Thursday, March 1, 2012

Alexa and Dave: Men, Women And Comic Books

Dave Sim:  Okay, now I'll ask you one:  the comic book field has, for years, been trying to develop a larger female reader base. While there's been a measure of success, it's nothing compared to the 1940s, 50s and 60s when there was not only more female readers but whole genres like Romance Comics that were tailored directly to female tastes.  Why is it that female readers like your self are still such a small minority?  Do you have an awareness of you being so extremely different from other women in some way that makes you a natural comic book reader and makes them not natural comics readers?  Or, put another way, what was it that brought you to comics? And why doesn't it work on other women?
Alexa Tomaszewski: I covered Fan Expo and I’d like to say – I don’t dress up in costume. And I never have. I’m exclusively into the comics themselves. I have that little coiled notebook filled with all the issues I don’t have. My dad brought me into comics. Marvel comics X-Men had a certain something about it – a multitude of women on the roster as well as a cartoon show. So, I mean, you love what you learn, especially if it was a positive experience and Chris Claremont gave me very real women. And my dad always encouraged it, I think mostly because he got to read them too.  It was a man who brought me back into comics after a long absence. Cancer’s a bitch and it doesn’t care how old you are. Thyroid cancer (of which I am for all intents and purposes cured) sort of isolated me from the world for a while. During this time I read and read and read fashion magazines and later on my boyfriend brought me to the comic book store, Cyber City, and brought me back in. That was the year Buffy The Vampire Slayer (my super heroine since 16) came out with season 8. Enter all comic book seeking skills, and bam! I was back in it. Marvel launched a series shortly there after – featuring a female messiah baby, Hope. I followed this character because she, like Buffy, was a fantastic warrior and she played with the boys.

In short, it’s all about experience. Depends on what you grow up with right? A good writer and artist can touch just about anyone who responds to that experience.

Dave Sim: I’m constantly astonished about how “needy” women seem to be about this “she played with the boys” and “female characters who kick a—“stuff. I did one of the earliest parodies of Chris Claremont in Cerebus. See, for me, and for most of the professionals that I knew Chris was kind of a joke. Not a cruel joke – Chris is a very nice guy and a very intelligent writer in most areas – but “Is there any reason this character can’t be a woman?” As John Byrne said back then, “Well, no Chris – apart from the fact that the character has been a man for forty years I can’t think of a single reason why this character can’t be a woman.” To all of us, Chris was just being transparently ingratiating as his scam for getting laid. Look at how major a feminist I am! Yes, Chris, we get it.

To me, the cruel joke is that this continues to be perpetrated – and that’s the only way I can see is as a thing being perpetrated – against women for the sake of profits. It’s a fundamental lie. Men are men and women are women, but we’ll invent this mondo bizarro world where men and women are interchangeable and have the same fighting skills. As long as they’re pretty and have big boobs and nice a—es and are wearing skin-tight costumes, the boys are happy and as long as they can beat the crap out of a roomful of guys, the girls are happy. Personally, I don’t see a lot – or, in fact, ANY happiness – coming out of that. It’s disordered thinking.

We’ve completely lost the original idea of what Buffy was – like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it was a self-parody from the title on in. That disordered thinking that takes an inherent lie – that anyone named Buffy could be a vampire slayer – and adds a whole new layer of disordered thinking to it. So that very name Buffy – chosen because it sounds like a prep school cheerleader – instead becomes synonymous with an otherworldly “ideal”: girls who are actually men and are, in fact, more powerful than men.

Alexa Tomaszewski: Joss Whedon very carefully constructed Buffy’s world. The men are very particularly depicted as evil, brutish and animalistic and out to endanger the women in the show. The women are all powerful, and yes, Dave, they start off as girls and very naturally progress into women, which is what we see in the comic book. Season 9 is, by all means a perversion. Whedon himself has admitted too letting the story get to large. But overall he is very adept at writing an honest female character, and I think he deserves credit for that, even if his fan base is mostly women and gays.

But there are a large majority of women out there who have more power than men, and who are more powerful than men. It’s just not socially acceptable for a man to come forward and claim he’s been a victim of spousal abuse at the hands of his wife. What would happen to him, then, when he went back to the neighborhood and had to face his gang of buddies – ‘what a pussy, you got beat by a woman.’

Have you ever heard of the wrestler Chyna? She was a body builder and had breast implants. After she stopped taking the steroids I thought she looked quite literally like a superwoman, and for sure she could take on a gang of men with her size. She was ridiculed for looking like a man – but with her breast implants and lack of penis was clearly a woman. Men may be men, and woman may be woman. But is it not true that social norms, as well as physical norms delineate these roles in complex ways and ultimately shade the way we think and discuss?

Dave Sim: No, in my view, they delineate them in very simple, straight-forward ways that women and gays try to MAKE complex. Like taking an anecdotal exception like Chyna and trying to make he/she into something more than an anecdotal exception. Nothing in this world is 100%, including femininity, masculinity, and heterosexuality. But homosexuality, bisexuality, trans-genderedness, etc. etc. really amount – at between 3% and 5% of the population – to a statistical rounding error. In an intelligent discussion, you take it as a given that the 97% is what merits discussion and citation. 3% of the population is extremely allergic to penicillin – I am, myself – but it would be foolish to class penicillin as a toxic chemical for that reason.