Girls and comics. It all seemed to make so much sense two days ago when I wrote my Different for Girls post in response to the idea that a comic for girls was missing from the comics world.
We haven’t stopped talking about it since, and because it’s so interesting I thought I’d catch you all up on the debate, all in one place so you don’t have to run around social media like a headless chicken.
Wires get crossed fairly easily online but what I have loved about this debate is that people are keeping open minds and taking the time to respond.
Hang on… When I said a ‘comic for girls’
It was the phrase ‘girls’ comics’ that got me talking. Just what did the term mean? While Sarah L and I were defending our rights not to be labelled as preferring emotion over adventure just because we’re females, Neill Cameron was working out that maybe a ‘comic for girls’ isn’t quite what he was getting it.
Twitter tweets flew and Neil’s put it very neatly in his blog post A (better) IDEA: Awesome Comics, For Girls. (And Boys).
“The thing is the potency, or clarity of the phrase “Girls Comic” itself. You say that, and immediately people know what you’re talking about; it’s got that link to the past, and it makes for a nice, marketable hook.
You say “a new, updated Girl’s Comic”, or “it’s like Jinty, or Misty, but relevant for today’s kids”, and people immediately know what you’re talking about.
It’s a problematic phrase but a convenient shorthand, an attention-catching idea to get people talking. I’ve struggled to find a way to express the idea in a more accurate way without going on for a page and a half of prevarication and qualification; “it’s a comic that deals with areas of subject matter or narrative approaches that may traditionally be perceived as ‘feminine’ when applying retrogressive normative gender identities” doesn’t quite trip off the tongue in the same way.”
We’re starting to get the picture now! There was something about these girls’ comics that just doesn’t seem to be about any more. So what is it that we’re missing?
The lovely Laura Howell (Fleece friend and the amazing lady who draws for The Beano) puts it brilliantly in her comment on Neill’s post:
“Yes! Thank you Neill. I wasn’t part of the debate yesterday, but I read Lauren’s blog post and it left me really confounded… I *wanted* to agree about the not-labelling, but there was something holding me back in my mind saying “No, I REALLY MEANT Girls’ Comics when I replied to Neill’s post yesterday. I really want more GIRLS’ COMICS.
There was a something I got from Bunty and Mandy et al that I just didn’t get from the funny comics I loved, like Buster and Beano and Oink, and that’s what doesn’t seem to be out there any more.
You’ve got to the heart of what I realised when I had a long, hard think about how to square that particular circle – it’s the *values* of girls’ comics. Drama. Nail-biting cliff-hangers. Emotions and relations. Tension and excitement. And no shyness about female protagonists. Something a bit beefier, a bit deeper, that requires more committment for a cathartic payoff weeks down the line.
Yes, like the serialised strips in the Phoenix and the DFC. Absolutely like that. But in my ideal little fantasy world, something that can keep girls reading comics for longer. There’s lots of fuss about hooking in reluctant young male readers with comics, but what about the older girls, who think they’ve grown out of comics as soon as they reach year 7? I’d like to see something that can keep them on board. But not necessarily labelled as such “
And then there’s the other side of saying that these more ‘emotional’ comics are generally for girls…
Hang on… what about boys?
What we miss if comics labelling something ‘for girls’ is that the boys will run screaming (in a manly way). Back in the days of girls’ comics it was much more acceptable for a girl to read a boys’ comic (they just called them ‘comics’ then and still do) than for a boy to be seen reading a girls’ comic (the shame of it!).
Chopping half the population of the planet out of a comics genre is probably not the best idea (*narrows eyes at superhero comics that don’t cater for girls*) and this works both ways.
Fleece Stationer Gary put it nicely over a series of tweets on Twitter:
“I must confess, the part that confuses me is the inference that “emotion” can only be enjoyed in girls comics.
I used to read Commando comics as a kid and those stories were often about human personal journeys.
Gallons of it in Peanuts, Spider-man, Buddy Bradley, Rabagliati, Chris Ware. Or am I missing the point?”
The point is that boys love these kinds of tales too. So really we’re back to talking about a comic for both sexes again. But not necessarily a comic for everyone. Phew.
Back over to Neill’s blog for this comment from the splendid book scribbling Susie Day:
“What we’re really talking about here, it seems to me, is ‘stories about girls’ as much as we are an assumed reader. We need stories about girls to be perceived as for both boys and girls, because stories about girls are awesome.”
Hang on… when I said “I ran screaming from ‘girl’s comics’ as they were all a bit… well… girlie for me”
And I’m learning too…
It has been pointed out to me by folks in the know that ‘girls’ comics’ back in the day were full of fabulous things. Excellent stories, amazing art, and all kinds of stuff you could only get in those comics for girls.
Over on Facebook Fleece Pal and lady comics scribbler Cliodhna Lyons saw these girls’ comics very differently from me (as Laura also points out above):
“As someone who grew up reading Bunty I have to disagree with your stereotyping those girl focused comics as comics that focus on “dreamy boys” or anything of that sort. I was most definitely not a girly girl growing up and wouldn’t have bothered with anything that focused on clothes, boys or make-up. The best stories in Bunty featured everything from boarding school tales of midnight feasts to a rather high number of time travel tales. It was a comic that had a huge range of stories and I struggle to remember any story that was about romance or boys.”
So I’ll be completely honest and say that I rarely looked into Bunty to see all of that. This is because these comics looked like they focussed on the more mundane feminine things to me. I did avoid those Jinty / Bunty comics as a kid because of this. They just seemed pretty lame because their covers told me so. And back then it was different for girls! Equal rights have come a long way since.
It’s easy enough to tell someone not to judge a book by its cover but you can’t expect kids to have learned this at quite such a young age. So in my defence here are some of the covers that tiny comics-reading me saw on the shelves and in piles of older comics when I was growing up:
After hearing out Laura, Cliodhna and my studio mate Sarah, I am well up for taking a dip into these old comics and seeing that magic. Bring them on!
Also it doesn’t have to be IN YOUR FACE girlie. We’re not talking princesses, ponies and unicorn poop here (though IMHO a comic about unicorn poop would sell amazingly well).
Over to Fleece Stationer Sarah on Facebook.
“I felt really weird when I first came to comics, and it all seemed to be guys talking about oversized men in tights. I think the guys who think those are the only decent kind of comics need to back off a bit and accept that other people might like other kinds of things, and that’s a good thing, not a bad thing.
But Lauren and I were just talking about how cool it was that Neill featured a women who rides a dinosaur in his strip, and how Jamie’s stuff so wonderfully combines cute and cuddly with hardcore, and defies any gender labels.
I think I would feel weird contributing to something that was over-the-top pink and glittery, but I don’t mind if there’s a quiet murmuring on the editing floor about making sure the comic will appeal to women: featuring them as lead characters, showing them in lots of different roles and with different, distinct personalities. I love that The Phoenix is doing that, and another comic would need a different identity; it’s good to start brainstorming ways to give it that new angle.”
So maybe we’re going to have to look at marketing these things differently. Treating people like individuals rather than shoehorning them into the neat little boxes society tells us they should fit in.
The comic’s appeal needs to be on the outside as well as inside. Kids are cover judgers and that probably won’t change. So can we make awesome comics with awesome covers that show their inner awesomeness too, please?
Hang on… why am I talking about comics instead of getting on with my work?
I don’t make comics myself but I do love them. And it’s clear a lot of other people do. This is important stuff! And there is no better time than right now to start changing things for the better.
Over to Fleece Station friend Jamie Smart, who drew our attention to the death of the Dandy and got this whole thing kicked off in the first place (and penned the disturbing yet cute pic below), over on Facebook to round this off:
“With all this creative discussion since the Dandy news, it feels like there’s more of a chance than ever for artists to find what works and take it forward themselves, under their own momentum. There’s a lot of room to now explore and evolve in natural ways and see where we all end up. It’s an exciting time.”
Hang on… What exactly is it that we want now then?
As Neill and Laura point out what we’re lacking here is a comic that deals with real stories and journeys we can relate to. Stories with a bit of soul and stuff under the surface. Tale of growing up, finding your way, living life and, dammit, having a good old weep if you want to.
In fact we all seem to be on the same page with what it is that we want. The tough bit is finding a name that says exactly what we mean. It’s clear we do need a new comic that has the great things at the heart of the girls’ comics of old, but without the stereotyping that doesn’t do anyone any good.
The nearest we’ve come so far in Young Adult comics, or YA comics. Jumping on the bandwagon of literature that covers anything from Harry Potter to Tracey Beaker to His Dark Materials to Twilight to The Hunger Games and everything in between (sorry about the Twilight reference but each to their own).
But we’re open to suggestions and we’d love to hear more opinions.
So what happens now?
We keep talking and start doing.
And that’s really the whole point. We all agree that there are HUGE GARGANTUAN GAPS out there in the comics world. And the #awesomenewcomic hashtag over on Twitter is brimming with ideas to fill those gaps.
So join the discussion on Twitter, post on Facebook, bung it on your blog, or comment here on the Fleece Station (hooray for social media! How I love you!). But keep the comics conversation going!
I can almost smell the freshly printed ink on a whole world of brave new comics now. Woo hoo!