I spend a lot of time lurking on the periphery of the discussion of women and comics. I don’t exactly know how or why this became an issue of such interest for me…although upon reflection, I have a guess.
I may have mentioned it here before, but one of my closest friends once took me to task about the way that I wrote female characters at the time. He basically called me a sexist. I was floored by the statement, and after my requisite period spent in denial, I looked his accusation, and myself, over. Suffice it to say, that was twenty years ago, and its still something I think about.
When I first began dabbling with the idea of doing creator-owned comics, I knew that I wanted to write something that was intentionally accessible to readers regardless of gender. I wanted to do a comic that everyone could read. I still keep that close to me with almost everything I do. (Hunter Black is CLOSE to being an exception to the rule, what with noir’s clear use of gender roles. We’re tweaking some of those conventions with a character like Maliya Pel, but then we’re embracing them with the Black Ribbon and some other characters we have coming down the pike.)
Anyway, I’ve been rereading Vertigo Comics’ Sandman Mystery Theater, written by Matt Wagner and my-sometime-employer Steven T. Seagle, and finding in it another female character that flies in the face of noirish convention, although SMT had a distinct sense of noir (one I should write about, frankly) in Dian Belmont.
Dian Belmont, as portrayed in SMT, might very well be the best female character in comics. Don’t get me wrong, there are a TON of great female characters, many of which I really love, but I think Dian, for me, trumps them all.
First off, it’s important to note that even though Dian’s name isn’t in the title, and she (almost) never puts on a mask…she is one of the book’s protagonists. Yes, there is a Sandman. But Dian gets equal page time with Wesley, and every other arc is told from HER perspective. Dian drives the book’s action, she contributes both as a detective and as a motivation, and she’s VIBRANT. This book would be nothing without her. She’s also very much a woman. She’s emotional. She needs to talk, sometimes a lot. She has expectations of her man. But she’s also brave and good and doesn’t suffer foolishness. She’s sensual, enjoying drink and dance and sex. Best of all, she’s set in the 1930s, so she REALLY stands out.
I’m tired and this isn’t coming out right. I might try and amend it later. But the conclusion I’m reaching as I reread this is this: I’ve wondered if I have what it takes to write women effectively, because I have a lot of projects with female main characters in the works. I skew towards the “manly.” I like beer, football, and boobs. I’m sure that many would argue that I can be insensitive. But I like WOMEN, by which I mean female people, not sex objects. (I can objectify with the best of them, but that’s not restricted to gender or sexuality.) I want to bring more women to the table, I want to entertain as many women as I do men. And when I wonder if I CAN do that and do it well…I reread Sandman Mystery Theater and remember Dian Belmont as written by two men. And while the bar is set higher, it’s also set more within reach.