On Women In Comics by Jeremy Whitley
Comics, I want to say first that I love you. I've always loved you. From the first time we met we've really had something special. From the first awesome issue of Amazing Spider-Man my dad handed me to the less awesome X-Men Adventures comics that came packaged with the X-Men: The Animated Series VHS tapes my parents picked up at Pizza Hut to the first Age of Apocalypse comics that I actually bought with my own money, we've had some good times. We lost touch for a while, but I remember when I stepped back into the shop after a long day at work to pick up the continuation of my wife's beloved Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and that slick guy behind the counter talked me into picking up the newly released trade of Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men. That was the day it all started to make sense to me.
Years after we had lost contact I had decided to make writing my career. At this point, I didn't know what I wanted to write so I kept bouncing around from one poorly defined novel concept to another. The moment I sat down and started reading, I figured it out. I wanted to write comics. I found an artist to work with. That artist quit before we ever really got started. Then I found another one. I'm still not sure what ever happened to her, but eventually I found another one that stuck. In a few months, we had a self-published comic and we were off to Baltimore.
Here's the thing comics: I have a daughter now. She's beautiful and intelligent and strong and so bursting with personality, I just want to share everything with her. One of the things I've looked forward to sharing with her the most is you. You've provided me so many great stories and so many great moments over the years. You've provided me with a community of friends and peers who I'm closer to than any other group of folks I've worked with. But, I can't let the things in my life (even the ones I love) hurt my daughter. And it seems to me, you've got it out for her.
It's not a new thing, but it feels like it's getting more frequent. The aisles of the comic stores are filled with undressed and oversexed women. The cast of half of the books on the shelves are supposed to be sixteen and under, but still they're portrayed in super sexual ways. Female characters are defined by the men in their lives, even in their own books. Recently, a female character who got her start in an animated series was at the heart of a controversy about over-sexualization in comics, and considering she's gone from a full body jester suit to garters and a corset, it's about time somebody got upset. Half of the women in today's books are such plot devices that they could be easily replaced with a valuable rock or exotic weapon. This is not how I want my daughter to see herself on the rare occasion that she is allowed to relate to one of your characters.
I've said a number of times that the reason I started writing "Princeless" was because I wanted a book that I could share with my daughter. I wanted her to see a girl with the power to affect her own life. I wanted her to see a girl with brown skin portrayed as a hero with agency. I didn't want her to grow up believing that she should aspire to be like those sad little princesses that sit around in a tower and wait for their prince to come. I didn't want her to define herself by her love interest. I wanted her to be empowered.
And isn't that what comics is all about? Isn't the super hero genre about empowering the little guys and girls of the world and telling them that they have the power to do the right thing and be the good person that they want to be? In a world where a skinny kid from Queens has saved the world hundreds of times, why are there so few girls doing the same? Why are the girls being raped and murdered or racking up body counts? What ever happened to the woman of tomorrow? Do we even have one of those?
A year ago, I felt like it was all turning around. Princeless got nominated for two Eisners, Captain Marvel was launching, and some great female creators were really starting to come to the front of the pack. Now, I'm not sure. Plenty of books are doing it right, but books like Captain Marvel and Hawkeye and FF and Fearless Defenders and Wolverine and the X-Men are the exceptions. For every one of those books that comes out in a month there are 10 absolute disasters. There are editors who won't let characters see the light of day because they're not the characters they grew up with or they loved when tons of female fans are just begging them to make a book for them. There are women getting harassed at cons and interrogated about their credentials at comic stores. There are retailers who won't order or won't carry books designed for a younger audience because they have some antiquated notion about what a comic or comic shop should be.
In short, Comics, I'm scared. I want my daughter to grow up with heroes that she can look up to the same way I did. I want books that are for her to exist. I want her to be able to pick up books from major publishers without having to worry about whatever it is the new superheroine represents. I'm tired of fetish books and risqué variants. I need more. She deserves more. There needs to be a change at the highest levels and from the deepest roots. We need to look at what we want to be to the future generation and stop worrying about pandering to our own shrinking demographic. My daughter loves Wonder Woman. Why isn't there a Wonder Woman book coming out that I can show her? Isn't it possible that, just once, instead of a white boy from Queens, a black girl from Brooklyn could save the world?
Until then, I'll keep writing the books I want to see and I hope others will too,