Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Oh No, Not Again

I honestly don’t really have the time to keep addressing yet another example of sexism in comics, it’s been nearly 15 years of this, I feel like a broken record. But. Here we are and here I am and there are a few “arguments” I think need to be countered. Again.

The first problem is how often I see directly contradictory ideas offered as trump cards in discussions about sexually objectifying images of female characters.  Somehow an image is both “realistic, some women really look like that!” and also “not meant to be realistic, they’re fictional and exaggerated for effect!”. These two things don’t go together. Either they’re realistic or they’re not. Hint: they are not. If you’re going to argue that they’re supposed to be exaggerated, fine, but then you’re going to have to acknowledge WHY they’re exaggerated, what bits tend to be exaggerated, for what audience, and how that might inform the objectification criticism.

If you’re going to argue that things like the brokeback pose, impractical outfits whose sole purpose is cleavage/butt definition, are deliberately exaggerated for effect…ok. But you don’t then get to argue that it’s somehow also “realistic”, or that that exaggeration isn’t for a very specific purpose. Otherwise they’d be exaggerating brain size or non-sexual characteristics. The purpose is sexual objectification. Own it.

This goes to another argument that also uses two conflicting ideas. Namely that comics are “for” a male audience, therefore the women are depicted this way to appeal to male readers who apparently only want one body type and only “sexy” images of said characters. This is followed up by saying male characters are also exaggerated therefore it’s equal. Only that’s not possible IF the audience is supposedly straight male. Because if that’s the case, then the women being drawn that way is so that they exist as sexual fantasies and the men are drawn that way to be heroic ideals. Those two things are not the same and they are inherently unequal. The purpose of the exaggeration is very different. It just is.

I also don’t buy the argument that “super” characteristics automatically means one extremely exaggerated body type for women, all the time, that just happens to be very porn-y. On books that are not porn or even porn “lite”. Theoretically the point of super hero comics is telling sequential stories about super hero’s. Sex MAY occur in those stories, but they don’t exist as a vehicle for sex. Porn, on the other hand, is about sex, not story. This isn’t a particularly difficult distinction.

However, when you show women the way a lot of comics covers do, that line gets hella blurred. There’s very little story reason so many of them are posed in a titillating fashion and most of the time it does nothing for the character, either. Because it’s not about them being sexy on their terms for themselves, it’s about being perceived as sexy by others. It’s for an audience, for a viewer, not for the character.
Look, I don’t have any issue with sexy images of women. I like them, I draw them myself. I like porn, I enjoy porn comics. And newsflash: lots of porn comics are far sexier than any of these mainstream covers, with better proportions, art, and layout. So the problem isn’t sex, sexiness, boob size, or even exaggerated proportions.

The problem is WHY they are exaggerated, who is exaggerated, what the context is, who is doing the image and from what pov, and what it conveys. What, exactly, is the point of all these sexy women on comic book covers?  A cover is supposed to give a reader an idea of what the book is going to be like, to appeal to them, to invite them into the story. If your story is “hey, lookit some boobies” terrific. But if it’s a more complex look at how characters with powers deal with the world? Your cover should reflect that idea. Otherwise, what are you conveying? That you’ll get a good story about complex, interesting characters…or a pseudo-porn?

If the latter, just admit it and go for it. Stop being coy or pretending it’s something else. And if it’s not, then give your female characters the same respect you give the male characters and define them by something other than exaggerated visual depictions. At the very least it’s a lazy and trope-tastic art style that repels a lot of potential readers who might otherwise want to check out these stories, if they had any idea what the stories would actually be like. I mean, supes are supposedly “modern myths”, right? That sounds like they’re supposed to be taken just a tad more seriously than Skinemax. So maybe the covers should reflect that. Or not, but pick a direction and own it.

At least with something like Busty Cops or Taken by Bigfoot I know what the hell I’m getting into. They aren’t pretending to be anything else. Comics seem to want this both ways and it’s just insulting at this point. 

Something else that’s insulting? Accusing critiques of vendetta’s, biases, and not being qualified to discuss material in their own field…because they explain why a cover may not be working the way it’s intended. In comics, covers are marketing tools as well as story extensions. It is completely valid to look at one and question whether it is successful and if not, why not. And if the person doing the critiquing happens to have actually edited comics for a living? Yeah, you should pay attention, not throw temper tantrums. Our experience, knowledge, and expertise is absolutely relevant…and I really have to wonder about someone who thinks an informed critique is LESS valid than a reactionary Twitter fit. Let alone some tinfoil hat conspiracy against one of the top two publishers in comics.

I mean, I’ve been editing comics for nearly 15 years. I’m not going to pretend I haven’t or that my CV isn’t something you should consider when I offer an opinion. You don’t have to agree with me, but yes, I do think my background gives my perspective some weight and at the very least some consideration if I talk about things like how covers are developed and how important what that imagery conveys is. I don’t think that’s unreasonable.

Can you disagree with a woman in comics without it being sexist? Yep. But not by assuming they don't know what they're talking about because they're a woman, or claiming they have an "agenda" for discussing sexism, harassment, or the ramifications of sexual objectification in pop culture. Unless the "agenda" you're talking about is making comics culture less toxic. 

Finally, if you send rape threats because someone criticized a comic book cover (or for ANY reason) I can only assume you left your sanity in roughly the same location as your brain. Firmly and perpetually up your own ass.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Wonder Woman: My Rough Movie Concept

Here’s the thing: I am not generally a supes person. I usually stay out of conversations about superhero’s for this reason. However, the recent discussion around how Wonder Woman is somehow more “difficult” to make a movie about than, say, Thor or Iron Man struck me as really weird.  There seems to be a fixation with certain aspects of WW’s original origin story, namely the BDSM components, and not enough on her actual character and what she stands for. There’s no reason a film can’t do that, the same way they have for just about every other successful superhero.

What makes WW somehow more complicated? I think there’s a lot of fear about such an overtly feminist character and it’s scary to think about the time and effort required to make a film about her work and resonate. Mostly because of A. not getting the character B. being afraid of the word "feminist" C. not really understanding what actually makes her a "feminist" char. That latter was soundly proved by the garbage that was Catwoman. 

My feeling is: get over it. Tap a good writer, take the time, and you WILL find the audience for this (and they will happily pay you for giving them a great film). Is it a risk? Sure, but no more than any other. They’re all a risk, that’s the nature of the biz. There are no sure things in film.

So, what’s MY idea for a Wonder Woman movie? Well, I think we need to go back to her Greek mythological roots, show Wonder Woman’s version of the Amazon’s within that framework, and then allow for a modern storyline.  Greek Gods in Modern Times doesn’t strike me as particularly difficult, and I think starting out with a “simple”, though not stupid, story seems like a good way to intro the character to film audiences.

In my head, I see an opening sequence of a figure running, though we never see all of her (or possibly even that it IS a her at first, let’s do some audience fake out here). There are sandaled feet, some battle scars, maybe a few cuts, but overall this figure is strong, determined, confident. Think the Xena opener, only with better graphics. Swords clashing with beasts of myth and legend, maybe a god thrown in, in quick, badass cuts.

In my head, I hear Claudia Blacks’s voice narrating, telling us about being a warrior and an agent for peace. The inherent conflict of wanting a world that’s strong and loving, and knowing that sometimes violence is a necessary force when evil and hate are your adversaries to reaching that goal.  I hear her, at the end, tell us this is what makes a “True Amazon”, the ability to love and fight for what you know matters. Chills up the spine, I guarantee it. (Note: I think CB is probably a little old for WW, but she’d make an AMAZING Hippolyta, who could totally narrative this!)

As Hippplyta says this, we pull back to reveal a Wonder Woman who looks like this cosplayer, Meagan Marie: HERE (frankly, she’s my main inspiration for this WW story.) standing on a beach, sword and shield in hand, lasso at her side, wind blowing cinematically in the wind…and looking back at her Amazonian home, full of women living their lives peacefully. She’s been training. We hear her mother talking about how Diana, naturally, is a leader who wants to help. But the Amazons haven’t really “needed” her that way in a long time. She was ready for a change.

Cut to our Diana, cleaned up a little, talking with her mother. Hippolyta is telling her that the gods have been up to something, they aren’t getting back to anyone lately, and she needs her daughter to go out and find out what’s up.  The Amazons have been guarding something important (a gate to the Underwold, maybe) but it’s been a hell of a long time since anyone showed up or even came to give it a friendly check in.  And now the gate is crumbling (that’s bad for everyone) and the Amazon’s can’t fix it. They need help. Especially because Athena isn't responding and that's really bad.

So Diana goes on a little quest, definitely with a fellow Amazon or two so we get some more Bechdel Test passing action in here, not to mention some exposition on her creation story. I’m partial to the “made out of clay” version and having her friends give her a little shit for being made out of dirt. I personally dig this origin because she was created by her mother out of a need for her to exist. I find that to be a really powerful concept.

Naturally it turns out Olympus is a deserted wasteland. Nobody home. Well, that’s a problem. She seeks an oracle (maybe those 3 weaver ladies) and finds out that the gods deserted Olympus at least a thousand years ago, internal strife, and the world outside is pretty damn different than it used to be. The Amazon's haven't noticed because of reasons, something mythical. WW’s going to need to venture out if she’s going to find any of the old gods and haul their delinquent butts back home. At this point I think a little run down of our “greatest hits” as a species are in order, focusing mainly on our tendency to kill each other and been oppressive asshats. Seems like the kind of thing Diana would be unthrilled by. And the Amazon’s main concern is finding out what happened to Athena, who they really can’t believe would just up and abandon them. Note; she definitely didn’t.

At first, Hippolyta is not so keen on her one and only going off into this unknown, violent, crappy world. Plus, Diana isn’t the only one who wants to go on this journey. So there’s a contest, which obvs Diana wins, and she’s off to our world. She’ll need clues, probably from the weaver ladies and Hippolyta, for where to start looking, And she’ll need a different outfit so she’ll blend. I’m voting for something with pants. And a spiffy red leather jacket, like maybe this one.

Meanwhile, in the real world, things are going about how you’d expect. War, famine, hate…we’re a fun bunch. And in the midst of it all are the Greek gods, some laying low, some really not, and Diana has to seek out various ones to figure out what the hell is going on. I’d personally go with Ares and Aphrodite being huge jerkfaces and looking like the main “villains” at first, but that’s me. Might be a little obvious, but sometimes that’s good when you’re going for a more mainstream, digestible story for larger audiences. Once they figure out Diana is on the case, they start sending “things” after her. 

Forthe most part, she outsmarts them, using peaceful means to subdue them and solve the problem. Right up until she can't anymore because it's going to hurt people. It's important to remember that while Diana may be a warrior, she’s not a thug. And throughout it all she witnesses a great deal of human suffering (I’m guessing she’s in a city here, real or made up, whatever) and sees an opportunity to do some real good.  She should make some human friends, I think she’s be especially concerned for the plight of women and children given our cultural issues with misogyny, but not to the exclusion of injustice and inequality in general. I just think she’d definitely notice the gendered nature of many of our current problems.

Eventually she has to have a major confrontation with the jerk gods and uses her intelligence, strength, AND powers to best them after she discovers they’ve locked Athena away because she’s been the main voice of dissent. And, in the end, also shows compassions towards the ultimate mastermind, who would really have to be Zeus. I can’t stand that guy, he’s horrible throughout mythology. They fix the gate back home, but she decides to stay here to help humanity (we really NEED her). Emotional moment with her mom, who reluctantly understands, and they set up a new status quo on Olympus, with ideally Athena in charge. And Wonder Woman sets about doing work WORLDWIDE to combat injustice, with hints at future problems so we can obviously get a sequel. Fin!

Okay, so, as a friend said, some of these plot points are “mushy” but I don't think any more so than any other super film in recent memory. Hopefully a screenwriter/editor would be able to make it gel. I’m also using my personal interpretation of Greek Mythology here, especially in regards to Zeus, who sucked. But I think something like this might be a story your average movie goer could enjoy, while also offering a bit more depth for the more discerning viewer, and definitely sticking to WW/Diana as a character to appease hardcore fans. I hope. The idea here isn’t that my idea is the bestest, just that there are plenty of ways to do WW that are compelling and engaging, and no more difficult than a Thor or a Superman.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Just a Place

I grew up in a small town in New York, not far north of the city. It’s very picturesque, I guess, with amazing views of the Hudson River, Palisades, and Croton Point as it bifurcates the water. I have vivid memories of waking up in the middle of the night to a huge, heavy moon, hanging like a bright globe over the world.

The town isn’t really that interesting, although sometimes its history is. That’s all tainted for me by being a place I started hating in Middle School and have never really been able to reconcile since. My parents still live there, in the house I grew up in, although I don’t really know for how much longer. Neither do they.

Growing up, I was lucky enough to have all my grandparents around. My dad’s folks were also reasonably well off and owned a second house on the coast of Maine. I spent most every summer that I can remember there.

It was a small house, pre Civil War era. It had none of the artifice of later Victorian style houses, like my parents place with its tower that overlooks the river.  It was plain white, a dusty blue trim around the spare windows, distinctly house shaped, with two floors, a pleasantly, old mold smelling cellar, and a small attic. There was a fireplace in the rarely used sitting room, a small black and white TV in my grandmother’s old bedroom, and the last time I was there in 2006, the phone was still rotary. My grandparents had been dead several years but the house was mostly the same. I could still smell them, hear their voices in the kitchen or having afternoon tea.

There were two bathrooms, only one of which had a bathtub. The shower was low even for me, at five one. The spray was fine but a little painful, the wallpaper was cracking in many spots, and you had to lay a towel down on the floor before getting in because the spray caused the curtain to flap around so much you’d end up with a mini lake otherwise. My room was in the back, facing the yard. It had small purple flowered wallpaper that looked straight out of a Little House on the Prairie dress. The bed was a small twin and creaked excruciatingly. There was a small dresser that smelled rather strongly of mothballs.

In many ways, it was utterly unremarkable.

Except for the small, hidden stairway that led from my room to the back of the kitchen. I could get down to breakfast (often pancakes made with sour milk, so they were thin and crunchy) in less than 10 seconds. I could also get out of the house without anyone seeing me at all unless they were in the kitchen. I could hear everything that was said downstairs, late at night, when the grownups sat around drinking. I could sneakily sit at the top of the stairs and watch my grandmother bustling around.

From the outside, it was just a plain house on a street of larger, more ornate, sprawling, gentrified houses. It stood like a tiny throwback to a bygone time, without pretention or artifice.

In some ways I think it is my platonic ideal of a house. Small, defiantly quaint, overshadowed by trees, with a small stream running alongside and a pear tree in the backyard. Worn, uneven stone steps led up to the crooked back door. Several criss crossing clotheslines hung from the nearby barn. We always dried out clothes in the fresh air.

Maine summers on the coast are generally not very warm, maybe getting into the 70’s. The ocean breezes keep everything mild, even in the bright sun.  We very rarely went swimming, the North Atlantic is still frigid that time of year, and most beaches are too rocky to really be a lounging spot.

Beyond the mouth of the harbor there is a small island with a lighthouse. You have to climb up a steep stair to get to the actual island from the landing beach. There’s a thick forest around it, and a swing on a tree that goes to the edge of a cliff.  You can see waves crashing below. The island is only a mile or two around, you can walk it in less than an hour. But the forest looks deep and dark, until it abruptly ends, and becomes a field of flowers. I always think of them as poppies, but they probably aren’t.

I often dreamt of that island, of secrets and buried treasure. I wondered if the lighthouse was haunted and if it was scary to live beneath it in a storm.

When I was teenager I learned how to sail over two summers, two of the worst years of my life. The summers themselves were equally difficult. Socially I was a pariah at home, and though I made friends in the summer, they were fleeting relationships based on proximity.

My favorite times were getting to wander around by myself through town, up towards the mountain, or down at the harbor. It was a less than 5 minute walk down a short, steep hill to where the boats all gathered, and I loved the smell of salt water and pine tress mixing together.

Learning to sail might be one of the whitest hobbies known to man, but I loved it. It was quiet and peaceful. Sometimes seals would swim by the boats. If you hit the wind right you could lift off the water and glide, like flying. My grandfather even let me steer his boat, named after me, into harbor when a fog rolled in heavy and fast. I had to use the compass, visibility was dim. I was very proud of myself, and touched that he had trusted me. He was usually protective, my uncle, his son, had died on their previous boat.

My memories of those summers are emotionally complicated. Sometimes they are the simple joys of young childhood: small family cookouts, the sharp sip of beer that I didn’t like the taste of but wanted anyway because it made me feel more grownup. The taste of fresh lobster with salty butter. The warm scent of bacon. The fizziness of the root beer we always had on the boat.

Later, it reminded me of painful fights with my grandmother who, as an alcoholic, became increasingly suspicious and hostile. Having to go find my brother after he ran away one night, though I knew he’d be down at the docks. Sitting in my little room at thirteen, still mostly a child, but dealing with the recent death of my mother’s father, the discovery that my mother had a problem with alcohol due mainly to grief, a year spent despised by classmates, and the dawning realization that my family was deeply troubled. Alcoholism was not something I really understood yet, but in the next few years it would cast a long shadow that, to this day, has shaped a great deal of my life.

After that summer I was never really close to my father’s parents again. Eventually my grandmother was treated for her diabetes in a way that regulated her alcoholism and she became a rather different person. But by then I was in High School and the damage had been done. I loved them, but I did not trust them, and I didn’t see the house in Maine again until after they both passed away.

As an adult my husband and I spent our honeymoon in the house in Maine. I think part of me knew it might be the last time. That things were moving quickly, that changes were coming, and that eventually we would lose it.

We spent that week loving and sleeping, eating and laughing, walking and enjoying the summer flowers. A perfect summer storm hit one night and we went to the harbor to watch.

A few years ago, through a series of events, my father and uncle had to sell the house. I was deeply upset. And, I guess, I still am. I dream about it all the time, more than the house I grew up in. The dreams are angry, resentful, full of frustration and bitterness. All the emotions I try not to have generally, but especially about this and anything related to my family.

The truth, though, is that losing that house was losing something precious and meaningful. It was, of course, just a place. A structure of wood and stone. But it was also a place where life happened, where childhood mingled with adolescence and adulthood. Where summer dreams met family tragedy, the way the purple lustrife flowers overtook the fence in the backyard and started trailing into the grass in wild, lavender blooms.

I write about that house a lot in my stories, even when there are no houses in it, or the houses are large and complex monstrosities. It has a kind of magic hold over me, because I can never go back and see it again. Because it will never belong to me, and never really did. But I loved it all the same.

I sometimes think that house stands for all the regrets we end up with in life, that look simple from the outside, but on the inside contain complicated lives and choices. Other times I think it represents dreams and the simplicity of imagination, of stories waiting to be found.

Mostly, though what I feel is that I miss it, a house that was really just a place…but is infused with the meaning of the lives who lived in it. I hope whoever lives there now can feel a little of that. I hope they take care of it and cherish it. I hope they love it the way I do. And probably always will.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Commissions Open, January 2014!

So, I have been given a table at C2E2 this year, which is rad. The only snag? Table is not cheap, nor is flight + hotel from Europe.

So! If I can get commissions and things pre the deadline of Jan 14th I may be able to attend! And if I can't, then I'll just mail you your piece with minimal shipping. If you'd just like it shipped, I'm open to that, too.

Also! Ready to ship pieces are already in my Etsy shop, MonsterTeaTime.etsy.com

So, what do I draw? Well! Stuff like this: 

These piece are all up in my shop, originals and prints. Watercolor and inks.

So! Prices!

Full color original art: 

Postcard size (Like Lydia above) = $65

8 x 11 (like the Empress, top pic) = $150

B/W postcard size = $30

B/W 8 x 11 = $80

Shipping to the States is expensive, BUT, I can do a discount for $10. 

This would be for one character, more characters or limited color we can discuss. Email: mariah.tiredfairy@gmail.com

If you're looking for some cheaper options, I have prints at my Etsy.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Bodies of Wonder

The kerfluffle currently going on about the casting of Wonder Woman has me thinking a few things, and most of them consist of being really annoyed that people. Don't. Get. It. when it comes to body commentary and women.

So, Wonder Woman has been cast to feature, in some capacity we don't yet know the extent of, in the next Supes/Bats movie. This movie doesn't have a title, so it's possible they'll do the Justice League and make her important. She could also be a totally sidelined character in a story revolving around Supes and Bats. She could be a cameo. We don't know yet. The actress who has been cast in the role is Gal Gadot, who was formerly in the Israeli military. I have zero opinion on her because I haven't seen her in anything, I didn't see the audition that landed her the role, and I tend to refrain from judging actor's abilities who don't have a long track record. Or, conversely, those who do but who can break out and surprise everyone. See Charlize Theron in Monster for a good example, I don't think anyone expected that transformation.

My main concern?: Zack Snyder will be directing this movie and, I'm assuming, have a hand in the scripting like he usually does. This doesn't fill me with confidence. I think he's a visually stylish director who, more often than not, substitutes said style for substance. He does great trailers, but the final product tends to, at best, leave me feeling cold and underwhelmed. Beyond that, I think his views on what "empowering" stories are is questionable and superficial. As a storyteller I just don't have a ton of confidence in him or what he thinks a "strong" female character is.

I saw some concern about this, but what's drowned it out has been a truly stunning degree of body shaming aimed at the actress. Yes, she has a slim, lithe frame. Yes, Wonder Woman is depicted as curvier and more muscular in the comics. Depending on the stats, Wonder Woman is anywhere from 5 foot 10 to 6 feet, possibly even taller in heeled boots. One stat I found put her weight at 130, another 140. At 6 foot that would be a VERY slender frame. When I worked at DC I'm relatively sure I saw her official stats at a more reasonable 150, though that'd still be pretty slim. Given her muscular frame in the more current incarnations, I'd say 175 to 180 is more reasonable. People see that kind of weight on a female character and they'd freak out that she's "fat", which is one reason I'm guessing those numbers aren't used. That and a fundamental misunderstanding of the fact that muscle weighs more than fat.

I also wonder if there isn't something subconscious going on in making a character as physically solid at WW have stats like that, in direct contradiction to her actual frame. If you checked out the stats of female athletes you'd find that weight varies a lot by frame and type of sport, but you can't really tell by looking how much they weigh. Also, WW's powers are suped, so she doesn't get her strength strictly from her physicality. There's god magic involved. Still, artists like Phil Jimenez have developed an incredibly iconic look for her that is, physically, imposing, and that's not a bad thing at all. However, it's a tall order for finding an actress in the real world.

Basically, if you wanted an actress to match these stats to an even somewhat close degree, you'd need someone like Gwendoline Christie (Brienne of Tarth on GoT). And, fyi, people FLIPPED out when she was cast, too. A lot of people claimed she was "too pretty" for the role. And if someone like her had been cast as WW, I can pretty much guarantee the conversation we'd be having right now would be along the lines of her being "too" big, "manly", and not attractive enough.

I'm using this example for a reason. Which is namely: women can't win in the body wars. Something is ALWAYS wrong with us, and this goes double for actresses or women in the public eye at all. Too thin, not thin enough, fat, ugly, whatever. And the problem with the conversations around it is that they're rife with entitlement, a culture that is obsessed with policing women's bodies, and all kinds of messed up ideas about what women "should" look like on any given day. I get that this is frustrating for people who want to have a conversation about WW's physicality, but that's just how it is. It's not unreasonable for people to be wary of this topic and skeptical that it's coming from some kind of "helpful" place aimed at having any helpful dialog about the myriad factors involved.

I mean, honestly, how does "she's a stick!' and "eat a sandwich!", both of which I've seen a LOT, and from people I thought better of, constitute a useful discussion? In what way does that do anything other than body shame and attempt to elevate one idealized body type for another? I've seen a lot of "well, she should be curvier!" Okay, but, why? Like, is that because the character must be curvy or she's not Wonder Woman on some essential level...or is it because you find curvier women more attractive personally? That's not about her looking stronger, that's about her looking more sexually appealing to you. That doesn't look like concern for the character performance or we'd be talking about that. Instead it looks like a lot of people are having a mini tantrum that their head version of WW wasn't cast so they could see their personal fantasy version on the screen. It looks like Wonder Woman exists to be appealing to people physically, not who she is.

When you reduce Wonder Woman to her body like that, you're reducing -her-. I'm pretty sure she has a whole bunch of character traits you could rattle off before you got to looks. And yet that appears to be the main focus of the "concern trolling" I'm seeing about the actresses build. That people are worried about her health (doubtful) or that the Hollywood ideal is damaging and problematic (more believable, except that it seems to be serving as more of an excuse to then say crappy things about a slim woman than any useful discussion). It's nice some folks suddenly seem to care about women in Hollywood/media and our cultures worship of specific body types, but I remain skeptical it goes that deep. Especially if you're not willing to discuss how complicated this conversation is because of the culture we live in, which colors everything. The fact is, women's bodies are clearly considered public property. Whether we're talking tabloid "Whose Body Is or Is Not Acceptable This Week" features, the way we gleefully wonder who has an eating disorder to who looks "too fat" to wear a bikini, to the way reproductive rights are being undermined, how we discuss women and their bodies has wider ramifications than the casting of a superhero movie. And no, you can't just brush that aside and pretend it doesn't exist in a larger context. Maybe -especially- because we're talking about a character like Wonder Woman, who represents a lot of amazing ideals, like strength through compassion, justice, and fighting for those who can't.

Granted, I am not arguing that Wonder Woman's physicality doesn't matter. But actors often make major transformations for roles, we have absolutely no idea if that's planned here or not. I'm also not arguing that we don't have an issue with a very restricted, narrow definition of beauty that is still defined by thinness. However, saying things like "she's a stick!" in no way improves that or does anything to diversify our idea of beauty. I think sometimes people (usually men) think they're being helpful when they say they like curvier women, or whatever. The problem with that? It still frames the discussion as being about what men prefer about women's bodies. And it assumes that putting down one body type will somehow make another one more acceptable. It won't. We should be working towards the idea that beauty is not a woman's most defining or important feature. Which this current conversation is not doing in spades.

Given all that, it seems like comments like "eat a sandwich!" should maybe not be happening. Because that's about as far away from what Wonder Woman represents as you can get.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Thought Bubble! And Stuff!

Everything you've heard about Thought Bubble is true: it's a wonderful show run by wonderful people (Lisa Wood drew my latest comics work for Vertigo. She's an amazing artist, sweetheart of a person, who runs TB and has the most fabulous outfits). It's like a little big show that's both intimate and well known. I had a really lovely time.

There's not much more for me to say, I had my little table and I got to meet lots of people (omg KATE BEATON! I talked to her! I told her how splendid her work is! She was super sweet! She also has very shiny hair and I think might be made of magic!), chat with fellow creators, and just overall had a laid back, good con experience. It was a nice way to follow up NYCC, which also went well, but was definitely more overwhelming and I didn't really get to chat with too many people or catch up with anyone. Or have fish n' chips and all the Earl Grey I could drink. Or crumpets.

One of the highlights of the show for me was the Diversity in Comics panel I was on, on the Sunday. My fellow panelists were all smart, articulate, funny, engaged creators with a real passion for creating work for a variety of audiences. And by that I mean they're committed to doing comics that showcase the world in all its variety, with differing character pov's, interesting and sometimes difficult subject matter, and a real love of storytelling. So, yay! I love panels like that, that though they acknowledge the problems and struggles our industry has with diversity, the purpose is really to encourage people to make their own books and tell stories from different perspectives. I had a lot of people come up to me after and tell me they were really inspired to get started on projects they'd been putting off, and that's really the highest compliment anyone can get.

You can see a fully transcribed version of the panel here: http://comicsbeat.com/thought-bubble-2013-diversity-in-comics-panel-in-full/

And you should definitely check out the works of Gary Erskine, Howard Hardiman, Barry Nugent, Gillian Hatcher, and Fiona Stephenson.

I am now back to writing secret script-y things and adding things to my etsy (MonsterTeaTime.etsy.com) and will be open for commissions again shortly. It's also getting quite cold in Germany but so far, no snow. We've been here exactly a year now and when we arrived there was already a few inches on the ground. Now that we live in the city center there are a ton of Christmas Markets around and it gets dark pretty early. Looking forward to 2014 and seeing what the new year holds.

I'll leave you with my Empress of the Jellies piece, which I've made some LE prints of. People seem to like her. I think it's the hat.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Silent All These Years

Comics, like the world in general, has a problem with sexual harassment. This isn’t new, it isn’t going away, and the only way to do anything to change it is to speak up about it often. This is going to be a rather long post because I don’t know any other way to discuss this topic other than thoughtfully and, for me, that usually means at some length.

I’m also going to get this out of the way now and it will not come up in the post again: not all men do this. But I am very tired of having to add that caveat every. Single. Time. this topic is discussed. We shouldn’t have to soothe anyone’s ego before being able to tell our stories. I’m telling you what I’ve experienced at, sometimes, the actual hands of men. I don’t need a reminder that not every man does this. I know that. All this really does is serve to distract/distance/derail the conversation away from the topic at hand. I’m sorry it makes you uncomfortable but it’s really not my job to make you feel better about all this. You need to work that out on your own.

Also: I am not now nor will I ever claim to be speaking for or about all women’s experiences in this sphere or with sexualized harassment. These are my experiences, I am not the representative for All Women Ever.

Moving on.

I’ve been working in comics for well over a decade and, unfortunately, I’m one of those women with more than one example of sexualized unpleasantness I can discuss whenever this topic comes up. I have rarely, if ever, talked about them all. Some of them happened at conventions. Some of them happened in offices I have worked in. Some of these examples were perpetuated by “known” creators and some were from fellow editors/professionals.  I truly wish I didn’t have such a broad group to choose from. I’d rather not have any.

Just about all of the more “severe” examples happened before I turned 27, so many of them are nearing a decade old. A lot of people seem to think there’s a time limit on how long events in your life will bother/influence you. There isn’t. I can no more control when one of these experiences will blossom up like a poisonous flower to make me feel sick and embarrassed than I can help when a memory from childhood will get triggered by a familiar smell. While time often helps these things feel less immediately painful, that’s not the same as them having no continued impact on your life. And, for women, since we are reminded pretty much every day that we are at risk, I’d hazard to say that it’s particularly unlikely that, just became something happened a decade, two, three, etc. ago, it will somehow evaporate and no longer have any importance in how we view the world and ourselves within it.

That doesn’t mean these experiences define us, but our lives are a mixed bag of memories, experiences, feelings. It would be pretty weird if they had no impact on us just because time had passed.

I’ve talked about what happened to be me at my first SDCC here. The TLDR version: I was groped by a “name” creator I had worked with for years at the Hyatt my first night. At first I thought I must be mistaken, but when I mentioned it to another creator he said, nope, he definitely did. He’s “known” for that. I want you to take that in. This fellow comics professional (who was also male) was not A. not surprised this other comics professional had groped me B. it was a "known" thing. And yet no one said anything about it.

I have not gone anywhere at SDCC or any other con by myself since, which was in 2006 or so. I don’t drink at conventions unless I am with VERY trusted friends and we are somewhere like a dinner. Never at a party of any kind. I will occasionally buy a drink that I don’t like so it looks like I’m drinking, but I don’t. I never let it out of my sight. If I do have to go someplace alone at a con, which sometimes can’t be avoided, I spend the entire time feeling anxiously keyed up, hyper aware of everything going on around me, and I tend to have a miserable time unless I can find someone I know.

So, that’s conventions. Aside from all the professional anxiety I have this added layer of stress that never let’s up. It leaks into my day to day life, too, whenever I go out. I think this is a familiar reality for a lot of women.

I wish these kinds of things were isolated to the madhouses that are conventions, because they might be easier to address if they were. They’d still be unacceptable, but it might make addressing the underlying problems somehow more manageable. More concrete. More about a specific environment than something wider, more ingrained and insidious like culture.

Unfortunately, I also experienced sexualized harassment in the supposedly “safe” environment of an office. None of these are things I really want to relate to anyone because they’re embarrassing, humiliating, gross. They make me feel wrong. But I think maybe they need to be said.

The one I remember most vividly was a series of emails from a creator that got increasingly more suggestive. I tried to derail the direction they were going in assuming, naively, that they were “jokes”. Or I just wanted to believe that. I’ve worked very hard at being professional but personable in my career and it actually takes quite a lot to offend me. I’ve also worked on a lot of mature content so discussing things like sex has been a legitimate aspect of my job. I just don’t discuss it in personal terms because that is the line that I draw professionally.

However. There is nothing ambiguous about a creator sending, in response to an email asking about what other comics they’d like to have sent to them in an upcoming package:

“oh, x books, your used panties, and a recording of your laugh when you cum too soon”

Yes, I committed that to memory. Even now, typing that makes me really uncomfortable. When I got it, all those years ago, I immediately wondered what I’d done wrong. I didn’t respond to it, I didn’t know what to say. The creator in question apologized a few hours later, citing drunkenness. I honestly don’t find that to be a compelling excuse and I asked not to have to deal with that particular person again. I did not, however, specify why. It was simply too awful and I didn’t want everyone I worked with to find out.

Another time a co-worker, apropos of nothing, mentioned that his current girlfriend thought he was so great in bed that she couldn’t believe that I had “never blown him in the office” while working together. This was relayed to me as a very strange “joke” that it was perfectly fine to bring up because it was the girlfriend asking, somehow. I remember saying that it was a good thing I had a sense of humor and knew that wasn’t serious because other people, not me mind you, but other people, might think that was a highly inappropriate thing to say to someone you shared an office with and could lead to problems. It was never brought up again. This was previously someone I had had no issues with and didn’t want to get in trouble for what I hoped was a momentary lapse in judgment. I still don’t know if I did the right thing.

There are the little things that add up, what are now called “micro-aggressions”. The male co-workers who, when finding out I’d been with my boyfriend (now husband) since I was 15 started mentioning how their female friends who had been together that long always freaked out before marriage and started sleeping around. One of them felt compelled to specifically tell me that he was the one a lot of his female “friends” went to have sex with before settling down. He felt it was very important that I know, even though I had not in any way solicited his advice, that having sex with only one person meant an eventual sexual meltdown. This was all based on assumptions, I never discussed my sexual history with anyone I worked with.

Sometimes people would comment on my clothes which always made me self-conscious, as though by wearing black I had invited this attention on myself, when in reality there is nothing to compel you to comment on another’s person’s appropriate work attire. Sometimes they ‘d comment about other female co-workers looks, which always made me wonder: if you say that about these women in front of me, what do you say about me when I’m not around?

I look at the discussions about this in comics and I don’t really know how I feel, other than angry. I think about cos-players having to contend with creeper shots and groping and people posting pictures of them online to say shitty things. I think about the professional men who go to great lengths to tell everyone who is and is not a “real” geek girl, who are obsessed with ferreting out some sort of evil female interlopers who are wandering around, ruining their conventions and fandom with their cooties and their disinterest in sleeping with these men or conforming to their expectations of how women should interact with their geeky interests. I look at the endless online conversations that call any woman who talks about this topic “crazy”, who hypocritically demand names and then chide those who do name as “life ruiners”. I look at young women being told, in every possible way, that they are not welcome or safe in these spaces because they are women.  I see them being told that speaking up will get them rape and/or death threats, that their careers can be ruined. That they only reason they’d talk about this kind of thing is to somehow get attention, to further their careers, because naming well known creators has such a long history of making people instantly successful rockstars in their fields.

I see the gaslighting, I see the status quo perpetuating itself, I see people endlessly justifying this behavior, excusing it, and telling women that how they experience their own lives in wrong. That no matter what, we don’t get to define what happens to us. Because if we do, then we are “crazy” or wrong or “too sensitive”. We should just shut up and let other people tell us how things “really” are. Because we can’t be trusted to know how our own realities have shaped us.

We’re told not to “make” men feel bad about what other men do. That relaying our stories is generalizing and condemning and unfair. We’re told it’s our responsibility to “get over it”. To internalize every single thing we are subjected to as “just the way it is” and, ultimately, our fault for existing as women in spaces. For existing in the world. For trying to make our way in that world and be treated as human beings.

We are told: don’t feel this way. Don’t think these things. Don’t express normal human emotions, like anger and resentment, about upsetting experiences. Stop talking about things we don’t want to hear about. Stop telling us we are complicit through our inaction. Stop expressing yourself in ways we don’t like. Stop making us uncomfortable about the things that go on around us that we don’t see/ignore. Don’t trust yourself. Don’t exist in ways we don’t like. Don’t exist in “our” spaces. Don’t try to live your life like it matters. Like it’s important. Like you have the right to be here.

Women don’t exist for you to approve of or to make you feel better about the shitty way the world works. We don’t exist for you at all. We exist for ourselves. And we’re going to keep demanding for our rightful place in the world whether you like it or not.

You can get on that bandwagon or you can fuck, permanently, off.