I read comics like a girl.
We’ve started this dialogue so many times. It’s so strange to be confronted with opposition when all you’re asking for is to be acknowledged. And it’s equally strange to be hearing, from those who are gatekeeping pop culture, two opposite arguments: 1.) sexism is over, women can vote and hold jobs and drive, men and women are equal and feminists are actually working for female superiority, and 2.) women don’t really read comics, and they’re ruining a perfect medium by demanding standards for things they don’t even consume. There are, of course, many other arguments; these two, in particular, though, I find exceptionally strange.
I read comics like a girl because I’m a girl—or, to avoid infantilizing myself, technically a woman. I’m not interested in ruining anyone’s fun, or taking away your favorite characters—I’m not even interested in taking away your favorite boobies. Power Girl? Her boob window is canon, she has an in-continuity reason for it, she feels like instead of an insignia pledging her allegiance and purpose she has an empty space. I’m not asking for anyone to mess with Power Girl’s boob window. And if Harley started dressing like Kamala all of a sudden, I promise you, I would be disturbed. I’m not asking for stories to avoid violence against women, to avoid violence involving women, to avoid rape or murder if the subjects are women. Violence, rape, and murder, are all parts of the actual world in which we live. I’m asking for stories to consider the cultural context of these real issues, and deal with them appropriately—treat men and women equally, not identically, and when an issue occurs, deal with it. Recently I’ve been linking to a 2-year-old article about the Strong Female Character trope, and why it’s not enough. As we talk about the books below, I think that’s important to keep in mind—I’m not asking for Lara Croft in every book (nothing against Lara whatsoever), I’m asking for women to be written with as much complexity and consideration as men.
Curb Stomp #3
WRITTEN BY: Ryan Ferrier
ART BY: Devaki Neogi
PUBLISHER: BOOM! Studios
RELEASE: April 22, 2015
Curb Stomp continues to feature the ways in which the women of The Fever are strong, and the ways in which they are flawed. While there are tropes present, they are not tropes that the narrative is reliant on, and to criticize portrayal of poverty as a trope (in this case) would be to erase portrayal of poverty. This is real. The stakes are high. Every time you think this book is falling within your comfort zone, becoming predictable or telling you what you want to hear, Ferrier and Neogi pull the rug out from under you. There aren’t happily ever afters, real life doesn’t come with a sassy best friend or a manic pixie dream girl, everyone does what they have to and sometimes that includes people you’re counting on. Curb Stomp isn’t interested in furnishing you with a 5-person cast to fill sitcom roles, these women weren’t thrown together in a writer’s room, they’re together for a reason, they have a history, and their future (or lack thereof) will hinge on their reality.
If you were making a feminism checklist, a Bingo card for comic book diversity, this one certainly checks all the right boxes. Women across ages, races, sexualities, family structures, personality types. In another book, this might feel like tokenism, artificial multiculturalism for the sake of placating SJWs. In Curb Stomp, it feels natural; at no point are their intersecting identities made to be the focus, there aren’t any coming out stories and no one tries to touch Violet’s curls, but the facets of each of their backgrounds absolutely informs the way they experience the world and interact within it. The most interesting thing about Betty isn’t her purple undercut any more than it is her South Indian heritage or queerness—Betty Machete is all of those things, and she is a complete person. She’s loving, she’s punk rock, she’s got a sneer that would make Sid Vicious cry, she makes terrible decisions on the spur of the moment, her labret piercing is as endearing as the way she cares for her sister, Sweet Pea. The neon art of Curb Stomp is urban, punk, vivid, shocking, compelling, and above all, incredibly distinct, just like its characters.