This weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to interview the awesome and amazing Alexa Dickman. She is the brains behind the blog Ladies Making Comics. We talked about what kind of world female creators live in and how it effects the female characters we see in modern comics. We did something different with this interview, but as a lady myself, I felt it to be an interesting and compelling topic for any aspiring female creators out there. Thank you again to Alexa, I greatly appreciate you taking the time. You can find her on twitter @LadiesMaknComix.
You run the blog Ladies Making Comics, what inspired that?
Well, It kind of started on a whim, when other friends in comics fandom started Tumblrs, usually based around their favorite superheroes, and I kind of felt like that theme was pretty tired by the time I got started on Tumblr. But I had been keenly aware that many of my favorite creators around that time were women (such as G. Willow Wilson, Gail Simone, Amanda Conner, and Becky Cloonan) so I decided a blog about women in comics was just the sort of thing that people might be interested in that I could talk a lot about.
Why do you think it’s important to bring light to different women creators?
Because while I don’t think anyone is surprised to find women working in comics these days, I also feel like they can get lost in the shuffle of all the big names out there (e.g. the Marvel “Architects” and the DC equivalent: Johns, Lee, Snyder, Morrison), who are all men. People tend to just think of Gail Simone and Amanda Conner and call it a day, when there are so many more women working out there on a variety of comics. It’s hard really for any new creator to get their voice heard and to build an audience these days, and I just feel that with the gender balance being skewed so male for decades, it’s worth showing the diversity of talent on the distaff side.
There’s also something to be said for bringing new diversity of voices into any medium– one of the reason why G. Willow Wilson’s work appeals to me is not just because she’s a woman, but also because she’s a Muslim convert in a post 9/11 world with Egyptian family in the Arab Spring era. It made her take on Mystic way more authentic than I think most writers could have pulled off.
Do you think women in the field are attempting to blend in with the men and create homogenous stories that couldn’t be told apart? Or do you see them bringing different life experiences to their characters and scenarios?
I think both happen, often within the same book! I mean, you get writers like Kelly Sue DeConnick and Gail Simone who grew up reading superhero comics with the boys in their lives, and so for the most part their work is pretty straightforward, but then they are also keenly aware of how they’re part of a minority in the talent pool, and they kind of take responsibility for that, writing stories and sequences that maybe wouldn’t have occurred to the average man to write– like DeConnick’s integration of the actual history of female pilots and astronauts into Captain Marvel, and Simone’s dedication to writing not just more women (which she did wonderfully in Birds of Prey) but also LGBT/sexual minorities (especially in Secret Six). Of course, there are male writers, such as Greg Rucka, who also do a great job of writing women and LGBT characters. But there is certainly an angle of life experience that influences (sometimes subtly and sometimes not) women’s writing. And of course, the artists also bring a natural understanding of female anatomy which is often refreshing!
Speaking of female anatomy, there has been some broo-haha over some of the women in the New 52 Reboot, like Starfire and Catwoman. What do you think on the situation? Would strong female characters benefit from a woman (or a special kind of man) writer/artist?
One of the comments that always comes up when people try to talk about female anatomy in comics is that “well, the men are idealized/sexualized too”. And they’re just not, at least, not in the way that women are. My suggestion for anyone who thinks that is to Google “Tom of Finland” (not while at work, though!). His body of work is entirely butch gay porn. To me, his work is visually the male equivalent of how female characters are often depicted in mainstream comics. It’s fun to look at every once in a while (though Tom of Finland’s work makes me laugh more than anything because of how over-the-top it can be), but imagine seeing that in half of the comics on the stands– featuring characters that you grew up with to boot! It can be very demoralizing. So certainly I think that good artists (male or female) who are dedicated to helping tell a character’s story– and not just drawing figures on a page for the paycheck. Sure, Catwoman is sexy, and Starfire is all about “free love”, but there is depth to their characters and back stories that make those traits interesting, not just titillating.
The fact is, Catwoman is just as sexy when drawn by Darwyn Cooke as Guillem March because the character IS sexy. There’s no need to base the art entirely on that!
I feel as though there is a much greater female presence when it comes to Manga [Japanese comics] versus American comics. And as such, we see such split genres such as Shoujo and Shonen that are marketed towards specific genders/interests (not saying that only girls can read Shoujo and boys only Shonen). Do you think that kind of split in genres would encourage more women creators? Or does it create a schism between genders as opposed to integrating them?
I absolutely think the greater variety of genre in manga is one of the driving forces behind a resurgence of female interest in comics, both as readers and creators. I’ve read so many interviews and blog posts by comics educators like Scott McCloud and Jessica Abel where they talk about how half or more of their classes now are female. And I don’t think that the genre divides in manga creates a schism, at least not an unbreachable one. After all, Fullmetal Alchemist is pretty male-oriented in terms of genre and lead characters, but Arakawa is a woman, and it’s pretty popular with every demographic. Pretty much everyone just needs to keep an open mind about the media they consume, and that’s thankfully getting more and more common these days– just look at the Bronies! But certainly there are times (especially when I’m reading Nana!) where I sigh wistfully and wish there was more of a Josei scene in Western comics. We’ve basically got Terry Moore in the West, and that’s a lot to put on one person’s shoulders!
What are some of your favorite strong female role models as characters, drawn by men or women?
I am really digging Kelly Sue DeConnick’s take on Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel so far.
I love how she integrated real women’s history into the character, and is really delving into her take-no-crap, military background. I also love Power Girl, especially when drawn by Amanda Conner. She’s confident and playful, she’s conscious of her “physique” and it’s effect on people (both readers and other characters), but she owns it, which gives her a brazenness that pervades her whole character. I also love Batwoman, especially when written by Greg Rucka– as a character she’s plenty “broken” and flawed, but she’s also resilient in a way I totally admire.
Do you think with a stronger female presence in comics and geek culture, we will start to see more of a presence in LGBT?
Absolutely. I did an informal demographics survey on Facebook once (if you go through Facebook’s advertising process, you can get demographic numbers on the people who have listed interests such as “comics” and “graphic novels”), and I found a significant number of female comics fans were also “interested in” women. It was about 10%, though men interested in men only made up about 2%. But with creators like Alison Bechdel, and characters like Batwoman, getting mainstream attention–plus with the general growth of acceptance of LGBT people, I definitely think were going to see that reflected in comics.
Any advice or words of wisdom you’d like to give to everybody about the role of women in comics and geek culture?
Well, I guess just that we’ve always been there, and that we have as much right to be in the clubhouse as the guys! I do a lot of research on Golden Age female creators for my Women in Comics Wiki, and I’m continually astonished by the amount of women who were working in the ’40s and ’50s, but there they were. And I will always remember an interview with Joe Simon, one of the last he gave before he died, where he said that his proudest creation was not Captain America, but the romance comics, because they appealed to older, female readers and he lamented their decline. We have every right to this clubhouse, and don’t let anyone tell you different!