Comics Alliance: Inking Outside the Box

Article by Sarah Mirk, appeared in issue Fame + Fortune; published in 2012; filed under Internet culture.
A profile on editor Laura Hudson

"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.

Comments

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Just a small correction - Red

Just a small correction - Red Hood (Jason Todd) is a male character, not a heroine. He appears in the same comic as Starfire.

Its hard to take things like

Its hard to take things like Laura's complaints about Starfire seriously when ComicsAlliance then turns around and attempts to portray the "barely-not-a-porn" Empowered as a serious pro-female work.

Empowered is anything but

Empowered is anything but serious, but it truly is more pro-female than the DC stuff. It's the "Stephen Colbert" of cheesecake.

If you're not sharp enough to

If you're not sharp enough to tell action comics with a dead-eyed sex doll from sexy comedy comics with a realized female lead, you shouldn't make it a point to broadcast it to the internet.

Yeah new Starfire is

Yeah new Starfire is ridiculous. Still hypersexualuzed but with the added benefit of not remembering who her past liaisons were with, so everyone gets another crack at her.

The problem with feminist

The problem with feminist bloggers such as Hudson, DC Women Kicking Ass, Mary Sue, et al, is that they spend all their time criticising and venting as opposed to doing more tangible things to serve their cause like promoting and being vocally supportive of the comics that get it right. Based on actual sales figures and on the very angry and, at times intolerant rantings of some of these women, it would seem that the only comic they ever read or supported was Womanthology. And god help you if you like something that they don't. Unless you just like being called a sexist misogynist or whatever other term they cling to in order to shut down the debate. Meanwhile, good, female friendly, objectification free comics such as Birds of Prey continues to plummet in sales. These particular bloggers are constantly telling us how there are just as many women reading comics as there are men(yes, these women are also very fond of revisionist history and denial of facts). If this is the case, then why don't comics such as BoP do better in sales? Probably because these women rarely (if at all) talk about what they do like or try to generate support for those comics they very rarely(if at all) give positive mention to. It's ironic and kind of sad because these bloggers are perpetuating their own self fulfilling prophecy. They hate the majority of offerings by the comic companies and fail to support or mention or promote the comics they get angry at the companies for canceling due to lack of sales and support. But hey, keep up the great work, ladies. You'll eventually figure out how the industry that you work in actually works.

Actually...

Each of the sites you criticized feature frequent positive reviews and statements in favour of other comic books. Heck, DCWomenKickingAss wrote positively about Birds of Prey YESTERDAY. Elsewhere in these very comments, someone criticized Hudson and ComicsAlliance for liking ANOTHER comic book! If you're going to make a sweeping complaint about "feminist bloggers" - as if that's somehow an actual slur - you owe it to yourself to make sure it stands up to the barest of all scrutiny.

I know just as many women as

I know just as many women as men who read comics. However, very very few of the women I know read superhero comics. Cape comics may be an overpowering genre in the industry, but they aren't the only genre.

Terrible.

Your way of devaluing their work vocalizing discontent with an industry that overwhelming serves straight white males like you and me is to accuse them of not supporting the small scrapes they are given, which is a bald faced lie because I've been following DC WOMEN KICKING ASS long enough to know for a fact that she has, with great regularity, endorsed and promoted the books she likes, including BIRDS OF PREY, directing people to Travel Forman's twitter and reposting rough sketches of his development work.

Did you even read this before you posted it? Fail.

Been reading comics since 12

Been reading comics since 12 and only now getting annoyed by them? I dunno. I can't think of much that I was doing when I was 12 that bothered me that I'm still doing to this day. Or is it because she's finally making money off of comics that it's time to raise her viability. Hmmmm....

Or

the recent reboot took a giant backward step from its already male gaze-tastic viewpoint? Yeah, I think that's it and your insinuation is ridiculous.

Link

Any chance someone has a link to the comic they're talking about in the first paragraph? Curious to read, despite the fact it's probably lousy and myopic.

I'm a regular reader of

I'm a regular reader of Comicsalliance. I do not agree with everything Ms Hudson says. However, at the end of the day, she's the editor, you go to that page you're in HER HOUSE! Respect it. I doubt AOL entrusts just anyone to run their sites she paid her dues and made it so now she has a forum to address her concerns.

To those who say that Hudson and others who are upset by depictions they see of women in comics should stop reading those comics-- well they should just stop reading Comicsalliance and trolling the comments section there.

She took a side which is more than many can say.