Spark mad ism.

Racism in the comics industry? I’m out to attack it like a rabid pit bull. Homophobia in comics? I’ve got a rake and some piping hot coals at the ready. Religious persecution in comics? I’ve got my Docs laced up to stamp it out. Sexism in comics? There’s sexism in comics?

I can identify sexism in comics about as well as a man with cataracts can identify a needle in a haystack. Yes, it’s easy for me to locate it when I come across something that is blatantly unfair or offensive to women, but I am often blind to subtle forms of sexism. How can I easily spot other forms of subtle bigotry and yet be so blind to sexist incidents in comics? I just don’t see it. And that’s where the problem lies. As my fellow fans protest what they see as offensive images, I’m often left scratching my head. However, I’m more than willing to give my fellow fans the benefit of the doubt. And so I carefully pour over images and reread stories, searching desperately to find what they find. And yet I come up empty. I can’t help but feel frustrated.

BatgirlBatgirl. Others have looked at this image and equated it with sexism. All I see are terrible proportions. After all, it’s rather ridiculous to draw a girl who is supposed to be a slim and silent weapon with bulbous breasts, beefy arms and a clunky utility belt. The character appears to be much too bulky for the type of slim, athletic build she is supposed to have. Still, unlike many others, I don’t have any other problems with this image. How often have we seen a male hero beaten and bloodied only to rise again ready to fight? It’s a common image in comics. It shows a character’s tenacity. Why is the outcome so different when the character depicted is female? Is there something I’ve overlooked? Many have also taken offense to Batgirl’s costume, which leaves me a bit bewildered. I find a female character that is actually covered in cloth from head to toe to be a refreshing change. And in a life or death battle with Shiva, tattered clothing is to be expected. Still, Batgirl is no Caitlin Fairchild.

I do have my own complaints though. The fact that the character is illiterate makes no sense to me. Who wants a fighter that cannot accurately process information? And to have a character that is slowly learning to become a hero and a well-adjusted human being suddenly jump on the villain bandwagon is confusing as well. And yet my concerns are very minor ones. Could it be that I am so pleased to have a character that is a member of a racial minority that I am blind to the blatant sexism before me? Why am I not seeing what so many others are?

Storm. Some have stated that the removal of Storm from the X-Books and the addition of the character to Black Panther are sexist tactics on the part of Marvel and writer Reginald Hudlin. I have to admit that I don’t understand how one could come to that conclusion. After all, many male characters have received the same treatment. Popular characters are often added to the supporting cast of a book featuring a character that is not as popular in an attempt to bolster sales and recognition. And I do not see how the removal of Storm from the pages of X-Men has diminished the character. Storm seems to be as popular as ever and the character is still actively pursing Xavier’s dream of improving human-mutant relations. As for Storm conceding to Panther in regards to political affairs…shouldn’t she? After all, he is the ruler of the nation. She is merely his spouse and advisor. And should a major event regarding mutant activism arise, I’m sure the roles would be reversed. Panther would remain in the background. Of course, we would still see the event from his point of view because he is the star of the book.

Perhaps that is what has others up in arms? That Storm is no longer part of an ensemble cast in the X-Books but is a supporting character in Black Panther? But should that matter when the character is still prominently featured in a number of high-profile Marvel comics? How could readers cry sexism when the character has been given more of a spotlight than ever before?

Is there something that other fans are seeing that I cannot? I have to admit that American comic book fans have morphed into a gigantic singular image of the boy who cried wolf to me. For years I have witnessed large groups of fans rake every black writer who has appeared on the scene over the coals, accusing each and every one of them of a wide variety of -isms and inferior craftsmanship. So when fans began to express their concerns about Hudlin in regards to Storm, I quickly dismissed them. After all, similar words were used to discredit McDuffie and Priest, who are now almost uniformly praised by fans. Why should I believe their first impressions of Hudlin to be free from the tinge of racism? Why should things be any different now?

Though could it be that years of enduring racism from fans in the comic industry have made me incapable of objectively critiquing black writers? Or is the boy simply crying wolf when there are none present once more? Could the answer lie somewhere in between?

Selective sight. So, why do I not feel the need to “rally to the cause” where sexism in comics is concerned? Why do I not put in a tenth of the effort into battling sexism in the comics industry as I do into battling bigotry against ethnic, racial, sexual, and religious minorities? After all, I am a woman. Why don’t I care as much? Perhaps it is because my race once prevented me from having to endure the same problems that women who do not share my racial background have battled. And because I did not have to endure those problems, it became hard for me to see why they were problems.

And so I laughed hysterically when female comic fans complained about artists continually depicting heroines in a sexual manner. Oh no! Men are drawing women as sexy! It was hard to take seriously because I never had to endure it. After all, the heroines being hailed as sex objects didn’t share any of my features. And after years of various forms of media telling me my skin, hair, and eyes made me undesirable, I certainly didn’t have much sympathy for those who complained about artists continually drawing heroines who shared their features as sexually alluring objects. If anything, they needed to simmer down and be thankful someone found their features desirable. They were lucky to even have characters who shared their features as heroines to begin with! I sure as hell didn’t.

Of course, my views changed as the characters changed. And I began to get more than a little uncomfortable with female characters battling in strips of cloth and high heels when the women stuffed into those outfits shared my hairstyle and skin color. Suddenly, it wasn’t as funny anymore. But I chalked it up to being a minor problem. There were much bigger fish to fry. And fewer people willing to fry them.

Though my views have changed, that clearly doesn’t mean my vision is now 20/20. I’m like a person who has sat in the shade for hours and finally decided to flip a light switch. I can recognize the basic shapes, but I’m still a bit fuzzy when it comes to all the details and nuances. But hey, at least I’m not sitting in the dark anymore. Or even worse, sitting in a brightly lit room with my hands tightly cupped over my eyes.


Where do we go from here?

Last post on the subject for a while, I promise. However, I just thought of something. Mangaka weren’t aware of how much these racist images were hurting people because no one let them know. If you care, and if you want to see a change, contact your publishers. Blog. Discuss. Speak up. Ask questions. Some of you have started doing exactly that—and now they do know. And all we can do is wait and see what they do with that information. However, ignorance can no longer be an excuse.


On second thought…

Today I received an e-mail from a reader about my blog post on Eyeshield 21. I appreciate the fact that he sent the e-mail because it really made me think about the right an artist should have to creative freedom. I’m not going to post his private comments to me, but I will post a portion of my response.

Intent to harm. Do I think the artist of Eyeshield 21 maliciously intended to reinforce negative stereotypes about black people and attempt to cause them harm? I don’t believe that is the case. However, does it matter what the intentions of the artist are if the results are the same? Even if I don’t intend to step on an individual’s foot, the pain that I might cause that person by accidentally stepping on him is still very real. Though the artist may not have intended to offend, the image still hurt me just as much as the old hateful propaganda against black people the art work was derived from.

African operations. If Viz plans to sell manga containing racist depictions of black people to black people, then I hope they will at least be honest with consumers so that individuals can make educated decisions about the books they purchase. No one wants to plunk down their hard-earned money for a book only to discover images that depict them as beasts and clowns beneath the cover. Perhaps a solution would be to place warnings on the back covers of certain books explaining to consumers that derogatory images of black people are included within the manga. Then people who aren’t disturbed by racist images of black people can continue to enjoy the work in its original unedited format and those who would be upset by it don’t have to suffer the pain of seeing it. I think this is a good solution since censorship or forcing an artist to edit his work doesn’t sit well with me the more I contemplate it.


Sambo, I am?

Since my post addressed to mangaka has been linked to, I thought I’d go into a bit more depth so I don’t come across as an irrational ranting entity! The racist image that I included in my original post? I plucked that image from volume seven of the manga Eyeshield 21. Eyeshield 21 is published in English for English-speaking countries by VIZ Media. The image I posted is from the English language version of the manga that is easily obtainable here in the United States. Volume seven of the series had a publishing date of April 4, 2006.

How many people were aware that this book contained a racist image that is humiliating to black people and still allowed this book to arrive upon American shores unedited? How many people saw that image, shrugged their shoulders, and thought that the feelings of black people were not worth the time and effort it would take to edit or remove the panel? How many people thought that the offensive image wasn’t worth calling attention to because they have bitterly accepted the idea that the Japanese have embraced racist images that are humiliating to black people and will never relinquish their desire for blackface and depictions of Sambo?

I have to admit that I was one of those people. After all, this certainly isn’t the first time I’ve come across racist images in manga. I simply shrugged my shoulders and believed that there was nothing I could do. If Japanese people wanted to embrace hateful images of black people then I had no right to stop them. What right do I have to direct the flow of another person’s culture? And how could I be upset when they had no idea of the history and hate behind those images? I wasn’t even angered by it. I was simply disappointed.

But now I’m angry, because the hate is now being shipped back to my shores to be immersed in my culture after black Americans have spent hundreds of years trying to shake it like a bad virus. And here it is again in a mutated form being packaged to our children so the world can tell them once again how ugly and insignificant it thinks they are.

“John Easum has been appointed President/Gérant of VME and will oversee all of VIZ Media’s European, Middle Eastern and African operations from Paris.”

This is where it gets frightening. African operations. Does VIZ actually have plans to sell books containing these images in African countries? I can understand them not taking African Americans into account when we only make up 12 percent of the American population, but do they really plan to distribute books containing these images to an entire continent filled with black people?

I know I come across as so very irate in this post, but I’m honestly just frustrated and lost. Where do I turn? Many of my peers have happily turned to manga after being upset by what they’ve endured from companies focused on superheroes. But all I see is are two very unappealing options. Sexist images or racist ones.


Dear Mangaka,

Eyeshield 21If you actually expect people who are not white or Asian to purchase your books, this needs to stop. Now. Seriously, the fact that I even need to type this is mind-boggling.

I’d rather be invisible than be depicted in this way. Go back to ignoring us.


Dark eyes.

Boy, I sure hope Crying Freeman improves, because when the only Black female character with a major role (or any role) in a manga series spends her first appearance being brutally raped and left naked in a filthy sewer to eat rats so she doesn’t starve to death, it kind of makes me want to kick everybody gushing about how manga is this fabulous new frontier for women right in the butt.

I suggest you all write thank you letters to Gail Simone and Lea Hernandez, because they have saved a great many of you from being kicked in the butt today. Also, how sad is it that this was the only inoffensive black female character with a major role in a manga series that I could find? A couple of years ago, this wouldn’t have been an issue, but there are a lot of American creators and companies involved with manga now who are trying to sell books to American audiences. You people can really do better. Unless you plan on committing the sins of the superhero all over again in a new genre. And I have some nice platforms in my closet ready to go to work if you do.


Fad fodder.

I’m about to open up the Celebrity Center for Rehabilitating Racists and make some money since it seems like saying/doing racist crap and then apologizing for it has become the latest fad for the rich and infamous.

“The first order of business is that the CCRR requests that all members purchase a thirty-dollar Harmony Band to wear around their wrist to symbolize their status as a recovering racist. The Harmony Band is a simple black string. We chose the color black because it contains all the colors of the visible spectrum and it reminds our followers that they too should embrace all colors and all people.

“The second order of business is that the CCRR requests that all members drink our bottled water United. Each bottle of United contains fresh spring water from each continent of our fabulous earth. Which each sip, one renews his or her commitment to embracing all members of our planet and treating each individual with respect and dignity no matter the color. A portion of the proceeds from each six-dollar bottle will go to charity.”

The crazy part is, I seriously think I’d succeed if I actually tried that. Hell, I’m two seconds away from making a website, people. Two seconds.


Swag, the sequel.

It’s time to talk about comics again, folks.

I picked up the rest of Palmiotti and Linsner’s Claws series featuring Wolverine and the Black Cat. Love it. Love it. Words cannot describe how much I love it. I love it so much that I went out and bought it since Marvel doesn’t send the office review copies of its books. Linsner is a fabulous artist who totally brings a sexy playfulness to every page he draws and Palmiotti does a wonderful job of mixing action and humor. And hopefully, I did not butcher the spelling of either man’s name in this paragraph, because I am entirely too lazy to go and look either one up.

Also wonderful is Marguerite Abouet’s and Clement Oubrerie’s Aya from Drawn & Quarterly. Aya tells the story of a teenage girl and her two friends as they attempt to assert their independence and enjoy life in the working class neighborhood of Yopougon in 1978. I adore this book because it shows a side of Africa that Americans are rarely—no, make that never—allowed to see. Romantic, prosperous, humorous, light-hearted, hopeful, idealistic. How often do we get to see an African protagonist or community with those qualities? Hell, how often do we get to see an African protagonist or community at all?

It also reminds me just how universal these coming-of-age stories and young romantic tales are. I was pleased to see how Aya’s childhood and family life seemed to closely mirror my own. However, I was clearly born to a different culture and generation than the lead character.

Though Aya would feel at right at home on a bookshelf next to independent graphic novels such as Love & Rockets, it should also feel right at home on a shelf next to several manga titles geared towards young girls as well. However, the pessimist in me believes this book will never be placed there. Why? Because while young Americans have no problem accepting books containing a liberal dose of mainstream American and Japanese culture and images, what is black and what is African is still held up as an unwanted other in those circles. It is an ugly truth, but it is a truth nonetheless. So while the tales are so very similar, brown skin seems to make them all too different in the eyes of readers.

Though maybe, just maybe, the comics community will prove me wrong this time. And I will be all too pleased to be as wrong as can be.


A marvelous idea.

Normally I don’t post comments I’ve posted on other sites in my journal, but I’m going to make an exception with this post because I find the topic quite interesting.

The topic? The mixed media crossover between CBS’s Guiding Light and Marvel Comics. On the November 1 episode of the daytime soap opera Guiding Light, actress Beth Ehlers plays Harley Davidson Cooper, a woman who is given special powers due to a freak accident. Cooper is a major character in the Guiding Light cast. Marvel has produced an eight-page story featuring Marvel characters and Guiding Light characters to celebrate the event, and the story will appear in the issues of several Marvel comics.

Soap operas have had wacky stories like this before. Many soap operas are known for having “fantasy moments” where they stick their characters in a completely different setting with new stories. They’ve had characters travel back in time to the Old West and visit futuristic underground cities. This is the first time I’ve heard of a superhero story though.

I think it’s a great way to reach a new audience. Unfortunately, companies need to have something to sell to that audience once they have their attention or else it’s pretty much a waste of time. What does Marvel have right now to offer the stay-at-home mother who wants to forget about the pile of laundry and her screaming kid, or the homesick college student who wants something comforting and familiar, or the tired working woman who wants to zone out with a romantic fantasy before the night shift starts? How about the female viewer who wants a damn good romantic story and a heroine to root for? Marvel has some amazing books, but for the most part, those amazing books feature power fantasies for men and boys. And the books that don’t are for a much younger audience than the one watching soap operas. Does Marvel even have a romance comic geared towards grown women? Why not? What about an action comic that stars a woman and features a heavy dose of romance? If I worked at Marvel, I would have had something lined up to sell to these women. Maybe a Dakota North series or something with Friday Foster. Hell, even Daughters of the Dragon or She-Hulk could have been slightly retooled to fit.

But something tells me the women who watch soap operas will be reading manga romances and books like 12 Reasons Why I Love Her long before women interested in soaps will ever really be courted by Marvel and DC (not counting CMX/Vertigo/Milestone). Manga and independent comic companies already have the daughters and little sisters hooked, and they don’t have to change their product all that much to snag the mothers and older sisters too. Nor do they even have to change the place where they’ve set up shop. After all, women are in the manga/graphic novel section all the time. Someone has to go in and drag those kids and teens out of Borders.

Still, I think it was a good idea that will get the women watching soaps to think about superheroes. And once they do a little research, they’ll see that Marvel has some fabulous superhero books that are geared towards their husbands, boyfriends, younger siblings, and kids. And while they’re buying comics for all those other people, maybe they’ll drift a step or two over and buy some indie and manga books for themselves.

Also, many of the old cast members from B- and C-level nerdbait shows like Mutant X often go on to star as heartthrobs in soaps. Those actors can be wonderful marketing tools if used correctly. Someone should look into that.


Girlie girls and wicked women.

Okay, I went to a “Girls’ Night Out” event hosted by Shecky’s last night.

It was horrible.

I don’t know why I continue to go to these “ladies’ events” when they almost always suck. Perhaps I don’t enjoy them because I’m not a “lady.” I’d say about 40 percent of the shopping booths there were devoted to jewelry (which I hardly every wear) and a good 50 percent of the booths contained overpriced clothes and handbags that I could get for a fraction of the price at any New Jersey mall.

Official tangent: People may make fun of New Jersey, but our malls kick the butts of the malls in every other state. I know you jerks are going to Jersey to shop, because I keep seeing cars with NY and PA plates hogging up all the damn parking spaces. Stop making fun of Jersey or deal with buying overpriced items in your own state.

And now we return you to your regularly scheduled post.

Anyway, another chunk of the booths was dedicated to selling “women’s interest” books. Apparently, the following topics fascinate your average woman:

  • How to get a man.
  • How to get over a man.
  • How to get over on a man.

Booo! That is absurd! Here’s my lists of interests:

  • Electronic gadgets.
  • Home improvement.
  • Dance music.
  • Graphic novels.
  • Science fiction.
  • Lotions and shampoos that smell like food.
  • Cute doggies.

I am not concerned with how to get a man or keep a man. Either he wants me or he doesn’t. I am also not concerned with how to get over on a man because that’s just cruel. And honestly? None of the women I know are interested in those topics either. It’s not as if I belong to a clique of fabulously enlightened chicks. We’re all just average women you encounter everyday. I guess I’m just annoyed that these events cater to such a narrow selection of women. And it’s a selection of women that I (and most other women) have very little in common with. Most women are interested in purchasing more than just clothes, accessories, and books about relationships with men.

Anyway, nothing is all bad. There were some cool things about the event. One, they actually included a graphic novel in the goodie bag! Yes, it was a title geared towards young girls, but I’m still thrilled that comics are now considered something that women are interested in. Two, I had Rice Krispie treats dipped in the most fabulous vanilla glaze ever! They were from Dip, a fondue restaurant in NYC. Plus, there were a couple of nice self-help books there that amazingly had nothing to do with men.

Finally, NJ Transit had massive train delays and it took me forever to get home.


Body to body.

Something that has begun to trouble me where comics are concerned is the fact that more and more artists are using porn stars and fashion models as a reference when drawing superheroines. Stop doing this. Please. I’m begging you.

Fashion models and porn stars may have bodies that are sexually attractive to men, but they do not have bodies that exhibit exceptional power and strength. And if you are going to have a career that involves beating up criminals and chasing after miscreants, strength is something you need. To depict male heroes as powerful champions and depict female heroes as erotic objects who pose in uncomfortable positions that elicit a sexual response from men is unbelievably insulting and misleading. And it exposes artists who use porn stars and fashion models as a reference for the lazy bastards that they are. They don’t care about getting it right. They care about getting off.

What’s so sad is that if these artists were willing to do just five minutes of research, they’d find a whole slew of photos of women who are both strong and sexually attractive. Just go to Google Image Search and type in fitness competitor. Or pick up an issue or two of Oxygen magazine.

It’s that simple, people.


More hate.

Hmmm. It seems as if I have compiled my hate list rather prematurely. I didn’t give 50 Cent a chance to say something mind-numbingly stupid this week. Now’s your chance, 50!

“Oprah’s great. I just think the only misconception is that she’s a black woman. They say Oprah Winfrey’s a black woman, but she’s [been] catering to a demographic of a middle-aged white women for so long that I believe she’s a middle-aged white woman.”

Okay! Anything else?

“Oprah will have a rapist on her show and have a discussion about why they do it, but won’t have a rags-to-riches story on her show. She’ll have Kanye West on her show. I think Middle America would rather have they kids be gay, than have them aggressive.”

Nice. First of all, anyone who has watched just one episode of The Wire (which is the best show on television) knows damn well that gay and aggressive are not mutually exclusive. Omar will cut you. Second, Oprah brings rapists on her show so she can (1) verbally tear into them and (2) give women information on how they can protect themselves and their loved ones from the horror of sexual assault. That is extremely important. Promoting a rapper who is enjoying the fourteenth minute of his fifteen minutes of fame is not.

Third? Your consumer base does not determine your race. If that were the case, 50 would be a white male teenager with a great deal of money to spend on substandard entertainment. Hell, your DNA doesn’t even determine your race. Race is as arbitrary as human behavior. It can change just by booking a flight to a different country. Hey, remember when people from Spain used to be white? Me too.

Okay, that’s enough of the hate. Let’s get back to the love!


Hair therapy.

I have three major pet peeves when it comes to art in comics. Here they are in order of importance:

  • Women drawn like preteen-boys with breast implants.
  • Asian people that are drawn with European features.
  • Black women with ridiculous hairstyles.

Today we are going to talk about number three. Billy Tucci?

Misty Knight

What the hell is this? Seriously. I require you to explain this to me. You are a good artist. If you weren’t a good artist, I would let you slide on this. But since you are a good artist, I’m gonna have to bring it to you. This? Unacceptable. You couldn’t spend three dollars on a black hair care magazine? I would have sent you one for free, man. That is how much Misty’s new hairstyle pains me. The woman looks like she has a hat on. I’ll be the first one to admit that black women have a ridiculous variety of hairstyles and hair textures. However, the majority of us usually don’t like to wear all of them on our heads at once. Kinky or straight. Pick a texture and go with it. Because I am so kind, I have provided you with some examples of good hairstyles. Make way for the awesome.

See? It’s all love, man. It’s all love.

Coming soon: Monica Rambeau. Walking Hair Atrocity.


A girl like me.

Go watch this documentary. It’s short and powerful. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Back? Good.

The doll test? Heartbreaking. And the saddest part is, that as bad as I feel watching that little girl slide that black doll across the table, I feel even worse knowing that I made my mother feel just as angry and as frustrated as I feel right now.

I can’t even imagine how horrified my mother must have felt, watching her daughter wail and stomp her feet in the department store for all to see, just because she was not going to purchase the white Barbie doll that her daughter so desperately wanted, but was going to purchase a black Barbie doll for her instead. The first one ever made. In 1980.

And I distinctly remember being so very angry with my mother, because I wanted a doll with long, shiny straight hair, and she had given me what I considered to be a substandard replacement. The black doll had a short Afro, and in my eyes, that made the black doll ugly. Hideously ugly.

I threw such a tantrum that my mother decided to purchase both the white doll and the black doll. And when we would play together, she would play with the black doll and I would play with the white doll. And after a few months of mistreatment (preschoolers don’t make for very good caretakers) the white doll began to look dingy and ugly. And I shyly asked my mother if I could play with her doll, which had remained well cared for.

My mother handed me the doll and told me that I could play with it, as long as I remembered that the doll was very special and deserved to be treated as such. And I did remember.

Of course, that was the last doll I had that ever looked like that. Because when Mattel started to make black Barbie dolls with the long shiny hair that I always wanted, I promptly forgot about both white Barbie dolls and black Barbie dolls with Afros.

I think my mother worked very hard to teach me that my brown skin was beautiful. And that must have been extremely difficult for her when she could not offer herself as a beauty role model due to her own light skin. Plus, she had to work against not only what the mainstream culture was constantly telling me, but also what the men in my family were telling me by consistently choosing fair-skinned black women as girlfriends and wives.

But I got it. Despite what everyone else was telling me, my mother’s message finally got through. I only wish that she had told me that my hair was beautiful as well. But no one would tell me that—ever. Instead I was told that my hair was wild. Untamed. Ugly. Repeatedly.

Of course, people did tell me how pretty I could be if I would just “do something” with my hair. Which then kicked off my lifelong affair with pressing combs and hair extensions—but no relaxers though. That would cause hair loss and breakage. And the only thing more “unfeminine” than nappy hair was nappy hair that was short.

Sigh. Humanity hurts.


Gawker Stalker.

My fake ad made it into Gawker! Whee!