Archive for Feminism

Comics in Color


Here’s something for you comic historians out there: Jackie Ormes, the first African-American woman cartoonist.


Nancy Goldstein’s Jackie Ormes: The First African American Woman Cartoonist is a scholarly yet highly readable account of Ormes’ life and work. Born Zelda Mavin Jackson to a well-to-do family in Pittsburgh, Ormes, in Torchy Brown comics and the single-panel Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger, created stylish black female characters who scrutinized Cold War policies, advocated for civil rights, and poked fun at human foibles. Her drawings found a grateful audience in black-owned newspapers such as the Pittsburgh Courier.Author and doll collector Goldstein discovered Ormes’ story while researching the Patty-Jo doll Ormes designed. It was the first high-quality dark-skinned doll for girls, meant to replace stereotyped mammy dolls. A treasure-trove for any reader interested in African American history or American popular culture, Jackie Ormes includes more than 125 of Ormes’ cartoons and color comics, reproduced for the first time since their debut. Many are annotated with explanations of current events.

In 1948, little Patty-Jo urged, “How’s about gettin’ our rich Uncle Sam to put good public schools all over?” Her high-heeled big sister holds a pamphlet for the newly begun Negro College Fund. Way ahead of its time for showing how pollution unequally affects minorities, in 1954, Torchy in Heartbeats depicts a handsome black doctor who saves a black community from environmental poisoning masterminded by a bigoted industrialist. Naturally, Torchy, a nurse, falls in love with the doctor.

The book captures the sophisticated whirl of Ormes’ social life, with photos of Ormes rubbing elbows with Eartha Kitt and Duke Ellington. Her life wasn’t without tragedy: her only child, a little girl, died at age three, and the FBI investigated her. Yet her talent, supportive husband, and convictions assured her successes.

Ormes never seems to get much publicity, partly because she didn’t draw superhero comics, partly because, let’s face it, she got a double dose of marginalization because of her gender and her skin color. That’s starting to change, thanks in part to Goldstein’s book and the Ormes Society website. And here are some other good resources about Ormes’ life and artwork.

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Dead Girls and Heart Attacks


Batman #673

This is a pretty weird issue, with lots of off-kilter stuff going on, some of it contradicting itself or current continuity. The explanation is that Batman has had a heart attack and is hallucinating almost everything that happens here. He imagines himself undergoing a ritual in a cave in Nanda Parbat, reliving the deaths of his parents, threatening a crime boss, watching his own funeral, meeting up with a creepy monster version of Bat-Mite, and undergoing an extended period in an isolation chamber. In the end, his life is saved… but his rescuer is a guy wearing a Batman costume and armed with a power drill. What the heck is going on?

This issue is getting a lot of attention right now because of one single panel:


Explanation: Ever since Jason Todd died, Bats has kept a memorial case in the Batcave that includes Jason’s Robin uniform. A couple of years ago, when the current Robin, Tim Drake, was taking a short hiatus from crimefighting, Batman recruited Stephanie Brown, a friend of Tim’s who operated as a superhero named the Spoiler, as a new replacement Robin. She was abducted, tortured with a power drill, and killed pretty darn horribly by a villain named Black Mask after only a short time as Robin.

Anyway, folks started noticing that Batman hadn’t set up a memorial case for Stephanie. Arguing (correctly, in my opinion) that it would be out-of-character for Batman not to give Stephanie a memorial case, and that her death was part of a long-running and way creepy hostility to female characters in the comics industry, they set up a webpage to advocate for a memorial case for Steph.

DC Comics reacted to this fairly predictably — by screaming, “A memorial case?! B-But she’s a girl!” And that really jump-started a new movement of feminist comics fans who point out that, yeah, girls read comics, and they’ve got plenty of reasons to be unhappy with the way women are portrayed in an awful lot of comics.

That’s simplifying things a lot for brevity’s sake. But the point is that, in this latest issue of “Batman,” writer Grant Morrison just gave Stephanie Brown her memorial case. Sure, it may very well be part of Batman’s hallucinations. But when a writer as important to comics as Morrison says it’s there, and when he’s setting Batman up to be tortured by the same sort of power drill that was used to kill Stephanie, that means it’s not just fans who are agitating for better treatment for Stephanie and other female characters — it means creators are realizing that it’s time to change things up, and that the editors may be realizing that they don’t gain anything by angering their readers, male or female. That alone is a welcome change.

Verdict: Thumbs up. The story’s good, the art is good. Part of me figures that, after a heart attack, getting his back broke, getting shot or stabbed every other issue, Batman should just move into a convalescent home and have a nice long rest. The memorial case issue is, admittedly, a minor part of the story, but it gives the entire comic a feeling that important stuff is going on here. I’m looking forward to the next issue.

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Geek Girls and Wild Women


There are times I wish they’d publish the Carnival of Feminist Science Fiction and Fantasy Fans a bit more often, but of course, they have to find a new host every month and compile a new list of articles and blog posts. Still, whenever they get a new one published, it’s always worth reading.

Lots of interesting articles this time about comics, games, movies, TV, and books, including pieces on “The Black Dossier,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “World of Warcraft,” “Countdown,” the Anita Blake novels, “BioShock,” “Mass Effect,” “I Am Legend,” “Doctor Who,” and much, much more.

Go check it out.

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Girl Power

Ran into an interesting article from out of Brownsville about the city’s first female comic shop owner. Actually, most of the article focuses on women who read comics, and what they prefer to read.

While the Japanese-style art can be popular among female readers, Hodge has an even mix of men and women as readers. She said every reader is different, and shouldn’t be limited by gender.

“Female readers aren’t some strange creatures that you ‘figure out’ to cater to,” she said. “The comics just have to be good, interesting stories. If the comic book industry treats female readers as an oddity, we notice, and we don’t like feeling that way. So we wouldn’t buy a book that makes us feel so.”

Hodge has enjoyed comics of all kinds since she was little.

“My mom would bring me the comics from the newspaper and I would try to draw them as practice,” she said. “As a teenager though, I became very interested in anime, with Sailor Moon being the first show to really catch my interest.”

The rising popularity of Japanese anime provided an eye-opener for many young girls over the past decade.

Manga comics are probably the most popular comics with female readers, but it’s far from universal.

Just as male audiences associate themselves with the suave James Bond or gruff Wolverine, Martinez said some women like to put themselves in the stiletto-heeled shoes of super-heroines.

“These women have the power to be sexy, but powerful,” she said. “A girl can be voluptuous and still go medieval on you.”

With Martinez’ husband ready to publish his first comic book, the Brownsville-based hero Opossum, and Martinez herself a big collector, the couple’s daughter has grown up surrounded by comic books.

“I like Batman, Superman, Transformers,” said Angelina Hernandez, 7.


Blanco said female super-heroes are a good way for girls to get into reading comics. Younger girls can expand their reading skills and women can escape the stresses of the real world with fantasy.

Wonder Woman, the most famous female super-hero, comes highly recommended by Blanco.

“She’s just such a strong character and she’s dealing with more realistic things,” she explained.

Whatever their interests, Blanco suggests more women give comic books a chance.

“Just try something new and you’ll always have something to look forward to every month when the next story comes out,” she said. “Even if they are talking about stories in space or something else, it’s something different.”

There are a bunch of female comics readers who are big fans of superheroes — Ragnell and Kalinara are both big fans of traditional spandex-clad superheroes, plus there’s Ami Angelwings, Karen Healy, and Valerie D’Orazio, not to mention When Fangirls Attack, Sequential Tart, and the Feminist SF Carnival.

But as D’Orazio found while talking to people at Comic-Con in San Diego, most female comics readers are definitely not reading superheroes. And an ongoing problem for the major comic book companies is that they seem to be almost completely unable to market comics to anyone but white males.

Why? Because building an audience is very hard work. Traditional comics have several decades of built-in audience — again, mainly white males. Building an audience beyond white males has a lot of roadblocks in the way — it’s hard to convince new audiences that they should be interested in comics, because women and non-whites are used to thinking of comics as a “white-guys-only” medium. And comics companies are usually parts of large corporations — and if one particular comic doesn’t sell a lot of copies, the corporate bean counters may order the plug pulled.

Is there a solution? Other than slow change over many years, probably not. Eventually, more women may start reading comics. Eventually, more comics companies may start to try to appeal to more female readers. But a rapid sea change for the industry probably isn’t possible.

So how ’bout it? Girls — what comics do you like to read, or what would convince you to start reading comics? And boys — would you be willing to read a “girl-centric” comic, or do you read them already?

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