Quoted from Occasional Superheroine, a blog written by a former DC comics editorial assistant, about the creative process behind the rape and murder of long-established supporting character Sue Dibny:
My theoretical comic company, which, for the theoretical purposes of my theoretical memoir, I’ll call Gilgongo! Comix, was tired of being “pushed around” in the sales wars and in the court of fanboy opinion (such as it was). So with all the red-nosed gumption and determination of Ralphie from “A Christmas Story” Gilgongo! Comix decided to go badass.
They needed a rape. Because there’s nothing quite so badass as rape, lets face it. And the victim couldn’t been from the usual suspects: “The Black Raven” (done that already plus ovaries ripped out), “Bondage Queen” (wasn’t she raped like every issue–at least mentally?), “Demon-Girl” (she was already paralyzed from the last pseudo-raping and that provided all sorts of logistical nightmares for the artist).
No, they had to find the most innocent, virginal, good-natured “nice” character they could find and ravage her not once but twice.
Theoretically, this character’s name was Vicki Victim.
A whole groundbreaking limited series would be built around Vicki Victim’s rape and murder. [...]
[This was] the crucial syzygy that began the chain of events that ended my career. That particular incident had to do with your dead friend and mine, Vicki Victim.
It started with my associate editor running gleefully into our boss’s office, several boards of art in his hand.
“The rape pages are in!”
The strategy worked, by the way. Sales went up.
The long quote above is from a series of twenty blog posts entitled “Goodbye To Comics,” which make it brutally clear that sexism at DC editorial wasn’t limited to how they decided to treat female characters. The entire series is worth reading in order – because she has a disturbing story to tell, and also because she’s an excellent writer with an appealingly dark sense of humor. You can either read the whole thing in the archives, starting with the bottom post and working your way up, or you can instead use the handy table-of-contents-style links Elayne has compiled. But be warned, a lot of it is pretty harrowing to read.
At Comics Worth Reading, Johanna — who also worked in the corporate comics industry — comments:
You put a bunch of immature men, many of whom were very sick as children or had absent fathers or both,1 and all of whom escaped into over-muscled power fantasies as a result, in charge of a publishing subgroup with no prestige and little money. Several of them have never worked anywhere else, or if they have, it was at one of the few similar companies in the same industry that behave the same way. They’re still geeks, mentally, with low self-esteem and no success with women, few of whom they actually know in person, but they’re power brokers within their little world, and there are thousands like them who desperately want to be them… and you wonder why it all ends up so twisted?
The blogger at Mountain of Judgment agrees with Johanna: “Like a terrarium, it’s a perfect closed system, with the men on either side of the equation–publishers and purchasers–reinforcing one another, bending the superhero comics sharply back toward their ancestors–not in the newspaper comics but in the violent, soft-porn dime novels.”
I haven’t been part of the corporate comics industry. But I’ve been a comics geek all my life, and I’ve run into my share of bitterly misogynistic geek guys over the years. It’s by no means a universal type, but it’s common enough to be a type. I can’t even count how often I’ve heard or read female comics fans describe walking into a comic book store only to be treated as The Woman Thing, subject to suspicious glares, leering, and maybe being hit on. (One friend of mine doesn’t read comics on the bus anymore, because it’s such a pain in the neck being hit on by male comics fans.) Valerie D’Orazio, the writer of “Goodbye To Comics,” worked in a comic book store when she was sixteen — until the much-older owner of the store made a pass at her. When she turned him down, he slimed her character among that entire group of comics fans, and most of them went along with it.
Superheroes are part of the problem. Not all superhero fans are misogynists (some of my favorite friends, including a few women, read superhero comics). But the genre attracts a lot of boys and men who are insecure about masculinity, and who need to read male-oriented power fantasies in which women are babes and men are human tanks. Some of those guys are fine; they grow up, they make female friends, they compartmentalize successfully. But some don’t. Too many comic book guys feel entitled to women’s emotions and women’s bodies, and feel bitter over what they see as an unfair denial of their due.
At the same time, I feel a little uneasy about posting this on “Alas,” where most of the readers aren’t comic book fans. I think a lot of non-fans have the impression that most male geeks are like the comic book guy on “The Simpsons.” And yeah, that type does exist (in both thin and fat varieties), and anyone who spends years in fan culture runs into some guys like that.
But let’s not forget, misogyny rooted in a frustrated sense of entitlement to women is not unique to geeks. You see it among men of all types (including some who get laid as much as anyone). But it’s easier for people to recognize misogyny in lonely male fans, for two reasons. First, because a disproportionate number of fans have poor social skills, and so aren’t good at hiding their misogyny. And second, because “lonely bitter misogynist fan” is a stereotype, so it’s what people are expecting to see.
Finally, Heidi MacDonald at The Beat comments on this story obliquely and visually, by contrasting the way that DC actually depicts Wonder Woman with an really excellent-looking approach that DC rejected.
[Crossposted at Creative Destruction. If your comments aren’t being approved here, try there.]
- I’m skeptical about Johanna’s “very sick as children or had absent fathers” observation. No doubt she’s right about the particular men she worked with. But is it a real pattern, or just a coincidence in the guys she ran into? For what it’s worth, I’ve also run into a lot of bitter misogynistic male fannish types over the years, and the ones I’ve known haven’t been unusually likely to have a background of sickness or absent fathers. [↩]