Thursday, August 30, 2007

Amy Reads the Year (on August 31st, 2007)

I should tell you, Gentle Reader, that this post was, originally, to speak out against the suggestion that they are “Just Comics.” As in, why do we Speak Out So Articulately against injustice in comics when they are, so They Say, nothing more than comic books? And by “we” I mean, of course, any number of combinations of persons who reasonably object to injustice in our favorite pop culture medium, but for the purposes of my month-long retrospective, I refer, at this juncture, to Women, Specifically.

But in truth, this is a subject near and dear to my heart as I have Sung It Long and Often. In fact, I have sung it So Long and So Often that I fear Constant Readers to This Humble Blog might grow weary of my bellyaching and look to more moderate climes for reading and enjoyment.

That is to say, Friends, that you know How I Feel about the importance of comic books, and popular culture at large, and that to say so, again, would be a tad bit repetitive.

So, then, faced with the dilemma as to what subject best to offer to you, Gentlest of Readers, I was Rather Uncertain. This is a retrospective, is it not? A display of a year’s worth of comic blogging by This Humble Author in order to capture, to the Best of my Abilities, the flavor of the year, comic-book-wise. But retrospectives do not look to the past alone. Rather, they look forward, and offer a view of the future through the comfort and solidity of the past.

What is past is past, no? We have Come Through The Dark and entered, if I may be so bold as to say, The Light. That is, we *know* what is to be done in comics. We *know* what is to be done in our pop cultures.

More women in positive, leading roles. More superheroes of various racial, economic, class, and diverse backgrounds. More positive portrayals of alternative relationships. Remember the Ladies, yes (gratitude, Mrs. Adams), but Remember, too, the Girls. Protect the female characters so that they are not reduced to stereotypes, Refrigerated or Otherwise (gratitude, Ms. Simone) but do not tiptoe around them, either.

I could go on, Gentle Reader, but there are those who have said this before me, and said better than This Humble Author ever could. I point to my sidebar and draw your attention to the brutally honest and wonderful critics there. This year has, more than anything else internet-wise, introduced me to a coterie of well-read, critically thinking, diverse bloggers who are devoted to the betterment of comic books (Gratitude, When Fangirls Attack, Girl-Wonder.Org). And they are devoted *precisely* because They Love Comics.

I, too, Love Comics, and rather than repeat myself once more, rather than offer a response that dulls in comparison to Those Bloggers I Respect, Admire, and above all else, Read On A Daily Basis, I offer you a list of the best things comics have brought to me over the past year. No surprise to you, I’m sure, Gentle Reader, as we are all Well Aware of This Humble Author’s affinity for lists! Without further ado, then?

August 2006-August 2007: The Best of the Comic Book Universe
as viewed by This Humble Author

Welcome to Tranquility – Constant Readers of Arrogant Self-Reliance are Well Aware of the Reads’ adoration for All Things Simone, but Ms. Gail Simone truly has Outdone Herself with this title. Smart, ruthless, funny, poignant, it offers an interesting dichotomy to her other new title this year, Gen-13, but, in my humble opinion outshines its Sister in Every Way.

52 – While I am No Fan of Countdown, I believe it is because I am Overwhelmed by the ingenuity of 52. Bringing forward characters like Booster Gold—and paving the way for his Own Title!—was a stroke of genius on the parts of Mr. Rucka, Mr. Waid, Mr. Johns, and Mr. Morrison. While the title begins slightly before my self-imposed time frame of August 2006-August 2007, it peaks during this time.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season #8 – I came to Buffy Rather Late, I’m ashamed to admit, although I remember trying to watch it during the original airing of Season 2. Alas, lack of funds and of television prevented me from doing so, and I caught on to the phenomenon much later. To bring forth new ideas in such an innovative way—and what is more innovative than the marriage of image-and-text?—is not mere fan fodder but *true* innovation.

DC’s Minx Line – There has been some skepticism regarding the Minx line, and while I believe that some of the skepticism is Much Deserved, I also believe that it is, in No Small Part, a Step in the Right Direction. These are fun and smart stories that may function as bridges for younger readers, introducing them to the comic book universe. Personally, I would love to see more diversity of author and artist in this series.

The New New Avengers – I miss Cap, Friends, and I am Quite Angry at both Tony Stark and Reed Richards. But more importantly, I am Intrigued and Fascinated by the New New Avengers, and as one of the few Marvel lines I am reading, this title is encouraging me to explore further options, Marvel-wise.

Manhunter – While not confined to the timeframe to which I’ve confined myself, Manhunter is new to This Humble Author, at least, and I’m Quite Happy for it. Kate Spencer is, without a doubt, one of the most fascinating female comic book characters being written today. DC, don’t lose this title. I Beg Of You. Just Don’t.

The Justice Society of America: One Year Later – Friends, I’ve chastised myself enough for this, but I will do it again, for sake of argument. Why, o Why was I not reading This Title Sooner? The art! The writing! The characterization! Power Girl! Liberty Belle! I am sometimes, indeed, Almost Ridiculous, and in this case, certainly, The Fool (gratitude, Mr. Eliot, Mr. Prufrock). I regret my earlier disavowal, and promise to be consistent with my readings, forthwith.

Thank you, Friends, for a Wonderful Year Of Blogging. Here is to Many More To Come!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Amy Will Not Read the Year (on August 24th, 2007)

It's the beginning of Fall Term, Gentle Reader, so I have miles to go before I sleep (e'er again, it seems!). Please forgive the Delay, but the column Will Resume Again next week with the final installment of Arrogant Self-Reliance's Year-In-Review.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Amy Reads the Year (on August 17th, 2007)

It is Week Three of Arrogant Self Reliance’s Blogiversary, Gentle Reader, and originally, I planned to answer All Four Questions I posed in my initial post two weeks ago. For those in the audience Not Following Along At Home, I have seen these four questions over and over again throughout this past year, regarding the Woman (in comics) Question. Sometimes sincere, sometimes ironic, sometimes snide, the four questions boil down as follows:

1) "Do women read comics?"

2) "Why do women *still* read comics?"

3) "If you don’t like it, Ladies, why not *make the comics*?"

4) "Why don’t women understand that they are *just comics*?"

And in some Roundabout Way, I intend this post to be an answer to Question Number Two.

Recently, I returned from the Annual Before-School-Starts Trip Home to visit the Parents Reads. As the Parents Reads live in New Orleans, this trip, inevitably, coincides with Hurricane Season, so I drive, always, in case we need to make A Clean Getaway.

The trip from Small College Town to New Orleans isn’t *terribly* long, but long enough, all the same. Longer than Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet, shorter than a Twilight Zone Marathon. This Humble Author often stops in the same town both to and from New Orleans, for gas, for lunch, for a stretch.

This past week, while driving back to Small College Town and thus Mr. and Pup Reads, both of whom were Unable to Accompany Me Home due to Prior Obligations (on Mr. Reads’ end, anyhow, as Pup Reads contributes little to the running and management of the household other than love and adorability), I stopped at a Large Chain Fast-Food Establishment to acquire sustenance, however greasy. While in line, I noticed a little plastic box on the wall, about waist-height, with two rows of toys in them: some miniature teddy bears, and some action figures a la Legion.

Gentle Reader, it has been Some Time since I have purchased a Happy Meal, but that time is not as distant as You Might Think. In particular, fun action figures, the Very Happy Plastic Halloween Happy Meal Pails, I’ve been known, On Occasion, to Indulge the inner Girl Amy Reads. And she was, if I may be so bold to say, Rather Giddy over seeing DC characters in Happy Meals.

Not just This Humble Author, however, but another Girl, Bona Fide “Girl” by Age at that, waist-height, staring, with awe, at the Legion Toys. She reached out a chubby hand and pressed it against the glass, right over Lightning Lad’s face. And then Said Girl’s Parent came over, took the child by the hand, said, “No, honey, you want a girl toy,” and led her away.

Now, let us forget, just for a moment, my Other Problem with this scenario. That’s right, Friends, the unmentioned one: the lack of female Legion members in the toy set. Let us move past that and instead, look directly at the problem as to why some express shock and awe over the fact that Women Read Comics, and *still* Read Comics. Really, it’s quite simple: because people don’t believe Girls Should.

Now as the Delightful and Articulate Ms. Healey reminds us, and often, Girls Do Read Comics, and they are, at times, Rather Perturbed at that. I certainly read comics at a young age, and as a child, I was bombarded with images of Strong Women in Comics and Science Fiction.

It’s true, Friends. I can recount wearing Wonder Woman and Supergirl underoos under my school uniform. I remember my aunt coiling my long hair into Princess Leia cinnamon buns for Halloween, for Friday afternoon, for fun. I remember sitting in front of the television, watching Wonder Woman, sitting in my bedroom, reading comics and sci fi/fantasy books. But also, I remember watching The Incredible Hulk, and reading Action Comics, and pretending to be Spider-Man. I remember watching The Challenge of the Super Friends. I remember getting boy *and* girl toys with my cheeseburgers, because my parents allowed me to choose what I wanted.

Now, Gentle Reader, let me assure you: the Parents Reads, while Wonderful and Lovely People, are Rather Shocked by the—dare I say it?—rampant liberality of their daughter. That is to say, the Parents Reads had No Agenda, Feminist or Otherwise, in the raising and maintaining of their Girl Child. So when I say that I got both boy and girl toys, both He-Man and She-Ra, both GI Joe and Jem and the Holograms, both Wonder Woman and Superman, that was the product of Good Parenting. Because of things like this, I grew up knowing “Math is Hard!” *not* because Barbie said so, and *not* because I was a Girl Child, but because, for an English-and-History Reader like myself, Math *was* harder, not nearly as easy to grasp as Books, and Dates, and Abstract Arguments.

That being said, I saw this Girl Child in front of me denied a toy *simply because it wasn’t a “girl toy”*. And I was reminded, one year after beginning a blog on feminism and pop culture, the very reason why I began said blog in the first place. I remembered the reason why Future Babies Reads will have Spider-Man *and* Wonder Woman, regardless of gender.

A few weeks ago, I read a Brother Blogger’s Post about trying to find fun Spider-Man, et al clothes for his Daughter. I curse my faulty memory, Gentle Reader, so please, if you know Said Blogger’s name and web address, send it to me! But I empathized with his plight, and applauded his solution which was buy it anyway.

Of course telling *you* this, Most Gentle of Readers, is a bit of the proverbial Preaching to the Choir. Who knows this better than Constant Visitors to Arrogant Self-Reliance? But occasionally—just occasionally, Friends!—others wander in from the proverbial woodworks, and there, perhaps, a change is sparked.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Amy Reads the Year (on August 10th, 2007)

(Or, Yes, Friends, Women Read Comics)

Gentle Reader, I write to you tonight from the home of the Parents Reads, which, as some of My (More) Constant Readers may recall, is in New Orleans, now nearly two years Post-Katrina. And while I would like to tell you all that everything is Shiny in the Big Easy, I cannot do any such thing. This is not a city in the sterile cleanup of afterbirth, but rather a city stuck in messy birth, or perhaps even in resuscitation, pumping life into something that so many consider dead.

But this city is, first and foremost, My Hometown, and one cannot return Home without remembering how one came to be in the first place, no?

That is to say, sitting in the very room in which This Humble Author first stayed up past bedtime to finish a book, in the very room in which This Humble Author first read a comic book, first pretended to be The Amazon Princess, makes one consider the first question I posed in the first post of my month-long blogiversary:

Do Women Read Comics?

The answer is rather simple, Friends.

Yes, they do.

. . .

But of course, the answer *isn’t* that simple, is it? Women Read Comics, but they don’t read superhero comics. And Women Read Comics, but they only read superhero comics. And Women Read Comics, but really, they read graphic novels. And of course Women Read Comics, but only Manga, and only Manga from Japan, and etc. etc. ad nauseam infinitum.

So I wonder, Gentle Reader, what that question could mean in The Larger Scheme Of Things. Is the Question—and I do acknowledge it as A Proper Noun Question as I have heard it repeated over and over again with a Certain Tone that implies credulity, i.e. “*Do* women read comics??”—relegated solely to Cape Titles, or is there a larger wonderment over whether Women, whomever They Might Be, enjoy the marriage of Art and Text?

Ekphrasis is a term with which only recently have I become familiar. And while my understanding of the marriage of art-and-text is more William Blake than Grant Morrison, more LEL than Gail Simone, there is something to be said for the perfect harmony of art-and-text. One is not merely a complement of the other, but rather, they are two parts of a whole.

In comic books, we see even more than the marriage of art-and-text, no? In fact, what we see is art-as-text and text-as-art and both as Text, that is, Story. So to ask a question as loaded as “Do Women Read Comics?” is to suggest that women are not artistic, or not interested in text, or in Texts, which we all know is Rather Ridiculous, when we spread it thin in such a way.

But, and there is a “but,” Gentle Reader, there is a Very Real Dichotomy in the perception of male and female comic book readership. Certainly, as we are all Well Aware, there are more male than female writers, artists, editors, and executives in the Comic Book Industry, but does a gender majority automatically mean gender exclusion, gender neglect, gender bias? That is to say, does a large male readership and authorship automatically mean a *lack* of female readership and authorship?

The logical fallacy rears its ugly head the moment the idea is presented, and we all trip and fall, flat on our faces. Here, Friends, I will be the first to trip and break the mold:

I am a Woman, and I Read Comics.

There I break the mold and with this one negation, or rather, this one affirmation of Female Readership, we can no longer ask: “Do Women Read Comics?” Now, we must ask why so many insist that Women Do Not Read Comics, or, if they do, they Read Them Wrong, and if they discuss them, they Are Too Loud (and wrong).

Gentle Reader, a confession: I love, absolutely *love* superhero comics. Again and again on this blog, I have shouted To The Rooftops my love for superhero titles. Hearing my Brother and Sister Bloggers rave about Manga, I have dipped my toes into those waters, as well. I adore Graphic Novels, too, and find the idea of art-and-text to be truly visionary.

I cannot answer for every Man or Woman Reading Comics, but I can answer for myself, and my answer is this: I read comics because I am terrible at art, and seeing a story unfold visually and textually astounds me.

Or, my answer is this: I read comics because I am a good storyteller, and seeing a story unfold over generations astounds me.

Or this: I read comics because I enjoy science fiction, and fantasy, and historical fiction, and realism, and modernism, and Victorianism, and postmodernism, and fashion, and cultural critique, and subtext.

Or: I read comics because I read comics.

The idea that one would have to ask if Women Read Comics seems almost silly, and it is a question I have heard less and less over the past few years. And Gentle Reader, let me do say that it is a question that is less spoken and more implied. It is a question implied every time I reveal that I am a Reader of Comics, and the implication usually goes Something Like This:

“Really? *You* read comics?”

Yes, I do, and whether that shock is because I am a Woman, an Academic, Middle-Aged, none or all of the above, it is still there, and it means something that it is. Why is there incredulity over the Reading of Comics? Why must one express utter disbelief over something that should be commonplace? Everyday? A Shared Experience among Men and Women alike?

We need to reconsider *why* We, All Of Us, Men and Women Alike, Read Comics. Then, we need to *remember* why We, All Of Us, Men and Women Alike, Read Comics.

My answer is this: I read comics because I love them.

. . .

One final outcome of my time spent at my childhood home, the Reads Parsonage, if you will: I am, at this very moment, Doing “Homework” in the Very Room in which I did Every Scrap Of Homework I ever had pre-college. As I am Rather Egalitarian about my memories, both good and bad, I offer you, Gentlest of Readers, some Homework Of Your Own.

I am a Woman who Reads Comics, and also, a Woman who enjoys Finding New Comics, so please, Friends, take a glance at the sidebar to your right. There you will find This Humble Author’s Current Pull List, both Cape and Manga. Are there Comics that this Woman should be Read(ing)? If so, what are they, and why?

Until then, Friends, Good Night, and Good Reading.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Amy Reads the Year (on August 03rd, 2007)

(Or, The Answer to Question Number Three)

Welcome, Gentle Reader, to the month-long one-year blogiversary of Arrogant Self-Reliance! This Humble Author has spanned two blog addresses, two personas, and finally—finally!—has settled Quite Comfortably into this Rather Cozy Space. Over the next month I will endeavor to bring you the highlights—and lowlights—of the past year in pop culture as I readdress some Issues I find Most Important.

Yes, Friends, you’re right: I want to talk about Women in Pop Culture. And today, thanks to the Glories that are When Fangirls Attack and Google Alerts, I’ve stumbled across Quite the EntrĂ©e into Said Discussion.

A few days ago on MotherJones.Com, Charlie Anders wrote this stunning article, “Supergirls Gone Wild: Gender Bias In Comics Shortchanges Superwomen,” which offers a broader discussion of Female Readership in the Comic Book Universe. This idea of Readership has challenged me the past few days, and I have summed up--or rather, expanded--the Woman (in comics) Question into Four Questions.

In the wake of Comic-Con and, even farther and even faster (gratitude, Ms. Bishop), an entire year of discussion about Female Comic Book Readership, the first question of “Do Women Read Comics?” has morphed into ever-spiraling and ever-complicated questions such as: “Why do women *still* read comics?” (question number two) and “If you don’t like it, Ladies, why not *make the comics*?” (question number three) and of course, “Why don’t Women understand that they are *just comics*?” (question number four).

Friends, I am fascinated by both the idea of Female Authorship and the idea of Female Readership, two issues that are Very Important to my Academic Work. I read women’s works, and I read about women reading women’s works. What is more popular culture than the idea of audience? Without audience, there can be no “popular,” and without people, there can be no “culture.” Therefore, by fault of my wacky and illogical logic, “Popular Culture” is, at its heart, dependent on both Authorship *and* Readership.

Fandom, meet my Career. Career, meet my Fandom.

To wit, in answer to Question Number Three in the Rowdy Roundup of Questions for Feisty Female Fans:

You cannot have a book without a reader.


Books need both Readers *and* Writers.

While I am Ever-Ready to write on A Title Of My Own (Big Barda or The Amazon Princess for me, DC!), and while I am Ever-Writing on A Comic Of My Own (Happy to send Treatments, DC!), these are those ever-illusive and often-proverbial “Pipe Dreams” exactly because they are dreams. Even further, they are dreams exactly because I am, First and Foremost, A Reader: by choice, by trade, by training, by profession, by paycheck, by understanding. Reading is What I Do, and if you may forgive a modest lack of modesty for the moment, I am Exceptional at my job.

But because I am Good at What I Do, I also become, while not Hulk-Smash upset at it, Rather Perturbed by the idea that if I don’t like something that is out there, then rather try and change it, I should just accept what is there and personally make what I want.

That argument, to me, at least, feels Very Similar to the following analogy:

Mr. Reads and I go out to dinner. We both order steak, medium, loaded baked potatoes, smothered onions, and steamed asparagus. Mr. Reads enjoys every bit of his meal except for the asparagus, which he finds to be a bit too raw, and his steak, which is cooked at medium-rare instead of medium. He expresses his concerns, and the restaurant brings him new asparagus, cooks his steak to his liking, and, for his troubles, comps his dessert. I, too, find the asparagus a bit too raw, and find my steak to be medium-rare instead of medium. When I bring my concerns to the restaurant, not only do they not fix my meal, they pack it in a take-home container and tell me to “cook it to my liking” once I get home. As Mr. Reads and I ordered and paid the same amount for *the same meal* we should receive *the same service* for our *same complaints* no?

While this may seem A Bit Over The Top (and very conducive to hunger!), let us take it even further. If Mr. Reads—who is, I Assure You, Gentle Reader, the Kindest and Gentlest of Men—were to offer his complaint to the management with a loud, booming voice, he would be considered an aggressive and masculine specimen. Perhaps he would be considered a Steak Aficionado, even. A Steak Guru, if you will. He certainly knows his steaks, if he can become So Worked Up over an improperly cooked piece of meat! Whereas if I—and I Assure You, Gentle Reader, that despite my Well-Mannered and Gentle Demeanor, I am the More Likely Member of the Reads Family to offer a loud, booming voice—were to do the same, I would be escorted from the premises for my hysterical and inappropriate behavior.

Still don’t believe This Humble Author? Then one final extreme:

Mr. Reads and I, both unhappy with our meals despite dessert compensation for Mr. Reads (which This Humble Author did not get to enjoy since she was Tossed Out of Said Restaurant on her posterior), come home and write negative reviews of Said Restaurant on the Internet. Mr. Reads finds a commiserating audience who also has had Similar Problems with Said Restaurant. I, too, find a core of like-minded individuals who sympathize with my Tossing. Then my review is spammed by trolls begging to know Who The @#$! Do I Think I Am for daring to review negatively Their Favorite Restaurant. My review is plastered on site after site as a Bad Example of Restaurant Reviewing, and is held up as The Classic Example of How Women Take Everything To Extremes. While I was willing to give Said Restaurant another chance, I no longer want to take the chance of sitting Anywhere Near these fellow restaurant-attendees.

Extreme, I know. Perhaps silly, and certainly flawed. But Gentle Reader, this is *what it feels like* when I am told that if I don’t like the way comic books are being written, then I should just write my own. Rather than fight against change, these naysayers instead believe that a small ghettoized space is appropriate for those who feel as if comics do not portray women, ethnic minorities, homosexuals, differently abled, and others enough.

It’s not enough. It’s never enough.

I’ve heard them all already, the arguments, the beliefs, the statistics, the decrying that There Are More Male Comic Book Readers than Female Comic Book Readers, or, There Are More Male Comic Book Writers than Female Comic Book Writers, or, Superheroes are Symbolic so it Doesn’t Matter if 90% of them are white males.

To which I say, There *should* be more Women writing Comic Books, and there *should* be more Diversity in Comic Books, because if there is, there is a Very Strong Probability that there will be More Readers.

I don’t believe that Only Women can write great female characters, nor do I believe that all titles with a woman as lead—Birds of Prey, Wonder Woman, Catwoman—should go to Women Writers. This is a further example of the ghettoizing of which I spoke earlier. Nor do I believe that Men cannot write Great Female Characters. I point to Mr. Rucka, Mr. Whedon, Mr. McKeever, Mr. Vaughan, and many, many others to belie this misconception. So, too, do we need more writers such as These Great Ones. But I do believe that the system, as a whole, is flawed. That the system is comfortable. Also, as I am Ever The Optimist, I believe the system can expand.

Further representation, Gentle Reader. Further discussion. Open marketplace of ideas and emotions and critiques.

Friends, I love Comic Books. I love Superhero Comic Books. I love the symbolism, the idea that the Outsider—the Alien, the Orphan, the Goddess-Made-Of-Clay, the Ultimate Other—is the person to point out injustice. I love that Cape Books make me believe in something Greater, something Mythic, something Colossal. I love that Superheroes are Larger Than Life, and that they make the characters, and the readers, aspire to Great Things. I love the gaudiness of the costumes, the extremes of the plots, the fact that Outlandishness and Utter Fantasy often come to stand for Gritty Reality and are Archetypal Discussions relevant to every time period, even Ours. I love that Superman has three weaknesses and Wonder Woman has none.

I love Batman because he is dark and challenging and not very friendly at all. I love Superman because Kal-El/Superman is the mask and Clark Kent is The Real Deal. I love Hellboy because he makes mistakes, over and over again, and still fights the good fight. I love Daredevil because sometimes, his Catholicism conflicts with his desire for vengeance, and sometimes, it supplements it. I can identify with these male characters because I see parts of them in me.


But, these characters have had the benefits of More Good Writing than Not. They haven’t been tossed aside as lightly as some of their Sisters have. They haven’t been reduced to the Representation of Their Bodies as some of their Sisters have. That is not to say that they don’t have Bodies Issues Of Their Own. Of course they do. These are Comic Books. Everything is Larger Than Life, a Bit More Fantastical.

I *want* that Fantastical. I crave it. That’s why I am, First and Foremost, A Reader Of Comics. But Fantastical is *not* the same as Stereotypical. Fantastical is *not* the same as Ridiculous Representation.

And therein lies the difference.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

For Those Readers in Minnesota

Gentle Readers in Minnesota, my thoughts are with you in this time of crisis. May all of you and your family and friends be safe and well.