Before you read this post, please read the following two articles in their entirety:
Jill Lepore, author of The Secret History of Wonder Woman‘s New Yorker op-ed about G. Willow Wilson’s new comic A-Force here.
Also read G. Willow Wilson’s response on her Tubmlr titled Dr. Lapore’s Lament here.
This post is not about A-Force. Basically, Jill Lapore says that comics still haven’t reached the point female fans and/or female characters should be yet, and G. Willow Wilson says, hey, we are trying and are working towards building a constructive world.
I have become convinced in my cynicism that comic books will always need defending. After the censorship of the past and present, it is difficult to believe that we will live in a world where comics are broadly accepted for what they are; well thought out stories and amazing, visual artwork.
The discussion of Lapore and Wilson’s commentary on A-Force speaks to a larger issue comics are having right now: who are they for?
You have your stereotypical ideas; per-pubecent boys who want pretty ladies and loads of violence. Comic books also come with a lot of history which people will scrutinize with every turn. Lapore points out the fact that most of the female characters are “Ms.” Someone or “She” someone. To be perfectly frank, She-Hulk is one of my favorite characters. She’s not a love interest of Hulk, often what people jump to right away, but is a lawyer, a defender with her strength and her mind. Do we really expect people to know an entire retrospective history of comic characters and plot lines?
So the real question is why does this dialogue still happen? I think most comic book fans can easily state that comic books have come a long way from their predecessors. Women are rarely in back breaking poses, men have the correct number of abdominal muscles, and we are generally heading in the right direction.
Most of it boils down to people making snap judgements based upon previous iterations of characters. Comic book characters are more popular than ever. Note how I said comic book characters and not comic books themselves. This has led people to have limited context of the characters, assuming that the characters of the films, T.V. series and novels are the same as they are in the comic books. When this assumption does not pan out, people are often disappointed and distraught, turning them off of reading comics (Black Widow never says “I’ve got red in my ledger” until AFTER the Avengers film; however, she does go onto say it in the comics later).
Comics also have a long and convoluted history which can easily turn people off from reading them. The comic world has changed a lot in recent years as G. Willow Wilson points out; characters are more diverse, stories explore more themes, and art has evolved from its cookie cutter past. However, do we really expect people to be able to make criticisms only if they have extensive background knowledge? Aren’t they allowed to explore these characters within the confines of their personal backgrounds and perceived world view, such as Jill Lapore did?
So what’s a librarian to do? You have some patrons who absolutely love comics and want to read all of them, and the parents who tell their children not to pick another graphic novel from the shelves.
Libraries are one of the best places to cultivate these ideas. They are an open forum where people have access to thousands of titles and the ability to explore all types of literature from Jennifer & Matthew Holm’s Babymouse to Alan Moore’s Lost Girls. Even if you as an individual are not interested in Graphic Novels, it is still important to know how to create a diverse collection. Defend GNs in your collection and encourage healthy dialog among patrons, staff, and others when discussing GNs in your library.