I’m still kind of in awe after GeekGirlCon ’14. The “Curious about Comics” (#ComicsForAll #GGC) moderated discussion and audience questions went so well, but 50 minutes goes by so fast! A big thank you to all the panelists! If you liked what they had to say be sure to reach out to them through social media: Charles “Zan” Christensen of Northwest Press (@northwestpress), Jamie Broadnax of BlackGirlNerds (@blackgirlnerds), Kara O’Connor of WatchPlayRead (@kararobot), Sabrina Taylor a Valkyrie at the Comic Stop in the University District (@realafterglow), and Susie Rantz–the coordinator of GeekGirlConnections for GeekGirlCon (@susierants).
I’ve been thinking about the topics that we weren’t able get to during our comics panel. Here are a few topics I wish we’d touched upon and my personal views/opinion/advice. Take it with a grain of salt.
In response to the question about a barriers to reading comics:
At the panel we talked a lot about how to obtain copies and navigating barriers there–like gatekeepers at your local comic shop. Another barrier that I still struggle with at times is the art. Comics have two components: words and pictures in a sequence. What do you do when you don’t like the art but the writing is excellent? And if the cover art is often done by a different artist than the one who draws the interior pages? (The is very common.) What if you pick it up for the cover only to see a style you like less on the interior? Or on the flip side a book might have fantastic art but the story is “meh” or outright bad.
There is no clear cut answer here. Each of us has a tolerance level for consuming visuals we don’t care for. You need to find your own. Just know that art in comics is so varied. It can be painterly, abstract, cartoonish, Kirby-esque, over-muscled, over-boobed, busy, straight-forward, drawn by hand, or computer generated for a few descriptors. Looking at books in the shop, previewing pages on blogs or through an online retailer, or ComiXology, will help you see what’s out there. Just like with writers, you can find artists you like and follow them on social media to see what projects are coming up next.
It is also worth noting that the art in comic may be distributed among many people: penciler, inker, and colorist. It takes a village to create a comic sometimes.
One example of this art not matching the writing that comes to my mind is Gail Simone’s Birds of Prey. Simone writes the conversation and banter between Oracle and Black Canary that rings true to women talking. I was overjoyed! How refreshing! Then, the Huntress enters the story and she is hanging upside-down with gravity defying boobs. Le sigh. Yet, Simone’s writing is excellent and I kept reading.
Alternatively, Saga is a great match between writer and artist (Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples), as is Rat Queens (Kurtis Wiebe and Roc Upchurch). I can’t recommend these titles enough.
I’ve found that with time that the art styles I don’t care for bother me less and less and I can appreciate the various styles for what they are. As for overly sexualized images of women, well, I doubt I will ever be comfortable with that. For me, the story is paramount and my main motivation for reading. However, for both the writing and the art, being able to identify what you don’t like and articulate it will help you come to terms with content across all walks of comics.
Don’t be afraid to be critical of the problematic
When you see that the art in a comic is too sexualized or the female character you’ve been rooting for suddenly loses her agency, what can you do? For titles published in ongoing series you may see changes in tone, retconned stories (looking at you New 52 Wonder Woman), or a wholesale changes in personalities–this happens mostly at Marvel and DC with long running titles. As hard as it is to break-up with a title, you have to do it and put your dollars somewhere else if you don’t like what you are reading. Actual letters to the publisher, not email, expressing your concerns and criticisms are a great way to get your point across to the publisher. I cannot guarantee that you’ll get the changes you want. But voice your opinion! It matters.
If you are writing to a specific title to be included in the letters column, make sure you include “OK to print” if you want it to be considered for publication. And, email is often the best choice if you goal is to get in the letters section. And beware that your letter could be edited for space.
Don’t forget to talk among your friends about what you are reading. Lots of comic readers have started their own blogs dedicated to reviews and content analysis. Your own blog can be a springboard to writing for a larger site if you really want your opinion out there. I’m glad to have WatchPlayRead as a platform for my own reviews. (WPR is always looking for more writers by the way! Not just comics but for TV and gaming too.)
Become a student of the medium
Another thing our panel did not have the chance to talk about was approaching comics as a student of medium, if you are into that sort of thing. Personally, I love learning about the craft and the history of comics. A great place to start your educational journey is Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. Much of reading comics is an intuitive process and you don’t realize you mind fills in a lot of gaps automatically. Understanding Comics will answer a lot of questions that you never knew you had.
There are plenty of comic criticism and history books available. Trina Robbins is a great source of comic history that celebrates the contribution of women. Also, there are many insightful how-to books on succeeding in the industry as a writer or artist. I can personally recommend Make Comics Like the Pros by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente. Even if you don’t want to create your own comics, this book gives you an inside look at the creative and pitch process that will add to you understanding of how the industry works.
Don’t forget to mine the Golden Age for great material as well. The format of comics was different then and representations of women were actually more broad than we’ve seen in the recent past. Try Mike Madrid’s series of complied female characters if you want to dip your toe into the Golden Age.
Finding more recommendations
Finally, I really want to underscore what Jamie Broadnax, of Black Girl Nerds, said at the panel about asking the internet for recommendations. In doing so, you will find like-minded folks who you trust for recommendations and commentary.
Looking at award-winning titles can also give you an idea what the industry is says is good. The Eisner Awards are held every July at San Diego Comicon International. The Small Press Expo has its Ignatz Awards. GLAAD Media Awards has a comics category (scroll two-thirds the way down the page). But there are many more out there.
There is a list of a few sources for news and recommendations on the PDF below. It isn’t an exhaustive list by any means.
“Curious about Comics” reading list
Here is a PDF of the reading list handed out at the panel. It has recommendations from all the panelists, but it lots of it comes from looking at my own collection and “to buy” list.
Read my convention report at WatchPlayRead and my follow-up to “(Not So) Strange Appetites: Women and the Horror Fandom” on this blog.
— Sigrid Hel (@sigridellis) October 11, 2014