And yes, I know there are a lot of you. I’ve searched the Tumblr tags and Twitter trends. I’ve seen you swoon over Captain America and geek out over the Hulk.
I’m here to say that there’s a whole world of dreamy superheroes over here just waiting to be discovered.
Guys have discovered it. Trust me—I work in a comic shop, and I’m a girl. I have to constantly deal with people’s persisting myths about comics: superhero stories are for boys; it’s all a big, drawn-out fantasy of male adolescence.
They’re not wrong. It might have begun that way. But like all art forms, comics have evolved.
In fact, ladies, I’d place a bet that many of your perceptions of superhero comics have been molded by your father’s back issue bin of stories from the 1960s. And like the 60s, such stories bear the burden of outdated gender roles, homophobia, and a general negligence of diversity that every form of culture has suffered from.
See, the ESSENTIALS and SHOWCASE collections from Marvel and DC, as classic as they are, are not a good representation of where your favorite characters from the movie are, right now. In fact, if you pick up one of these massive black and white tomes, your reaction might rightfully be one of confusion and disappointment. Huh? you’ll say. This isn’t the Captain I know. This isn’t Tony Stark. This is stupid. It’s boring. It’s not worth my time.
You don’t have to start at the beginning, see. Think of why you loved the AVENGERS movie. You may or may not have watched all the solo films leading up to it, and while these are certainly worthwhile pieces of cinema, they’re not absolutely necessary to the AVENGERS experience, thanks to Joss Whedon’s stellar script and palpable character dilemmas. You might not know the full back story of Iron Man’s armor, but his character’s place in the film is full of so much conviction that it hardly seems to matter.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. Here is what I suggest: start with a stunner. Pick up or download Warren Ellis’s SECRET AVENGERS #16, Zeb Wells’ AVENGING SPIDER-MAN #5, or Jonathan Hickman’s FF #17. Context be damned—once you understand the potential of floating text and four colors, you can go back and fill in plot holes.
Single issue one-shots are the way to begin. Massive collections written and drawn almost entirely by men have a tendency to put fangirls off of the entire market. In fact, when faced with the male dominance of the comics industry, many women become (understandably) intimidated and run far, far away.
This is my plea, fangirls: don’t run away. Please come back. We need you.
Now, the comics industry is certainly rife with its share of ‘girl power’ projects—collections that highlight female contributions, female heroes, and female perspectives in the oft-testosterone-heavy comics world. As admirable as these projects are, they are NOT going to solve our problem. They continue to marginalize women as ‘rare’ and ‘special’ in comic geekdom, as if female nerds are mythical unicorns only suited to frolicking with others of their kind.
This is a mistake.
The only way to get more women into writing comics is to get more women into reading them. And I don’t mean fucking GHOST WORLD or FABLES. I mean ALL-STAR SUPERMAN, UNCANNY X-MEN, and X-O MANOWAR. I mean the kind of thing that boys think is ‘all theirs’. Integration is the key.
Fangirls, in fear of judgement, tend to run to fanfiction instead. And believe me—I get it. I’ve written and read my share of fanfiction. [Feel free to email me for the embarrassing details.] But think on this: long-running superhero comics might be the closest we will ever get to fanfiction becoming canon. Everyone writing about Superman, after all, was reading about him and imagining their stories while growing up. I’ll go out on a limb and say it [another blog is coming on this subject]: superhero comics are just quality fanfiction with editorial approval.
Wrap your head around that, girls.
Can’t do it? Maybe this will help: there is a scene in Peter David’s long-running X-FACTOR during which two of the main characters, Jamie ‘Multiple Man’ Madrox and Julio ‘Rictor’ Richter, sit at a table, drink beer, and discuss their variously affiliated sex lives. Inside jokes are cracked. Innuendos are validated. [It might be worth mentioning that Rictor FINALLY KISSED SHATTERSTAR after other authors hinted at their relationship for 15 years.] What other medium all but invites its writers to make canon so much fun?
This is the stuff of fandom legend, and in modern comics, it happens all the goddamn time. Deadpool hits on Thor! Hawkeye is predictably dirty! Superheroes do laundry! Zombies are everywhere! Snark is routine! There are alternate universes, dimensions, and timelines to play with. It’s like a big bloody orgy of awesome character development and general crack.
Comics are one of the few artistic mediums in which amateur writers are encouarged to play in the proverbial copyrighted sandbox. This might cause financial complications with creators, but as an entry point into superhero culture, it’s hard to beat.
And guess what? It doesn’t stop there. Beyond the big two, there are enough creator-owned comics to knock your socks off! Original series as good as anything in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section of a bookstore! Because with comics, you can get your crazy on. Mutants, disasters, ret-conning, bizarre hookups, sound effects, tiny creatures that serve no purpose beyond random comic relief… come on, girls. This medium was made for us.
So I ask you: don’t be afraid. Come and join us in the dusty, superpowered aisles. It may be scary at first, but mainstream comics need female flavor in a severe way, and you might be surprised at how much fun it really is.