The other day at the playground, a mother of a toddler made a passing remark that there was no way, whatsoever, that she would let her daughter wear a Spiderman t-shirt. “Superheroes,” she said, “are not for girls”. I found myself ashamedly looking at my toddling two year old bounding up the slide in her favourite outfit (hand picked herself!), a well-worn
Halloween costume, which was, of course, Spiderman. Then I glanced at her shoes, again, Spiderman. To add insult to injury, I was wearing and X-Men shirt under my winter coat.
I spend a lot of time reading and advocating comics to everyone and for everyone, so it was hard for me to hear her point of view.There is a perception that comics are “sub-literature” or “comedy” or “for semiskilled readers” only. I vehemently oppose this because I am very well versed in Shakespeare, Keats, Whitman, and Tennyson, but also in Waid, Bendis, Lemire, and Loeb. This week’s readings remind us that this perception of comics is not new, that adults have been trying to censor (and still do!!) the availability and content within these graphic novel books because the very word “graphic” denotes something dirty or violent. Slapping a Comics Authority logo on the corner of books in the 1950’s began a censorship of freedom to read by putting the axe to horror comics and crime comics (the biggest sellers of the time), violence, sex, and social critiques for fear of delinquency and bad behavior among youth. (I can’t help but wonder how what logo they would stick on Stoker’s Dracula, or Conan-Doyle’s, Sherlock Holmes.) I was most struck to find out that it was a panel made up of the majority of women deciding what is or is not appropriate. I suppose because librarianship was mostly a woman’s role then, and in the cult of true womanhood where values of the virtuous are concerned who better to show the way than the well-intentioned woman? It struck me, however, because I think there is still a (mis)perception of comics now that says comics are not the way to critical and calculated thought, and women still have a role to play in this.
The mainstream readership of comics (superheroes, in particular) is 90% male. I suppose I sit comfortably in the 10% as I know, without a doubt I am an Active Comics Enthusiast. Woman, on the other hand, make up for their lack of superhero reading by being the 40% readership of graphic novels of other genres. I guess I sit comfortably here, too. But 10% and 40% is low, to me. I know so many female fans. So many female con attendees that I am shocked this number remains this low. And after reading books like, Chicks Dig Comics, Ms Marvel, or Faith, I can’t help but wonder how quickly these percentages are changing.
Comics are great. They have been tackling social constructs and paying homage to ancient myths and stories since they began (Superman is not an original story, he is Hercules all the way!). There is more to a comic than most people realize, and just because there is a visual, a graphic component, to a narrative does not discount its effectiveness nor its power. I mean, come on, Maus won a Pulitzer Prize! As soon as we get rid of the misconception that comics are not real literature the sooner people can stop being ashamed of what they read, and the sooner my daughter and I can wear our super t-shirts without fear of ridicule!I am all for that!
By Leigha Chiasson-Locke