Saturday, September 21, 2013

The new geeks

So here’s a thing…I love female geeks. This isn’t the kind of love that my wife should be jealous of, by the way. It’s just…I’ve been a geek for as long as I can remember and for most of those decades it has been a big ol’ sausage party. The first comic book store I ever went to was called the Escape Hatch when I was around eight years old. I loved that place. And then the owner decided that comics weren’t bringing in enough business so he added a second floor that sold porn.

Suddenly, my parents became much less enamoured with the idea of me going there. And then the owner decided that the porn was selling better than the comics and did away with them on the ground floor. So that was that. The place eventually burning to the ground kinda of sealed the deal.

But women in geekdom was like spotting unicorns. And sadly there tended to be one of two reactions. The first was to get huffy that this…girl was intruding on your hobby. The other, and I fell into this camp, was so tongue tied that it must have made the whole comics thing look like it was inhabited by the marginally braindead.

(My ineptness with trying to date women is long known, and was a great source of amusement to my friends. I had a small group of conspirators who plotted for, literally, three years to bring Cathy and I together. They wouldn’t do it any sooner because she was seeing someone and they were absolutely convinced I would find a way to fuck it up. They were not wrong in this assessment.)

And look, collecting when it’s just guys is fun and all, but it would have been nice to have had a few women around. It started changing, slowly, around the late 80s. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman has been widely attributed to this, although you can make the argument that Chris Claremont's X-Men also played a role. But it’s progressed in fits and starts since then. I was probably naïve enough to assume that because more women were reading comics with Sandman, that meant good things. That male fans would think it was cool, like I did, and that the industry would do more to try and lure in more female readers.

This is where women geeks start to laugh their ass off. The industry and geekdom has been far from welcoming to women. There are horror stories of sexual harassment and abuse. Ask Colleen Doran what it was like being a young woman in the 90s trying to break into comics. Ask Valerie D'Ozario, who edited comics at Acclaim and DC last decade, what she went through. Her biography, Goodbye to Comics, is an eye-opener. There are endless stories of the major publishers not caring to target books towards women, even though they showed real interest, because why make the effort. For example, how the hell does DC not have all-ages books with Wonder Woman, Supergirl and Batgirl? Do you know how much merchandise those characters sell and you can't market an all-ages book about them? Dean Trippe pitched a Lois Lane: Girl Reporter book a few years ago featuring an 11-year-old Lois Lane breaking news stories. I would have bought that book, the pitch was that good. It's like they don't want to make money.

I’d like to say that it’s over with, but it’s not. You still hear horror stories going on. You still hear creators and publishers take staggeringly tone deaf attitudes towards women. DC managed to do that recently, with a pair of deeply respected creators quitting fan favourite Batwoman over editorial interference and a botched fan art tryout on Harley Quinn.

You hear of male geeks giving shit to women calling them “fake geek girls” or openly harassing cosplayers at comic cons.

But I don’t say this to make it sound like things are desperate and never going to change (and, as an aside, at least comics are better than the video game industry. Holy fuck but that’s a misogynistic gong show. You seriously have to love video games to take a tenth of that shit). What I absolutely love is the attitude of many female geeks….which is “fuck you, we love this stuff, and you’re not getting rid of us that easy.” And I swear, because they have to work harder at this, and put with more crap, they love it more and harder and are more articulate about their passion than a lot of male geeks I know. You find this scattered all over Twitter, Tumblr (In particular the brilliant DC Women Kicking Ass) and websites like The Mary Sue. Most of the absolute best comic book and pop culture criticism being written right now are by women.

Plus, you're seeing a lot more female comic book creators. Gail Simone (Batgirl, Red Sonya, The Movement, and the upcoming Tomb Raider) felt like she was very much alone in mainstream comics for awhile now. But there are others making their mark. Kelly Sue DeConnick who is doing Captain Marvel, Avengers Assemble and the upcoming western/horror Pretty Deadly. Amy Reeder has Rocket Girl. Faith Erin Hicks (who lives in Nova Scotia) has a bunch of graphic novels, including What Could Possibly Go Wrong, Superhero Girl, The War at Ellesmere and others. Fiona Staples draws Saga which is the most critically acclaimed comic being published right now. There’s Katie Cook, who does My Little Pony, which is not a comic I collect or am interested in, but I love her art and the series is beloved by fans of the cartoon.

And there’s also Marjorie Liu, Becky Cloonan, Nicola Scott, Agnes Garbowska, Ming Doyle, Amanda Conner, Stephanie Buscema, Amy Mebberson, Colleen Coover and a lot more. Actually, I'm looking at the original artwork I have on my wall and half of it is by women artists.

There’s a conversation taking place. There are more women going to comic cons and less willing to take crap. They love comics, just want to have fun and want to interact. You get fans that with the right book, the themes really mean something to them and has a powerful effect on them. I’m not sure there is a creator who loves her fans more, and who goes out of her way more to be supportive, than Simone. And you can tell from her Tumblr and Twitter just how much women geeks love her work, and love what she's writing about. Which is not just strong women characters, but also minorities, GLBQ characters, transgender characters and more. They're not just a cool story with beautiful artwork. There's more to it than just that.

When I was in New York last year I’d say at least 40 per cent of those attending were women. And they were having a blast. They also want their woman superhero movie now, by the way. And fair enough. If Guardians of the Galaxy are getting a movie next year, then it’s insane that there’s no Wonder Woman movie yet. Or a Captain Marvel movie. Or Black Widow. And don’t give me Elektra and Halle Berry's Catwoman bombed. They were awful movies. Green Lantern bombed because it was just as bad and they went ahead and made Captain America and Thor. They’re also still giving Ryan Reynolds fresh chances to make more bad movies.

And look, not all males in the industry are assholes about it. Most aren’t. Some are wonderfully supportive. It’s just the dicks that get the attention, sadly. There are no negatives for more women getting involved in comics, either as fans or creators. Only positives. The geekiness will be cooler. The product will be better. It'll just be a lot more fun.

I, for one, welcome our new geek overlords. Bring 'em on...

Last Five
1. Mama - Genesis
2. Now I know - Cowboy Junkies
3. Kiss with a fist - Florence and the Machine*
4. Lady Dada's nightmare - MGMT
5. Magazines - The Hold Steady


John, Canberra AU said...

As far as I'm concerned, it's all just the same Idiosyncratic Routine as ever.

Loved that movie. It took Ben Affleck until "Argo" to do something possibly better. Maybe now he can be serious enough to play Batman, but I wouldn't bet on it.

So what do you think of "Comic Book Men"? For me it's not enough hits and too many misses.

Not those kind of "misses". I can't remember seeing one woman on that show.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget Karen Berger, the editor at Vertigo who brought out Sandman... she left DC Comics last year after 30 years.