I began to read comic books during my first year in college, when a group of friends insisted that I do so and did not let me rest until I had finished one series. They assigned Preacher by Garth Ennis as my first reading. In the beginning I borrowed copies from a friend, but after reading Proud Americans I purchased the complete series. The stories left me hooked, but I never became a consistent reader of popular superhero comics like X-Men, Superman, Spiderman and Batman. Superhero comics entertain me, but do not captivate my attention as does Locke & Key.
This is partly because I now read comics on the internet, which provides instant gratification, frequent updates and variety in format and plot. Incidentally, unconventional publishers of web and print comics include female and gay characters far more than the publishers of traditional superhero comics. I prefer to read comics that include a diverse range of characters.
This is not to say that superhero comics exclude women—Remember Wonder Woman? However, female representation in DC and Marvel comics seems to target a heterosexual male audience. Take for example The New 52 and relaunch of Starfire and Dr Amanda Waller. In her 1970s incarnation Starfire was sexual, but in the new release she is extremely sexualized—an event that prompt significant outcry. Waller, who first appeared in 1986 as a strong, smart, powerful black woman sans overt sexuality, has now succumbed to similar fate.
Despite their sexy costumes and backbreaking poses, the women of comic books do not arouse my reading interest. The plots and imagery are clearly designed to appease common male fantasies in which men are muscular heroes and women heroines with impossibly narrow waistlines and breasts larger than heads. In the least, these repetitive stereotypes in comics alienate readers who could enrich the genre's fan base with more creativity and diversity.
Most comics value male characters according to their heroism and physical strength, and measure women by the heroic acrobatics they perform in high heels and revealing bodysuits. The lack of diverse female body types and the continuous sexualization of women in comic books is a problem for the industry. Real women may read superhero books, but they do fully aware of their literary marginalization. Comics accept young, straight, white males as default readers.
Now, however, the growing number of online readers is revising the way the comics industry operates. As readers access comics in print and digital form, they create the demand for a wider expression of diverse characters. Films based on comics attract viewers of all ages and genders, and become multimillion dollar blockbusters. With online publishing, similar opportunity now exists for a webcomics industry that allows talented artists of all styles to reach an audience of millions. Such platform should bring surefire diversity that includes comic women with brains and spunk. Comic characters diverse in gender, ethnicity, body type and intelligence will defeat stereotypes and satisfy all readers—particularly this one.
Bailey Richards prepared this text with assistance from e-feminist staff.