Dark Horse have taken a stand for female heroes by announcing their new awareness campaign entitled "Change How You Look At Power", featuring some of their heroines in action, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Elisa Cameron from Ghost, and Lara Croft from Tomb Raider. They feel these heroines stand apart from many of the women depicted in comics, and set the kind of standard more comics creators and publishers should keep in mind in order to engage with what readers really want in storytelling.
Dark Horse's Editor-in-Chief Scott Allie agreed to answer a few questions about the evolution of female heroes in Dark Horse comics and why this subject is so important to them right now. This artwork by Rebekah Isaacs, which also includes Veil from Greg Rucka's new comic, illustrates the campaign:
Hannah Means-Shannon: When Dark Horse started publishing Buffy comics, were you concerned that female viewers of the show might not translate into female readers on the comics to make an equal spread in reading demographics?
Scott Allie: You know, when we started, I didn't know anything, so I didn't really think about that. But when we launched Season 8, I knew they'd translate. I'd seen enough success with comics with female audiences that I believed we'd see a good turnout. Women relate to this medium as much as men do, they just need to be given stories that invite them rather than alienating them, so I figured not only would women find the Buffy comics, but the Buffy comics would point them to other books.
HMS: Was Dark Horse aware at the time of publishing Buffy that they were presenting a female hero, unlike many other comics companies, and that it made Buffy a unique comic?
SA: When we first did it in the 1990's, there were a lot of Bad Girl characters, and we knew we were offering something very different from that. As time went by, and I got to understand the character better and better, I realized that she stood for something polar opposite to that, and that there was an audience hungry for it. That's why new audiences discover the show and the comics all the time. She's still the best version of the antithesis to those sorts of female characters that turn readers like you and me off. She's inspired a lot of other characters, and the clichés have evolved, but Buffy's still the best.
HMS: Buffy and Lara Croft are translated characters from popularity in another medium coming to new life in comics, but Ghost is comics-native. All step well outside the usual characterization of women in the superhero genre. Are female heroes more welcome or suited to horror or adventure comics than superhero comics?
SA: No, I don't believe that at all. Ghost is a conventional superhero, except that she's not hypersexualized like Power Girl, you're not going to see bathtub suicide fantasies about her. But it's been done—Greg Rucka's Batwoman is a great example of how to do it right in totally mainstream superhero comics, and there are definitely others. Superhero comics have a tradition of doing female characters badly, but man, horror is the worst. And yet it's also produced fantastic icons. So no, the genre can't be to blame. It's us, the publishers, the creators. Anything can be done well, or terribly.
HMS: What do you think are the qualities of our heroes in Buffy, Tomb Raider, and Ghost that set them apart from many of the female characters we see in comics that are presented in less empowered roles?
SA: I like to think no one's buying these books for how the artists draw the breasts. Characters deserve better treatment, readers deserve better characters. I'm not saying there's no room in the industry for that sort of thing, but I don't think you're going to get readers to care about characters that way.
Readers love heroes. They love admirable, flawed, complex, relatable, driven, human heroes. We learn about what's best and worst in us from our heroes—we benefit from having characters who can bring that to our lives. And it sucks if we don't put forth female characters that offer all of that, so Dark Horse tries to offer it with these women. I saw Veronica Mars last night, and I'm glad to have her around again for a couple hours, doing things only she can do. I already miss Rusty Cohle, pain in the ass though he was. I'm looking forward to connecting with Raylan Givens tomorrow night. Buffy, Lara, and Ghost all give you a distinct experience, bringing something to your life, something more complex, I think, than how some other female characters deliver.
HMS: What does Dark Horse want to accomplish in promoting female heroes in comics? With new superhero comics properties developing at Dark Horse, will we eventually see female superheroes from Dark Horse?
SA: Well, there is Ghost … And there was Grace in Catalyst.
We want to tell readers they're welcome here, this medium has a lot to offer. A lot of the time when any sort of diversity is discussed people say there's none. But there is a variety, all these things you want to see are out there, if you look, if you don't simply focus on how bad some of it is. Years ago I remember being on a bus going by this very liberal, hippie, lefty school in Portland—I mean, even for Portland it's a left leaning school. And this young hippie girl got on the bus, opened her backpack, and hauled out a copy of Ghost. That made me really happy. Women want characters like this, and men want them too. We're doing the "Change How You Look at Power" promo to remind people that great female icons and archetypes exist in this medium, in every medium.
Hannah Means-Shannon is EIC at Bleeding Cool and @hannahmenzies on Twitter