Welcome to part 2 of “What It Feels Like For a Girl (In Comics),” my sharing of anecdotes about how we ladies experience the industry. In Part 1 you heard about some of my experiences, and now it’s time for you to hear from other women in the industry. Some of these are pulled from the survey I did as part of my thesis while others I solicited from a variety of women in the industry. All of them are anonymous, which means in some cases, you’re hearing stories that these women wouldn’t ordinarily tell.
· I was a comics critic several years ago, and in a comic-book shop for an event. When I went up to the counter with my purchases, the clerk remarked that I had extraordinary taste for a girl. I didn't want to tell him anything about myself, so I took it as a compliment, although it was an extremely back-handed one, and deeply insulting. He continued, however, to remark, loudly that I had really good taste and that he knew how hard it was for girls in comics. Of course he was flirting, but he did not also realize that he was being pedantic, protective, and silencing in an attempt to be charming and supportive. Then he suggested I look up my own work, as a critic, if I were interested in women in comics.
· I worked in a comic book store for 7 years and there were many male customers who refused to listen to my suggestions and could not believe that I would know anything about comics.
· Once when my boyfriend and I were babysitting his 9-year old niece and two older nephews, we decided to take them to our LCS. We were pretty excited to share our interests with the kids and just maybe get them interested too. The boys wandered off to look at toys and the niece, an avid reader, made a beeline for the week's comics. But my excitement quickly turned to dismay, because we couldn't find a comic that was both interesting to her and safe for her to read. "What about this one?" she asked, holding up a comic with Little Red Riding Hood on the cover--she knows what she likes, and fantasy and fairy tales are her favorites. "Nooo," I said, "I don't think so." I flipped through and my impression from the cover--that this was a T&A comic--was confirmed by the interior pages. She asked why not, and I know she's a smart kid, so I explained that I could tell by the way the girls on the cover were drawn, with big boobs and broken backs and tiny clothes. Just in case she ever goes to a comics shop with her mom, I want her to know what to look for and what to avoid. We grabbed a copy of Batgirl instead.
· On more than one occasion, a formerly SUPER friendly comics pro became frosty and distant upon meeting my husband. It happened enough times that I finally realized it wasn’t just in my head – these men were friendly to me when they thought I was an attractive single fan of theirs, but were less friendly when they realized I was taken.
· Not all publicity is good publicity. I have been making comics for the past four years and have recently been in a long-term relationship with another cartoonist who has a high public profile. Due to the professional dynamic of our relationship, we had spent countless hours discussing the importance of keeping the relationship private. To me, it was essential to ensure that I wasn't validated through proximity to his fame or relegated to side-kick status. Yet, even constant discussion wasn't enough of a deterrent to keep our personal lives separate from our comics lives. During an interview for a dating website he was asked, "Has being a cartoonist gotten you laid?" and I was his answer (why a dating website would consult cartoonists for sex advice or why an artist would consent to that is beside me) - "she's beautiful to look at" and "I guess you could say she was a fan". In other words, I was rendered a googly-eyed fangirl. Perhaps he could have mentioned that we met through an event that I had co-organized or that I was a fellow cartoonist whose work he also purportedly respected, or that I was the one editing the book that got him the interview in the first place.
· I sort of took for granted the fact that I always bought my comics at the bookstore and grocery store growing up, assuming it was because the closest comics shop was 45 minutes away. But recently, while discussing women and comics, my mom explained to me the real reason. First some backstory: My mom and I have always been close and have similar taste. In middle school I made quick work of her sci-fi/fantasy novel collection (aside from the ones she made me wait until high school to read). She had read a lot of her older brother's comics growing up, so when I showed an interest in manga and comics around the age of 13 she didn't freak out like some moms might. She planned a day at the comic book store, looking one up in the Yellow Pages (this was before our family acquired the internet) and driving me out there herself. But she was uncomfortable from the moment we walked in until we left 30 minutes later. Not because of the hot anime girl posters and figurines--she knew to expect that. But because of how all the grown men in the shop wouldn't stop staring at her and her 13-year-old daughter.
· In my time in comics, the only person to ever accuse me of using my gender to “get my way” was a female creator, who said I’d manipulated the men involved and that they would eventually figure out what I was. It was extremely disappointing to have another woman attack me in such a way, not to mention unwarranted and unfair.
· Before Twitter, I had never met another woman who read comics. I knew that they existed but I had never personally encountered one. It was incredible to find a community of women who not only love, create, and support comics, but urge other women to read them. I'm a big fan of sword fights, epic gun battles, and comics of a more violent nature. Finding other women who enjoy these things as well has been a great experience! They've also opened my eyes to a whole new world of comics written and drawn by women. Blogs like Girls Read Comics, Too spotlight women creators and showcase their amazing work. We are creating a world where little girls can grow up knowing that they are not alone in their nerdy interests, and it's wonderful.
· When I'm talking to men about comics, it's a common occurrence that they'll re-cap the story as if I didn't actually read it. It's really weird and happens pretty often.
· There are a lot of awesome things about being a chick in comics. One of the main ones is the access it gives you. In a mostly male-driven industry, being a girl, and being able to hang and joke with the boys (creators, we'll get to editors in a minute) has been invaluable. I know being a girl has opened certain doors for me as far as meeting people and making connections go.
As far as the editorial side: forget it. Maybe it's just my particular company. but I feel like, if you are a girl, and look and act a certain way, it is frowned upon. And forget promotion.
It's a double-edged sword, and to be honest, it's part of what's driving me out of this industry.
· I suppose the only problem I've had is the assumption that I don't know comics. My dad basically raised me on comics and I started actively buying them when I was about 12, so I'd say I'm pretty knowledgeable when it comes to what's what.
But if I go to a convention or a comic shop with my boyfriend (who's new to comics), I get immediately ambushed by people trying to "teach me" stuff. That's annoying because my bf is the one who needs help and can be seem aimlessly walking around not knowing his CrossGen from his IDW and I have to make it known that I don't need help. But even then, there are people who hover around me "just in case."
I kind of hate admitting this, but there have also been those who think I'm gay because of my open love of the medium. When I started reading comics, I'd get the name-calling and my mom questioning why I'm reading some of the things I read. I had to explain to lots of people that I just love comics and I don't feel I should have to explain something I enjoy.
· Fuck, I don't think men realize how incredibly intimidating it is to walk into a supremely male dominated space, that is filled with male dominated products, or products of females that are intended to hit the male gaze target. It. Is. Awful.
I've been treated like an idiot. I've been instantly directed to the manga section - because that's all girls want, right? - and asked if I need any help understanding the characters. I've been pressured by male staff members to listen to their endless fanboy rants about whatever, I've been ridiculed for my title choices, etc etc.
Comic book shops are the worst.
· A higher up at my former employer once told me that I needed to fire my artist because we needed an artist with a little more… and then he made a gesture that looked like he was pantomiming boobs, with his hands curving from his clavicle to his ribs. I looked at him and very calmly said “You REALLY need to stop making that gesture.” He said he didn’t mean anything by it; he was just talking with his hands. He got his way, I fired my artist and more boobs were added to the comic. Because there was really no other recourse for me. If I’d spoken up, accused him of sexual harassment or whatever, the job would’ve become miserable.
· I actually had more difficulty as a new reader of comics than I have as a female reader of comics. I had to research and search out comics on my own as there were few people who wanted to engage with me and my interests. I was told what was popular, but not asked my own preferences. I was sometimes looked down on for my choice of comics. It took a long time for me to feel comfortable in a comic book shop, and that was as a result of getting to know the industry and products on my own, never with any help. As a woman, I am occasionally overlooked and ignored, still dismissed for some of my comic preferences, and excluded from some comic related activities but I have become used to being alone with my interest. I would prefer a more welcoming comics market so that I could meet more people like myself, new to comics, with alternative interests.
· I often hear or, more often, read on the internet, aspiring artists discussing art style in terms of gender. The most depressing thing is to listen to female artists lament that people might "guess" that they were a woman based on their art. I once read someone on Tumblr say that their biggest goal is to have someone think they were a man when they saw their picture. There was no reason given. The entire discussion was pretty cissexist too, if I might add.
· I used to go to a comic shop where no one every said a word to me. No, "Hey how you doing" or "Anything I can help you with?" - nothing. When a guy walked in he'd a get a "hey".
I hated it. I didn't have another LCS at the time so I stopped going for awhile and got a mail subscription.
Later I found a shop where they were happy to see me and one of the guys would save me stuff like miniseries that I might like and Batgirl figures. It was such a difference. I think back on the first shop and it makes me sad. The other shop is bit of hike now but I still try and visit it because they were so welcoming.
· I was at Chicago Comic-Con with friends, and like most every other professional or semi-professional, I hit the hotel bar afterward. As I leaned against the railing with my drink, I was approached by a guy--generic dude--who started to tell me about his comic shop. He stood about a half-step too close for my personal comfort and asked me which books I read. When I named one, he started to explain that creator's books to me, finishing up by telling me that he'd just done a signing at his shop.
I politely nodded, waited for him to wander away, then checked my BlackBerry to find a new text--from that same comic creator. Laughing, I texted back, "I think I just got hit on by a guy namedropping you at me."
· I've always been torn about hot girls in comics because I'm bisexual and heck, the pretty girls are part of why I got interested as a hormonal teenager. In fact, my sexuality has always been closely tied to my geekery. As a little kid I would tell myself fanfics to help me fall asleep, which turned into fantasies once I was a little bit older. Then there was one time in middle school when my mom caught me watching an anime with naked girls ("What, Mom? It's not like it's something I've never seen in the mirror."). In high school I was a member of the Anime Club, along with several girls I had a crush on--we'd sit on the floor watching the week's anime, while I braided their hair and worried whether I'd have to stop that kind of thing if I ever came out. I started writing my fanfiction down in high school after reading Harry Potter, and discovered the vast fanfiction community online. It was a relief to find that other people online had the same perversions (at least at that point, that's how I thought of them) as I did. There were even a couple of girls at school who also wrote fanfiction, of the chaste variety. And it was a big moment for me in college when I finally started writing and posting my own slash fanfics. So thank goodness for geekdom, or else I'd still be a sexually confused little girl. Of course now, as a somewhat feminist woman, I understand that a lot of what I appreciated as a teenager was never meant for me, a girl, and is actually degrading--so in a way I'm right back to feeling small and confused.
· I used to own a comic book store for 7 years. My biggest issue was not being taken seriously in the business community because I was female in a niche market that generally caters for men. People really need to get over themselves and become less judgmental.
· Girls love sleepovers. Whether you're 10 or 32, there's something wonderful and comforting about hanging out with a great group of like-minded ladies in your pajamas and tauntaun sleeping bags. I was lucky enough to be part of two sleepovers with some fantastic comics-loving women. One of my favorite moments from the sleepovers was a conversation over who would win in a pillow fight: Superman or Batman? Most everyone said Batman because... well, he's Batman and he always has a plan to take Supes down. Personally, I think you've got to go with Superman. Pillow fights aren't about strategy and battles and winning. They're about fun and silliness and friendships, like sleepovers with your besties. And Superman would totally get that.
· A cool thing was I was at a family cookout with my nephew who is 20 and he introduced me to a bunch of his friends as his aunt "who knows everything about comics." And I spent the afternoon being peppered with questions by a bunch of young guys and not once did they think they knew more than I did. They were great.
· Once a comic publisher employee mentioned the fact we were moving to the same city and that they really wanted to talk about the future of their company. While I thought I was getting hired, they were actually looking to date me. No thanks!
There you have it. Not every woman in comics will have these experiences or even these kinds of experiences. But they are, for better or worse, part of what makes our community within a community. Many thanks to Troy for reopening the old stomping grounds and for being an ever-supportive friend when it comes to everything I do in comics, but especially in regards to women and comics.