Janelle Asselin pretty much rocks. Best Shots crew member and a co-host of Shots in the Dark, Janelle went on to be an Assistant Editor at Fangoria Comic, an Assistant then Associate Editor at DC Comics, and a Magazine Editor at Disney (for their Marvel kids' line). Troy and Matt swear that she's one of the best editors around, especially since she worked on "Short Straw". Janelle recently completed her Master's Thesis, which she'll soon be turning into a book. Her particular interest lies in the different ways that women participate in and are represented by the comic book industry.
What It Feels Like For A Girl (In Comics) by Janelle Asselin
|Sarah Jaffe and Janelle Asselin, Chicago 2008. You're welcome.|
Every person who loves comics has a different experience. We all have different opinions on where the value is in the industry – is it in the graphic novels that do well beyond our industry’s borders or is it in the superhero books the industry is known for? My favorite characters are not your favorite characters and if we were those kinds of people we’d probably fight about it on the internet (and maybe I’ve even done that in my younger days).
Within this geeky stew we call comics are the subset of geek ladies. We are probably rarely what you would expect. Stereotypes need not apply. We are young, old, curvy, thin, girly, tomboyish…you name it, you’ll find a geek gal like that. I think that’s easy for people to forget. Just like the men in the industry are not all like the Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons, neither are women in the industry exactly what you’d expect. And while the fight rages on for equality and acceptance for my gender in comics and beyond, we are also often blessed and cursed with experiences that male geeks will never encounter.
So here are some of my favorite and least favorite moments of being a geek woman, so that those of you who may never know what it’s like to be one can maybe spend a minute walking in my shoes. In part 2, you’ll get to hear from geek women all across the industry who wanted to share THEIR geek experiences with you (anonymously, no less, so expect some scandalous revelations. That’s probably not true, but who knows what will happen when it’s anonymous?!). Take a minute and keep an open mind.
· When I was 10, I went on vacation with my parents. I’d been reading comics I bought at gas stations and got for free at my local Pizza Hut (wooo X-Men Adventures!), but I’d never been in a comic shop. In the middle of the town we were visiting was a comic shop. I was SUPER excited. I went inside, and I looked around, and I even made eye contact with the guys working there, but no one said anything to me. They made frequent conversation with the four or so men in the store, though. All six of them spent at least a few seconds each staring intently at me, as if wondering what a 10-year-old girl was doing in that store. I browsed the racks, looking confused (frankly, I was – no one had really explained comic numbering and crossovers to me.) yet no one offered any help. I spent 20 minutes in there, laboring over what comics to buy. I finally picked out a Rogue miniseries, all of Maximum Carnage, and some pretty X-Men comics with holograms on the front (Fatal Attractions). By the time I exited the store, the only words that had been spoken to me were the total of my transaction. I was terrified of ever going into a comic shop again, because everyone there had made it quite clear I did not belong. I didn’t buy a comic again for 9 years.
· When I was 19, I was dating a fellow geek. We shared an interest in video games and genre fiction and he’d gotten me interested in anime. One day I apparently said five magical words: “I think comics are cool.” Within the week we’d gone to the comic shop and set up a pull list. I even tried those new-fangled manga things. The look in his eyes at those words had an implication—in the words of the immortal MJ: “Face it tiger, you just hit the jackpot.” This was my first taste of what being a unicorn was like. It was tempting for a long time to embrace that feeling (more on that in a second). Part of the struggle I’ve had as a geek gal is dealing with my own love of attention (yes, I admit that) versus knowing that being put on any sort of pedestal or being made into someone’s manic pixie dream girl is not actually of any value.
· Shortly after I got back into comics, I got sucked into the vortex known as Talk@Newsarama. The unicorn feeling grew and grew and grew, fed by the shock and awe demonstrated at me being a GIRL who actually wanted to talk about COMICS (and other geeky things). At the time, there were only three women active on the ‘Rama boards. We were all variously praised and insulted, people acted as if you had to “pick” one of us, and in general much of the time it seemed implied that we were all in competition. I’m not sure what for, honestly, because I certainly didn’t have a need for a harem of dudes and I don’t believe the other two women did either. It was my first experience with the world of comics beyond the friendly folks at my local comic shop, and it was definitely weird. What made it weirder was the implication (sometimes outright stated) from multiple corners that I was only “safe” from getting hit on because my significant other was also active on the boards. As if I was inviting that sort of thing simply by talking about comics or movies or music or whatever.
· Also around this time, I decided that perhaps I wanted to learn to draw things – in a manga style. (I can’t draw to save my life.) So, I went to the only resource I knew of for such a thing…my local comic shop. I asked the woman behind the counter for help in picking out some art books. She went over the pros and cons of a few different options with me, offered up her opinion, and left me feeling quite positive about the whole experience. I felt like this was a person who didn’t assume what I was interested in based on my gender or judge me for my lack of knowledge or the fact that I was only then branching out beyond superhero comics. And even better, she was another woman who was really into comics and she knew her shit. I didn’t realize at the time (again, because I was only just then branching out beyond super hero comics) that I’d just gotten art advice from a talented indie comics artist. (Thanks, if you’re reading!) And no, I still can’t draw to save my life. I might still have the drawing books, though.
· This might be my favorite anecdote about my time in comics. So I apologize if I go overboard in my enthusiasm for this one. One of my best friends is Sarah Jaffe, who some of you might know as the first woman on the Best Shots @ Newsarama team and others might know as a talented political journalist today. Sarah and I met after I became a member of the Best Shots team (Thanks, Troy!). At Wizard World Chicago 2008, we were lounging on a bed in my hotel room (this is not getting dirty - where else is there to sit in a hotel room?) and I was reading New York 4, which I had just purchased from Ryan Kelly. We took the above picture and then we hatched a plan. That plan was for a video podcast (to be hosted by Shotgun Reviews and as part of the Shots in the Dark family) called “Who’s In Bed With Sarah and Janelle?” The idea was an interview show where we talked to comics creators at conventions…in bed. But to make things totally ridiculous, instead of being sexy or cute or anything like that, we’d do said interviews in super conservative flannel PJs that totally covered us up and we’d make it clear this was not going to be flirty or sexy, it was going to be smart interviews with awesome creators. We’d draw people in by playing on the many conflicting views of women in comics – were they sexy booth babes who knew nothing about comics? Were they smart but unattractive geeks? Were they all super serious “feminazis” that hated superheroes? We wanted to show that like most women in comics, we were none of the stereotypes above – but thankyouverymuch for the hits. We talked to a handful of creators (male and female) that weekend, who all agreed to come on the show. Thanks to a grueling shooting schedule already in place for Shots in the Dark that weekend, we never shot even so much as one in-bed interview. And within two months, I was hired at DC and “Who’s In Bed With Sarah and Janelle?” had to be abandoned.
· Within my first month at DC, every single woman in DCU editorial asked me to go out to lunch individually AND in groups. As more women joined the department, we all welcomed them with open doors and more lunches. I suppose as the minority in the department we all opted to work together rather than fight it out alone or work at cross-purposes. It’s not that we all agree on everything. It’s that having a community of support is more important than the differences in how we view the world or the problems before us. I count every single one of them as a friend to this day even no longer being in the same office.
· A pretty well known male creator who I got along with very well once asked me on a visit to the office “do you read comics? I mean, like, really read comics, as in outside of work?” No, I moved across the country and accepted a fairly low-paying entry-level job in comics for funsies. I wonder how many of my male coworkers were ever asked if they “really” read comics? My guess is zero.
· A few months ago I went into a comic shop with my boyfriend for a casual browse after dinner. We separated once we were in the store, as we tend to do. As I was browsing the aisles, a guy walked up to me and stood quite close, looming over me with his 6’4”-ish frame. “You read comics?” he asked. “Yep,” I replied, clearly not looking for a conversation. “Cool. What sort of stuff do you like?” “Um, just a little of everything…” “Awesome. I really like the Batman books, you should check out Batman and Robin, it’s that one there.” “Ha-HA…great! Thanks for the tip!” I edged slowly away from him and fled to my boyfriend’s side. And no, the dude did not work at the shop and yes, he was standing closer than most people do in polite conversation.
· Some friends and I started a tradition a couple of months ago. Basically, it’s a recurring sleepover with geek girls. We gather at one of our apartments with booze and snacks in hand, and we do geeky and/or girly things. At the first such event, we watched Anne of Green Gables (and decided, BTW, that clearly Anne and Diana were in love and Anne only liked Gilbert because he looked like a dude version of Diana). The talk inevitably turns to comics because most of us are into comics. But some guests have been into politics or video games or other things that they are geeky about. It’s a really good feeling to sit in a room of women who are passionate about similar things as you and feel like you belong. So often in this industry, we are outsiders. But when we’re together, and you hear one conversation about Batgirl and another about SDCC, it’s a really good feeling. It feels like home.
Those are just a few of my experiences as a woman in comics. What are yours? Feel free to share in the comments. Part two will be posted in a few days, so keep an eye on Shotgun!