I’ve read a lot of comics in my time, but I’ve never really found many that address my non-comic political interests. A possible exception has been Mike Carey and Peter Gross’ The Unwritten series, which discusses things such as metastories and political philosophy, but that’s just one instance. Exceptions are rare.
This is why I was super excited to have the opportunity to review Cassius, which on the face of it, was going to address some of my other interests: I love history, I love Shakespeare, and I love dynamic female characters. Cassius has all of these things in scads, which pleases me immensely.
Mike Madrid, a featured contributor at GeekGirlCon for three years running, returns this year to bring us a panel inspired by his forthcoming book Vixens, Vamps, and Vipers: Lost Villainesses of Golden Age Comics.
Whet your appetite for this romp through the seedy side of the Golden Age with Wendy Whipple’s book review.
Cover image courtesy of Exterminating Angel Press.
Mike Madrid (The Supergirls; Divas, Dames & Daredevils) has a new book due out this October called Vixens, Vamps & Vipers. Written as a companion book to Divas, this book looks at the bad girls in those Golden Age comics, whose stories ran from the late 1930s through the mid 1950s.
I love heroines; that’s certainly no secret – my basement is filled with of hundreds of action figures of heroines from movies and comic books – but I adore the villainesses. In reading Madrid’s stirring introduction, dipping into the psychology of villainy, frankly, being bad sounds like a lot more fun. (At least until the Comics Code Authority ruined all their fun in 1954…) But until that dark time, these were “[w]omen who were bad because they wanted to be.” Being bad was a conscious decision; it was, in fact, agency. These were women who were taking charge of their own destinies. Whether we, as readers, agree with their decisions is an entirely different question.
As in Divas, Madrid splits the comics section into themed chapters:
Vicious Viragos – these femmes fatales were dangerous, unprincipled, and often sexy, a wicked combination! From deadly accuracy with a whip to hypnotic persuasion to a very brazen granny, this is a selection of ladies like none you’ve probably seen before.
From National Comic #30, 1943. Bad girl Idaho digs a bullet from her own arm as henchmen watch helplessly.
Photo source: Vixens, Vamps, and Vipers
Beauties & Beasts – from faces that don’t reflect the evil inside to bitter monsters, these women are not to be trifled with. A beautiful face is no guarantee of a beautiful nature.
A Rainbow of Evil – heroines were depicted as white, but that restriction didn’t apply to villainesses. The stereotypes may be offensive by today’s standards, but at least there were women of color on the page, and viewed from their perspective, were they really even the villains of the story?
Crime Queens – these pulpy stories are the sort that eventually led to Senate hearings about violent content in things children were reading. But until that happened, Crimes By Women was a sensational title featuring some truly dreadful villainesses.
From Crimes By Women #14, 1950. Drugs and murder are a family business for this horrid mother-son team.
Photo source: Vixens, Vamps, and Vipers
Aside from the awesome villainesses, the comics do contain some pretty spectacularly awful racial/ethnic stereotypes. Comics of the 1940s, in particular, were not known for their kindness toward Asian people; keep that in mind while you’re reading. The world was in turmoil, and open xenophobia was even more rampant than it is today. The Comic Code Authority banned the practice of making fun of racial or religious groups, but all that really did was erase them from the comics altogether.
My only real criticism of the book is that the comics are reproduced in black and white. Color printing is expensive, and I completely understand the decision, but seeing these villainesses in all their bloody glory would have been even better. (If you’ve read Divas, you’re already familiar with that same publishing decision.)
As always, Madrid’s commentary is insightful and interesting. His affection for the heroines in Divas is readily apparent; so too is his respect for the villainesses in Vixens. “They were in control of their own destinies,” he says. And who doesn’t want that?
As a reader who is still fairly unfamiliar with Golden Age comics, I found some of the selections Madrid used for this book astonishing and eye-opening. The drama is tight, given that the stories are so short and typically not continued on into the next month’s issue like we’re used to in today’s comics. If these are the gems he selected, what else lurks in the dusty recesses of comics history? The heroines in Divas, Dames & Daredevils were exciting and intriguing, it’s true, but my heart is still pounding over some of these very bad Vixens, Vamps & Vipers. Sometimes it just feels good to be bad.
This review is of an uncorrected proof and there may be changes to the book between the publishing of the review and the book; I have no control over that. Please see my reviews of The Supergirls and Divas, Dames & Daredevils. For more Golden Age comics in full color, please visit the Digital Comics Museum.
Bookworms beware! GeekGirlCon ‘13 will spotlight so many absorbing books to pick up, you may not emerge from your favorite reading spot until next year’s convention. From feminist anthologies to young adult novels, we’ve got geeks of all kinds covered.
Want to collect some awesome autographs? Be sure to bring copies of your favorite authors’ works—or support them by purchasing a few at the big event!
We can’t forget children when analyzing and crafting well-rounded personalities! “Strong Female Characters in Young Adult Lit” is a not-to-be-missed panel for kids, parents, and YA novel fans of all ages. Writer of Prophecy Girl, Faith McKay will examine how to build and exemplify positive role models for young (and not-so-young) readers.
For mature-only audiences comes “Romance Is A Feminist Genre,” where writer Corrina Lawson will explore the concept that romance novels contain more substantial women than just damsels in distress. Lawson certainly knows her stuff, having been recognized multiple times by the association Romance Writers of America.
For book fans of the comic variety, we’ve even got panels on books about comic books. How meta! The panel “All The Real Girls—Creating Real Girls in Comics” will also explore this topic with multiple authors who have crafted fully-formed personalities in their books’ female characters. Sit in to soak up examples from Hope Larson’s Who Is AC?, Mariah Huehner’s Womanthology: Space, Kel McDonald’s As We Were/Strange Someone, and Rachel Edidin’s Adventure Time scripts.
For an informative, fun, and frank look at how geekery is changing the world, be sure to take in GeekGirlCon co-founder Jennifer K. Stuller’s panel, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer & Fan Phenomena”. Author of Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology, and editor of Fan Phenomena and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, she will participate in talks tackling such scholarly work being done on fan communities, and how these studies’ findings affect both geek and mainstream culture.
Oodles of books and authors will be bouncing around at GeekGirlCon ‘13! Pick up your passes in advance so you can nab the best seat at each panel, and be first in line for each author signing session. See you this weekend!
You’ve worked with artist Emma Rios before on Osborn: Evil Incarcerated and are now collaborating again on the upcoming Pretty Deadly series. Watching two female artists create a multifaceted Western story together is incredibly inspiring. What has working with Emma on this particular project been like so far?
It’s been utterly terrifying because this book has thwarted us at every turn. It’s kind of not the book we thought we were doing? It’s a lot weirder book than we set out to write. It’s very strange and we’ve both recently just sort of accepted the fact that it is the F word: it is fantasy! Which is sort of not what we meant for it to be, but it kind of insisted, so there you go.
How else have we described it? It is a macabre western. Greg Rucka called it a dark fairy tale. Mythic western. Yeah, it is certainly supernatural. The story is told by a dead bunny and a butterfly. Death incarnate is in it, and Death’s daughter. It’s a trippy book, which is not what we thought we were doing. There was a point at which I sort of accepted that this book is going to be what it is, and no amount of wrestling on my part is going to make it not. And we had talked in the beginning about how much we both love Sergio Leone. We wanted to do a Leone western, so there was a point at which I was sort of bummed we’d gotten away from that. But then Charlie Huston got this quote for me that was a Sergio Leone where he talks about the myth is the thing—historical truth doesn’t matter; it’s all about the world and the myth. Reading that after he sent that to me, it was another one of those goosebump moments that I have had a million of with this book, where I felt like, oh, this whole time it was a Leone western, it just wasn’t what I originally saw happening.
Along the lines of being influenced by outside sources as you write, there’s been a lot of online activity surrounding the release of Pretty Deadly. Do you find that fan interaction affects your writing process or drive at all?
I don’t think that Captain Marvel would have made it more than six issues without the Carol Corps. I don’t think it would have survived without that really vocal, supportive fanbase. And I think that they were able to find each other through social media. So I think it’s been very important to my work life to have been lucky enough to be a part of that. I can’t write a story with the idea, ‘Let me give them what they want!’ I think reverse-engineering what you think the people want never results in good stories, but that said, I am also a part of that culture, so sometimes references make it in. I’m clearly influenced by the Carol Corps. I’m doing a Carol Corps issue.
Do you have a bucket list of women characters you’d like to write about someday, whether already existing or currently just a spark in the back of your mind?
I have a list of story ideas that I maintain—some of them are projects of their own, some of them will find their way into books I’m currently writing. When I did start Captain Marvel, I knew I wanted to write Monica and I knew I wanted to write Anya. I wasn’t able to bring Anya into Captain Marvel because the timing wasn’t right. In fact though, because I wasn’t able to have Anya is how I was able to have Wendy Kawasaki, and I love Wendy, so I have no regrets about how that worked out. I didn’t get to bring Anya in, so it has come around that she is available again, so I’m going to be using her in Avengers Assemble.
I grew up reading DC, not Marvel, so Wonder Woman and Lois Lane were important characters to me. I’ve gotten to write Lois Lane, so that’s checked off my list, and I’m not sure if I want to write Wonder Woman, because that’s just terrifying to me! I don’t know if I’d be a good fit for it; I’m afraid that what I would want it to do is basically Lynda Carter-esque TV show fan fiction! That is best left to my nostalgic memory or watching episodes with my daughter.
What are you most excited to do or speak about at GeekGirlCon ‘13? Do you identify as a geek, and if so, what makes you proud to be one?
I am looking forward to GeekGirlCon because I have heard really good things about it. I have been to one other women-centric convention, and it was WisCon. It’s a science fiction convention, so it’s a slightly different animal. It’s sci-fi, highly academic, super cool. My conception of GeekGirlCon is that it’s almost like a younger, hipper version of that. [Laughs] I’m not entirely sure what to expect there, but I think it’s going to be cool, we’ll have a lot of fun. I love Seattle, so I’m into it!
I guess I don’t, oddly enough, know what a “geek” is! I have read comic books on and off forever. I grew up on military bases—my father was in the service, and very often, we were in places where we did not get American TV stations. My mom encouraged it; my mom loved Wonder Woman so she would buy me the comics and then dole them out to me as rewards. We would go to swap meets on the weekends and buy comics by the handful, and the house that I would go to after school—the Edmondson family—I would go hang out over there, and their whole family collected comics, so I would read. Read, read, read, read, read! Now I’ve put them down and come back to them various times in my life, but I’ve never been away for very long. They have always been a part of my life.
I’m not a gamer—my husband gave me the controller and tried to have me play Grand Theft Auto once, and yeah. He had a friend over and they were sitting over and I had the thing. He looked over at me and I was just sitting there and he goes, “What’re you doing?” and I go, “Well, the light is red.” [Laughs] So clearly, I don’t get the spirit of the game. So I’m not a gamer, I have just started my first role-playing game, which is the Call of Cthulhu, at 43 years old! But hey, I’m doing it right: Greg Rucka is my dungeon master so, you know, I started late, but I got started awesome.
So yeah, I don’t know, I don’t have anything particularly negative attached to the term. I like comic books. If other people want to hang out with me and talk about comic books, I am down with that! If people want to tell me that because I am a girl I have no place in comic books, we will have words. And I will laugh and laugh at them!
Thanks so much for the laughs and words of wisdom, Kelly Sue!
Come hear this real-life superheroine speak at GeekGirlCon ‘13! She’ll be sharing more comics industry insight with us just three short days before the October 23 release of Pretty Deadly. Pick up your passes today!
by Adrienne M. Roehrich, Manager of Editorial Services
On August 23, GeekGirlCon announced that Christine Blanch will be presenting a panel at the 2013 Con on her Super Massive Open Online Course (SuperMOOC), Gender Through Comic Books. Expected appearances on the panel include Jen Van Meter, Mark Waid, Greg Rucka, and Kelly Sue DeConnick. I caught up with a few of the panelists to get you a preview of what you can expect when you attend the panel. I asked about the motivation for the course itself and why our panelists participated in the course.
Blanch: “Gender through Comic Books was a class that I offered in the Women and Gender Studies department. The iLearn department at Ball State came to me and asked if I would be interested in teaching my class as a MOOC (a massive, open, online course) and since I love teaching any class using comics as the texts, I jumped at the chance. I think there is a huge need for courses like this because media is so instrumental in how people think about everything and most of us don’t even realize the impact. This class makes you take a step back and really consider the context of what we are reading and how we are processing it. I think it really did fill an area in the industry and in education for those who know that comics are more than ‘picture books’ and that want to have educational discussions about them without any negativity.”
Van Meter: “I’ve known Christy Blanch for a few years now, and been an admirer both of her involvement in the developing academic discourses around comics as texts and also of her really innovative approaches to using comics as teaching tools in a variety of classroom settings. She’s got, I think, a really fearless and imaginative sense of how to use comics to invite student engagement and interaction with the topic and the text, and she has a passionate interest in comics as a fan, creator, and scholar. I would have been honored to be of use to her for any project, so when she asked if she could interview me for something as ambitious and exciting as the SuperMOOC, I was absolutely on board.
I expected it would be a deeply rewarding experience, and it truly was; even as only an interviewee and remote observer, seeing some of the participant interactions, commentary and final projects just blew my mind. When I was in grad school, an advisor once told me that when we’re teaching well, we’re learning more than we’re teaching and our students are learning as much from one another as they are from us; I really feel like the MOOC became a fantastic example of that, and of the amazing potential of web-based learning environments.”
Waid: “I honestly thought it was a great cause. I had faith in the instructor; I’ve spoken in her classes before. And I was eager to see how effectively comics’ highly developed and effective social media networks would deliver the message and deliver students, and I was NOT disappointed.”
DeConnick: “Ooh, Christina asked, and it was about two of my favorite topics! So I wanted to see what I might learn from it.”
GeekGirlCon ‘13 is a great opportunity for these amazing professionals to reunite and talk about some of the highlights of this innovative and popular course. I asked our panelists why they chose to bring a panel about the Gender through Comic Books SuperMOOC to GeekGirlCon ‘13.
Van Meter: “It’s kind of self-evident that a course devoted to looking at how we talk about gender by looking at the way one of our popular art mediums—with a huge fan culture and quite a lot of influence on TV and Film—talks about gender seems to me the sort of thing a lot of [GeekGirlCon] participants would be interested in; there’s a lot of obvious crossover.
That said, what I think is maybe more special about the MOOC is that, while there are great classes using comics to talk about gender, race, class—all kinds of things, really—in college classrooms all over the world, it’s still pretty rare, and what happens in those classrooms tends to stay in those classrooms or get shared with smaller communities of, usually, other academics. There’s not a lot of ‘drift’ from the academic discourse about comics out into the world of general fandom, from what I’ve seen. With a 7000-participant MOOC, a lot of people took the course who wouldn’t have had access to it any other way, which is great in and of itself, but also a lot of people who took it only because they were fans of the writers and artists participating were exposed to a mode of talking and thinking about representation and replication of cultural attitudes that is often missing or misunderstood in the dreaded comments sections or on the message boards.”
Blanch: “I have always wanted to go to GeekGirlCon. Always. I was on the fence about going then Greg Rucka said that he and Jen really wanted me to go, so I did! I am bringing my 13-year-old geek girl, and I hope this is a great experience for her, too. She was picked on in school because she is not a ‘normal’ girl as she loves comics and video games, so I think this will be just what she needs. For the community, the whole class was really about community and gender. We had discussions about geek girls and why there is a divide between males and females in the fan base. I think GeekGirlCon is a perfect venue to talk about the same things we discussed in the class.”
Attendees of the panel will get to see how the comics industry professionals interacted with students in the MOOC.
Blanch: “We will walk through the entire class and how it was presented. We will focus on the interviews somewhat as we have such great guests on the panel that participated in the course. However, several of our panelists were also enrolled in the course, so we can get their thoughts about the material and the reaction in the comics industry.
I cannot say enough about how supportive the comics industry has been with the MOOC. I even had to turn people down because we didn’t have enough time. The students were so excited for the interviews and all of the professionals were floored by the awesome questions the students asked. I think it was refreshing for the pros because the questions weren’t the same questions they get asked all the time. Several of the questions stumped the pros. And also many of the pros went on Twitter and answered the questions that we couldn’t get to in the live interviews. It was amazing. And every pro sent me a note about how enjoyable the interview was and how impressed they were with the students. I was so proud of both the comics industry as a whole and of my fantastic students. This group of students never ceased to amaze me.”
Waid: “I loved the rapid-fire nature of the tweeted questions, for which I had no answers prepared in advance; it forced me to go with my gut and be definitively honest with my answers rather than risk giving out ‘canned’ responses.”
Each professional involved in the course had different topics to focus on. Kelly Sue DeConnick was interviewed for the course on a week entitled “Who is producing comic book culture?” and the theme was comic books as a medium of communication.
DeConnick: “I guess I don’t consciously use it as a tool of communication because it’s not a dialogue. Hmm, there’s no way to talk about this without sounding wildly pretentious—yes, I understand this is not a high art, but I approach it as an artistic endeavor, and I try to make my stories about something. And even when I don’t try to make my stories about something, they tend to be about something. I tend to find there’s a theme I’m exploring whether I’m conscious [of it] or not. Anytime there’s something I have mixed feelings about, those tend to be my best stories, because it’s me turning it over in my head trying to figure it out. So I guess I don’t use it very well, as a method of communication!
Now I am communicating with my artist, because it’s a collaborative art form. So in producing the script, I’m writing them a letter that is an exploration of this idea, and then they take that letter and they explore the idea and the visuals. Then the thing we have produced, we have produced in equal parts and I suppose it is a dialogue between the artist and I. But I don’t view it as a dialogue with the reader. Then the reader can take those ideas and make their own.”
Mark Waid participated in the course on a week entitled “Gender and culture: How we learn our gender.”
Waid: “Well, first off, by not being obvious and shining a spotlight on it, I think anything is best learned through the arts when it’s part of an entertaining story, not the subject of a treatise. Comics does its best job teaching gender roles when it isn’t trying to, when it’s just letting characters be characters and people be people and stories be stories, without a message.”
Van Meter has a strong presence in comic books’ counterpart manga. She explores a hypothetical situation of what a similar course on manga would look like.
Van Meter: “With any text-based syllabus, figuring out where to draw the boundaries, just so you have something you can work with in terms of time, text-cost, reading burden, it’s so hard. I don’t envy the task Christy set for herself when she sat down to choose a reading list and a framework for the discussion.
My sense—and this is by no means an expert or well-researched conclusion, just a gut feeling—is that you would need a fairly significant chunk of ‘classroom’ time devoted to some expert presentations on genre within manga, tropes, codes, and traits within the form, as well as some really articulate and respectful assessments of the different ways comics work and have been viewed in their ‘home’ cultures. If you could get enough breadth and depth of understanding there, it could be really interesting to then dig into what’s going on with distribution, narrative styles, and gender representation that has made some American/Western readers, especially young women, find manga to be the more welcoming or engaging entry to reading comics.”
In general, Waid had a great time in his participation in the course.
Waid: “I’m always eager to help spread knowledge and talk about what we do. I stayed as long as I could after the class and answered questions via Twitter; another week, I’d taken it upon myself to help out the instructor because I knew she was encountering some technical difficulties with that week’s interviewee and figured I could keep the students entertained for a bit with an impromptu Q&A. I’m here to help!”
Didn’t get to participate in the SuperMOOC? Check out the panel at GeekGirlCon ‘13. Did you participate in the Gender Through Comic Books Massive Open Online Course? Hear details you may have missed ‘behind-the-scenes.’ Either way, there’s more to come from Blanch.
Blanch: “Through my comic book store, I am starting a comic book of the month course we are calling SuperMOOC squared—Super Massive Open Online Comics Community. We will choose several books for the month and on our webpage have lectures, articles, videos, and more, very similar to the Gender MOOC. We will also have live interviews with comics creators once or twice a month! The great thing is that we are getting comic book stores around the country involved, too, by including them. All they have to do is sell the books and give their customers that take part room to meet and have a roundtable discussion once a month! We are also going to make the books available through Comixology so that people overseas can also participate! We are still setting everything up but it’s going to be so great!”
Last weekend, I talked with pop-singing sensation, Emii. She collaborated with Snoop Dogg on the song “Mr. Romeo,” which reached #13 on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club chart. She has performed all over the world and been featured by Seventeen Magazine, AOL Music, and Fearless Radio. As a geek girl, video games and comic books influence her style, music, and music videos. Needless to say, I was nervous. When Emii answered my call, I was pleasantly surprised to be speaking with a laid-back, down-to-earth chica.
Emii moved from Ohio to New York when she was 18-years-old. She worked in a Manhattan comic shop in mid-town Manhattan. When asked about her time there, Emii remembers the amazing environment… and sneaking time to read comics at work. As a child, she buried herself in the adventures of superheroes. “Growing up, my sister would collect comic books, and I would kind of by default. I would do whatever I could to get my hands on them,” she reveals. Her favorites were the X-Men and Wolverine, which explains her desire to cosplay as an “old school “ version of Rogue.