Media Relations: media commentary and criticism

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

things comickal

-- things comickal -- sex vs the single author

Ran across an interview with the Luna Brothers, creators of the Ultra superhero and Girls horror(ish) comic books, at UGO.com. It contained something truly ... odd, it seems to me.

The Luna Brothers Interview (UGO.com - UnderGround Online Comics channel)
Exclusive interview by Daniel Robert Epstein, contributing editor

Jonathan and Josh Luna created Ultra, one of the most compelling and fun books that Image Comics has ever put out. The story focuses on four female superheroes in a world that idolizes them like they are matinee idols. They recently collected the series into the trade paperback Ultra: Seven Days.

[...] UGO: Jonathan, do you have a day job?

JON: I'm the artist. I do the pencils, inks, colors, letters and I handle most of the business and do all the website stuff. Before we submitted Ultra, I was doing web design in Columbus Ohio.

UGO: Since you two have created such great female characters, I have to ask if either one of you are gay.

JON AND JOSH: Oh, we're not gay. [...]

[...] JOSH: It's funny because the Ultras originally started as a story about three guys. Like a Swingers type of story. It was how they deal with like a bad breakup. But we kept adding all these elements, like what if we did like a superhero. Once we started adding things, we thought of girls, then we thought of superhero girls, and all the cool factors started to play off each other and we created this whole thing that we could never have thought of in one sitting. [...]

So apparently, the only way to write realistic women in comic books is to be either gay or, presumably, a woman. (What being gay has to do with it, I'm sure I don't know.) Except, of course, that the Luna Brothers seem to have done it without being either one ... but are they some sort of anomaly that proves the rule? Is there a rule?

Weird thing is, a friend of mine used to have the same sort of convictions about science fiction writers. He was firmly convinced that a good woman science fiction writer could handle men and women equally well, but that only a very very VERY good male writer could handle women. He thought this was especially true of space opera, where women in general tend to be either hangers-on, bimbi, or, to put it kindly, receptacles. To some extent, I think this was a function of the science fiction he actually read ... but given that this is coming up in a different literary area, one has to ask: is it maybe true? Is there something innate about one's gender or sexuality that enables a writer to create better characters of the opposite sex?

I have to admit, most of the comics I read aren't the sort where you necessarily notice of one set of characters or another aren't well drawn. In general, with the notable exception of Invincible (and, if you want to stretch the point, the Hellboy titles) I don't really read superhero comics, and it seems to me, with its appeal to adolescent males, that you're likely to find more wish-fulfillment type women there. (SEE: Vicki Vale, All Star Batman and Robin and her magic bolt-ons, as noted in previous entries.) I do think that Liz and Kate, in the Hellboy/BPRD titles, are reasonably well drawn female characters, but the BPRD title is such an ensemble title that maybe it takes less effort to create a well-rounded woman. I think that Debbie Grayson, the mother in Invincible, is really well done and very interesting; Kirkman gives enough time to the character that we can empathize with her struggle in adjusting to her new, seriously altered reality.

I think that Willingham in general does well by his female characters in Fables. This stands in sharp contrast to the apparently severe case of women-in-refrigerators syndrome he seems to have developed in the Batman titles -- but then, Fables is [a] not a superhero title, [b] his baby, created by him, nurtured by him, and Batman can never be that, so he has some incentives to do better by the characters. There's also the fact that, very generally speaking, the type of reader who likes and understands Fables -- who has read enough to really understand the background he's put together for it -- may really be very different from the general Batman reader. (I have absolutely nothing to support this ... but I have a sneaky suspicion that if you did demographics on Fables, its readers would be both older, and possibly more female, than those of most of the Bat titles. Again, just a hunch, with no evidence at all to support it.)

Here's the other thing: does the fact that the characters in Ultra originally started out as guys (and boy, would THAT have made a change in the last three issues) mean anything? Is maybe the answer that you need to create good characters, and the sex/gender of the characters matters only insofar as it matters to the story? Because, honestly, with a few tweaks here and there (and there, and especially there), the story in Ultra might work just as well for male characters as women ... with the notable exception of the consequences Ultra suffers for her night of passion with one of the minor characters. Unless he was supposed to be a monk, it's pretty much unthinkable that a male character would have received the public condemnation for ordinary sex with one other person that gets heaped on Ultra ... but it is fairly believable that it would happen to a woman, unfortunately. Society's double standards do still exist.

So, really: does the sex (or sexuality) of the author necessarily make any difference? Or are the UGO editor and my friend seriously mistaken?

Inquiring minds want to know!

Posted by iain at 06:14 PM in category things comickal