Letting Go of Superman: Not Everyone Reads Comics for the Boobs
It was one of the more memorable moments at Bluestockings bookstores’“Nerrd Grrl Adventure Series” where a panel discussed female representation in comic–books with DC Comics artist Amy Reeder, web artist Sally Madden, zinester Elvis Bakaitis, Wendy Xu of Angry Girl Comics, and artist Alice Meichi Li.
They agreed that comic books historically haven’t depicted women realistically, you know, like someone the artists have actually slept with. Not to say that artists have not had their share of bombshells, but there are many times we all have to agree that if you transplant the proportions of the female comic character into real life, they’d have endless back pains from the size of their breasts or would be unable to walk because of their thin legs. Mind you, not every female character has the right type of superpowers to compensate appropriately.
I’m personally not advocating that from this point on we should try not to draw “hot” female characters as much as I wouldn’t advocate to stop drawing “badass” built male characters. But to be honest, not all curvy female characters automatically look hot and not all built male characters look badass. What I am saying is a diversity in representation would be nice to have, not only of body types, but of costume designs, race, religion and ethnicity. While I feel there has been progress on this while I’ve been reading, there has been more progress with male characters than females.
Which brings me to Cassandra Kane, the second Batgirl, one of my favorite female comic-book characters. When I was young, I put Batgirl in my pull-list not really trying to vote with my money to help expand the exposure of female characters in the DC Universe. I was just interested in the concept of the character, young assassin girl who could read your body language like an open book, giving her unparalleled advantage in combat.
I was also eager to read the start of the genesis of a new character. You can imagine my envy of my fan-boy forefathers (and fan-girl foremothers) who were there from the very beginning of Superman or Spider-Man or even Spawn. Finding a superhero’s genesis you like as a teenager is equivalent to finding the right teddy bear to sleep with when you were a toddler. And as species of animal was not an issue for you when you were five, I didn’t write-off a superhero because of their gender.
Still, there was an appeal that Batgirl was female because at the time I wasn’t reading any female-centric comic title. Finding something new and good to add to your reading list is like the battle cry of all comic-book nerds.
You see for the most part superhero comics are the same. It tells the story of a person divided into two personas, often with some symbolic significance, and having them interact with the world as such. It’s amazing how many characters they’ve created with that simple premise and even more surprising how many storylines they’ve written with the characters they already have (with varying results). But there is as much potential of telling good stories about new characters as there are character traits in real life. Gender is one aspect. Body type is another. Imagine Peter Parker if he was built to begin with. And there was something cool about Wolverine being short. You don’t really have that much diversity with the female characters.
But the truth is I didn’t think too much about this longing for something different from the platera of male heroes (mostly white) when I read my comics backs then. I didn’t read into the politics of having a mute-masked-teenage-Euro-asian girl portrayed as a dangerous fighter, possibly the most dangerous in the entire Bat Family in terms of martial arts. A female character who’s costumed covered her whole body up, a rare thing in comics where almost every girl was exposing some skin. I didn’t read too much into the politics of my comic books back then even though I know they had it.
I was a certain type of self-involved teenagers who occasionally did some small acts of kindness to make myself feel good and keep people from noticing how self-involved I was. I didn’t care about the politics of my comic books because I was too busy coming up with my own values and views on the world. Comics were just there along for the ride, source material to argue with and sometimes against.
Longing for diversity in comics wasn’t and still isn’t that much of a moral yearning for me as good or as bad as that makes me sound. It’s the yearning for those good and new ideas for a comic that I mentioned earlier that I’m asking for it. Stories that reflected a more nuanced understanding of the world that keeps becoming more complex, stories that reflect the next generation’s understanding of this world. And I assure you that in our world today, almost everyone feels fragmented. Being divided into two personas is the smallest numbers you can hope for (I for example have six that I know of).
It doesn’t necessary have to be the job of comics to explain the intricacies of globalization, multiculturalism, gender politics and inequalities but to reflect the effects of these forces would open up more stories than all these revamps can muster. It’s not the illusion that keeps people coming back for more, it’s the truth behind the masks in the midst of the fantastic. It’s these stories that renew your awe in this world by flipping what you already know on its head. Helping you reexamine them in a new light.
Back at Bluestockings, a crowd gathered for the Nerrd Grrl Adventure Series panel packing the house. While looking around, I was surprised to find someone all in blue body paint and another girl in a red Star Trek uniform to add to an already diverse crowd. Kimmie David , an owner of the store, had to apologize to everyone by announcing, “There’re a lot of hot nerds here that our A.C. can’t handle it. Sorry.”
Photo provided by Kimmie David.
Cesar R. Bustamante Jr.
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