Sometimes I’m ashamed to be a comics fan. Not because comics are for kids and I shouldn’t be reading them (said with tongue firmly in cheek), but because of the view that some people hold that comics are only for straight white men. It’s a view that I vehemently disagree with, but not everyone feels the same way. Maybe because when the industry took off just before the Second World War, the writers and artists responsible for this new art form were all men primarily, although not exclusively, of Jewish descent. There seems to be an attitude amongst some fans, a vocal minority, that if there were no women then, then why should women be involved in comics now?
But are you sure that there weren’t any women in comics at the genesis of the medium as we know it?
For a long time, decades even, the comics landscape has been dominated by characters starring in solo series who fit the white male descriptor, and while there has been a few non-white male characters over the years, there’s been precious few women in the same roles as their male counterparts – at least that we’re aware of. We’ve celebrated the men responsible for creating these characters and stories, fought for their recognition when their legacy has gone ignored, and rightfully so (especially in the case of Marc Tyler Nobleman and Bill Finger).
But what about the women who contributed to the medium long before you knew who Bruce Wayne was? What about the women who have been forgotten, or ignored, for nearly a century? Why don’t we know their names, but most importantly, why, as an industry, do we seem almost indifferent about them?
Both on, and beyond, the page, there have been women involved with sequential art, comics and newspaper cartoons for a long time. I hope that I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, but if I am, then I wouldn’t be surprised; it wasn’t until recently that I fully realized that just how involved in comics women have always been because they simply don’t get the credit they deserve.
Hell, do they get any credit for those early years?
Think about the names you know from the dawn of the modern comic industry, and I bet you’re hard pressed to remember the name of a woman, eh?
I’ve always felt that as a fan of comics, primarily superhero comics, I’ve had some pretty great characters to look up to over the years, who have in many ways shaped the person I’ve always wanted to become (whether I’ve actually been able to live up to my ideals is neither here nor there). I’ve been lucky, because being the comic book industry’s target demographic, a straight white man, I’ve had plenty of well written characters to choose from. And some pretty terrible ones, too, if we’re being honest, but at least I’ve had that opportunity, because for a long time, many others didn’t.
However now we’re finally seeing some great female lead books that aren’t exclusively created by men, and most importantly, we know it’s not men creating these series.
But here lies another problem.
If for whatever reason you haven’t heard by now, Chelsea Cain, writer of the critically acclaimed yet criminally under-read Mockingbird comic deleted her twitter account because of online harassment. I haven’t read the eight issues of the series that Marvel published, but by all accounts the series was cancelled based on the strength, or more specifically the lack of single issue sales without factoring in the trade paperback sales figures (which have likely taken a jump after the past few weeks, and the attention that the series has attracted since). I won’t retell the story here when there are numerous sources online you can find relatively easily, such as here, or here if you’d like to get an idea as to the circumstances regarding her twitter exit.
The thing is, if you didn’t read Mockingbird, that’s cool. Maybe it wasn’t your thing. But to claim that Cain has no place using comics to advance the rights of women is utter horse shit.
Don’t believe me?
The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, through Image Comics with backing from Kickstarter, have just published a book, She Changed Comics that is a fantastic start on the path to addressing our perspective on the contributions of these women, and the book is well worth checking out. Within those pages, you will learn about women who challenged societal norms that are held as archaic and almost unthinkable today, the book is a fantastic read that every comics fan should read. The first two women profiled in the book include Marjorie Henderson Buelle, who is perhaps the first person to retain the rights to her creation, Little Lulu, showing business sense and knowledge of American copyright law that many other creators could have benefited from throughout the last seventy five years; and Nell Brinkley, the Queen Of Comics, who used her work to promote the roles of working women and the expansion of women’s rights, including the right to vote.I’m not going to give you a blurb on each and every entry in the book because, again, you should really read it.
She Changed Comics is a very well researched book, with some vivid illustrative reproductions of art that ranges from being close to eighty years old to the more modern work – it is no exaggeration to say that this a history spanning work. That being said, this is a book that focuses on the profile of these women and their impact on comics, but this isn’t a definitive library of their work. She Changed Comics is a must read for anybody interested in the history of comics, and the contributions of some of the most overlooked people in that same medium simply because of their gender. It is a book that I’m super happy to have in my collection, and I highly recommend you check it out.
You can also check out the CBLDF‘s online component and resource for She Changed Comics here that has the original series of profiles from CBLDF‘s tumblr page, which is also complete with some rich histories and page scans of the profiled women’s work.
It’s truly fascinating stuff.
For another look into the contributions of individual women to the comics industry Madison Butler has an incredibly informative body of work that you can find on Graphic Policy under the tag Comics Herstory (helpfully linked here should you wish to check it out).
If, after reading even half of either She Changed Comics or Comics Herstory you don’t think women should be involved in comics, then go fuck yourself.