Comics Alliance: Inking Outside the Box
"Reports of my boobs and fists have been greatly exaggerated," says Laura Hudson, staring at a webcomic that depicts her with enormous versions of both, under the headline, "What I'm Offended About This Week!"
Hudson, the editor of AOL-owned comics blog Comics Alliance, deserves some serious love for striding boldly into an Internet shitstorm (and dealing with accompanying nasty caricatures) by bringing a feminist critique of superhero comics to the site's mainstream audience over the past year.
Comics Alliance covers a mix of mainstream-comics news and fandom, but has recently become home to posts that take on issues like how underdeveloped, oversexualized female characters can be alienating to female comics fans. The blog devoted two weeks in February to spotlighting "sexy comics," asking various writers to chime in with their thoughts on good and bad of portrayals of sex in comics, and hosted "gender-swapping Valentines" (cute art that switched the gender roles of familiar characters like Batman and Catwoman and the Archie-Betty-Veronica threesome).
Hudson has had her nose buried in superhero comics since age 12, but her annoyance at the way female characters are treated in them flared up last fall, when DC Comics launched its much-vaunted "New 52" reboot of old titles. The publisher framed the reboot as an effort to reach out to new readers, div ersify its creators and its audience, and break new ground. Instead, the heroines—notably Catwoman, Starfire, Voodoo, and Red Hood—were the same old sex objects in tiny outfits, with the drawings dwelling on their butts and boobs to the detriment of story development. Reboot readers turned out to be only 5 percent new fans and 93 percent male, according to a DC Comics internal survey.
"It's depressing that this medium I've devoted my life to is so alienating to me," says Hudson, who spelled out her concerns about Starfire (a flying, sun energy–shooting, alien queen) in a Comics Alliance blog post titled "The Big Sexy Problems with Superheroines and their 'Liberated Sexuality.'" She noted that while a lady who spends her days strutting around in a bikini, fighting bad guys, and seducing good ones could potentially be a sex-positive role model, the "rebooted" Starfire is not that person. She's a fictional character, written by men, drawn by men, and clearly manifesting straight-male fantasies.
"I was expecting to get slaughtered for it, but I was upset enough at that point that I was like, you know, I don't care if this ends my career," says Hudson. The post did hurt Hudson's relationship with DC Comics and earned her a boatload of negative comments and e-mails, but it also found support among fans (who "liked" the post 22,000 times on Facebook) and creators (some of whom e-mailed Comics Alliance privately to express their gratitude).
The response Hudson and other forward-thinking comics writers often get for raising these issues is that sexualized heroines are intrinsic to comics—and that if readers don't like the content, they should stop reading. But Comics Alliance works to prove that sexism actually isn't inherent to comics, and fights to ensure that solid storytelling is.
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