It was really interesting to read this article from the Mary Sue (a brilliant pro-woman geek culture site, by the way. You should definitely follow it if you’re not already!) especially in light of a discussion some of us were having at a meetup this evening. Jem mentioned how there’s been a lot of discussion about women in comics recently, to which I replied that I thought it was a good sign, not just because it’s an important issue but because in some ways it actually means there is progress being made.
The fact that women comic creators are talking more about the difficulties they have in the industry, is a good sign that there is a critical mass of women comic creators out there, whether in mainstream or independent comics. Now it’s always important to remind oneself that a critical mass isn’t the same as ‘comparatively many’ or even ‘enough to feel good about ourselves’ – it just means that overall there is a sufficient number of women out of which some – which one has to be reminded could well be a small percentage – are willing to speak out about the issue.
There are so many different angles to look at it from as well. At the 2011 Thought Bubble Convention, I attended a talk on women in comics, with a really amazing discussion panel featuring some of my favourite artists and academics. One of the artists came from the manga industry and it was interesting to hear her say that in some ways, she hadn’t experienced the expected sort of sexism because there are so many women manga artists and in certain styles and genres, it can be a very woman-focussed medium. This isn’t to say that manga is some haven of woman-positive art and company policies, but she didn’t feel herself to be working against an oppressive patriarchal corporate structure but part of a much more fluid comics culture.
I chipped in a bit and mentioned that as someone who read a lot of webcomics, it never felt like comics was a male dominated field. Sure, I read superhero comics and Asterix, but I’d never been to conventions before my first Webcomic Thing in London (oh boy that takes me back!) and I didn’t go to comic book stores – I got my ‘graphic novels’ by asking at the local library. So many of the webcomics I read, which tended towards the unusual and unique, well researched, character driven ones, were written by young, well read and kooky women, like Dylan Meconis, Faith Erin Hicks and Jenn Manley Lee (yes all from across the pond, but that’s a whole other story). It’s only been upon getting involved in more ‘mainstream’ geek culture that I’ve gained a fuller understanding of the obstructive nature of the appalling sexism that seems prevalent at conventions and in the comics industry. The freedom of the webcomic had ended up creating a space where no one could be surprised that women liked comics, read comics, wrote comics or made good ones at that. In fact, it created a space where you could get away with thinking the majority of comics people were female!
Anyway, it’s certainly food for thought. Sexism is everywhere, but it would be worth analysing the ways that gender stereotypes and patriarchal structures play out within the different comic ‘worlds’. Is it only a big issue in mainstream Western comics? Is the diversity of the manga industry, which can be in some ways seen as responsible for the stature of the more problematic material, also responsible for the prominence, or at least normality, of work by female manga artists? Lots of questions, lots of things to poke into.
What do you think?