Archive for the ‘LADYDRAWERS / Women's Comics Anthology’ Category
My pals over at CAKE are holding a fundraiser. I’d like you to pitch in and help them meet their goal. No, wait: I’d like you to actually give them an extra thousand bucks. New goal: $4K. You have 6 days.
Why is this important? Well, I personally like these people. They’re bright, fun, and incredibly talented. And they’re putting together one of the smartest projects Chicago has seen in years.
Maybe to you it’s just another place to shop. (If so, thanks!) But for people who make comics, conventions are both professional gathering spaces and one of the only means by which to cobble together a working economic infrastructure, especially for those who want to retain control over their work.
But because of this, the way you set up your comics convention really matters. Who you invite, what resources you offer participants, what you put on the front page of your website, how much you charge. Each of these elements, and so many others, either let a different kind of person get excited about what you want to do, or makes them feel unwelcome, unaddressed, or uninterested. And although they seem small at the time, these sometimes quick decisions can have enormous, lasting impact. As we’ve seen elsewhere in the comics industry, tiny unacknowledged barriers can easily become accidental policy, which not only has an impact on who gets to work in a field, but what that field produces.
Another comics convention held annually in Chicago, C2E2, this year featured only 13% women tablers in artist’s alley, according to Dylan Sells’ research in my Ladydrawers class at SAIC; I only counted 16 women on the featured guests lists of 157 total names, making a total of a little over 10% featured women guests, which is a little better than the rates at which your average independent comic-book publisher publishes women artists (although not quite as good as your average corporate comics publisher does).
Now, compare this to our recent as-yet unpublished research (you gotta wait for it!), that found female-identified creators make up over 40% of the field, and you can start to understand why c2E2′s stats aren’t good enough. They’re just not trying! But Dylan found that CAKE’s featured guest list is 46% female, and tablers are 43% female. Which means that CAKE is one of the only comics conventions interested in presenting a full range of comics being made today. Through sheer force of math, that means that most of what you see there will be new, a lot of it will be good, and a healthy chunk of it will blow your head pure off.
So if you don’t contribute to CAKE financially, here are your options: find someone who will, or start a convention, distributor, publishing house, storefront, anthology, or educational program that opens up the field of comics in the same smart way. Six days and counting.
Ah! Do you people even know about this crazy thing we are doing over at ChezEM this summer, called the Adventure School for Ladies: Comics Intensive? For reals, it will rock your world—and there are only a few weeks left to apply! QZAP has generously agreed to create a scholarship, funding a student to attend our innovative programming. We’re still in negotiations on the name of the scholarship, but it will probably be really funny.
(If you you have money upwards of ten dollars, we will also name a scholarship fund after you. But it better have a good name.)
It looks like this:
Until you remove the underpants, when it looks like this:
If you haven’t already died of cleverness, you can download it here: Unladylike!
The Ladydrawers column has been running on Truthout for about six months now, and we’re moving now from a twice-per-month format to a monthly format starting January 10. Seemed a good time to assess our progress in investigating why gender seems to be a determining factor in a creators’ success in comics and other media. Or maybe the pending New Year just has me wanting to restrategize?
As I’ve explained in other forums, it’s a strange project for me because it’s actually rooted in capitalism in a way that most of my work really is not. Arguing for equal representation as mediated figures and as creators of media is not only a demand for more equitable distribution of financial profits, it’s also an argument to acknowledge the impact of cultural capital on financial capital. But publishing is a form of media, and media is very much about the accrual and disbursement of capital, particularly that which supports further accrual and disbursement of capital. In fact, I’m beginning to believe that media-making might be the purest form of global capitalism there is, and the consistent disinterest in including women’s voices across all media forms not specifically intended to support women’s voices may be a design flaw in capitalism itself, and not, you know, a weird coincidence of biological difference, patriarchal thinking, or secret old boys’ networks that, like the deep tunnel system of Chicago, lurk beneath and control us all.
That’s a theory for another time, because the intention of the Ladydrawers series and project in general (classes and publications inclusive) is to explore and describe the experiences of creators who don’t fit that uber-succesful profile, who in comics tend to look male, and white, and express an interest in seeing a lot of naked ladies. And to draw out commonalities and observations among such creators that may build a more precise picture of “the man” that’s “keepin’ us down.” Yet it’s also a project, as I say, with capitalist intentions: partnering with a different lady-identified comics creator for each installment creates a small economy for women cartoonists. (Other projects that claim to support the visibility of women cartoonists but do not actually create an economy for them have emerged since Ladydrawers started—and will certainly continue to emerge, for reasons this recent Forbes column by my pal Susannah Breslin points out.)
Well, so, where are we? The observations of Alison Bechdel (part 1, part 2, and part 3), a successful ciswoman lesbian cartoonist, hold particular weight, as does the experience of the beloved Julie Doucet (part 1 and part 2, parts 3 and 4 still to come), who stopped making comics for personal reasons directly relevant to her gender. “It was an all-boys crowd,” she explained to me over the phone in 2007. (You probably want to check out her Tumblr.) Although seemingly read only by die-hard fans of each cartoonist, and not necessarily as a part of a larger story, these interviews underscore the precarity most members of the profession feel at some point or another. I gotta give a shout-out, too, to Gabrielle Gamboa‘s really great stark, graphic strips, and Aidan Koch‘s fantastically subtle work with the Doucet interview. Seeing these two totally diverse approaches to representing the work of established cartoonists was really great fun.
Our most popular post, by my estimation although without the Truthout metric to back me, was “How to Draw Comics the New 52 Way.” This was a jokey, snarky look at DC’s total reboot drawn by independent cartoonist Mardou, who was a complete blast to work with. (She was also the first totally new artist I’d come across in the course of doing this project.) But I will say that calling one of the Big Two out on sexist representations of women wasn’t very fulfilling, like claiming political bias on Fox News. Duh. But how do those representations, and who gets to make them, actually silence certain participants? That’s the question.
Of course there are plenty of joke theories—easy explanations the disgruntled harp on to explain a lack of success in any industry. Artist Christa Donner and I reworked an earlier collaboration for “Why Have There Been No Great Women Comics Artists?” (part 1, part 2, and part 3). But more important are the cold hard facts. Basic stats about women in comics (and literature), numbers about how women who are represented are clothed, who is publishing comics, who they are hiring, and how they are valuing this work. (Strips by Lucy Knisely, Sara Drake, and MariNaomi. All awesome.)
So this is where we’re at: female cartoonists have fewer paid work opportunities than male cartoonists at most of the biggest US publishers; female characters are more likely to appear underdressed or naked in more comics; and female cartoonists often see their work valued lower than male peers. Whether the companies publishing this work are independent or corporate-owned doesn’t seem to make much of a difference. It’s funny because it’s true. Oh wait, it’s not all that funny. It’s just true.
Where we hope to bring the strip from here is a little more complicated: That the above may be true for women cartoonists doesn’t mean that it is only true for women cartoonists, and my hunch is that cartoonists of color may find similar barriers and see equally offensive representation. But also, and perhaps more significantly, we’d like to find a way to investigate how the above factors operate economically. Which means collecting data about page rates and percentages. From everyone who will provide it. Of course, we’ll have to fold in our already-begun look at how these factors, combined, begin to abut gender bias and sexual harassment laws. And, we’ll collect some data that may give us a definitive answer to the assertion that there just aren’t that many women cartoonists interested in the form by looking really closely at the field of self-publishing.
But more immediately (in installments running in January and March), Mickey Zacchili—one of my very favorite cartoonists—will compare findings on women in comics with women in other media. In sort of an off-putting, pukey green.
… has forwarded me this comic since it first appeared on BoingBoing, which gets at/comments on/attracts more of the same BS as the comments on the Ladydrawers column at Truthout (which, because it isn’t quit linked together properly on the original site yet, I’ll attach in order at the base of this post.)
I’m using it as an excuse to post the bingo cards made by one of the amaze-balls Ladydrawers Research Team, Nicole Boyett, who did, yes, read through thousands of shitty Internet responses to make this and another equally hilarious game, proving once and for all that if you spend enough time thinking about it, institutionalized sexism is an effing kick in the pants, man.
- Ladydrawers 1: Introducing Ladydrawers
- Ladydrawers 2: In Comics World, Women Are Invisible
- Ladydrawers 3: No Great Women Comics Artists?
I know. I promised you an in-depthe something about the process behind Unladylike, the new Ladydrawers anthology, and instead of giving it to you I hopped on a plane to fucking Georgia. We’re not talking peach trees and land of Coke, here, no. Former Soviet state? So in addition to trying to figure out how to find food I can eat and keep jellyfish out of my hair and drinking the best and right kind of wine with every single meal, I have been getting to know new money and meeting new people I can barely communicate with and subsequently, no further details about Unladylike have yet emerged.
It’s possible that this will end up being for the best, in the long run.
Still. The last couple weeks have seen a couple interesting development in the world of Ladydrawers, including the launch of my new column at Truthout (first installment with MariNaomi here and the second, with Sara Drake, here)—that’s been revered, reviled, and otherwise noted by reasonable people I respect. (Here’s one particularly well thought-out response by Shaenon K. Garrity on Comixology.) And, although I haven’t yet seen it, my collabo with Susie Cagle was published in the latest edition of Annalemma Magazine. Chris Heavener did a very nice interview with me for it here.
The actual Ladydrawers, that is, the folks who came and worked with me on the anthology this summer at Ox-Bow, have also been busy. Mostly making comics. Often about how dumb the Internet is. Here’s Rachel N. Swanson’s “Comments on the Internet,” featuring actual comments, transcribed into ponyspeak, from the “Introducing Ladydrawers” column with MariNaomi linked above. (She was also involved in a Vocalo interview on our work together that I can hardly wait to repost here.)
Finally finally finally, I’m totally thrilled to announce that over on the sadly underutilized but miraculously well visited Ladydrawers blog, Janelle Asselin has contributed some original research into readership and cultural expectations in comics. Including:
From a pool of 59% self-identified male respondents, most of whom have been reading comics for over ten years, 82% listed their favorite comics creator as male. Most (92%) don’t consider gender when buying new comics, and 70% don’t think that comics, as a medium of expression, appeal to women. Maybe what’s most interesting to me are her questions about marketing. Most (92% again) feel comics are not marketed effectively to women, but most claim to buy comics based mostly on reviews of them. Which means, as far as I’m concerned, that of course comics are marketed as effectively to women as Kotex Maxipads are to men. And we know already that the reasons people don’t buy stuff isn’t exclusively about the ways in which things are marketed—sometimes the product itself is no good. And if respondents themselves are telling you: Hey, we prefer to read a supposedly neutral third-party take on work in this medium anyway—then what’s going to change the readership of comics isn’t going to be more effective marketing strategies, but a wider and more vocal array of critics writing about comics.
And more, hopefully, soon.
Also at Ox-Bow with my ridiculously talented crew of unladylike drawers: we made a sock puppet show out of internet responses to our postcard project. Many of these appear in a more thought-out final form in our anthology, Unladylike, which you will probably not get a copy of. Sorry. Still, the puppet show is a little bit awesome, if you like combatting structural inequity through funny voices and stuff.
I was out in the woods at Ox-Bow for two weeks with the most amazing group of collaborators working on Unladylike, our latest foray into research-based comics slash agit-prop slash giggling. We finished it yesterday running on very little to no sleep for several consecutive days and to celebrate, we put up a little exhibition of all the odds and ends that didn’t go into the book but that were really fun and smart and good.
Since most of the work that we did was collaborative, we came up with a kind of neat concept for the show, that we’d have a wall of mix-n-match drawings—
because it was super fun to, say, put the dialogue from the ant-attack drawing onto the melancholy triangle—and then another wall we would just put up some drawing paper and have people draw.
Which, kind of amazingly, they did.
Then of course we had to deinstall this morning on our way out of town. But considering it was thrown together in a couple hours by people who were totally finishing a super hard-core book, it was a really fantastic show.
(More on the book and the process later. I hope!)
Lots of things going on over at ChezEM these days, the most exciting developments of which is: THE LADYDRAWERS COLUMN! Starting in the middle of June, and with the help of a different amazing comics artist every other week, I’ll be presenting my decade-or-so worth of research into comics, media, and gender on Truthout.org.
Who’s drawing the first episode, you ask? Why, it’s MariNaomi, the San Francisco-based creator of the truly compelling new graphic memoir Kiss & Tell: A Romantic Resume, Ages 0 to 22 (Harper Perennial) and the long-running, self-published Estrus Comics (est. 1998). (Who I don’t think realizes I put her on the cover of The Comics Journal #237, on our famed women-in-comics issue, guest edited by Mary Fleener.)
Equally exciting is the four-page cover feature coming out in Annalemma at the end of the month that distills a few of our latest findings on how gender effects contemporary comics publishing (and how it doesn’t). A collaboration with Susie Cagle, the piece is a direct follow-up to those in the series previously published in Tin House, as the Women’s Comics Anthology, and in Bitch Magazine.
Hear more about the project on the Matthew Filipowicz Show. I’ll post updates as the installments go live!
UPDATE: Apparently we’ve been “found out.”
If you have not yet seen my Bitch magazine collaboration with Esther Pearl Watson and James Payne (previewed here), and also you live in a deep hole in the ground from which you never emerge, it will shock—simply shock, I say!—you to hear that there is a gender problem in comics publishing that far surpasses that in the word-exclusive literary world.
Esther and I have yet to sort out next steps for the project (she’s really busy right now drawing my next book cover, among a zillion other likely more important things), and I don’t want to put it online until we have that settled. What I can do is post the charts and graphs I built from the 60+ women and trans people working in comics and used to illustrate to Esther—and, OK, to my students and in other talks I’ve been giving on this topic for the last year—the enormity of the problem.
And the problem in comics is manifold. It encompasses content, editorial control, publishing access, marketing support, target demographics, and gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment of, well, everyone. It’s a mess, as the students who work with me on sorting it out every year at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago would most certainly agree. But what is clear is that women leave the comics industry earlier and are given less opportunities to publish work without doing it themselves. And that even those who stay in the industry, get supported by publishers, and find dedicated audiences have horrific stories to tell about gender-based discrimination, sexual harassment, and poverty.