Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Comics are making me think again, dagnabit!

The interesting thing about Larry Young is he refuses to be pigeonholed. His company puts out intriguing, thought-provoking stuff that does not fit a stereotype. It also allows us to examine it in more detail than, say, your average superhero book.

Such is the case with Smoke and Guns, Kirsten Baldock's debut graphic novel, which I had to buy with my own hard-earned cash while others got theirs for free. After crying in my beer about that, I read the damned thing.

I'm not here to review it. I liked it, but I'm not here to review it. It has gotten some good reviews, some medium reviews, and some poor reviews. Marc Mason thinks it should be a movie. That's fine and dandy. I want to look at it in a different way.

As I said, I liked it. It wasn't the greatest book ever, but it was fun for what it was. I don't think it was worth 13 dollars, but whatever. Most of the reviews have focused on the artwork of Fábio Moon, since the story is a little weak. Basically, this book is all style, and that is what bothers me.

As a man, I'm far from the best person to lecture anyone on how women should be portrayed in comic books. But just as I wondered, long ago, whether women would like Filler (also published by AiT-Planet Lar), I wonder if whether a woman writer can get away with somewhat exploitative depictions of women more than a man can.

Let's take a look at some of the artwork. Yes, I'm perfectly aware that the art was done by a man, but judging by Baldock's picture at the back of book, she had no qualms about the art.

Here's Scarlett, our heroine:

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Here's Scarlett and Annie, her best friend:

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Fine and dandy, right? Right. Typical comic book women - good-sized breasts, tiny waists, legs that go on forever, skimpy clothes. And they're packing heat! A horny guy's dream!

Is this artwork any different from, say, this:

 Posted by Picasa

I would think a lot of people out there, and a lot of women, would find this offensive. Maybe I'm wrong. This is the reason that gets cited for why women don't read comics - because comics are the realm of lonely, balding, weird men who live in their parents' basements and can't get laid. I know it's a stereotype, and it's not true, but it's still the perception. My question is: should we let Baldock off the hook because she's a woman?

Some of you might argue it's all in the context, and that Lady Death exists simply to provide those same lonely, balding weird men living in basements with a date for Saturday night, but when the cheesecake is relevant to the story, it's okay. You can make that argument. However, Smoke and Guns is nothing but cheesecake. It exists solely as an excuse to provide scantily-clad girls to shoot at each other. As I said, the story is flimsy. The book is ALL style. There is no context. If someone asked you what it's about, you'd say: "It's about scantily-clad hot chicks shooting at each other." That's its raison d'etre.

I don't really think it's all that offensive. Of course, I don't think Lady Death is all that offensive. I'm just wondering. Do we have a double standard when it comes to females writing comics, letting them get away with anything in the sex-and-violence realm because they are women and women are in short supply in comics? (Gail Simone's portrayal of violence is examined here, if you're interested.) Is Smoke and Guns at all offensive? Maybe I'm just reading too much into it. It is, after all, mindless summer-action entertainment - think Speed without the Shakespearean dialogue - and maybe that's all it has to be. What do y'all think?

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Anonymous thekamisama said...

When I had my store, the "good girl/bad girl" stuff sold better to a female demographic then any other. Even the so called female friendly books were niche market and ended up being bought more by men.
I just always related it to the idea that this was a power fantasy, Lady Death, Shi, or any of the others are basically like costumed superheroes. These power fantasies are universal (no one questions the fact that men are not offended by almost homoerotic beefcake in the multitude of male superheor books) and everyone looking for superheroic power fantasy want the idealic godlike being performing deeds they wish they could, so the idealic and unrealistic bodies go along with it.
At least, that was my opinion.

9/07/2005 07:31:00 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

That's what I was wondering. Thanks!

9/07/2005 10:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You'd think if women thought S&G offensive, it would have come up in Kirsten's Sequential tart interview.

9/07/2005 08:11:00 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

I saw that interview, Anonymous, and found it rather lacking in insight. Not that I wanted the interviewer (whose name escapes me) to attack Baldock, but it was just kind of a "what is this book about" thing. You bring up a good point, and sort of make my point for me. Would Sequential Tart have been so favorable toward the book if it had been written by a man? I don't know. That's what makes the book interesting, and that's why I didn't like the interview, because let's face it, it isn't a deep book. The circumstances of its publication and its sexual politics, to me, are much more fascinating, but everything I've seen so far is about Baldock's days as a cigarette girl. Interesting, sure, but somewhat thin on material for an interview.

9/07/2005 08:46:00 PM  
Blogger Mimi said...

The difference between Smoke and Guns and Lady death is the difference between Sophia Loren and Jenna Jameson.

If you don't see it, you don't see it, it's OK.

9/07/2005 11:03:00 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

I'm willing to accept that, Mimi, but how? How????

I just don't get it, I suppose. Sophia Loren, as far as I know, never engaged in hard core porn, and although she was sexy, she wasn't trashy. I'm not saying Smoke and Guns is trashy, but even you have to admit it's all style and very little substance, which is fine. I'm still confused, but I guess I can live with it.

9/07/2005 11:38:00 PM  
Blogger the Isotope Communique said...

Greg, I really enjoyed reading your take on SMOKE & GUNS and thought it was a nice change of pace from the usual review.

As a man myself I don't think I'm the right person to tell you what women think about girlie art in comics... but I will refer you to a post on the subject I wrote on Fanboy Rampage here.

Since the book's debut I've found that to be pretty much par-for-the-course as far as women readers and SMOKE & GUNS is concerned. But, as always, your's (or another retailer's) mileage may vary.

9/08/2005 12:08:00 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

That's interesting, James. Did they buy it because it was written by a woman? Okay, you probably didn't ask. Did they buy it because Baldock hangs out there? Doesn't she? I thought I read that somewhere. And also, did it make them come back and buy more? We definitely need more women creators and women readers, so those are key points.

9/08/2005 07:51:00 PM  
Blogger the Isotope Communique said...

It's just one example, but here's what happened with those particular girls on that particular evening.

They were all hanging out on the Isotope sofa after the PINE*am show having some fun and checking out some comics. When I noticed that they had gotten themselves a couple copies of SMOKE & GUNS to look at and were checking it out I went up to them and said something along the lines of, "You girls got great taste. Did you know that the author is right over there behind the bar pouring drinks?" It was pretty funny watching them get their minds blown realizing a "famous" comic book author had been making their drinks all night!

And yeah, I'm pretty sure they liked it that a girl was making comics, I call that the "Joan Jett effect." Pick up a guitar and rock and other girls will start thinking about doing it too.

You'd have to ask Kirsten more details than that because I was busy doing other things, but I know they all bought the book and all got autographs.

And yeah, those particular ladies have all been back for more comics. Last time they were in I sold them PREACHER, TRUE STORY SWEAR TO GOD, GUN FU, TANK GIRL, STREET ANGEL, and AMAZING JOY BUZZARDS. All really fun books.

9/11/2005 12:09:00 AM  
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