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Gender Issues in Comic Books are Real and They're Getting Their Own Online College Course

By Rob Payne | Trade News | February 22, 2013 | Comments ()


pajibagenderthroughcomicbooks.jpg

About 10 years ago, back in the all or nothin' days of my own college experience, I attended the Chicago Comic Con (I think it was the first year Wizard magazine took it over) and there I met one of my personal heroes, comic scribe Mark Waid. Besides writing several of my favorite comics -- which he has continued doing in the decade since -- he was also a comic nerd's comic nerd, knowing far too much mythical minutiae for anyone's good. The night I met him, he had just finished hosting/judging a trivia contest that only proved Waid's own obsessive superiority and I told him as much as he was making his way to a talent-and-press-only party at the convention. He was nonplussed by that, but seemed appreciative when I told him I enjoyed the show anyway. As he made his way into the VIP party, he showed his pass to the hotel staffer/bouncer and I happened to see that it said "+1 guest," so I did what any self-respecting college-age comic nerd at his first major convention would do, I told the "bouncer" I was with Mr. Waid and walked right on in.

Not wanting to be a hanger-on or a creepy stalker, I decided against following him around and to check out the rest of the party. All I found were journalists, and since this was before blogs took down print everyone looked professional but me, so I didn't speak to anyone until I'd circled the entire party and came back to the door. There, the friends I was attending the convention with were telling the "bouncer" that they let me in erroneously and I was unceremoniously kicked out. After that, I spent at least an hour talking to one of my favorite artists, Humberto Ramos. There's no real point to this story besides being one of my life's shining moments. Considering the amount of writers and artists who spent no more time in the party than I did, I'm sure there wouldn't be a better story if I'd stayed. It also serves as a way into talking about Mark Waid outside of his actual writing. I don't know if he noticed that I followed him in, but it's important to note that he didn't get me thrown out and I like to think he would have admired that kid's moxy if he did.

Suffice to say, Waid was a class act and he's constantly solidifying his hero status in my eyes -- whether writing comics or espousing the benefits of the Internet for creator-owned work. I've spent a good chunk of the past 30 days or so writing about gender and equality in comics and comic art, specifically superheroes. It's an area I haven't quite been able to shake loose, and that's exacerbated because there are examples of insexquity seemingly gods damned everywhere. Now, in his most recent heroic act, Waid has announced a free web-based college class, or a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), dedicated solely and entirely to gender issues in the comic medium. "Gender Through Comic Books" will be instructed by Ball State University professor Christina Blanch, and featuring interviews and discussions with today's most prolific and interesting creators such as Kelly Sue Deconnick, Matt Fraction, Brian K. Vaughn, Terry Moore, Gail Simone, Brian Michael Bendis, Jonathan Hickman, Jason Aaron and, of course, Mark Waid.

You don't have to take my word for it, here's what Waid himself said in his announcement:

"I'm excited about this not only because I'm participating but because it's a revolutionary way to marry comics and education using technology...Trust me when I say that it's worth enrolling just to watch Bendis and Hickman alone struggle with the question, 'Who, in your opinion, is the most masculine comic book character?' They're not being asked the same cookie-cutter questions you've heard a hundred times before; they're talking about how gender roles inform and influence their work, how they approach gender politics, and more -- and I'm here to tell you that many of their answers surprised me."

If that doesn't do anything for you, here's a video featuring the world's most bombastic man, Stan Lee, to convince you:

"Gender Through Comic Books" begins on April 2, 2013 -- so you know it's not a joke -- and will conclude on May 10, but enrollment is right now. Something tells me that even if you don't give a Splinter's ass about comic bookery, there's probably still something to learn here. See you in class!

(Header image via The Hawkeye Initiative)


Rob Payne also writes the comic The Unstoppable Force, tweets on the Twitter, tumbls on the Tumblr, and his wares can be purchased here. He's pretty sure he'll fail the course if homework is involved, so it's good he graduated a long, long time ago.



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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • Ozioma

    Also: The Hawkeye Initiative. You won't regret looking it up.

  • pippa

    Why is the discussion of women in comics so prevalent when, for instance, in the image above, there are no identifiable characters of color. At least women are there, you know? I don't discount the discussion, but every time I see articles like this I can't help but compare.

  • You are 100% right. Comics Alliance has David Brothers and Joseph Hughes, who have several excellent pieces this month on that topic. For me, I wouldn't feel comfortable writing about it because I'm not entirely sure how. I only just began to feel comfortable enough with gender to properly express the issue, and I'm still grappling with it. Non-heteronormative people and relationships also get short shrift. The point, at least for this article, is that gender has a college course now that everyone can take. If/when the other issues get that, I'd like to think we would at least cover that, too.

  • NateMan

    We need to find a way to let women be sexy, sexual, and powerful while neither requiring those states nor judging said women for achieving them. Sadly, I have no real idea on how to go about it. Fortunately I work with a number of very smart people who are trying!

  • Hater from Siloam Springs

    Oh brother - stop it already. You mean girls in comics look like a lampoon of sexy and men in comics look like a lampoon of strong and handsome? You mean most comic book relationships are in cyclical stasis because nobody really wants them to change?

    In my house, we have a joke that goes like this: when somebody is a masculine caricature we just blurt out, "square jaw." It has warped over the years into saying exactly the same thing when some female is stupendously parodying a female stereotype. Of course comics are full of stereotypes. They occur in 23-page clumps. What else can happen?

  • MarTeaNi

    The ever-shrinking population of mainstream American superhero comic book readers would decry your statement that no one wants change. Some of the people remaining don't want change. The ones that do...well a lot of them left. Which is why more often you see creators producing their best work outside of the Big Two.

  • NateMan

    Um. Lots? You can have shows for small children that teach them something (Sesame Street) and ones that don't (Teletubbies). You can have horror movies with sharp writing (Cabin in the Woods) and ones that don't (practically all of torture porn). And you can have comics that present characters, even characters in outlandish situations and with bizarre powers, who behave in natural ways (The Boys, Fables, Sandman) and don't have to fucking pretend that their psychic powers are apparently stored in their giant inflatable tits (See practically every main title from DC and Marvel these days).

  • More like 20 pages now, but that's beside the point. Limitations of the medium have been mitigated by longer story arcs and evolving continuinity, none of whhich has anything to do with character portrayals. That's like saying, how good can a sitcom be in 22 minutes? Pretty fucking good if done right.

  • brian

    to hell with all the assholes in the world

  • VonnegutSlut

    It is for reasons such as this that I like "Unbreakable" a whole lot more than the general movie-going public.

  • NateMan

    You and me both. Fantastic movie.

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