have more sense than that. But no. She decides that a man in an open public place just trying to touch her warranted shoving him against a wall and putting her hand to his throat.

This quote reminded me of the same thing it did Amanda, it seems. Blaming the victim, especially in rape cases.

There are plenty of cases where I applaud someone for being "bigger" and finding a difficult but just solution to harassment or verbal assualt. But I can't blame anyone for wanting to scare the hell out of a jerk by reacting violently. Sure, it could instigate violence out of the jerk who was all talk until then, but if someone doesn't take you seriously, it certainly sets a different tone.

I remember getting in a bad fight in 6th grade. I was tiny and white and my bus to school was entirely non-white and had a lot of boys on it. So I got picked on since I was an "other" and things were thrown on me. What they didn't know was that I'd punched the one school bully at my elementary school in the gut and from then on, she'd left me alone and I was full of pride and vinegar. So when they threw an egg at the back of my head, I turned around and declared war. I lost the fight, but they didn't mess with me anymore. I wasn't worth the trouble.

What I remember was that they all stopped laughing when I formed my little hands into fists.

So maybe on that level it disturbs me that a woman being violent is funny. Because so often in real life a woman turns to violence to show how serious she is.

Of course, I still don't consider this admirable behavior. There's a reason why I didn't tell my parents about the fight and hid my one bruise on my face with makeup (oh, and it was right before the school Christmas concert, too! So I had an excuse to wear makeup!) It did feel like lowering myself. But I knew that telling on them would do nothing and I had no other choice for getting to school. The bus was seriously overcrowded (3 kids to a seat) and I was the last stop, so I couldn't hide or sit upfront. It felt like a last resort. And it certainly feels hypocritical to praise any sort of violence when I'm a NAPper. Throwing an egg at me and insulting me in languages I didn't know wouldn't have justified me kicking all their butts even if I'd been capable of that. So neither do I think threatening violence towards a friend, even in a joking manner, is an appropriate response to their saying something offensive. But maybe it's a learned behavior women pick up on - that guys will treat your complaint seriously if you threaten or use violence. Even if you're joking. Or half-joking.

If that's the truth, then, well, it's a shame.

Girls beating guys = Comedy Gold?

There's been a bit of discussion in the livejournal snarkoleptics community about webcomics where a girl hitting a guy is played for comedic relief (starline's post on Questionable Content, kdsorceress's on Dominic Deegan). My first thought is that this is something often done but not so often thought through. So let's think this through.

Violence is funny, especially between friends. I mock hit my husband when he says something stupidly funny on purpose. I quote "One of these days, Frankie! Bang, Zoom, right to the moon!" (and gaze wistfully at the sky, because the more references you can do in one joke, the better). Between some of my girls and myself "Bitch, Ima cut you" or any phrase using the word "cut" is rife for giggles. It's funny between us because it's totally understood we all love each other and would do anything to not hurt one another. Counterpoint - injokes don't usually translate well to a broader audience. If the audience doesn't understand the years of love and trust behind the actions, it's a swing and a miss, quite literally.

Underdog violence feels good while being funny. We cheer when the weaker party lands that one blow on the cocky stronger party. Tom and Jerry cartoons are a good example. How else do you get past the horrendous beatings a little mouse puts down on the big, predator cat?

I don't think you can even have a discussion on why it's supposed to be funny when a girl hits a guy without understanding either above point, or the inescapable idea that women are weaker than men. Sure, there are several exceptions, but who today, when presented with the phrase "the weaker sex" thinks of men?

I am also a big fan and, at the same time, bitter enemy of switching sex to see if it feels the same with men and women in the other's places. It sure makes a point, but shouldn't be an end all to the discussion. That said, I'm going to start with the obvious. Take the recent Uma Thurman movie, with her palying a superhero who wigs out when her boyfriend dumps her and does funny things like throw a shark at him. Putting aside the fact that throwing sharks is the coolest thing ever and I want that for a super power despite how impractable it would be and how I'd cry myself to sleep each night because I love sharks, any male superhero going around wrecking up his ex-girlfriend's pad and throwing marine life at her would have to fast for 2 months on burning coals while sewing clothes for orphans who love sharks before most people would consider him even on the road towards repentance. Somehow I doubt Uma's character did that in the movie.

So what about the friends in Questionable Content? What if Marten was the girl and Faye the boy? Is this an in-joke between these two friends? I don't really know QC that well, as I find it as easy to follow as your average soap opera, by which I mean I used to watch maybe 2 weeks total in an entire year of Another World when it was on and I could follow it just fine. (And I loved it. I wish all soaps were smoking the same crack and not pretending to be realistic while bringing people back from the dead and enacting evil plots for love! PS Rachel and Carl forever!) Anyway, from what I can tell, there is that basic understanding between the two characters that they are friends, but there's also a sort of real fear on Marten's part that Faye might indeed react violently if Marten says something wrong.

Faye also seems to react this way to just about everybody (check out Starline's examples in her post), which makes it more of a character trait. As brought up in the discussion in the thread, this seems to excuse it a bit. In my way of thinking, this only excuses it if it's brought up. Maybe someone can point me to the story arc where Faye gets brings this up at counseling and wonders why her first response to things that offend or upset her is violence or the threat thereof. THEN it's a character trait. If no one notices that she does this all the time, except to cower or cut off what they're saying around her, then it's a failing and needs to be addressed. Having said that, this is an ongoing comic that seems to take forever to do story or character developement, like most comics that have a few panels with a punchline at the end. J. Jacques could just be getting around to it.

In which case, he'll also have to deal with Dora doing the same thing half the time. When both your main female characters threaten violence as a joke and sometimes as an actual solution, you really can't leave that sitting around. "Addressing" it doesn't mean solving it and everyone goes on happy happy, but let the cast notice it, even if they do nothing about it.

To bring this back to the wider picture, I think the reason this bothers me and so many others is that it is so prevalent. Like using rape in a storyline, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the concept, as fiction is not an idealized world where everyone has no flaws and bad things don't happen. It gets to be a problem when it's used often and often used badly. Unless it is used as an injoke between friends, it's hard to see the "violent little woman" as anything other than playing with the "women are weak" concept. And if your joke rests on a negative stereotype, I fail to see how you're committed to destroying said stereotype. I adore breaking stereotypes for humor, but there does come a point where you're trying to build a complete character and the stereotype is near death, and the only thing that's keeping it alive is the stereotype breaker herself.

You see this often with "tomboys", who are so determined to not fit into the classification of girly girls, they perpetuate the tea parties with stuffed animals as typical girl behavior just to set themselves apart. I was a tomboy for certain, but I did realize at one point I could do what I wanted to do without having to make fun of the girls who swooned over the New Kids on the Block. I didn't have to classify myself as anything or anti-anything. Funnily enough, I realized this when the other hardcore tomboy in my 5th grade class seemed to think there was a competition between us for the most boyish and I thought that was the dumbest thing ever and we should be friends since we had so much in common.

In summary, perpetuating a stereotype in order to do anything that shows how against that stereotype you are = dumbest thing ever. Not that girls hitting boys is necessarily doing that, but it so easily can. Girls beating guys should not automatically equal comedy gold.


Friday, August 04, 2006

Flashing for a Purpose!

click for full size Devil's Panties!

Sometimes it's entirely appropriate to show off a little.

Like if you're a firefly trying to get laid. Flash 'em, baby.

click for full size Striptease!

Now over on Striptease, Chris has got his gang into a sort of goth-y nightclub looking for a friend who's been caged up and his girl can't persuade them to let him free. He's sending out big signals that this is supposed to be something of a fun and not entirely plausible storyline. And it is fun. Except it's sort of worrying that Alli and Rae got trapped inside a voyeur room and decided the only way to get out would be to "put on a show" and finally make the comic finally live up to its name.

OK, so not what I would think. I'd think they'd want to keep me around if I started stripping instead of opening the door. Instead I'd probably choose to be A) really annoying or B) really boring. But that's not the point. This is Sillyville, Gothland.

Unfortunately, the girls decide to discuss personal matters while, um, just sitting there in their panties. Now it's no longer fun or silly, it's a little boring (and I'm guessing THAT'S why the door finally opened! ha!) and feels cheap for Rae to be flirting with Alli and expecting a kiss? Come on, they just went over the whole who's sweet on who moments ago. And they're talking about modeling, which often takes nude people and doesn't make it sexualized. And they're mostly nude, and it's at first not really sexualized, because of the silly aspect of the world of Striptease, but when Rae decides that Alli is actually flirting with her enough to try something physical, all of a sudden it's creepy. They're being watched by unknown people, extremely sexualized, and it's tremendously creepy of Rae to be equating nudity and friendliness with "Oh yeah, totally kiss me now!".

Just because Alli's flashing doesn't mean she wants to get laid.

It's funny how just a few strips can turn what came off as gratuitous, fun nudity into creepy, exploitative nudity.

Chris hasn't updated Striptease in a while, and I hope it's not because he's written himself into a creepy, creepy corner. What's going on here? It's all fun and games until lesbians attack? I'm not really happy with the recent Alli/Rae part in this. I was promised stupid shiny outfits and bad, loud music! It was going to be fun! I want more of the fun, I suppose. And less creepiness.

And probably naked men. Too bad the only really attractive male cast member (Tommy) is out of the picture right now. When he comes back, he better be naked, Chris!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

New editor for Modern Tales

You didn't read it here first, but Shaenon Garrity (she of Narbonic, as well as Smithson and L’il Mell and Sergio) is the new editor of Modern Tales, probably the biggest edited collection of webcomics around. It started off as a subscription based site, but is now mostly free and readers can benefit from having someone round up and show off the best webcomics. That someone is now Shaenon, who has pretty much awesome taste and knows a thing or two about comics, period.

So what does this mean? Of the Modern Tales family of sites, each with an editor and vision of which type of comics to bring together, half are now edited by a woman.
So, yeah, well, that's a nice little thing, but the best thing is that when I first read this, my first thought was "Oh, duh! Perfect!". Only then did I think "What happened to Eric?". Eric Burns would probably have been a great editor as well, but life happens, it seems. Actually, I think I like the choice of Shaenon better. Eric knows his webcomics and knows what he likes, but he's already been picking through them and showing off what he likes. As a reader, I'm much more interested to see what Shaenon will bring in.

I also bet you that very few reposts of the press release or comments on the change will deal with Shaenon's gender. While I realize that often being "colorblind" or "genderblind" can set back dealing with issues of racism or sexism, in some cases it's good that people will only care about the person and sex won't even enter into it.

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.