Category Archives: Women in ComiXX

A Muslim Superheroine Who Doesn’t Take Any Nonsense!

Great initial sketch that I’d reblogged here from artist Deena’s TUMBLR – of a Muslim superheroine. She needs to run with this!

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The Art of a Comic with a Cause: Interview with “BRANDED” Author Rodrigo Caballero

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Comics With a Cause co-founders Rodrigo Caballero and Babette Santos

Ad Astra: You’re in the final stretch of your Indiegogo campaign! How would you describe the experience so far?

Rodrigo: Running my first Indiegogo campaign has definitely been a huge learning curve, especially for someone like myself whose knowledge (not to mention enthusiasm!) for the ins and outs of social networking platforms is not always up to par. Definitely my eyes have been opened to the idea of crowd funding- there is so much potential for doing advocacy and charitable work on the Internet, but so much time and effort to be invested as well. The sheer diversity of initiatives and ideas being funded right now through crowd funding, however, is mind-blowing and it’s exciting times for people with new and innovative ideas. I very much see our indiegogo campaign as the humble first steps taken in a longer path of development.

AA: The concept of a web comic about a subject matter like domestic abuse must have been new for some people.

R: Yes, definitely new, although it seems that’s been a positive thing for most people learning about the project, especially for those already working in the field of violence against women in a supportive capacity. There seems to be a thirst for new approaches to raising awareness of the topic. Violence against women is a very difficult subject to broach because it makes most people uncomfortable and it’s not the sort of thing one hears brought up in day-to-day conversations. For the most part, there’s been an unwritten code of silence that underlies the topic of violence against women in society. I think comics and graphic novels have a lot of potential, because if you can’t confront people directly about it at first, you can at least have them read about it in a format other than news reporting or statistics and if the story is compelling enough, they can and hopefully will talk about it with others. Expressing the subject in the form of a story allows for discussion in a manner that’ s a little less direct but hopefully still engaging. That’s the theory anyway!

AA: And what kind of spectrum of feedback have you gotten?

R: The feedback I’ve received on through our CWAC campaign has been overwhelmingly positive and for the most part people (including individuals working for organizations) have demonstrated a lot of enthusiasm for the idea. There seems to be a notion that a comic series addressing violence against women has a lot of educative potential as well (i.e. lots of comments about using this in the classroom and with younger audiences). I’m flattered by this sentiment and indeed part of me hopes “BRANDED” does one day make it to classrooms but admittedly there is also a small part of me that is wary of it. And that’s because there may be an assumption underlying this that comics/graphic novels is something for kids. Of course, audiences already familiar with the medium know that this limiting stereotype was broken a long time ago and that many of the most successful graphic novels have handled very serious or political subjects in  very unconventional yet compelling ways and in a manner that is unique to the medium. The other thing is that when we slap the word ‘education’ on something, it can carry a lot of baggage with it, just as the term ‘entertainment’ can. This comes from outmoded ways of thinking that equate learning with textbooks and grading and entertainment with passive consumption. I think there’s a lot of room for unpacking these terms and exploring comics as more of a liminal space.

AA: Let’s go back a bit. Where did the idea of “BRANDED” originate from? Were you inspired by other comic books already out there? What about the subject matter?

R: Like many others, the clincher for me in terms of what comics are capable of accomplishing was reading Art Spiegelman’s Maus and works by Alan Moore and Marjane Satrapi. Regrettably, in terms of raising awareness of violence against women, my familiarity with the phenomenon (also like many others) comes from knowing someone who has experienced sexual assault and having an intimate understanding of the traumatic and dispiriting effects that accompany it.

My idea for writing “BRANDED” in particular came from attending a panel on National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women last December. Part of the event featured an installation where about a hundred black cut-out silhouettes of women were positioned everywhere and each one featured a short real-life account of a woman’s experience with male violence. These were collected by crisis line workers over the period of a single month. There was something about the immediacy of these stories that I found staggering and that spoke to just how obscured the phenomenon of violence against women is– here were all of these horrendous real-life accounts of violence against women, and the majority of them never reach public consciousness. During the subsequent panel discussion, the question was also raised, “What is the role of men in ending violence against women?” That was very much my own personal call to action and for whatever reason, the idea entered my mind– I’m going to make a comic series addressing violence against women–and I just knew from that point onwards this was something that I was going to have to do. From there, the premise and most of the characters basically spilled out of me in one brainstorming session shortly afterwards.

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AA: “BRANDED” includes a figure known as “The Brander”. Comics have expanded so much since the first
days of caped crusaders. What inspires you to continue on with the inclusion of a ‘caped’ hero–someone with a secret identity and extraordinary abilities?

womeninrefrigeratorsR: Well, the first thing is that I don’t really consider “BRANDED” to be a superhero story per se, nor will The Brander have any extraordinary abilities (although the secret identity trope is very much a part of the character). That’s because she or he is very peripheral to the story and only gets minimal page time. Instead, most of the story centers on a group of characters whose lives are impacted in different ways by The Brander’s actions, which are at best controversial and morally not so easy to justify. Readers familiar with the “women in refrigerators” phenomenon (sparked by Gail Simone a number of years ago) will be familiar with the argument that too often in comics, we see female characters maimed, raped, incapacitated or killed off ruthlessly and abruptly, usually in order to provide a motivation for the protagonist/superhero. “BRANDED” eschews such shock-value devices and instead depicts women as survivors (not just victims) of male violence and its consequences. The presence of The Brander–a vigilante who has decided to seek redress for women survivors of male violence because the law has been deemed incapable of providing this-is meant to provoke readers into thinking about what sort of factors would actually drive somebody to adopt such a role. In real life, it’s estimated that only a fraction of sexual assault incidents are reported to the police by survivors and of these statistically only a fraction result in a conviction or imprisonment, so I think this theme of absence of redress or lack of justice is a very real one for many survivors of violence. My idea was to have a vigilante who went around branding the faces of perpetrators of sexual violence in order to expose them and place the burden of shame and stigma on them rather than the survivor, which is what we tend to see too often in real life. The Brander, despite only having a minor role in the story, is meant to embody the response (albeit a dramatic one) to this absence of redress and there’s a certain inevitability to the character’s appearance that I hope comes across when we bear the statistics in mind. When we recall the example of the vigilante group “Anonymous” and their intervention in the recent Rataeh Parsons case, The Brander isn’t too far a stretching of reality.

AA: What advice would you have for others fundraising for projects with a similar interest?

R: It’s important to build a community around your cause or project. For me, even though I decided to go ahead and launch an Indiegogo campaign for “BRANDED,” I’m still very much in the formative stages of building a community or audience for the comic. This can only happen over time but I think when it does, the comic will really start to take on a life of its own. Also, for any men becoming involved with speaking up on violence against women, such as myself, it’s important to inform yourself to the best of your ability and remain ever sensitive to your position relative to the phenomenon of violence against women while not adopting the role of someone speaking on behalf of survivors. Too often in so many spheres the voice of women is marginalized and the last thing we need is for this to happen in raising awareness of violence against women. I can’t pretend to have fully learned how to negotiate this dynamic, but I can certainly
remain cognizant of it.

AA: After your Indiegogo drive is over, what can supporters expect to see from Comics with a Cause in the months ahead? 

R: The if-everything-goes-according-to-plan picture is: We will finish finding the funding to produce about 85 pages of script to be illustrated by Reetta Linjama, our current illustrator, and hopefully hire somebody who can colour all the pages too. Our aim is to start releasing the comic series episodically (perhaps weekly) beginning early September and I would like to take it right up to December 6 which is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. This will depend though on how much funds we can raise for the project. Right now the best way to help out is through our Indiegogo campaign which ends June 22, but we may try and figure out a way to allow people to keep donating after that, ideally on a new website dedicated to the comic series. In the meanwhile, any news and updates can be found on our Facebook Page.

Of course, the other question people always bring up is, when do we see the printed or graphic novel edition? Like most comic artists/writers, I’m all for that! But let’s get the thing made first…

AA: Thanks, Rodrigo! Best of luck as these final days!

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EXHIBITION: Gender Through Comic Books (#SuperMOOC) Student Work

The following is a little exhibition of the top student comics of the “Gender Through Comic Books” Massive Open Online Course (Codename: #SuperMOOC), which ran on Canvas.Net from the beginning of April to Mid-May of 2013. In a class of 7200, there were over 800 comic submissions, and these were the finalists. The top three are listed in order of the student body’s popular vote, beginning with #1 – Girls Don’t Like Dinosaurs…. ! Enjoy!

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Girls Don’t Like Dinosaurs!


Girls Don’t Like Dinosaurs

by Natasha Alterici
For my story I blended together a few real-life anecdotes from my childhood; my mother trying futilely to make me dress like a young lady, the neighbor boy who told me “Girls don’t like dinosaurs!”, the exploration, and of course the dinosaur role playing. As a kid I was completely fascinated by dinosaurs, but I was also completely aware that this was not “normal” for girls. Looking back I think this is because dinosaurs are gendered toward boys and this is probably because they’re essentially a science-based play. Dinosaur-play involves lots of learning, about biology, natural history, geology, forensics, etc. If a girl is interested in animals or science they can play Barbie Veterinarian, but this isn’t a science-based toy, it’s just another form of dress up. You aren’t given opportunities to learn about how to care for animals, you’re given an outfit (sexy lab coat) and accessories (sickly baby animals).

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Small and Waiting

Small and Waiting
by Nicole Marie Guiniling
In grade school I was told that a good essay was like a hamburger. You had a beginning and an end that reflected each other, with a meaty middle. (I even had a teacher go so far as to say that your thesis should be a “crisp, green line towards the top.”)  Then I went to college, where another, arguably better Literature Professor threw that out the window and said that none of that mattered. A decent essay, he said, should look like Beyonce—an hourglass shape with a “KA-POW!” ending, so to speak. This definitely got some gasps and laughs when I first heard it in class 6 years ago. I thought it would be a little ironic to apply that method (if I can call it a method) to an assignment in a class on gender.
“Small and Waiting” is about me growing up, learning about gender roles, coping with the trauma of the worst aspects of that role (including eating disorders, body image issues, and assaults by men), and overcoming those challenges with a higher understanding of gender and systemic oppression in our society.

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Working in Games

Working in Games
By Shivaun Robinson
This is my comic. There are many like it but this one is mine. It was also my first attempt to make a comic after many decades of only reading them. I hope you enjoy it! Feel free to find me on Twitter @shivaundingo or support my latest effort as I play video games for 24 hours for charity at: http://www.extra-life.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donordrive.participant&participantID=46567

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Child’s Play

Child’s Play
by Jacinda Contrerras
This is my brother and me when we were kids. He always wanted to hang out with his older sister and be like her, as he told me years later. Getting to wear a dress with a black towel wrapped around his head while poppin’ wheelies in our neighborhood was just a bonus.

My family consisted of one set of grandparents, my mom, 2 aunts, and 3 uncles.  They grew up as migrant workers and believed that teaching children survival skills and street smarts outweighed raising proper little ladies and gentlemen.  These hardworking adults were more concerned with the cost of clothes than whether they were buying pink for girls or blue for boys. So, I didn’t think of my toys as being girls’ toys or his as boys’. I owned the books, Hot Wheels & Tonkas that I allowed him to play with when he wasn’t annoying me, my brother owned the Atari and Star Wars action figures that he allowed me to play with when we were on good terms.
Eddie Blake did a great job with the art and inks, this story comes alive because of that.

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Daughter

Daughter
by Anthony Sweet

w: www.handwrittengames.com
e: anthony@handwrittengames.com
fb: Handwritten Games
tw: @handwrittengame

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Walkin’ After Midnight – NOTE: This file is a Microsoft Word .docx file!

Walkin’ After  Midnight
By Angela Staiger

E-mail: angela.staiger@gmail.com
Twitter: @anjuhluh

sexy legs
Sexy Legs

Sexy Legs
Written by Ross O’Dell
Drawn by Raylene Winkel

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“Insert Title Here”


Insert Title Here

By Greg Marcus
In high school (class of 1995) I was the staff cartoonist for the newspaper. In that time I managed to pick up some awards for my work. This strip in particular is a complete reworking of a strip that won an award from the Palm Beach Post. I rewrote it updating outdated ideas and things that are not accurate for my current age (Teacher crushes, mentions of things that were understood in 1995 but not today) I then redrew the entire strip using Adobe Illustrator.
All of the things mentioned in the strip are accurate, just not necessarily to the person saying them. I did test androgynous and have been known to loofah, but most of the things my friend said should be attributed to my wife. Although, I do enjoy a good mud mask from time to time.

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Gosplay Genius

Cosplay Genius
By Shawn Proctor

Website: http://shawnproctor.com/

Shawn Proctor’s writing has been nominated for Best New American Voices and published in several literary journals and anthologies, including Storyglossia, Think Journal, and Our Haunted World: Ghost Stories from Around the Globe.

He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Rosemont College, and earns geek cred by blogging on Nerd Caliber, Geekadelphia, and CultureMob.

He recently completed a superhero novel, featuring former college classmates who must fight for their lives when the world’s only superhero is murdered.

#SuperMOOC Week 2: Superman and Reflections of Masculine Idealism

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We’re nearing the end of Week Two over at Ball State University’s Gender Through Comics, (Twitter hashtag: #SuperMOOC), and we’ve been reading Superman Birthright by veteran comics writer, Mark Waid. I enjoyed listening to Instructor Christy Blanch’s interview with Mark last Thursday, which actually led me to pick up Birthright again–I’d put it down after 1 1/2 issues on Wednesday night, cause I just couldn’t get into it. But it definitely started to come together for me, and I’m glad that I’m now much more acquainted with one of the world’s oldest superheroes.

I’ve developed my own thesis by which to tackle Superman: he reflects our evolving notion of masculine idealism. A lot has changed in terms of how we perceive the “perfect” man or woman in the last 100 years. Superman keeps getting re-invented to reflect this. But what connects them? How is the Superman of the 1930s’ Action Comics still Superman just as much as Clark Kent in Superman Birthright? Maybe, to do this, we should look at what is noticeably different?

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“Living things have a kind of glow around them. They’re surrounded by a halo of colours. …I’m not sure if that halo is a soul or an aura or what. I do know that at the end of the life cycle, it fades pretty quickly and what’s left is… hard to look at. Empty in a way that leaves me empty, too….But when it’s there, my God, how it shines.”

Kent’s Vegetarianism

This is an interesting update–one that Mark Waid touched on in the interview, explaining that this wasn’t intended to just be New Age mumbo-jumbo, and I agree. I think he is effectively exploring a higher understanding by way of Kent’s alien super-abilities. I believe this to be one of the many positive effects of sci-fi culture on modern pop culture, equivalent to Christianity’s influences of divine idealism on the Renaissance, if that makes any sense. That is, we as humans develop notions that don’t actually exist, but come into existence by us imagining them as notions of God or another higher being, like an alien. Thus we develop interpretations of inalienable rights, Utopias, …. and, well, places where we don’t have to kill other living things just to survive. That is an idealism entrenched in lots of Sci-Fi, and Waid has selected it as a “Superman” trait. I think this was an excellent decision, and emphasizes that an ideal masculine trait, now, is to be able to empathize and connect with life around you.

Kent begins his identity as Superman by travelling the world and searching out knowledge and adventure. This is compared to Pa Kent’s time in the Army in Issue #3 of Birthright, but it reminds me a lot of Che Guevera in the chapter of his life when he wrote his Motorcycle Diaries. It reflects a deliberate and positive step in the maturation process.

superman_isolatedThis ‘search for himself’ is coupled with the reality that Kent struggles with his identity and the gap that exists between himself and his [not-so-fellow] man. He describes that it never takes long for his relationships with other people being to break down, once his abilities become known. “Invariably, they freak,” he says. “They become retroactively paranoid, wondering what else Clark Kent is hiding from them.”

In my mind, this narrative runs parallel to the concept of privilege. In addition to being an alien with superhuman abilities, Clark Kent also happens to be an able-bodied white male, who was raised in the most powerful and militarily aggressive country on Earth: the United States. It shows him attempting to make friends with non-Americans in his travels, to no avail once they discover just how much more powerful [privileged?] he is than they are.
He struggles with balancing his desire to help people without isolating himself from them. He longs to be accepted as a human.

superman_whitemansburdenWhen Kent tries to advise a local African leader not to march because he foresees violence against him, the villagers are right to point out that he is a white outsider trying to dictate to them. It doesn’t mean Kent has bad intentions, and some readers may think that this objection makes the characters simple and petty, but there is real history and politics there that he is not, or has chosen not to be, aware of. If anything Waid downplays this in the story; in real life, I think a man like Kent would be facing serious trust issues well before he started lifting buildings.

On this note, I can’t help but point out that a summary of this plot line smells a bit of “white man’s burden”. Kent wants to help people who need help the most, so he goes to help a minority tribe in Africa. Some of the images depicting this are particularly noteworthy, like this one to the right, which could also be critiqued from a perspective of gender as well as race. What can I say? It’s hard to write realistic stories without touching real-life issues like politics, gender dynamics, race relations, histories of colonialism and imperialism, etc. Comics have traditionally been comfortable in their own universe[s], but that is slowly, slowly changing, and I think panels like this are an indication of both an attempt to be more real, while also clinging to old stereotypes. (I mean, really, how long has Abena known Kent? Two weeks? If I were her and this guy came out of no-where with mega perception and rock-hard abs, I’d think he was CIA–hands down.)

Waid uses a great term in the #SuperMOOC interview: comics are a “visual short-hand” form of storytelling. I acknowledge that it’s hard not to simplify human conditions and relationships. Duly noted, but I wouldn’t be doin’ my job if I didn’t point this stuff out.

A side-note: The epitomy of “cheeziness” is the absence of believability. Superhero stories are in a constant struggle to maintain believability. To do that, Superman is all about depicting things on the edge of what we can sense and understand: that means everything from the constant introduction of new concepts (logically), to the depiction of senses that we find difficult or impossible to detect, such as superhuman sight, hearing, and movement. The illustrations in Birthright are vital to this, and really carry the story.

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Linked to the first image explaining why Kent is vegetarian, here he sees his friend’s “aura” fade away, and he knows that he is gone forever. This effect emphasizes the pain and loss Kent feels, and is in turn emotional for the reader.

Superman crying: this is part of the evolution of masculine idealism, as well as the creative struggle for believability. The idea that men are supposed to hide their emotions is thankfully falling out of date as a prejudice that is both detrimental to men and world around them. Furthermore, emotion is an essential element within the anatomy of epic narrative: battles where life and death hang in a balance must make emotional connections. Crying , at least for any writer worth their salt, is not a sign of weakness in a character, but an indicator that they understand and are intimately connected with that world. As well, we ideally expect to see story characters crying around the points in the story when we, the readers, feel like crying. This connects the protagonist not only to the world around them, but to their audience as well, and creates a better story experience.

superman_perfectmaninimperfectworldPart of Superman’s modern-day struggle, invariably, becomes one of masculine idealism vs. realism: can a near-perfect man exist in an imperfect world? Since man can influence the world through his abilities and actions, and this man does, despite the world remaining imperfect—is he still a perfect man / an ideal? Is he still “Superman”?

Superman has traditionally had a strong father-son bond. This is a part of masculine idealism: ideal men come from ideal father-son relationships. This explains the place of prominence for Kah-el (Clark Kent’s birth father) in previous Superman narratives—as well as Pa Kent.

Pa Kent and Clark struggle to understand their connection, now that Clark wants to explore his extraterrestrial roots.
Superman is always an optimist. This distinguishes him from new superheroes, who are often expected to take on a “more realistic” perspective on the world, as well as old superheroes who have been reinvented within the modern “anti-hero” framework.

What to make of Lois Lane?

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superman_loislane1944Superman is as much a reflection of the evolution of gender perceptions as just about any pop culture icon that outlasts a generation. But what do we make of Lois Lane? In the very first Superman comics, Lane was a very attractive, feisty and smart news reporter who is dedicated to her career and her independence, despite the occasional dramatic lapse of utter dependence on Superman and his supernatural abilities. In the most recent remakes of Superman, we see Lane as…. A very attractive, feisty and smart news reporter who is dedicated to her career and her independence, despite ALSO having the occasional dramatic lapse of utter dependence on Superman and his supernatural abilities. Despite some subtle changes, (and one really confusing case of Lois Lane turning Black for a day), the woman has remained much more glued to her original form.

If Superman has changed so much over 75 years, why not Lane? Was Lois Lane classic, at in her inception, already a progressive enough reflection of the female gender? Are comic creators’ notions of women and their ‘social evolution’ simply stagnant—it just doesn’t get any better? I’m unsure about this one, and want to give it some future thought. I actually think that it presents an interesting argument: gender perceptions of men have changed more than women in the history of comics. This is despite massive social, political, and economic changes in the status of women in that time.

I’m looking forward to reading others’ thoughts on this, as we continue with the #SuperMOOC class. Thanks for reading. More to come with Week 3.

#SuperMOOC Week 1: “Gender Through Comics” Intros with Strangers in Paradise

Of all the topics that could be discussed endlessly with regard to socio-political relevance in comics, Gender is probably the first that comes to mind. Discussions are literally endless.

It is also the topic I’ve personally grappled with most as well, as, to me, there really aren’t a lot of clear, pointed answers. Writing a concise blog post about the subject is downright impossible. So when the opportunity came along to take the online “Gender Trough Comics” MOOC, presented by educator and comics afficionado Christy Blanch, I thought it was worth a try.

What’s a MOOC, you ask? It’s new to me too. It stands for Massive Open Online Course – generally offered for free, and completed without the reward of academic credit. It’s a great realm that’s just beginning to blossom for people who are interested in education for the sake of education.

Our first week is generally about getting acquainted: with the material, the social networking platforms, and with 7000 other “classmates” with whom we share discussion boards and hashtags. (By the way, if you’re interested in enrolling, there’s still time: just check out the Canvas.net page. Comixology offers a lot of discounted material for the course as well, so it’s not too hard on the bank account either.)

Strangers_in_Paradise_by_HappilyDayzedOur first set of reading material for the week is a collection of work by comics creator Terry Moore: Strangers in Paradise, Vols I and II; and Rachel Rising.

Needless to say, this is the beginning of the series, so characters are going to develop in complexity and change, but it is interesting to see where everyone’s starting point it. My thoughts on Strangers in Paradise, having just finished Volume 1, are as follows:

Moore is making a story that is composed of several gender stereotypes. You have Katchoo, the Man-Hating Lesbian: fearless, trouble-maker, liberated, smoker, cat-owner (all stereotypically associated with lesbians). You’ve got Francine, the Hetero Female: timid,lacking confidence/certainty, reactive (instead of pro-active), and seemingly unsure of what she wants in life. These are all stereotypes of a heterosexual/”man’s” woman, and it all boils down to the theory that women lack agency- this is something I’d love to explore more of later on.)
And we have Freddie. Familiar Freddie! The Hetero Male stereotype. My first thought was that he must be some hormone-raging college kid, maybe 19 or 20. Then he is revealed as a wealthy business man, probably late 20s, early 30s (owns a fancy car, etc.) He appears to be wealthy and successful, and yet he also seems bent on guilt-tripping Francine–implying some forthcoming insecurity/control issues.

I see two over-arching themes here that are the most impressive to me.

#1: Moore is transforming stereotypes into archetypes. That is, she is taking qualities that we normally perceive to be highly superficial about a person based on their gender or sexual orientation, and using them to compel the story forward. I’m finding this theory interesting, and am anxious to see if I still feel that this is true after reading the longer Volume 2….

#2: It’s clear that this comic is trying to convey that no one has a “normal” sex life. The next door neighbour in the story is a creepy Peeping Tom, Freddie accidentally brings home a prostitute to get over Francine, who is then removed from the scene by a 6ft, 250lb bull dyke*, who crashes through the apartment wall to reveal Freddie’s apartment neighbour celebrating his anniversary to his blow-up doll with a lil’ Champagne.

In future posts over the next month and a half, I’ll be adding my notes on various pieces of material from the syllabus. Feel free to send me your feedback, or ask me about the course.

-N

* – my apologies for using a potentially offensive term: however, “bull dyke” is the stereotype presented, and is differentiated from the stereotypes of  “lesbian” or even “man-hating lesbian”.

Political Comics Review ~ Willow Dawson’s "Hyena in Petticoats"

I first picked up H.I.P. at the 2011 Toronto Comic Arts Festival, but I didn’t buy it. However wrongful it is to judge a book by its cover, I quickly surmised that “Hyena in Petticoats” was A) a comic for kids and therefore not for adults, and B) an ‘historical’ as opposed to ‘political’ comic, and within that, just another entry in the Canadian corner of the fad that is historical graphic novels… All  pop, no substance… ‘meh’ was my initial response….

Title: Hyena in Petticoats: The Story of Suffragette Nellie McClung
Author + Illustrator: Willow Dawson
Published by: Puffin Canada, 2011
Got my copy through: Online Order

…And here I am over a year later, having read the comic and feeling a little humbled, thinking back on that initial assessment. But before any more of that, an introduction:

“It is the writer’s place to bring romance to people, to turn the commonplace into the adventurous and the amusing, to bring out the pathos in a situation … Words are our tools and must be kept bright … I refuse to be carried through the sewers of life just for the ride … I write if I have something to say that will amuse, entertain, instruct, inform, comfort, or guide the reader”.
– Nellie McClung, Canadian Suffragette

Nellie McClung was one of Canada’s foremost women’s rights suffragettes in the 1910’s and 20’s. As a Christian woman who witnessed how naughty Christian men became after getting tanked on whiskey, she first felt mobilized by the campaign for prohibition–which, across the English-speaking world, was the issue that really begat the 20th Century women’s suffrage movement.

The essential logic was that if the ladies shared the vote and elected offices with men, then the benchwarmer issues condemned to women’s church groups could begin to get some much-needed air for discussion—surely, there was the issue of temperance, but also the working conditions of women and children (especially inner-city immigrants), as well as a woman’s right to protection and refuge against abuse and assault (formerly totally OK if that dude was your husband or father.)

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She doesn’t have the iconography dedicated to her like some other women of the time—Emma Goldman comes to mind—but Nellie McClung was a pretty profound woman. She led marches, organized political campaigns in several provinces, and fought with former Manitoba Premier Rodmond Roblin on a few occasions.
The book title, “Hyena in Petticoats” can be attributed to Premier Roblin’s declaration of McClung’s doggedness. It was his insistence that “nice women don’t want the vote.” (How nice of him to speak for them since they don’t want to!)

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She also helped to write, produce, and act in a play called “Women’s Parliament”, which not only showed what women could bring to the table in politics, but took the behavior of male politicians at the time and turned it on its head. According to the comic, it looked like offensive satire at its finest. I would LOVE to see someone re-create this play.

The simple, smooth paint-brush strokes of the pages were what initially gave me the impression that H.I.P. was just for a younger audience. In the past I’ve found comic books with this kind of art to be difficult to dive into, feel submerged by (Chester Brown’s Louis Riel is another [sad]  example for me, despite its incredible narrative). I guess I just have an aversion to minimalism. Comics, to me, is all about conjuring—reaching into the very essence of the creator’s idea, and trying to mimic that headspace on the page. But I was pleasantly surprised at how easily I slipped into the world of Nell. There is a charm in the day-to-day interactions that Dawson chose to include in the storytelling, and the little drawings that decorate the page numbers, that puts one at ease—the same charm that draws us to, say, entries in a young artists’ journal. It was enough to help me reassess my bias… minimalism is, after all, a style that superficially implies effortlessness, and yet there is a perfectionism that is needed for that to be realized.

I also appreciate the political context that Willow Dawson adds to this inherently historical comic. This is, again, where I thought I would have beef with H.I.P.—mainstream histories that are simplified (as a kids’ book, a comic book, an article in a high school history book) generally neglect a movement or individual’s shortcomings, for the betterment of an ‘idealistic’ story. Dawson doesn’t do that. In fact, she goes out of her way to point out a few truths that, to some, may seem like unnecessary details, but to someone like me, give me a better-rounded picture of Nellie McClung: her fight was that of a white, middle-class Christian women’s movement. The gains of this movement did not extend to Asian-Canadians or Native women, who would not get the vote for another staggering four decades.

I am grateful for Willow Dawson including this information, which is provided in a way that is informative and intriguing to me, but would also be totally up the alley of my 8-year-old niece (who will surely inherit this copy, come Winter Solstice.) In fact, I feel more comfortable giving her a book that points out a prejudice that was/is more deeply-seeded in the Canadian power structure than sexism: the question of Indigenous rights.

This obviously isn’t a review that everyone would write about Hyena in Petticoats. But coming from the perspective of a political comic book collector, these are the points that matter to me. And maybe this is a kid’s comic…but not only a kid’s comic, and it is secondary to the fact that it is a great little book.

Who is Ana Mandietta? by Christine Redfern and Caro Caron

Title: Who is Ana Mandietta?
Author: Christine Redfern
Illustrator: Caro Caron
Got my copy: from creators @ TCAF  (2012)
Published: 2011 by Feminist Press (originally published in French in Montreal – now also available in English and Spanish)

It seems like the life of Ana Mandietta was social commentary from start to finish.

Although born in Cuba, she was brought to the United States as a child, one of thousands under the CIA campaign Operation Peter Pan in the early 1960’s. Over the next decade, like Ana, the world around her was coming of age: U.S. political movements, Latin American revolutions, as well as the cultural worlds of music and art. She began a rise of notoriety in the U.S. as a new kind of modern artist (a feminist), where she embraced and confronted tumultuous times, applauding the opening of minds while pointing out the hypocrisy of where they stayed closed. This was especially the case around the question of women–our rights as well as our popular representation.

In the 1980’s, just as Ana’s work was gaining exciting new attention, she died under mysterious circumstances–having apparently jumped out of her apartment window while arguing with her husband.

This book is not only the story of Ana’s life, but a histroy of the dismissal of women in the art world, as well as the scene’s suspicious apologism for domestic violence at the hands of male artists.

Even as a 27-year-old enthusiast for a lot of art, music, and political movements that arose in the 1960’s and 70’s, a lot of what is in this book is new to me. Even though I’d read William S. Burroughs and Henry Miller, I didn’t know that they both had serious histories of violence against women (Burroughs killed his wife by accidentally shooting her in the face, Miller stabbed his wife in the back; she survived, and tried to cover it up.) I first read it months ago, right after I picked it up at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. I finished it over the course of an evening (it’s relatively short, at 84 pages), but found it too overwhelming in the first read to really get out a notebook and jot down my ideas. It’s amazing, intense, angering, saddening…

Christine Redfern and Caro Caron are both hard at work here, emersing you into another world–the world of American art and politics of the era. I really appreciate a lot of the imagery here, seeing as I wasn’t around to witness any of these iconic events first-hand. Pages are densely packed with information that isn’t always explained, (faces, sayings, music lyrics, historical venues) and I like being given the space to explore, wonder, and look things up (I will add, to their credit, that Christine and Caro did do a lot of work for the reader: the inside cover of the book is a portrait gallery of “who’s who’s” of the contemporary scene, as well as a glossary in the back).

The style of the art itself, although not Ana’s style necessarily, is nonetheless a nod to her ethos and carries a lot of feminist undertones–there is a lot of symbolism mixed with a lot of reality, if that makes any sense. For example, her body is shown being figuratively impaled by tree roots in one scene, to describe a deep emotional connection with nature–but the illustration of her dead body after she, according to her husband, jumped out of her apartment window, is so sadly realistic. Her face is crushed, her underwear is wrinkled, her body is contorted.

Unlike many comic book artists, who strive to make a woman to look perfectly beautiful even after a violent death, Who is Ana Mandietta?  is a continuation of one of the legacies of feminist art: to diametrically portray more of how women [really] feel inside, hand-in-hand with with how things [really] are on the outside… a magical realism of sorts.

This is one of my favorite political comics yet, and one that I highly recommend, but readers should be warned: you need an open mind in order to appreciate the full power of Ana’s artwork, as well as this monumental book.