About a month ago, my friend was mugged. A man came at him with a gun, and when he was angry that my friend only had thirty dollars in his wallet, demanded that he open up his backpack. Upon seeing that my friend was carrying volumes of Y: The Last Man and Morning Glories, the mugger said “What the fuck are these? I only read comics with superheroes.” As my friend tells the story, the man then proceeded to take his thirty dollars and his iPhone, and as he ran off, said “You need some Spider-Man, [racial expletive].” I remember upon hearing this story how crazy the situation seemed to me.
It was nuts that a friend of mine had a gun pointed against his head for thirty bucks and a phone. Looking back, it was absurd and even a little funny that the man decided to criticize his taste in comic books in the process. But what he said at the end of the story made me irrationally angry. “You need some Spider-Man”. I read that part, and a single thought came to my mind: Spider-Man doesn’t mug people.
Although I have recently learned that there was a character named “Spider-Mugger”, so there’s that.
I’m not dumb. I know that Spider-Man is popular, a huge franchise. There’s lots of action, intrigue, and emotion in his stories, and as big a character as he is, it’s a sad truth that some of his fans might be criminals, even though Spider-Man fights crime himself. The same goes for Batman and Superman. The superhero genre attracts fans of all kinds, not all of whom will necessarily embody the morality of the superheroes they claim to like. But I wish they did. I do not expect my friend to have said “Spider-Man doesn’t mug people” to the guy pointing a gun at his head. The sad difference between reality and fantasy is that while that would be a big moment in a film or comic, it probably just would’ve caused him more trouble in real life. And while it’s fun to see heroes punch villains, and sometimes see villains punch heroes, violence stops being funny the second real people get hurt. Still, I can dream.
If you haven’t read Action Comics #775, do yourself a favor and change that. At the very least, see the film adaptation “Superman vs. the Elite”. It’s my favorite Superman story of all time.
I’m not going to go in depth about my faith here, but I will say this: Superman is my Jesus. This does not mean I worship Superman. This does not mean I hold or attend Church of El meetings (although if that did exists, it sounds like it’d be kinda fun), or collect idols of him (any more than I collect comic stuff in general), or think Superman is perfect. Hell, Superman isn’t even my favorite superhero. He’s easily in my Top 10 — if not the Top 5 — but he’s not my favorite. Superman is my Jesus for one simple reason: I believe everybody should strive to be like Superman.
People like to complain that Superman is too perfect (usually people who have never actually read a comic), and while that’s true to an extent, it’s also arguably kind of the point. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about how Superman is meant to be a shining example of humanity we can look up to and try to emulate. Superman is kind, wise, strong-willed, compassionate, and caring. A lot of superheroes are. The dominant genre in comic books is one centered around caring about other people and wanting to make the world a better place. So that leads me to one big question: Why are so many people in the comic book subculture so horrible?
Our fandom has too much of panel one, not enough of panel two.
Specifically, I’m referring to the way a lot of comic book fans treat women. It’s no secret that comics are a niche market, part of the male-dominated nerd subculture along with video games and a lot of general sitting on the Internet discussing whatever all day long. Comics themselves are largely written by men and marketed towards men, even though last time I checked, nearly half of all comic book readers were women. It’s a stereotype that’s hard to shake, the idea that women don’t like nerdy things. My own mother, bless her heart, has repeatedly tried to understand my love of nerdy things only to wind up more confused than before, every single time. One of the biggest sources of confusion for her is a question I get about once a year: “Are there girls who play these video games/read these comics?” When the answer is “Yes, there are”, I’m always met with a look of bewilderment. Similarly, my father is a big fan of one of TV’s biggest shows, The Big Bang Theory, which has a bunch of male nerds and one female character who doesn’t understand their world at all, and regularly plays on these stereotypes.
It’s annoying, but it could be worse. That’s how the world outside our subculture sees us, and while it’s upsetting, I think a lot of us have just become used to it. Because we know better. We know there are women on this scene. Those brilliant women over at The Mary Sue, the women who engage in discussion with Gail Simone and other creators on social media networks, the Carol Corps that has evolved from fans of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Captain Marvel, and many more. My point is, out there, they don’t appreciate just how many women are in our merry little fandom. In addition to mocking people who read comics, the very idea of a woman caring about comic books at all is patently absurd. But we know better. Or, at least, I thought we did.
It saddens me that what I’m about to say most likely isn’t news to you: many guys in comics treat women in comics like shit. Whether it’s industry professionals like Tony Harris rambling on about fake geek girls and cosplay, or Scott Lobdell sexually harassing MariNaomi and then delivering the worst apologies he possibly could, or the recent controversy with Brett Booth attacking Janelle Asselin’s criticism of the upcoming Teen Titans #1 cover, which has been the talk of the Internet lately. In all of these cases, you have male industry professionals harassing women, often female industry professionals. Scott Lobdell is a writer at DC who repeatedly made unwelcome advances on an independent creator in front of an entire audience. Brett Booth is an artist at DC who helped lead people to gang up on a former editor of various Batman comics. Tony Harris we’ll come back to in a bit, because right now we need to focus on this.
Why the hell should women in comics have to put up with this nonsense? Why is being female suddenly a horrid offense, punishable by defamation of character, being attacked publicly, and tons of rape threats? It’s especially bad because these are professional peers of these men, who have proven themselves capable in this line of work, and they get nothing but crap for it. Janelle Asselin called out, among other problems, the composition of the cover for Teen Titans #1, that Wonder Girl is over-sexualized, a teenage girl with breasts as big as her head.
Kenneth Rocafort’s cover for Teen Titans #1, coming this summer.
She’s not wrong, of course. As much as I’d love to dust off the age-old arguments for how female character designs in comics are sexist, I can only fight so many battles at once here, so I’m going to stick with the way real women are treated instead of how fictional women are drawn. Janelle Asselin’s column on CBR is nothing but professional. She speaks from a standpoint as a comic editor, and a woman about a problem with the way a female character is drawn for a comic. Brett Booth, artist of such books as Teen Titans (under Scott Lobdell’s run, he is not the artist who created the above cover for the upcoming series) and Batman/Superman attacked Asselin on Twitter.
Both Asselin’s blog and the Outhousers have put together articles archiving Booth’s tweets, in which he and his supporters claim that Asselin was making unfounded, mean-spirited, and slanderous comments against DC. She was not. This has led to people making personal attacks against her (ironically, for the perceived crime of making personal attacks, which they claim is wrong and nobody should ever do), including questioning her qualifications as a comic industry professional, comic book fan, and sending rape threats her way.
THIS IS NOT OKAY.
Sadly, it’s just one half of the way that some male comic fans mistreat women. The other half is by trying to chase them away. Time to go back to Tony Harris for a second.
This is basically what happened.
The above comic was created by David Willis, creator of the webcomic Shortpacked! Willis has been fighting on the side of feminism (and other forms of equality and diversity) for a long time now, and this particular strip was in response to veteran comic artist Tony Harris’s outrage over fake cosplay girls back in 2012. Harris took to Facebook to talk about the old idea of the “fake geek girl”, that woman who knows nothing about comics but pretends to in order to feed on insecure, awkward nerd boys like some kind of attention vampire. Sadly, this kind of attitude is fairly prevalent in comic culture, not just with cosplayers, but with women in general.
Take, for example, the case of Noelle Stevenson, creator of comics such as Adventure Time: Fionna & Cake and Lumberjanes. A couple of months ago, Stevenson published a comic on her tumblr about an experience she has all-too often in comic book stores, where she’ll walk into a store and immediately be put down by the guys working there because she’s a woman. This kind of ridiculous gatekeeper nonsense is all too common. Comics are a niche market. We shouldn’t be trying to keep people out, we should be trying to let them in. And we certainly shouldn’t discriminate against people, especially for their gender. I just… ugh…
Thankfully, I’m only one of many people, both male and female, lobbying against this sexist behavior. Comics Alliance has a great article on this subject. Asselin has been reblogging related writings on her tumblr. And if I’m being totally honest, they’re saying all of this stuff better than I am. So why am I doing it? Partially to raise awareness, but there’s one message I’d like to share that I haven’t seen other people spreading. It goes back to that story I told at the beginning.
I believe that comic fans — mainly those of us that read superhero comics — are bigger fans of superheroes than mainstream audiences are. This isn’t some elitist snob thing; this is the fact that we seek out a product that is not advertised, pay money for it, and brave social stigmas for it because we love these characters so much, whereas most people do not. And I’d like to think it’s because these characters and what they stand for mean something to us. I’d like to think there’s a voice inside all of us that believes in truth, justice, and good, and that comics appeal to that voice.
Sure, mainstream audiences may think Superman’s lame because he’s too good or too powerful or whatever, but we know the character better than that, and can appreciate what Superman stands for. And Superman isn’t sexist. Superman doesn’t belittle women. Superman doesn’t put people down for being different. Superman doesn’t try to exclude people or make them feel bad. Superman doesn’t insult people. Superman doesn’t slander or harass people. Superman doesn’t threaten to rape people.
Disclaimer: This is not actually from a comic about equality, but when an image works, it works.
You can claim it’s the Internet, but that’s a load of garbage. Yes, people act mean online (I’ve done it myself), but the Internet isn’t some kind of demonic entity that forces you to be the worst person you can be. You are in a community, largely populated by people who feel like outcasts. These are wonderful people, passionate people, creative people. And a lot of them are women. There are women reading comics and women writing comics and women who love comics so much they celebrate National Misfit Day online, a holiday for a character that I didn’t even know existed, and I consider myself fairly knowledgable when it comes to comics. Every single one of them deserves your respect. Superman would respect them. You should follow his example and do the same.
Max Dweck has been obsessed with superheroes since he saw the movie "Batman and Robin" when he was a small child, making him the only person in the world who likes that movie. He's also the head of the site's review team. Max has been writing about comics on the Internet for a few years now, starting with a tumblr account, participating in forums on Reddit, and bouncing around a few places until he settled here. His favorite character is Deadman, and if you get him started on that subject it takes a while to get him to stop.
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