The Real Women of Comics

As someone new to the comic book world, taking this class was my first real look into the comics world and its major players. In class we have discussed many influential and great contributors to this sub-culture. From Carl Barks to Jim Panter, each cartoonist is bringing something different to the table, which is amazing to see! I did notice, however, that they all have had one major thing in common with each other, their gender. The male presence is comics is well known while the only presence of women in comic books I knew of before this class was that of scantily clad women in distress waiting for their male hero to save them from peril…

Jungle

And so, I figured it would be fitting to highlight the real women of the comic book world. Women are becoming more and more a part of this culture, with people like Jodi Picoult who has written DC’s Wonder Woman and Sara Pichelli who is best known for being the first to illustrate the Miles Morales version of Ultimate Comics: Spider-man.

Another new female influence is that of Becky Cloonan. Cloonan draws Swamp Thing in a series for DC Comics, drew the American Virgin series and Conan the Barbarian for Dark Horse comics publisher, and is one of few women to be incorporated in the main stream comic book world. As well as writing, illustrating and publishing her own comic book every year, including The Mire and Wolves, she had the privilege and honor of being the first woman to draw Batman for DC Comics in the series 72-year history.

conan

These women are just a few examples of the real women in the industry today. They each have accomplished major achievements and I thought they deserved spotlighting!

Katherine Turner

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9 Responses to The Real Women of Comics

  1. Samantha Botros says:

    I think this post is very interesting for a few reasons. One, portrayals and representations of women in comics books are usually overly sexualized (arched backs, barely there clothes, and enormously large breasts) and explicitly misogynistic suggesting that the main audience or readership of comic books are, in fact, male. I was reading an article a few weeks back called: “Art and Superheroines: When Over-Sexualization Kills the Story [Sex]”, in which David Brothers compares the representations of Wonder Woman by two different artists. The first artist considered is Cliff Chiang, and how his Wonder Woman is less sexualized and more natural (natural being a serious euphemism for not having legs and abs of steel but double D’s) than Benes’. Benes’ Wonder Woman is overly sexualized and is always half-naked, objectifying women in comic books through portrayals, but also by insulting women who read comic books, and women who do not possess bodies like Benes’ Wonder Woman.
    Further, in the Vindication of the Rights of Women Wollstonecraft suggests misogynistic representations of women in literature by men writers. To me, Wollstonecraft’s theory strikes just as hard in the comic book realm, men cannot simply draw women as they wish them to be, or as they see women, or else results are going to be Benes’ Wonder Woman; rather, women should write women for accurate portrayals. I find your comment very refreshing in that it gives women authority, credit, and authorship over comic books.

    • brianma13 says:

      Hi Samantha,
      The topic of gender in any field including comics is a very sensitive area for a lot of people. I think this post and your comment both highlight only one aspect while overlooking others. It is true that the representation of women in comics can be degrading to a certain degree but classifying it as misogynistic might be too much. Many people seem to forget that men also face similar problems. That is current media warps our perception of the ideal male and female. In current popular media, the male physique is portrayed as wash board abs and bowling ball sized shoulders. This definition, for the majority of males that are unable to attain that body type can be a negative element. For example, 5 to 15% of North American males suffer from anorexic behavior which have been correlated with media, society pressures etc. Therefore, I think it is unfair to state that men are misogynistic when it comes to comics (or any other form of media) without considering it from a holistic point of view instead of a reductionist perspective. As for the original post itself, I do agree that it is nice to see female leaders in comics take a more prominent stand for future artist to follow.

      -Brian Ma

      • mackenziestrang says:

        I think Katherine’s post and Samantha’s comment are dealing with two separate issues. Katherine was writing about the representation of women in comics as being a damsel in distress figure, or as an accessory to the leading man, rather than an individual human being capable of looking after herself. Particularly in superhero comics, women are commonly portrayed as one dimensional objects to be saved; a prop in the story.

        Samantha: I don’t think it’s fair to say that the way women are represented in comics suggests “that the main audience or readership of comic books are, in fact, male.”. That comment implies that both male and female readers will be heterosexual. And why wouldn’t that rule apply in the opposite way? We don’t assume the audience based off of the muscular and chiseled men in comic books.

        Brian: I absolutely acknowledge that eating disorders and body image is not a one-sided issue, but you can’t exactly say that the pressure to be “ideal” has been distributed equally. It is estimated that seven million women compared to one million men have eating disorders in the United States. As much as I believe the representation of both women and men is unrealistic, I do not believe that the pressures women feel can be undone by saying men feel these pressures too. So, you’re right, we can’t ignore the other side… but we can’t ignore that the two sides are disproportionate.

        • hgillespie says:

          I disagree with the notion that we can’t assume the main readership of comic books from the way that men and women are presented in them. While some female-led comic books are becoming more available, the vast majority of main characters in the genre are male. This, in my opinion, has to do with the audience for these books. What sells is what will continue to be produced, and male-centric comic books are what is selling and what will continue to be produced. I would love to see an equal number of strong heroines as there are strong heroes, but until publishers see mass demand for these kinds of books, they’ll keep publishing comics with male leads. If the main audience of most comic books was women, I suspect that a lot more comic books would, actually, have strong female characters and leads. That just isn’t the case right now.

          Of course, this assumes heterosexuality of the readers, which isn’t fair. But that’s another issue altogether.

        • brianma13 says:

          Hi Mackenzie,
          I think you are misinterpreting my comment. Nowhere did I say the distribution of stigma were the same or equal in terms of gender. I also did not say that acknowledging pressures of males can alleviate the burden placed on women. I was merely stating that in current society, the majority of people tend to see women as fragile and therefore victims, which completely overlooks the problems faced by men. Males experience the same problems that might not be as explicitly shown in data (like you mentioned – 7 million to 1 million) because of society’s expectations. Men are suppose be ‘tough’ and ‘emotionally harden’, while on the other hand it is acceptable for women to express their emotions. This is easily reinforced by the number of women support groups compared to men. This is a problem because as you said 1 million men, which is probably an under estimate due to under reporting from societies stigma of men having to fit the stereotypical ‘tough’ and ‘keep things to themselves’ guy, are suffering.
          Again, to clarify, I am not saying that the wrongs done to women (whether it be in comics or other mediums) can be justified through a balancing acting with male problems. All I am saying is that media affects both genders in positive and negative ways, and to say comics (or any similar form of media) is misogynistic (men hating women; men superior to women) is to judge with a narrow lens from one perspective. This notion is reductionist (reducing men to the ‘bad guy’ and women as the victims) and rarely does it lead to a solution to any problem. Difficulties like that of underrepresentation of women in comics and media, in general, must be looked at in a holistic fashion (considering all perspectives) for it to take steps towards an effective solution rather than putting blaming on men.

          Hmmmmmm Side note: I thought blogs and post were suppose to be about readings of the week….what happened.

          Brian

    • Jessie Wilkinson says:

      I think often times nowadays the over sexualisation of women in media, comics included, is written off as “portraying women as strong and independent.” The idea, however, that the more naked and curvy you are as a woman the stronger you are is insulting to women who choose to believe that they have more than simply their bodies as tools. This mentality, in reality, is not just a male driven idea: women, real women, especially in popular culture, flaunt their bodies and use their sexuality to manipulate men, and these are the women that society says are “strong, confident women,” women such as Beyonce and Rhianna and countless others, not only in music but all forms of media. Perhaps this mentality started with men, of over sexualizing women’s bodies, but women now seem to have embraced this image, simply claiming to use it as a tool for their own empowerment. How can furthering the same mentality be any form of empowerment? Men still over sexualize women, perhaps even more; this tool has done nothing but reinforce the idea of women being just a body, while serving to further female insecurity. Women have turned into their own worst enemies in this area. So while male writers may have a severe habit of idealising women as the ultimate sexual being, it is unrealistic to assume, just because women take over the writing role, that the same images would not still be prevalent.

      Perhaps this is not the most politically correct standpoint, but as a woman I can confidently look at my own sex and analyze our actions and motivations. This comment is also not meant to say that women shouldn’t be strong and powerful, but the ideal end here does not justify the means, and being a feminist does not necessarily mean overindulging your sexuality; that is a very narrow mindset, I think.

  2. Samantha Botros says:

    Brian,
    I do not think using the word misogyny is at all too much. In fact, I think if we look at portrayals of women by, and I underline again here, male authors, we look at unrealistic representations accompanied with stereotypical traits of swooning around men, or an underlying fear of female independence. Not to be vague or superficial on this point, I want to consider Will Eisner’s The Spirit manifested by Frank Miller. The women in this story are capable of one of three structures: whores, nurturers, or sidekicks—Brian if this does not suggest blatant misogyny, I’m not sure what does. Further, I would agree with your statement about men being treated just as unfairly in comic books if I could think of one female author who portrays men in a titillating way. Although portrayals of “ideal” physique is getting into a body image debate, I think that it’s much more realistic for men to naturally look like Peter Parker, then it is for women to look like Wonder Women.

    Brian, in one of your later comments you said: “I was merely stating that in current society, the majority of people tend to see women as fragile and therefore victims, which completely overlooks the problems faced by men.” This statement in and of itself sets off red flags. I do not think in current society the “majority” of people tend to see women as fragile, in fact, I would like to believe in current society the majority of people realize the complexity between women/men binaries and emotional strength, portrayals, and physical strength. Further, the claim that in comic books over-sexualization leads to misogyny is not meant to place the woman in a victimizing position, in fact you suggesting the evil/good, defendant/ prosecutor, victim/ criminal binaries over simplifies the issue without my doing. I am merely stating a fact, Wollstonecraft suggested that Alexander Pope was misogynistic, does this mean she made herself out to be a victim? No, this means she wrote The Vindication (giving herself agency over her own character) and suggested solutions, like having more women in the canonical, better education, etc. I believe because we live in 21st century Canada, I don’t need to engender an education argument, I was just simply suggesting that many of these men do not understand female anatomy or female characterization and to get accurate portrayals we need females writing females. As for male stigmas on emotions and toughness, I’m sorry you think that there is a hard and fast rule for showing emotions within male characters, but this also is reductive in that many males (within comics, literature, movies, art) are capable of serious psychological, emotional and mental depth.

    Mackenzie,

    I stated that it is simply a suggestion that the readership would be most likely male. You are absolutely right to question my statement in that I do not have the demographic facts or statistics on gender or sexuality for comic books within a certain time frame and with gender specific heroes/heroines. Although, I’m sure it would be interesting to look into.

    • brianma13 says:

      (Note: Due to the length of this debate, I will not be posting again on this specific blog. If you wish to discuss the topic further, I am happy to meet in person and hear your thoughts.)

      Hi Samantha,
      I am only going to say this again one last time. If you refer to my older post, I am not down playing the ‘injustice’ portrayals of women in comics by saying that men have it just as tough. It was my intention to enlighten our peers about (like you said) the dynamics between men and women in media and thus comics.
      In response to your comment: “Further, I would agree with your statement about men being treated just as unfairly in comic books if I could think of one female author who portrays men in a titillating way.” Your comment here is suggesting a black and white segregation. It is astounding that you have NEVER come across a female artist that has over exaggerated males in artistic mediums. This might be because you are only addressing the issue from a single perspective (titillating, erotic, sexual etc). Sexuality is only one field to draw upon when addressing the gender dynamism (there are many more where men are seen more prominently represented). Again, I do not disagree that the representation is disproportionate, with it skewed towards females when referencing sexual content. However, by you saying “Although portrayals of “ideal” physique is getting into a body image debate, I think that it’s much more realistic for men to naturally look like Peter Parker, then it is for women to look like Wonder Women.”, you are also overlooking men and placing only emphasis on women. My counter to this would be that 70% of Americans are either over weight or obese. For those males, it would be very hard and unrealistic to NATURALLY look like Peter Parker from the comics and especially the Toby Maguire movies.

      Samantha, in your response: “I do not think in current society the “majority” of people tend to see women as fragile, in fact, I would like to believe in current society the majority of people realize the complexity between women/men binaries and emotional strength, portrayals, and physical strength.” I respect your belief; yet, in the end it is only your view and belief, it is not how the whole of society tends to perceive and operate. One example is the percentage of CEO positions held by women around the world. In Scandinavian countries alone, less than 15% of women hold top positions in business firms. In Canada, a gender wage gap still exist today were men can make upwards of 20% more than women with the same career (http://www.parl.gc.ca/Content/LOP/ResearchPublications/2010-30-e.htm). Yes, all of this would suggest misogyny and therefore negativism towards men. However, if we approach careers from a different direction, say males striving to become nurses. We start to see how men can also be disadvantaged by stigmas that stem from tradition and false stereotypes. This dichotomy is especially true in the realm of public health. I am sad to say that men and women are not seen as equals in society (this is not my belief, this is supported by government data and published journal articles). In the situation previously presented, the idea of misogyny would only address the problem from one perspective and thus overlooking the population of males that have nursing as their dream careers. This was just one long way of saying that this dichotomy also exist in media (comics too) and it would be problematic to only address one view.
      In response to your comment: “Further, the claim that in comic books over-sexualization leads to misogyny is not meant to place the woman in a victimizing position, in fact you suggesting the evil/good, defendant/ prosecutor, victim/ criminal binaries over simplifies the issue without my doing.” I over simplified it on purpose, which was to get a simple point across. I believe you have misinterpreted my statement. I said: “All I am saying is that media affects both genders in positive and negative ways, and to say comics (or any similar form of media) is misogynistic (men hating women; men superior to women) is to judge with a narrow lens from one perspective. This notion is reductionist (reducing men to the ‘bad guy’ and women as the victims) and rarely does it lead to a solution to any problem.” My last sentence here clearly states that I DISLIKE the idea of ‘women as the victim’. I utilized this statement to communicate the idea that, like you said, “evil/good, defendant/ prosecutor, victim/ criminal binaries over simplifies the issue…”. It’s this over simplification, which is inherent in media, that is the problem. Men can easily be the victim and women the ‘bad guy’. Statistics Canada show men as the primary victims of ’emotional’ abuse by their spouse. In the same study, women are the primary victims of ‘physical’ abuse by their spouse. Therefore, I think you have misinterpreted the intention of this specific example in my previous comment as I am actually agreeing with you.
      Your comment: “As for male stigmas on emotions and toughness, I’m sorry you think that there is a hard and fast rule for showing emotions within male characters, but this also is reductive in that many males (within comics, literature, movies, art) are capable of serious psychological, emotional and mental depth.” Yes, this is a very reductive perspective and I agree that there is a representative sample within comics where it does not conform to these stereotypes. However, this sample is small in the grand scheme of all comics. It is not a ‘hard and fast’ explicit rule, I am only saying it is like an unspoken implicit code. For example, the character ‘Broc’ in Pokemon (both cartoon show and manga) is portrayed as a tough guy and womanizer. Never will we see Broc striving to become a nurse. Pokemon, is only one example of media for children that is instilling, at a young age, the idea that men and women should conform to certain roles. In many superhero comics, women are typically portrayed as the victim (damsel in distress) that requires a strong, tough male to save them. Rarely (I have only seen this once), do we ever see the male as the victim in comics, where a feminine heroine is required. You are correct that there are comics where males are “capable of serious psychological, emotional and mental depth.” (i.e. Saga), but sadly the stereotypes will be more predominant for years to come, especially in regards to children related mediums (children comics, cartoons, etc.)

      In summary, I agree that the incidence of women exaggerations within comics is explicitly greater than that of men. Yet, exaggeration of the male is also inherent within the same comics. Simply put, my point is that the issue of gender representation and portrayals in comics (and other media) should be approached and addressed from ALL views to give us a more comprehensive picture as to why a certain artist images the way he/she does.

  3. turnerkr says:

    Just to add to my original post,
    two of the best-known female superhero comics writers ever: Ann Nocenti and Louise Simonson had a interview with Josie Campbell over at comicbookresources.com which has some good insight into the role of women in the creation of comics right now. Nocenti and Simonson should’ve be noted in my original post for their own work as Simonson worked at Marvel Comics where she did editing as well as writing comics such as “X-Factor” and “New Mutants.” She also did work on DC’s “Superman: The Man Of Steel.” Nocenti took over “Daredevil” from Frank Miller and after taking some time off from comic, she has recently returned and is currently writing “Catwoman” and “Katana” for DC. Defintely both playing a role in the Superhero scene.
    Its a good interview if you are interested:
    http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=44169
    -Katherine

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