The archetypal comic book fan has provided much amusement in the form of ponytailed, big-bellied Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons. But comic book culture, as defined by certain nerd norms, also has some less pleasant aspects. Specifically, its treatment of women. Many female comics professionals and enthusiasts have addressed the issues facing women in comic book stores, at conventions and in the culture in general–their portrayal as cantaloupe-breasted objects in comics, but also the notion that women are simply unwelcome in this world, that they are posers who haven’t earned their nerd bona fides–the mythical “fake geek girl,” invented by threatened members of this community.
But the fact is, women aren’t a new thing in comics–they’ve been here for years.
The Kickstarter campaign for a new documentary–She Makes Comics–is hoping to change this perception of comics as a men’s club. “Women have been in comics as writers, artists, retailers, fans, and editors from the beginning,” says Marisa Stotter, the movie’s director. They’ve also been long discriminated against.
Stotter remembers visiting a comic book store with her brother as a child and hearing snide remarks from the other customers and staff. “I was the only girl among a sea of guys,” she says. “I felt like I was intruding.” Today, men are inherently skeptical of women who profess a love of comics. “Suddenly guys think it’s alright to quiz her on her knowledge and dedication, as if she doesn’t know everything, that makes her a fake.” At conferences, Stotter adds, it’s common to see men leering at women in their costumes.
She Makes Comics will include interviews with over 50 women who have worked in the industry and will track female involvement back to the 1930s. There’s Jackie Ormes, an African American cartoonist in the 1940s; Joyce Farmer, who revolutionized the underground comix movement in the 1970s with her raw, feminist narratives; and Karen Berger, a longtime editor at DC comics, who gave Neil Gaiman’s darker work a platform.
The documentary is also pushing a content agenda. “The industry, especially mainstream super hero comics, are directed toward young men at the expense of women,” says Stotter. She points to the sexist or outright mysogynistic portrayal of females, especially many of the super heroes. She hopes the film will draw attention to franchises like X-Men, which though created by a man, illustrate a diversity of female characters, like Storm, Phoenix, and Rogue. “A lot of people see themselves reflected in the X-Men cast,” Stotter says. Her own role model is Kitty Pryde.
She Makes Comics is a co-production of Sequart, an LA-based organization that promotes comics as a “legitimate art form.” They are hoping to raise $41,500 by March 7.
Stotter notes that the comic book world is changing and that, these days, most conferences host panels about gender. She hopes the documentary will propel this new wave forward. It’s a noble effort to be sure, though it would likely take a tsunami to wash away the male desire for cartoon cantaloupes.