I am a girl who likes comic books.
As any girl who likes comic books will tell you, the trouble with being a girl who likes comic books is that there are guys who like comic books.
Like, let’s examine my Deadpool shirt. My brother, the poor naïve sap, bought me a Deadpool shirt for our birthday one year, because he knows that I like Deadpool.
What he didn’t know was that a woman wearing a comic book shirt opens herself up to a whole world of trouble.
Like one day I’m wearing this Deadpool shirt, and I’m filming a project for a class. This project was due the next day (I never said I was a model student), so me and my partner were trying to bust out our shots as quickly as possible so that we could edit it in time.
Picture this– my partner was standing a few feet away from me, and I was lining up the shot on her, when this guy- this guy- stood RIGHT IN FRONT of my camera.
“That’s a pretty cool shirt,” he said.
“Thanks,” I said, trying to figure out how to get him out of the way.
“Do you know who that is?” he asked, pointing at my boobs.
“It’s DEADPOOL” he said, like I wasn’t the one wearing the shirt.
“I know,” I said, still trying to be polite (for whatever reason).
“You know when his first comic was?”
“I, uh, I dunno.”
“He’s been around since 1991. Most people don’t know that since he just got popular.”
He was really settling in, all ready to set up camp in front of my camera. My partner was watching anxiously from behind the place where he stood.
“You know,” he said, “I liked Deadpool better before they made him all funny and stupid.”
“I- what?” I said. “Like, what do you mean?”
“Like, back when he was a villain,” he said, “back in 1991. Before they made him all dumb.”
Now, I don’t know if you’re aware of all the social mores at play here, but what this guy was doing is the exact thing that just about every guy tries to do if they find out I like comic books– he was quizzing me. He was, essentially, testing me to see if I really liked comic books, or if I was just some kind of fake geek girl.
See, there’s a very specific type of comic book boy, and they’re the ones who think that comics are just for guys. And any girl who reads them, or wears a shirt with one of them on it, is just doing it to get attention.
Now what does all of this have to do with body positivity?
It has to do with the fact that, in all honesty, much as I might try to deny it, comic books are notoriously a man’s game. They’re made overwhelmingly by men, for men, about men.
And all you have to do to see this in action is look at the way these men draw women.
Let’s compare some lady heroes with their male peers, for instance.
You can debate the similarities and differences between these characters (Jean Grey’s powers aren’t exactly the same as Professor X’s) but the point is to look at the variety of body types present in the male characters, and compare that with the…total lack of variety in the female ones.
Think about it. When was the last time you saw a lady hero who wasn’t fit and skinny and totally free of cellulite? When was the last time you saw a female protagonist, in general, who was bigger than a size 6?
And I know that I literally did a whole blog post about butts, but does every superheroine have to be posed with both breasts and ass facing towards the audience?
I’m bringing this up because the thing people always mention in regards to body image is magazines and how magazines set an unreachable standard for women.
But, like, I didn’t read magazines, you know? I was a loser! I had too many books with dragons on the cover, and I didn’t start wearing eyeliner until I was nineteen. I wouldn’t have known an issue of Vogue if you’d hidden it inside a Harry Potter box set.
But I still had the same body issues that every girl has, and I had them because every comic book and cartoon and novel and movie and tv show was saying the same thing-
A girl can’t be a hero if she isn’t skinny.
And don’t get me wrong- I love Jean Grey and Super Girl and She-Hulk and Wonder Woman (I can take or leave Psylocke). They’re great characters and they have great stories when the right writer is behind the helm, but they don’t wear those costumes the way I would wear them, you know? There aren’t any short heroines with big butts out there, saving the world with snark– probably because a certain type of male comic book reader would find that offensive.
And yes, things are improving. Every day we get new female writers and new female characters. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention amazing comics like Miss Marvel, written by G. Willow Wilson.
But I would also be remiss if I avoided mentioning the insane twitter rant Erik Larson (longtime comic artist) went on over how Miss Marvel’s costume is “bulky and clumsy and unattractive.” He thinks that the outfit of a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl should be sexier, and that comics are “pandering to a vocal minority” (i.e. women) by giving her a costume that isn’t skintight latex.
And all of this is why my general reaction, when annoying comic book bros start grilling me on minutia, is to just shrug it off. It’s not worth the fight, you know? Comics are a man’s game, and no argument is gonna change that.
So I want you to keep all of this context in mind when I say that some guy who likes comic books was standing in front of me and quizzing me on my Deadpool shirt.
And I want you to keep in mind that the thing that really pissed me off wasn’t the fact that this guy was sexist and annoying and blocking my shot.
What really pissed me off was how stupid his opinion on Deadpool was.
“You liked Deadpool better before he was funny?” I asked, crouching behind this camera, open-mouthed in disbelief.
“Yeah.” He had this stupid smug smirk on his face. “Like, when he was a regular mercenary, when they took him seriously.”
“But that’s stupid,” I said, “there are like a million and one mercenary comics out there. Read Punisher if you want a serious comic.”
He started to say something, but I interrupted; I was hitting my stride. “No, the whole point of Deadpool is that he’s silly. If you don’t want a funny comic, then don’t read a funny comic. Saying you liked him before he was funny would be like- like if I said, ‘Oh pish, I liked Batman better before his parents died.'” I rocked back onto my heels. “It’s just an idiotic thing to say.”
I can only wish that I had a picture of this guy’s face at that point. He put up his hands in that classic “well excuuuuse ME” gesture, started to say something, reconsidered, and then finally walked away.
And I wish that I’d torn into this guy about something a little more important, like the fact that he was taking something that was supposed to be fun and inspiring and makes people feel excited and happy, and he was excluding me from it. Comic books had been actively avoiding a female audience for years, and they’d done that by drawing females in a way that was almost exclusively geared towards the male gaze. And this was what let this guy think that it was okay to interrogate random women about their t-shirts. Because comics were for him and nobody else.
So I hope that you understand what I mean when I say that, even if all I’d done was have an argument about Deadpool, I still felt kind of heroic.