As a card-carrying
member of UK online comics fandom, it seems I am contractually
obliged to be outraged and infuriated by Kevin Maher's
in the Times. Maher, who actually writes about film for a living,
was so enthralled by SIN CITY [Ed: Sin City has still not been
shown in $ingapore] that he took it as a cue to write a great
big article about how comics fans are a bunch of geeks in arrested
emotional development with somewhat questionable views on women.
It has caused quite the tizzy.
City: the movie
Much as I
would love to join the anti-Maher backlash, however, I'm not going
to. I just can't be bothered. I mean, obviously it's a dreadful
scandal, since god knows we all expect the highest standards from
the British press. Why, it must have been eons since a badly researched
article appeared in a British newspaper.
I can't work up the reserves
of defensiveness to care in the slightest.
What I find more amusing is the
evident sensitivity of those who do.
that it's a fairly brief article published in the arts section,
something tells me that the people who are offended by the article
are about the only ones who'll remember it 30 seconds after they
put it down. Besides, what are people actually going to do about
it? Write a seething letter that might get a square inch of space
at the bottom of the letters page, next
to the obligatory missive from the retired colonel who's spotted
an unseasonal chaffinch?
I can't work up the reserves of defensiveness to care in the slightest.
What I find more amusing is the evident sensitivity of those who
point, basically, is that the comics subculture is horribly sexist;
that it tends to present women as fantasy objects; and that while
edges are normally smoothed off in film adaptations, the over-literal
version of SIN CITY gives a better indication of what comics are
the article goes awry is that it's hopelessly overboard, deals
in sweeping generalisations, relies heavily on obscure and out-of-date
examples (Satana?!), and is obviously written with an eye on winding
up any comics fans who might happen to be reading - always a fun
way of livening up a dull article. And drawing conclusions about
the typical comic book from a self-evidently unusual example such
as SIN CITY is extremely questionable. The article is too sweeping
and it's rather silly.
if you tone it down a notch, Maher's point isn't particularly
controversial. Is the comics industry sexist? Well, yes, of course
it is. Is it overwhelmingly male? Sure. Are the heroes overwhelmingly
male? Yup. Do female characters tend to have huge tits and meet
an unpleasant end? Undeniably. Is there a substantial segment
of fandom with uncomfortable views on women that we'd rather not
advertise to the wider population? Of course - somebody's got
to be buying the books with Greg Horn covers.
Is SIN CITY
in particular misogynist? Well, it's certainly got those tendencies.
Context is everything, admittedly, but it's hard to get away from
that being an aspect of the book, and Maher is far from the first
person to make the point. There's always been a strand of opinion
which, if not actually offended by the book, has at least not
been entertained by it for that reason, or found that it wore
thin rather quickly. And while SIN CITY is obviously not a typical
comic, it's certainly arguable that the comic book readership
seems to be, shall we say, unusually willing to regard casual
misogyny as entertaining.
Maher doesn't seem to know anything about manga, thus sparing
us any material about the tentacle rape sub-genre. But you could
make the same point there - when comics fans seem to take that
sort of thing in stride, are they just demonstrating artistic
open-mindedness, or is there something less commendable going
it or not, comics fans have
a reputation as trivia-obsessed geeks
whose understanding of the
opposite sex derives from a
combination of hearsay and porn.
not novel opinions. People have been complaining about this sort
of thing for years. It's pretty much orthodox stuff in some segments
of fandom. The basic point certainly isn't off the wall by any
means. Maher makes it extremely badly, but others have made it
rather better. For example, Gail Simone's
Women In Refrigerators
webpage - created before she broke into the industry - considers
rather better, as well as presenting some of the counter-arguments.
(It's probably fair to say, for example, that the overwhelming
bias in favour of male superheroes to some extent reflects the
fact that they were created in an earlier era, and that it's become
virtually impossible to establish new superheroes of either gender.)
Maher's article had been written by somebody within fandom...
well, Ninth Art would probably
have rejected it, on the grounds that it was too shrill and too
reliant on out-of-date research. But that aside, coming from a
fan, the article would probably have been seen as remarkable only
in two respects: first, being a little bit over the top, and second,
using critical darling Frank Miller as an example of something
fundamentally wrong with the comics industry, which is of course
an absolute no-no.
But the reaction
to Maher's article suggested that people were outraged that this
sort of thing was being said at all, rather than simply being
irritated by the exaggeration. Maher's slapdash research provides
a hook to hang that on, of course, but it's difficult to avoid
the conclusion that the reaction to his piece was heavily tied
in with the sensitivities of comics fandom when it comes to their
portrayal in the mainstream. That applies doubly to those from
outside the superhero audience who are particularly keen to find
mainstream recognition for the glorious possibilities of the medium.
it or not, comics fans have a reputation as trivia-obsessed geeks
whose understanding of the opposite sex derives from a combination
of hearsay and porn. It would be nice to think that this was an
unfounded perception. The reality is that it may be an exaggeration,
but it's not without a kernel of truth. The comics audience acknowledges
this openly when talking among itself. It gets very shirty when
outsiders spot it - perhaps because in that context, we feel we're
being unfairly tarred by the same brush, whereas internally we
use it to distance ourselves from those nebulous and knuckle-dragging
fanboys. It is hardly surprising that outsiders see less of a
his point extremely badly. But like it or not, there is still
a point there. And if it's annoying to see that this is still
the public perception of the comics audience, that doesn't alter
the fact that it's a perception with more than a grain of truth
Paul O'Brien is the author of the weekly X-AXIS comics review.
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