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The Women at DC Comics kurfuffle: a note from over here

I’ve loved comics all my life.

I don’t even remember when the first one fell into my world, or what it was: comics simply seem to have been around me from the beginning. I do remember that the first ones I really loved were the Superman and Superboy comics, especially when that strand of the mythos started sloshing over into the Legion of Super-Heroes. After that, along came the Justice League, and of course Wonder Woman, and eventually Green Lantern (it was always Hal Jordan for me: I like John Stewart well enough, but you can take Guy Gardner and stuff him somewhere… well, somewhere anatomically difficult except perhaps for Mogo: Gardner has never struck me as real GL material). And then came the Metal Men. And on and on. (As I look into it a bit further, taking down The DC Comics Encyclopedia to check some things, there seem to be very few corners of the Silver Age DC Universe that I’m unfamiliar with: the breadth of my reading kind of surprises me, at this end of time. When the heck did I get my homework done in elementary school? [And middle school, and college, and nursing school...?]  But ah, for the characters of yesteryear. Pause for a brief nostalgia attack…)

…Ahem. Anyway, I came a little late to the Marvel party: this time I’m pretty sure I started out with The Mighty Thor, since I had a very early penchant for Norse mythology. (I do remember being very impressed with their take on Sif, who was not prepared to just sit around being golden-haired as in the source material.) I fell deeply in love with Stan Lee’s work, and that naturally led in turn to Spidey, and elsewhere into the Marvel universe … then back again to DC and New Gods, and the dreadful and paradoxically dignified evil of Darkseid (who remains a great favorite of mine in sort of the same way that I’m very fond of King Gorice in The Worm Ouroboros: the irredeemable bad guy who’s having a dark kind of fun being that way. …Immediate rephrase: Darkseid would never have Fun. He would however permit himself to experience Amusement. Very dark amusement, of course, shading right down into the infrared.).

It should be made clear here that back then — say between ages six and eighteen or so — I was way less concerned then about any possible question of female roles or female writers in comics than I was about the adventure, as suburban Long Island was pretty short of adventure to my way of thinking. What was important then was that there should be stories, stories that engaged and entertained me. Those comics were a lifeline, somewhere to be when  my native world was annoying or dull. Without Metropolis or Gotham or Oa or Paradise Island (this was before Themyscira…), life would have sometimes been intolerable. I didn’t care whether the stories came from women, men, or people from elsewhere in Space Sector 2814, just so they kept coming and were worth reading.

I went onward into college and then into psych nursing, and my friends teased me about my comics collection… but at the same time, at science fiction conventions in NY, I started to run into people who were as enthusiastic about them as I was, and my comics reading broadened out still more. And then, after the move to California, after my first novel came out, after a bunch more conventions, after getting into animation writing, after meeting a whole bunch of comics writers along the way and becoming friendly with some of them, suddenly an astonishing thing happened, something that would have knocked the eight-or-twelve-or-fifteen-or-eighteen-year-old-comics-fan me right down flat with amazement: I got to write comics myself.

They were split pretty evenly between DC and Eclipse. At DC they were almost all Star Trek — a pair of books here, a miniseries there, the occasional special thing — but there were occasional forays elsewhere (I still really wish that the Green Lantern Corps book hadn’t been axed just after I sold Bob Greenberger this script). The Eclipse work was for The Dreamery, where I did the “Tales of Prince Ivan the Not-So-Experienced” (SHAMELESS PLUG: coming later this year in a collection with the newly written addition, “Prince Ivan and the Bachelor Parties of Doom”). I enjoyed doing all of those so much. And even when I’m not doing comics, I’m writing about reading them (“In the Company of Heroes” over here is about how important they can be to have in your life) or otherwise having fun with them: one character in the Young Wizards books is an inveterate X-Men reader: another young wizard’s sister, unable to cope just yet with the issue of his wizardry, has (to his continuing great frustration) made up her mind that he’s actually a mutant. So it goes, for my “real world” is their “real world”, and my real world always has comics in it.

So you’ll understand that when the issue of Women in Comics comes up on the Intarwebz, I cock an ear from this side of the Atlantic to see what’s going on. And this last week or so the noise level has jumped a few notches, off the back of the news that DC — my first favorite and still so — DC appears suddenly to be somewhat in Woman Deficit on the creative side.

There has correctly been reaction to this, sometimes quite understandably enthusiastic, especially as regards recent events at SDCC and how they were brought to a head. I feel the need here — strictly from the former-psych-professional standpoint — to point out that in the hothouse atmosphere of an SDCC, people sometimes find it hard to react optimally all the time, either on panels or elsewhere.  I do have to say, though, that if there’s a hot-button issue with the comics readership at large — and with those who would like to be comics readership, if the industry leaders will show clearer signs that they know they’re living in a universe they cannot reboot, one with its own imperatives — then this is it... and  this question above all is one that, under the circumstances, the DC creative management should have been better prepared for.

Now, though, DC (in corporate mode) has finally issued a statement about what’s going on. I can’t help but think the reaction would have been way more useful if it had come sooner. But whatever:  here it is, and it indicates that they’ve realized they can’t afford to alienate either the vocal minority who will correctly keep pressing for action on this issue, or the quiet majority who are waiting for some sign that comics are willing to be more inclusive to creative talent who who actually own the equipment that fills out some of the more iconic superhero uniforms in the DC Universe.

Now, as the saying goes:  deeds before words. I  for one am inclined to sit back for a little bit and see how this matter unfolds.  DC has said they’re doing something about this: let’s see what exactly they do. If they’re as good as their word, then there’s a project or two on this side of things that it’d be fun to talk to them about… and I’d be more than willing to join some of my very oldest friends once more in setting out to make some comics. Hopefully, great ones.

Which, at the bottom of it, is theoretically what this is all about….

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  • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

    I heard about this blowup, and while I”m not surprised, at the reactions on either side, I have to say, it’s also not something I care about. Not due to OMG SEXISM, but because the comics industry lost me years and years ago with endless retconning, 63 versions of the same team, and the general giving in to what is best exemplified by Joss Wheedon and “Let’s mess with the characters”. 

    Every time I’m near comics, I go peruse them, and I see they haven’t gotten any better. The artwork is meh, and the storylines confuse dark for deep. (I will set aside my “revealing wolverine’s origins effectively ruined that character” rant for now, because Marvel has abused wolverine so relentlessly that it really doesn’t matter. But really. A SOUL PATCH? X-MEN: DOUCHEBAG EDITION? sigh)

    I’m not saying that “Peanuts” should be the writing or the art goals, but maybe stop blowing up the universe every six seconds and have death matter. 

    When Jean Grey died (the first time) waaaay back in X-men 137 or so, it was huge, and it was even bigger because she *stayed dead*. The other X-men had to deal with that. They had, what I thought, were really great, *human* storylines from it. 

    It didn’t last, it couldn’t last. Oh, that was the phoenix force that died, jean was REALLY in a coccoon at the bottom of the ocean. Oh, wolverine didn’t really lose the adamantium, that was as skrull, or Mr. Sinister, hell, I forget. Shame too, because that panel, where magneto is stripping it through his pores? That literally made me sit back, it was that intense. 

    PSYCH! MULLIGAN!

    that’s all the comics industry has become to me. A series of “oh, that didn’t work, RETCON.” (And the artwork. I’ve ZERO problems with a healthy upper anterior superstructure, in fact, I’m rather the fan. But *come on*. Let’s at least TRY to respect biology.)

    I look at the other comic lines, and it’s largely the same problems, only “alternative”. Comics didn’t want me, okay. It’s a shame, but I dig that. 

    Fortunately, web comics came a long, and with it, the things I really loved. Like good storylines that aren’t shat upon to boost readership. (Something*Positive, while snarky and regularly offensive to all, has some of the best writing I’ve seen anywhere, and Randy Mullholland has damned near broken my heart twice. He’s not John Byrne, art-wise, but the writing, and his…*care* for his characters is as good as anything coming out of any Comic company. )

    So I suppose there’s always something to fill the need. But it’s hard to curl up with a web comic, and I really wish whatever has taken hold of the comics industry would relax its hold just a bit. They might find themselves gaining back readers who just walked away.

    • Peter Morwood

      I was raised Brit, well, Norn Irish. Add temporal discrepancy from the modern world to choice, but when I was young there was a joke – “We are now landing at Belfast International Airport, where the local time is 1958.” (It’s about 2003 now, give a fluctuation or two.)

      That meant comic shops didn’t exist, and I had to take what I could find in the odd door-racks vaguely marked “American Comics”, where “Fantastic Four”, “Little Audrey”, “Sergeant Rock” and “Gold Key Classics” were all shoved in together. Marvel did occasionally produce, or authorise, B/W reprints in the UK that were sold through regular newsagents alongside other British comics like “Valiant”, “Hurricane” (where the Second World War and other manly sports continued unabated) and, eventually, “2000 AD”. But that was later.

      Batman and his infinity of convenient Bat-gadgets did nothing for me. If Superman’s so smart, then why doesn’t he know the underpants go *inside*? Spiderman’s teenage angst? Try growing up with the Troubles and see how angsty you get, Parker. Speculating about a fight between the Thing and the Hulk had as much to do with their respective colours as anything else…and so on.

      The only American comics I ever made an effort to find were the Barry Smith “Conan” and the John and Marie Severin “Kull.” Even then it just was because I’d fallen in love with sword and sorcery and was absorbing it in as many forms as I could find, which weren’t many: Sphere had started reprinting the Lancer “Conan” books with their amazing Frazetta covers, but Michael Moorcock hadn’t yet geared up to provide Mayflower with what looked like its “fantasy of the month” line. Forget movies: this was before “Star Wars” (the acceptable face of fantasy, with spaceships) but also before “Hawk the Slayer” and “The Sword and the Sorcerer”, neither of which did the genre any favours until the Schwarzeneggar “Conan” came along.

      Last time I looked at any US comics, I had the feeling I needed shades to look at the whooping style-over-substance artwork, and a notebook to keep track of who was who. I’ve got better things to do than that. Plaiting my nasal hair, or something. Webcomics do indeed have it, nowadays: maybe because story line can take priority over bottom line, and because a new editor can’t decide to throw established character relationships out of the window because his own version of that relationship is on the rocks. My own current favourites are “Order of the Stick”, “Girl Genius” and “Lackadaisy Cats” – complex, engaging stories, characters to care about, and great art (yes, even with stick figures. It’s astonishing how much range of expression can be gained from blobs and lines.)

      None of which has anything to do with the current Women at DC fuss. I leave that to those who know a lot more about it than I do. Like, for instance, the original poster. :-)

      • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

        OOT is indeed awesome. The wink-nudge at D&D rules is done quite well, never leaking into trite. And how can you NOT like a strip with a character such as Belkar?

    • Heel Biter

      Cool derail, bro.

  • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

    I heard about this blowup, and while I”m not surprised, at the reactions on either side, I have to say, it’s also not something I care about. Not due to OMG SEXISM, but because the comics industry lost me years and years ago with endless retconning, 63 versions of the same team, and the general giving in to what is best exemplified by Joss Wheedon and “Let’s mess with the characters”. 

    Every time I’m near comics, I go peruse them, and I see they haven’t gotten any better. The artwork is meh, and the storylines confuse dark for deep. (I will set aside my “revealing wolverine’s origins effectively ruined that character” rant for now, because Marvel has abused wolverine so relentlessly that it really doesn’t matter. But really. A SOUL PATCH? X-MEN: DOUCHEBAG EDITION? sigh)

    I’m not saying that “Peanuts” should be the writing or the art goals, but maybe stop blowing up the universe every six seconds and have death matter. 

    When Jean Grey died (the first time) waaaay back in X-men 137 or so, it was huge, and it was even bigger because she *stayed dead*. The other X-men had to deal with that. They had, what I thought, were really great, *human* storylines from it. 

    It didn’t last, it couldn’t last. Oh, that was the phoenix force that died, jean was REALLY in a coccoon at the bottom of the ocean. Oh, wolverine didn’t really lose the adamantium, that was as skrull, or Mr. Sinister, hell, I forget. Shame too, because that panel, where magneto is stripping it through his pores? That literally made me sit back, it was that intense. 

    PSYCH! MULLIGAN!

    that’s all the comics industry has become to me. A series of “oh, that didn’t work, RETCON.” (And the artwork. I’ve ZERO problems with a healthy upper anterior superstructure, in fact, I’m rather the fan. But *come on*. Let’s at least TRY to respect biology.)

    I look at the other comic lines, and it’s largely the same problems, only “alternative”. Comics didn’t want me, okay. It’s a shame, but I dig that. 

    Fortunately, web comics came a long, and with it, the things I really loved. Like good storylines that aren’t shat upon to boost readership. (Something*Positive, while snarky and regularly offensive to all, has some of the best writing I’ve seen anywhere, and Randy Mullholland has damned near broken my heart twice. He’s not John Byrne, art-wise, but the writing, and his…*care* for his characters is as good as anything coming out of any Comic company. )

    So I suppose there’s always something to fill the need. But it’s hard to curl up with a web comic, and I really wish whatever has taken hold of the comics industry would relax its hold just a bit. They might find themselves gaining back readers who just walked away.

    • Peter Morwood

      I was raised Brit, well, Norn Irish. Add temporal discrepancy from the modern world to choice, but when I was young there was a joke – “We are now landing at Belfast International Airport, where the local time is 1958.” (It’s about 2003 now, give a fluctuation or two.)

      That meant comic shops didn’t exist, and I had to take what I could find in the odd door-racks vaguely marked “American Comics”, where “Fantastic Four”, “Little Audrey”, “Sergeant Rock” and “Gold Key Classics” were all shoved in together. Marvel did occasionally produce, or authorise, B/W reprints in the UK that were sold through regular newsagents alongside other British comics like “Valiant”, “Hurricane” (where the Second World War and other manly sports continued unabated) and, eventually, “2000 AD”. But that was later.

      Batman and his infinity of convenient Bat-gadgets did nothing for me. If Superman’s so smart, then why doesn’t he know the underpants go *inside*? Spiderman’s teenage angst? Try growing up with the Troubles and see how angsty you get, Parker. Speculating about a fight between the Thing and the Hulk had as much to do with their respective colours as anything else…and so on.

      The only American comics I ever made an effort to find were the Barry Smith “Conan” and the John and Marie Severin “Kull.” Even then it just was because I’d fallen in love with sword and sorcery and was absorbing it in as many forms as I could find, which weren’t many: Sphere had started reprinting the Lancer “Conan” books with their amazing Frazetta covers, but Michael Moorcock hadn’t yet geared up to provide Mayflower with what looked like its “fantasy of the month” line. Forget movies: this was before “Star Wars” (the acceptable face of fantasy, with spaceships) but also before “Hawk the Slayer” and “The Sword and the Sorcerer”, neither of which did the genre any favours until the Schwarzeneggar “Conan” came along.

      Last time I looked at any US comics, I had the feeling I needed shades to look at the whooping style-over-substance artwork, and a notebook to keep track of who was who. I’ve got better things to do than that. Plaiting my nasal hair, or something. Webcomics do indeed have it, nowadays: maybe because story line can take priority over bottom line, and because a new editor can’t decide to throw established character relationships out of the window because his own version of that relationship is on the rocks. My own current favourites are “Order of the Stick”, “Girl Genius” and “Lackadaisy Cats” – complex, engaging stories, characters to care about, and great art (yes, even with stick figures. It’s astonishing how much range of expression can be gained from blobs and lines.)

      None of which has anything to do with the current Women at DC fuss. I leave that to those who know a lot more about it than I do. Like, for instance, the original poster. :-)

      • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

        OOT is indeed awesome. The wink-nudge at D&D rules is done quite well, never leaking into trite. And how can you NOT like a strip with a character such as Belkar?

    • Heel Biter

      Cool derail, bro.

  • Bytowner

    Amen on the “reboot every 5-10 years” argument, John.

    And the sexism concern’s another big and legitimate worry. As is the ageism angle.

  • Bytowner

    Amen on the “reboot every 5-10 years” argument, John.

    And the sexism concern’s another big and legitimate worry. As is the ageism angle.

  • Anonymous

    >>The Epic work was for The Dreamery, where I did… >>

    Sorry to nit-pick, but: Eclipse, not Epic.

    Epic was the Marvel imprint headed up by Archie Goodwin. Eclipse was Dean Mullaney and Cat Yronwode.

    And man, THE DREAMERY was a great book.

    kdb

  • KurtBusiek

    >>The Epic work was for The Dreamery, where I did… >>

    Sorry to nit-pick, but: Eclipse, not Epic.

    Epic was the Marvel imprint headed up by Archie Goodwin. Eclipse was Dean Mullaney and Cat Yronwode.

    And man, THE DREAMERY was a great book.

    kdb

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